Story Lab: What is short story?

Drawing from the reading by Brander Matthews titled ‘The Philosophy of Short Story’, Matthews describes short stories as more than just a story in which the length is short. He emphasizes the importance of conciseness and expression when creating a short story.

There are many aspects that differentiate short stories from novels. A couple of which are pointed out in Matthew’s reading. The main reason why novels and short stories differ from each other quoted is ‘chiefly in its essential unity of impression.’ I assume what he means is the how different the first lines and paragraphs are set up, and even the whole novel/short story. Go be more specific, short stories need to be concise, it has to leave a large impression on the reader/viewer in a short amount of time. This can be be done through a number of factors – different structures, precise description and perhaps even an utter disregard for conventional narrative.

In most cases short stories normally deal with one setting, one time and a handful of characters according to Matthews. Which is understandable and reasonable considering the limitations short stories place upon an author. Whilst I believe that it’s much easier to create a short story like this, I also believe that there are no real limits to one’s imagination and creativity even when it comes to short stories.

While I believe Roald Dahl’s ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ short delivered in many ways while sticking to Matthew’s principals more or less, I believe short stories are something that shouldn’t be limited to for example, one setting, one time or one character. Although it may be harder to work with more aspects of story within such a limited space, it doesn’t meant it can’t be done – it just takes time.

Matthews goes on to state that novels tend to be created in episodes while short stories, drawing from Poe, work with this notion of ‘totality’. Which I can agree with to an extent. When I hear ‘totality’ I think of something complete, so in a sense I can’t totally agree with that statement put before me because I believe the ending of a short story can be ambiguous if the author so chooses. However if the notion of totality in this context means to include every aspect of a story and fit it into only a handful of pages then I understand.

Couple of things that stood out to me in the Matthews reading:

  • “Short stories must have originality and ingenuity’
  • “It neither can be conceived as part of a Novel nor can it be elaborated and expanded so as to form a Novel’

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