How to Approach Short Story and Get A Comprehensive idea About It

What is Short Story

It is hard to define the short story because it is not a made thing, but a growing thing. It is an evolution. To get  a comprehensive idea about It We might try to define it. So to say simply,  a short story is the disentangling of a complicated situation, so that a single definite effect is made. It is a fictional work depicting one character’s inner conflict or conflict with others, usually having one thematic focus. Combining all these they generally produce a single, focused emotional and intellectual response in the reader. The story is built upon groundwork of incident, character, and setting. It was Stevenson who said that he could conceive of but three ways to approach a story in writing it: by means of (1) an incident about which characters group themselves; (2) a character that plays a significant part through incidents; and (3) a mood or feeling, which both incident and character reflect.  The earliest ancestors of short stories are ancient tales, simple stories dated back to golden ancient era. The folk tales from Persia, Arabia, India, and Egypt had its first grains.

Subject Materials of Short Story Building

The subject of a short story is often mistaken for its theme. Common subjects for modern short fiction include race, ethnic status, gender, class, and social issues such as poverty, drugs, violence, and divorce. These subjects allow the writer to comment upon the larger theme that is the heart of the fictional work. Some of the major themes of 20th-century short stories, as well as longer forms of fiction, are human isolation, alienation, and personal trauma, such as anxiety; love and hate; male-female relationships; family and the conflict of generations; initiation from innocence to experience; friendship and brotherhood; illusion and reality; self-delusion and self-discovery; the individual in conflict with society’s institutions; mortality; spiritual struggles; and even the relationship between life and art.

The art of the short story employs the techniques of point of view, style, plot and structure, and a wide range of devices that stimulate emotional, imaginative, and intellectual responses in the reader. The writer’s choice and control of these techniques determines the reader’s overall experience. Story materials comprise theme, incidents, characters, setting, and emotion, plus the writer's style. It is a man's personality coloring his words. It is his habitual manner of thinking, of grouping words, and of securing effects. It is the sum totals of his heredity, environment, thought, will, and taste, expressed in his writings. In literature, it implies not only individuality, but originality and distinction.” Fine writing" is not good style. It is like putting on Sunday clothes, when one has not been used to them. Last of all, every story has a title. This should be brief, apt, and suggestive and should pique the curiosity. Long titles that betray the contents have been outgrown.

The Novel and the Short Story

The novel and the short story have much in common. In plot, the short story is simpler than the novel. It is confined to a single controlling incident, whereas the novel deals with many incidents and episodes. In characterization, the short story confines itself to one or more main characters essential to the plot; but the novel introduces many characters, some barely related to the plot. In presenting setting, the short story uses a few telling strokes, but the novel pauses for expanded description; the ideal short story usually observes the unities of time and place, but the novel may stretch through a lifetime and pass from place to place. Few details mark the short story; many are used in the novel. Read at one sitting, the former leaves a single, concentrated impression, which the novel on account of its greater length and complexity cannot leave. The short story focuses upon a small section of life; the novel is allowed the breadth of the world.
The Modern Short Story

The strictly modern short story had its birth with Poe and Hawthorne in America and Gautier and Merimee in France. Since that early days, a host of short-story writers have sprung up in America and in England, France, Russia, and other countries of Europe. Chief among these are Stevenson and Kipling in England; Merimee, Maupassant, Daudet, Coppee, Anatole , Balzac in France; Pushkin and Tolstoy in Russia; and Bjornson in Norway.

