Monday, September 9, 2019

Dime Novels & Short Stories

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, we finished a summer foray into ghost towns around the US. If you missed that post, you can read it here:

This month, as we are into the new school year and the return to established routines, I realize time spent on my writing career has taken a significant back seat position in my current season in life. Over the summer, my daughter was diagnosed with Asperger's (officially just a shade below the cutoff for Autism due to her social-emotional development), and we also discovered my husband has it too. This has had a drastic effect on my writing.

When I began my career, I was writing 3 books every year. Now? I'm lucky if I complete 1, and for the past 3-4 years, the ones I've managed to complete have been short stories or novellas rather than full-length novels. This certainly isn't the way I envisioned my life or my career would go. I'm definitely in a period of acceptance, new discoveries, and figuring out how all of this is going to fit together.

I'm not the only author to spend time penning short stories, though. So, let's delve into them for a bit right now.


Image result for dime novels of the old westDime novels were short works of fiction, usually focused on the dramatic exploits of a single heroic character. As evidenced by their name, dime novels were sold for a dime (sometimes a nickel), and featured colorful cover illustrations. They were bound in paper, making them light, portable, and somewhat ephemeral.

Publishers issued dime novels in series, numbering each novel individually. Dime novels were read by literate adults of all ages, although over time young men and boys became the primary audience.

Image result for dime novelsIn 1860, the publishers Erastus and Irwin Beadle released a new series of cheap paperbacks, Beadle's Dime Novels. The first book in the Beadle series was Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Ann S. Stephens, dated June 9, 1860. The novel was essentially a reprint of Stephens's earlier serial, which had appeared in the Ladies' Companion magazine in February, March and April 1839. It sold more than 65,000 copies in the first few months after its publication as a dime novel.

Dime novels varied in size, even in the first Beadle series, but were mostly about 6.5 by 4.25 inches (16.5 by 10.8 cm), with 100 pages. The first 28 were published without a cover illustration, in a salmon-colored paper wrapper. A woodblock print was added in issue 29, and the first 28 were reprinted with illustrated covers. The books were priced, of course, at ten cents.

This series ran for 321 issues and established almost all the conventions of the genre, from the lurid and outlandish story to the melodramatic double titling used throughout the series, which ended in the 1920s. Most of the stories were frontier tales reprinted from the numerous serials in the story papers and other sources, but many were original stories.

As the popularity of dime novels increased, original stories became the norm. The books were reprinted many times, sometimes with different covers, and the stories were often further reprinted in different series and by different publishers. This would be a fantastic income-generating source for a lot of budding and established authors! I know I've gotten repeat royalties from reprints of my own short stories or novellas. *grins*

The literacy rate increased around the time of the American Civil War, and Beadle's Dime Novels were immediately popular among young, working-class readers. By the end of the war, numerous competitors, such as George Munro and Robert DeWitt, were crowding the field, distinguishing their product only by title and the color of the paper wrappers. Beadle & Adams had their own alternate "brands", such as the Frank Starr line. As a whole, the quality of the fiction was derided by highbrow critics, and the term dime novel came to refer to any form of cheap, sensational fiction, rather than the specific format. You could almost say this of critics today when describing the "mass market paperbacks" so readily available in the marketplace.


Short stories date back to oral storytelling traditions which originally produced epics such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Oral narratives were often told in the form of rhyming or rhythmic verse, often including recurring sections or, in the case of Homer, Homeric epithets. Such stylistic devices often acted as mnemonics for easier recall, rendition and adaptation of the story. Short sections of verse might focus on individual narratives that could be told at one sitting. The overall arc of the tale would emerge only through the telling of multiple such sections.

The other ancient form of short story, the anecdote, was popular under the Roman Empire. Anecdotes functioned as a sort of parable, a brief realistic narrative that embodies a point. Many surviving Roman anecdotes were collected in the 13th or 14th century as the Gesta Romanorum. Anecdotes remained popular in Europe well into the 18th century, when the fictional anecdotal letters of Sir Roger de Coverley were published.

Image result for arabian nightsIn Europe, the oral story-telling tradition began to develop into written stories in the early 14th century, most notably with Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron. Both of these books are composed of individual short stories (which range from farce or humorous anecdotes to well-crafted literary fictions) set within a larger narrative story (a frame story), although the frame-tale device was not adopted by all writers. At the end of the 16th century, some of the most popular short stories in Europe were the darkly tragic "novella" of Matteo Bandello (especially in their French translation).

The mid 17th century in France saw the development of a refined short novel, the "nouvelle", by such authors as Madame de Lafayette. In the 1690s, traditional fairy tales began to be published (one of the most famous collections was by Charles Perrault). The appearance of Antoine Galland's first modern translation of the Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) would have an enormous influence on the 18th-century European short stories of Voltaire, Diderot and others.

For a thorough and well-documented description of Short Stories, I recommend you check out the article available at


* Have you ever read a dime novel or short story? What is your favorite and why?

* Do you prefer to read short stories or full-length novels? Why?

* If you were to write, would you want to write a short story or a full novel? Why?

Leave answers to these questions or any comments on the post below. Come back on the 9th of February for my next appearance.


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an award-winning and best-selling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. Through personal development, she strives to help others become their best from the inside out.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and three dogs in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on Facebook and GoodReads.


  1. What an intriguing post. I hadn't thought about the increase in literacy and how that would create a market. I'm not much of a short story reader and definitely don't write them. I can't seem to get to the point fast enough! I enjoy novels and novellas equally, but when life is exceptionally busy I tend to read more novellas which gives me my reading "fix" without the commitment of a longer book. I've written both, and my preference again lies in my schedule. This year I've only managed to put out novellas. Next year will see more novels from me. Praying life calms down for you.

    1. Linda, you're not alone. Novellas and short stories definitely require much tighter writing and a singular plot or isolated focus set at a distinct period of time. This helps the writer get to that point fast enough without going off on rabbit trails. I'm right with you on the schedule of life dictating what I read or write. The best part, though, is having options no matter the season or schedule so we CAN still get our reading and writing fixes. :) Thanks for the prayers! They are much coveted.

  2. I consider the novellas my short stories. I tend to read those when I don't have lots of time to read. But, somehow, if I get involved in a great novel, I tend to find time to read!!! Thanks for the post, and I will be praying for your family.

    1. Connie, I'm the same way. Even when life is going crazy all around me, and I feel as if I could fall into bed exhausted each and every day, somehow I manage to find time to read if the novel is engaging and an excellent read. Not sure if a short story would be sufficient for me. I would likely be looking for more, but novellas can whet my appetite and appease my reading "fix" quite nicely.