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Short story: Definition and History Essay

A short story like any other term does not have only one definition, it has many definitions, but all of them are similar in a general idea. According to The World Book Encyclopedia (1994, Vol. 12, L-354), “the short story is a short work of fiction that usually centers around a single incident. Because of its shorter length, the characters and situations are fewer and less complicated than those of a novel.” In the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (third edition) short story is defined as “an invented story which is no more than about 10 000 words in length.”

At the same time online Britannica Encyclopaedia (www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/541698/short-story, 21.02.2012; 12:04 p.m.) adds that “short story is a brief fictional prose narrative that is shorter than a novel and that usually deals with only a few characters. It is usually concerned with a single effect conveyed in only one or a few significant episodes or scenes. The form encourages economy of setting, concise narrative, and the omission of a complex plot; character is disclosed in action and dramatic encounter but is seldom fully developed. Despite its relatively limited scope, though, a short story is often judged by its ability to provide a “complete” or satisfying treatment of its characters and subject.”

The short story has its early predecessors in history. As World Book Encyclopedia (1994, Vol.17, Sh-434) says, “ the short story is one of the olderst forms of literature. As early as 3000 B.C., brief fictional tales were written down in Egypt.” Many characteristics of the short story come from earlier literary forms that tried to teach a lesson. Acoording to the same information source that was mentioned before, “ the Bible contains short stories called parables, which teach moral lessons.” The World Book Encyclopedia (1994, Vol.7, F-90) writes that novels and short stories are the most popular forms of fiction .

Storytelling is as old as humidity. Since the mid-1700’s, the chief forms of fistion have been the novel and the short story. As we can found in The World Book Encyclopedia (1994, Vol.17, Sh-434), “During the 1800’s, many writers began to consider the short story as a separate form of literature. Edgar Allan Poe, an American author and literary critic, was perhaps the first important writer to analyze short stories as a distinct literary form. In some of his writings, Poe discussed the dramatic effects, such as fear and surprise, that could be achieved in a short story. The first book about short story writing was The Philosophy of the Short-Story (1901) by Brander Matthews, an American critic. This book contained many of Poe ideas.” In his work “The Philosophy of Composition” which was written by him in 1846, Poe argued that a literary work should be short enough for a reader to finish in one sitting.

In the latter 19th century, with the growth of print magazines and journals, short fiction of between 3,000 and 15,000 words started to be popular. Adrian Hunter in his book ‘The Cambridge Introduction to the Short Story in English’ writes “The 1880s and 1890s years saw the dramatic expansion of a magazine market that had been growing exponentially since the 1840s. By 1891 penny and six-penny journals alike were no longer carrying serialized novels at all but were instead publishing an original short story by a distinguished writer in every number. According to the historian Peter Keating, it is unlikely that the short story would have developed much at all in this period ‘if the market had not been so desperate to fill periodicals columns with fiction’.”

According to information given in The World Book Encyclopedia (1994, Vol.12, L-357), “ the short story suffered a decline during the mid -1900’s because many magazines devoted to publishing stories either went out of business or turned to printing nonfiction. A number of magazines sponsored by individuals or colleges and universities helped to keep the short story alive.”

1. Short story as a text type.

If to speak in general, short stories have no set length. According to The World Book Encyclopedia ( 1994, Vol.12, L-354), “ a short story may range in length from a short story of 1,000 to 1,500 words to a novelette, or short novel, of 12,000 to 30,000 words.” Like the novel, the short story’s predominant shape reflects the demands of the available markets for publication, and the evolution of the form seems closely tied to the evolution of the publishing industry and the submission guidelines of its constituent houses.

