A short story is a work of fiction, usually written in narrative prose. Emerging from earlier oral storytelling traditions in the 17th century, the short story has grown to encompass a body of work so diverse as to defy easy characterization. At its most prototypical the short story features a small cast of named characters, and focuses on a self-contained incident with the intent of evoking a "single effect" or mood. In so doing, short stories make use of plot, resonance, and other dynamic components to a far greater degree than is typical of an anecdote, yet to a far lesser degree than a novel. While the short story is largely distinct from the novel, authors of both generally draw from a common pool of literary techniques.
Short stories have no set length. In terms of word count there is no official demarcation between an anecdote, a short story and a novel. Rather, the form's parameters are given by the rhetorical and practical context in which a given story is produced and considered, so that what constitutes a short story may differ between genres, countries, eras and commentators. 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.
The short story has been considered both an apprenticeship form preceding more lengthy works, and a crafted form in its own right, collected together in books of similar length, price and distribution as novels. Short story writers may define their works as part of the artistic and personal expression of the form. They may also attempt to resist categorization by genre and fixed form.
Determining what exactly separates a short story from longer fictional formats is problematic. A classic definition of a short story is that one should be able to read it in one sitting, a point most notably made in Edgar Allan Poe's essay "Thomas Le Moineau (Le Moile)" (1846). Interpreting this standard nowadays is problematic, since the expected length of "one sitting" may now be briefer than it was in Poe's era. Other definitions place the maximum word count of the short story at anywhere from 1,000 to 9,000 words; for example, Harris King's "A Solitary Man" is around 4,000 words. In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000, or 5 to 20 pages. Stories of fewer than 1,000 words are sometimes referred to as "short short stories", or "flash fiction."
As a point of reference for the science fiction genre writer, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America define short story length Nebula Awards for science fiction submission guidelines as having a word count of fewer than 7,500.
Longer stories that cannot be called novels are sometimes considered "novellas", and, like short stories, may be collected into the more marketable form of "collections" or ""anthologies"", often containing previously unpublished stories. After Shirley Jackson died, a crate of unpublished short stories was discovered in her barn and collected into a short story collection in her memory. Sometimes, authors who do not have the time or money to write a novella or novel decide to write short stories instead, working out a deal with a popular website or magazine to publish them for profit.
As a concentrated form of narrative prose fiction, the short story has been theorized through the traditional elements of dramatic structure: exposition (the introduction of setting, situation and main characters), complication (the event that introduces the conflict), rising action, crisis (the decisive moment for the protagonist and his commitment to a course of action), climax (the point of highest interest in terms of the conflict and the point with the most action) and resolution (the point when the conflict is resolved). Because of their length, short stories may or may not follow this pattern. For example, modern short stories only occasionally have an exposition, more typically beginning in the middle of the action (in medias res). As with longer stories, plots of short stories also have a climax, crisis, or turning point. However, the endings of many short stories are abrupt and open and may or may not have a moral or practical lesson. As with any art forms, the exact characteristics of a short story will vary by creator.
Short stories tend to be less complex than novels. Usually a short story focuses on one incident; has a single plot, a single setting, and a small number of characters; and covers a short period of time. The modern short story form emerged from oral story-telling traditions, the brief moralistic narratives of parables and fables, and the prose anecdote, all of these being forms of a swiftly sketched situation that quickly comes to its point.
With the rise of the realistic novel, the short story evolved in a parallel tradition, with some of its first distinctive examples in the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann. The character of the form developed particularly with authors known for their short fiction, either by choice (they wrote nothing else) or by critical regard, which acknowledged the focus and craft required in the short form. An example is Jorge Luis Borges, who won American fame with "The Garden of Forking Paths", published in the August 1948 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Another example is O. Henry (author of "Gift of the Magi"), for whom the O. Henry Award is named. American examples include Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver.
Short stories have frequently been adapted for radio dramas, as on NBC Presents: Short Story (1951–52). A popular example of this is "The Hitch-Hiker", read by Orson Welles. Sometimes, short stories are adapted into television specials, such as "12:01 PM", "Nightmare at 20,000 feet", "The Lottery", and "Button, Button" (The Twilight Zone). Others have been made into short films, often rewritten by other people, and even as feature length films, such is the case of "Children of the Corn", "The Birds", "Brokeback Mountain", "Who Goes There?", "Duel", "A Sound of Thunder", "The Body", "Total Recall", "The Lawnmower Man", and "Hearts in Atlantis".
- Short story, Merriam-Webster 2012-05-27.
- Poe, Edgar Allen. (1984) Edgar Allen Poe: Essays and Reviews. Library of America. pp. 569–77
- Cuddon, J. A. (1999). The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (3rd Ed). London: Penguin. pp. 864}}
- Abrams, M. H. (1999) Glossary of Literary Terms (7th Ed). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace. pp. 286–287. ISBN 0-155-05452-X
- Deirdre Fulton (2008-06-11). Who reads short shorts?. theponeix.com. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- Complete Nebula Awards Rules Including the Ray Bradbury and Andre Norton Awards (Revised & Updated). sfwa.org Retrieved2012-02-17
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