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Course Information
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Effective Writing I
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Writing Descriptively
  What Makes a Good Story?
  Building a Thesis
  Notes on 'Purpose'
  Strategies for Writing Introductions
  Strategies for Writing Conclusions
  Assignment #5: Argument
  Understanding Rational Argument

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Fundamental Questions About Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Ambiguity
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Notes on Four Short Stories
  The Genesis of the Short Story
  Defining the Short Story
  The Art of the Short Story
  A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond
  Notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne
  Responding to 'The Birthmark'
  A Guided Reading of 'Bartleby the Scrivener'
  Bartleby--Questions for Analysis
  A Cultural Context for 'Bartleby the Scrivener'
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Study Guide for Fiction Exam
  Billy Collins - 'Introduction to Poetry'
  A Catalogue of Poems for Study
  Approaching a Definition of Poetry?
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry: Imagery
  Readings from 'The United States of Poetry'
  The Craft of Poetry: Sound
  The Craft of Poetry: Structure
  Lines of Continuity
  Study Guide for Poetry Exam
  The Birth of Drama
  On Tragic Character
  Stepping Through 'Oedipus the King'
  Analyzing 'Oedipus the King'
  The Relevance 'Oedipus'Today
  Study Guide for the Drama Exam

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~~ Defining the Short Story ~~

Here's a definition from a standard literary glossary:

"…a relatively brief fictional narrative in prose, anywhere from 500-15,000 words in length. Distinct from the "sketch" or the "tale" in that it has a definite formal development, finding its unity in more than plot-in character, effect, theme, tone, mood, and style."

Here are some interesting definitions offered by graduate students in a fiction writing workshop:

I once heard or read somewhere that a novel is a work of fiction of a certain length that has something wrong with it. Perhaps a short story is a work of fiction of a certain (somewhat shorter) length that has nothing wrong with it. I don't mean to evade the question; I think a short story can be any number of things (snapshot, an entire life, a voice coming to me from an interesting place) but the main thing it is, if it succeeds, is true to itself in all its elements.

A hard thing to define. A short story is brief, growing excitement and lingering recollection and pleasure. Kind of Wordsworthian. A good story should come back on you.

An asterisk in time.

A story is a fully realized world. After passing through this world, the reader sees his own world differently.

A story is a narrative wherein a character absorbs an experience.

A short story is about something unforgettable to the writer for some reason. Otherwise, it shouldn't be written. It has characters, scenes or settings, and usually tension and conflict. It reveals the subtleties of the event by language, order/structure, and portraits. It is about place and feeling and people.

A short story is a slice of life-the thinner the better.

A short story (disregarding the type of fiction that makes comment on itself as "art") should provide some kind of continuous dream which the reader can enter, commune with, and leave having felt something.

Imagining a life you could never have imagined yourself, a life that might've killed you, or made you immeasurably happy, a life that by its very simple depiction seems ultimately strange, ultimately imagined, yet true.

A short story is a narrative that gives the feeling of being absolutely complete despite its brevity

Here's how five influential authors have defined their aims for fiction:

EDGAR ALLEN POE

Were we called upon however to designate that class of composition which, next to such a [lyric] poem as we have suggested, should best fulfill the demands of high genius-should offer it the most advantageous field of exertion-we should speak of the prose tale, as Mr. Hawthorne has here exemplified. We allude to the short prose narrative, requiring from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal. The ordinary novel is objectionable, from its length, for reasons already stated in substance. As it cannot be read at one sitting, it deprive itself, of course, of the immense force derivable from totality. Worldly interests intervening during the pauses of perusal, modify, annul, or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impressions of the book. But simple cessation in reading would, of itself, be sufficient to destroy the true unity. In the brief tale, however, the author is enabled to carry out the fulness of his intention, be it what it may. During the hour of perusal the soul of the reader is a the writer's control. There are no external or extrinsic influences-resulting from weariness or interruption.

A skilfull literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents-he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing the preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of the effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of the tale has been presented unblemished, because undisturbed; and this is an end unattainable by the novel. Undue brevity is just as exceptionable here as in the poem; but undue length is yet more to be avoided.

ANTON CHEKHOV

You abuse me for objectivity, calling it indifference to good and evil, lack of ideals and ideas, and so on. You would have me, when I describe horse-thieves, say: "Stealing horse thieves is an evil." But that has been known for ages without my saying so. Let the jury judge them; it's my job simply to show what sort of people they are. I write: you are dealing with horse-thieves, so let me tell you that they are not beggars but well-fed people, that they are people of a special cult, and that horse-stealing is not simply theft but a passion. Of course it would be pleasant to combine art with a sermon, but for me personally it is extremely difficult and almost impossible, owing to the conditions of technique. You see, to depict horse-thieves in seven hundred lines I must all the time speak and think in their tone and feel in their spirit, otherwise, if I introduce subjectivity, the image becomes blurred and the story will not be as compact as all short stories ought to be. When I write, I reckon entirely upon the reader to add for himself the subjective elements that are lacking in the story."

To A.S. Souvorin. Moscow. April 1, 1890.

JOSEPH CONRAD

Fiction-if it at all aspires to be art-appeals to temperament. And in truth it must be like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral the emotional atmosphere of the place and time. Such an appeal, to be effective, must be an impression conveyed through the senses….All art…appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions….My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel-it is , before all, to make you see. That-and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there, according to you deserts, encouragement, consolation, fear, charm, all you demand-and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing….

RAYMOND CARVER

I like it when there is some feeling of threat or sense of menace in short stories. I think a little menace if fine to have in a story. For one thing, it's good for the circulation. There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent, that certain things are in relentless motion, or else, most often, there simply won't be a story. What creates tension in a piece of fiction is partly the way the concrete words are linked together to make up the visible action of the story. But it's also the things that are left out, that are implied, the landscape just under the smooth (but sometimes broken and unsettled) surface of things.

 

 

 

     

 


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