“Short stories have their basic elements, all of them they share with longer works of fiction. These basic elements are setting, conflict, plot, character development, theme and point of view. All stories have some version of all of these elements although not necessarily in the most literal manner. A story’s main “characters” could be even bacterial cells or pieces of furniture, for example. Literature is flexible and open to experimentation.” (www.ehow.com/info_7890707_basic-elements-short-stories.html )

According to the site which was mentioned above, “a story’s setting is more than just its physical location. It includes the time in which the story takes place, whether it’s the interval of an hour or a lifetime and whether it takes place in modern times, the future or the distant past. Setting refers to the world where the characters exist. This world includes things such as weather, architecture, social expectations and legal practices. Online Encyclopaedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/536301/setting) writes, that “setting, in literature, is the location and time frame in which the action of a narrative takes place.

In other words setting is defined in literature as the scene in which a story is taking place. A setting could be an outdoors area, or perhaps a room. A setting can be any place that allows for a story to take place. (http://answers.reference.com/information/terminology/what_is_the_definition_of_setting )

The next element of a short story is conflict. Generally speaking, all stories have some sort of conflict. Some conflicts are more explicit than others, clearly pitting characters against each other, against society in general or against nature or some external force. Other conflicts are more subtle, taking place mostly within a characters own mind: their view of themselves, their view of the world, their morals and their emotions. The conflict in a story is generally what makes it interesting or compelling. If nothing is at stake, a story will not typically be very interesting, even if the writing itself is good. (www.ehow.com/info_7890707_basic-elements-short-stories.html)

The conflict can be defined as external or internal. According Dictionary.com the external conflict is a struggle between a literary or dramatic character and an outside force such as nature or another character, which drives the dramatic action of the plot. In other words it is a struggle between the protagonist and another character against nature or some outside force.

Internal conflict is a psychological struggle within the mind of a literary or dramatic character, the resolution of which creates the plot’s suspense, for example, Hamlet’s inaction is caused by internal conflict. It is a mental struggle arising from opposing demands or impulses. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/internal%20conflict) The next basic element of a short story is a plot. “A story’s plot consists of all its events, laid out in chronological order. Plot is often broken up into five basic sections. Most stories will follow this structure.

The first is the introduction, when the characters are introduced. Next comes the rising action, when the story’s conflict is revealed and it really starts moving. Sometimes, this happens at the very start, essentially combining the introduction and rising action. The climax of the story is its most pivotal point, when the conflict could swing one way or the other and the characters are tested. Some stories have multiple smaller climaxes. The fourth section is falling action, as the conflict is either resolved or left open.

The short stories can not exist as such without main characters. „Most stories have one or more protagonists, which is another way of saying “main character” (or characters). Some stories have clearly defined antagonists, or villains, whereas others do not. Sometimes the line between protagonist and antagonist is blurred, as in the case of an anti-hero. Characters can be either round or flat. Round characters are fleshed out like they are real people. The reader is given many realistic details about the character.

Flat characters are less complicated and stereotyped or caricatured. We don’t see them from more than one angle, either because they aren’t centrally important or because the narrator is only concerned with one aspect of their personality or because the narrative mode is satirical or ironic. Characters can also be either dynamic or static. Dynamic characters change as a story progresses. They learn new things, change their minds, grow as people, mature, have breakdowns, insights or epiphanies. Static characters stay pretty much the same throughout a narrative. Theme is the most abstract of these basic elements.

Theme is, essentially, what the story is about. This is not to suggest that all stories are about only one thing or that once you have figured out the theme of a story you have somehow cracked a code or solved a problem. Themes can be complex, and the important thing when analyzing literature is not what the themes are but how they are created and developed. Theme is not to be confused with moral–some stories have morals, but many do not. All stories have themes. Themes can include death, redemption, challenging gender roles, overcoming fears, prejudice, hatred or the shortcomings of language. Most stories can be shown to have more than one them.”

The previuos information was about basic elements of a short story in general . Howerever, different writers had their own tecnique of writing a short story. For example, according to the information given in The World Book Encyclopedia (1994, Vol.17, Sh-435), “short-story writers have developed a number of literary techniques, including the surprise ending and epiphany. Most surprise endings involve an unexpected event or a revealing explanation. Such endings were the specialty of O. Henry, an American short-story writer of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Epiphany is a sudden comment, incident or a symbol that can be used at any point in a story to explain the meaning of a complex event.


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