What is a short story?

A short story may be defined as a story that can be read in a single sitting. Edgar Allan Poe considered the short story as a prose narrative ‘requiring from half an hour to one or two horse in its perusal. Thus brevity is one of the essential characteristics of a short story. However, a short story is not Merely a novel on a reduced scale. the short story has a distinct, well-marked organizational structure different from that of a novel.

Theme of a short story:

Firstly, the theme of a short story must be one that can efficiently be developed within the prescribed limits. The story should impress the reader as clear in outline and well proportioned. It should not give the impression of crowding. This does not mean that the story must necessarily be confined to a single incident. It only means that even when the story covers a wide field of time and a large sequence of events, it should give a concentration of interest. Most of the stories of Maupassant and Washington Irving’s famous story “Rip Van Winkle” illustrate this point.

Unities of short stories:

Secondly, a short story should have unity which means unity of purpose, motive, action, and impression. a short story should contain only one informing idea and it should be worked out with singleness of purpose. No scattering of attention is allowed in a short story as it may be allowed in a novel.

Opinions of various authors:

Writers and critics hold different opinions on the art of the short story. Edgar Allan Poe thought that the short story should present only a ‘slice of life’ suggestively. it should have neither a beginning nor an end. However, the modern story writer and novelist Somerset Maugham thinks that ‘a short story should be a finished product of art with the beginning, middle, and end. another critic compares the short story with the horse race in which the start and the finish count most. Such contradictory definitions are more or less reconciled in what Hugh Walpole says “a short story should be a story, a record of things happening, full of instance an accident, Swift movement, unexpected development reacting through a suspense to a climax and satisfying denouement.”

Famous works:

A short story may deal with any motive and material. Poe’s story “Gold bug” turns on a puzzle whereas Stockton’s ‘The lady and the Tiger” is contrived to give a dramatic surprise at the end. Most stories of O’ Henry are interesting because of their unexpected surprise endings. Short stories of Chekhov, Maupassant, Tolstoy, and Hemingway illustrate the wide variety of themes and motives that can be successfully employed by a short story writer. WH Hudson says “a dramatic incident or situation; a telling scene; a closely coordinated series of events; a phase of character; a bit of experience; an aspect of life; a moral problem any of these, and innumerable other motives which might be added to the list, maybe made the nucleus of a thoroughly satisfactory story.


R.L Stephenson speaks of three kinds of short stories – the story of the plot, the story of character, and the story of impression. however, to most story writers, the idea of a story comes as something like an abstract thought or impression and later they work it up into the shape of a story inventing the required plot, character, and incidents.

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