Convoluted from the ancient tales , When the short story emerged as a genre in the 19th century, it was seen as something totally new and modern. Popular and literary magazines began increasingly to publish short stories that often reflected the dominant literary trends of the day. Up to that point, the primary focus of most stories had been on the plot. Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the most important early writers in the shaping of the modern short story. His pieces probed character and the moral significance of events, leaving their physical reality ambiguous. In “Young Goodman Brown” (1846), for example, the dark meetings in the woods of the Salem townspeople are less important than the spiritual changes in Brown himself. In his 1842 review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales (1837), Edgar Allan Poe became the first writer to define the short story as the attempt to achieve a single, focused effect. Poe demonstrated his artistic theory in “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), manipulating the setting, character, and dialogue to lead the reader inexorably toward the emotional state most appropriate for the “perfect” murder. 
During the 19th century a variety of conflicting visions of life emerged that affected the way short-story writers viewed human experience. En route to glorious presence of short story the following authors and their contributions are written in golden words:

Heinrich von Kleist ( “The Earthquake in Chile,” 1810)
E. T. A. Hoffmann (“The Cremona Violin,” 1818) in Germany;
Honoré de Balzac (“A Passion in the Desert,” 1830) in France.
Hawthorne (“The Minister’s Black Veil,” 1836)
Nikolay Gogol (“The Nose,” 1836),
Edgar Allan Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) and the detective story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841)
Ivan Turgenev (“Byezhin Meadow,” 1852),
Sarah Orne Jewett (“The White Heron,” 1886),
Guy de Maupassant (The Two Brothers, a study of jealousy and suspicion, 1890)
Kate Chopin (“The Story of an Hour,” 1894),
Anton Chekhov in Russia “The Darling,” (1899) The Cherry Orchard 1904, The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1899), and The Three Sisters (1901).
James Joyce (“A Little Cloud,” 1914)
Franz Kafka "The Metamorphosis"1915
Katherine Mansfield (“Miss Brill,” 1920)
Irwin Shaw (“The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” 1939),
J. D. Salinger (“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” 1948),
Gabriel García Márquez  (One Hundred Years of Solitude,1967)
Anne Beattie (“A Vintage Thunderbird,” 1978),
Tobias Wolff (“The Rich Brother,” 1985),
Alice Munro (“Meneseteung,” 1989),
Lorrie Moore (“You’re Ugly, Too,” 1990).


Among the ways of looking at the subjects, themes, and art of the short story is to review the astonishing range and varieties of types of stories. These include tales, fantasies, humor and satire, character studies, confession, biography, history, education, religion, and local color types etc. Here are few examples:

Adventure - In this type of story, some central character usually goes through unusual and dangerous adventures often in search of hidden wealth or achievement. For example: Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure Of  The Empty House.
Horror - These stories may be about monsters, supernatural powers, places or buildings (especially castles) where strange and frightening happenings occur. For example: The Hungry Stone by Rabindranath Tegore.
Crime or Detection - The detective story is about murder or theft. Early on this story a crime is committed and the rest of the book is concerned with solving the mystery of the crime. These types of plots are popular with readers. For example: The Adventure of the Priory School by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Humorous - In these types of stories humour plays a major role. Their main objective is to surprise, delight, and entertain people. Some of the more famous humorous tall tales and animal fables are:  Mark Twain (“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” 1865) and Joel Chandler Harris (“The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story,” 1894). Mary McCarthy (“The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt,” 1941).etc.
Education story- The education story is set in academia or is concerned with the education of the main character. For example: “Of This Time, of That Place” (1944) by Lionel Trilling. Character based: Some short stories are character studies.  For example:  “The Gentleman from San Francisco” (1921) by Russian writer Ivan Bunin.
Science Fiction - It is a product of the great scientific and technological advances that have been made in modern times. A science fiction may deal to travel to other places, planets or solar systems, with imagined wars and empires. For example: Fear No More by George Anthony


 We believe that the short story is one of the most exciting and important literary forms, that are mounting the widest possible readership. Presently, in the din and bustle of daily life fewer and fewer people these days have the leisure of reading full paged novels or epics. Rather they resort to short stories now a day and with e-book publication they find it worth reading while at travel or so. We thus will proceed further into healthy matures of short stories in near future.

Ref: Esenwein's writing the Short Story, Liebermann’s The American Short Story, Heydrick’s Types of the Short Story, Matthews’s The Short Story, Wikipedia

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

"Dear Readers/ Students, I am a huge fan of books, English Grammar & Literature. I write this blog to instill that passion in you." 

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