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A short story is a brief work of literature, 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 doing so, 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.
- Length 1
- Characteristics 2
- Predecessors 3.1
- 1790–1850 3.2
- 1850–1900 3.3
- 1900–1945 3.4
- After 1945 3.5
- Recognition 4
- Adaptations 5
- See also 6
- References 7
- Bibliography 8
- External links 9
See the article novella for related debate about length.
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 4,000. In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no shorter than 1,000 and no longer than 20,000 words. 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 genre writer, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America define short story length in the 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" or novelettes and, like short stories, may be collected into the more marketable form of "collections", often containing previously unpublished stories. 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 theorised through the traditional elements of 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 date back to oral storytelling traditions which originally produced epics such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Oral narratives were often told in the form of rhyming or rhythmic verse, often including recurring sections or, in the case of Homer, Homeric epithets. Such stylistic devices often acted as mnemonics for easier recall, rendition and adaptation of the story. Short sections of verse might focus on individual narratives that could be told at one sitting. The overall arc of the tale would emerge only through the telling of multiple such sections.
Fables, succinct tales with an explicit "moral," were said by the Greek historian Herodotus to have been invented in the 6th century BCE by a Greek slave named Aesop, though other times and nationalities have also been given for him. These ancient fables are today known as Aesop's Fables.
The other ancient form of short story, the anecdote, was popular under the Roman Empire. Anecdotes functioned as a sort of parable, a brief realistic narrative that embodies a point. Many surviving Roman anecdotes were collected in the 13th or 14th century as the Gesta Romanorum. Anecdotes remained popular in Europe well into the 18th century, when the fictional anecdotal letters of Sir Roger de Coverley were published.
In Europe, the oral story-telling tradition began to develop into written stories in the early 14th century, most notably with Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron. Both of these books are composed of individual short stories (which range from farce or humorous anecdotes to well-crafted literary fictions) set within a larger narrative story (a frame story), although the frame-tale device was not adopted by all writers. At the end of the 16th century, some of the most popular short stories in Europe were the darkly tragic "novella" of Matteo Bandello (especially in their French translation).
The mid 17th century in France saw the development of a refined short novel, the "nouvelle", by such authors as Madame de Lafayette. In the 1690s, traditional fairy tales began to be published (one of the most famous collections was by Charles Perrault). The appearance of Antoine Galland's first modern translation of the Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights) (from 1704; another translation appeared in 1710–12) would have an enormous influence on the 18th-century European short stories of Voltaire, Diderot and others.
There are early examples of short stories published separately between 1790 and 1810, but the first true collections of short stories appeared between 1810 and 1830 in several countries around the same period.
The first short stories in the United Kingdom were gothic tales like Richard Cumberland's "remarkable narrative" "The Poisoner of Montremos" (1791). Great novelists like Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens also wrote some short stories.
One of the earliest short stories in the United States was The Philosophy of Composition" (1846) Poe argued that a literary work should be short enough for a reader to finish in one sitting.
In Germany, the first collection of short stories was by Heinrich von Kleist in 1810 and 1811. The Brothers Grimm published their first volume of collected fairy tales in 1812. E. T. A. Hoffmann followed with his own original fantasy tales, of which "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" (1816) is the most famous.
In France, Prosper Mérimée wrote Mateo Falcone in 1829.
In the latter 19th century, the growth of print magazines and journals created a strong demand for short fiction of between 3,000 and 15,000 words.
In the United Kingdom, Thomas Hardy wrote dozens of short stories, including "The Three Strangers" (1883), "A Mere Interlude" (1885) and "Barbara of the House of Grebe" (1890). Rudyard Kipling published short story collections for grown-ups, e.g. Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), as well as for children, e.g. The Jungle Book (1894). In 1892 Arthur Conan Doyle brought the detective story to a new height with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. H. G. Wells wrote his first science fiction stories in the 1880s. One of his best known is "The Country of the Blind" (1904).
In the United States, Herman Melville published his story collection The Piazza Tales in 1856. "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was the title story of Mark Twain's first book one year later. In 1884, Brander Matthews, the first American professor of dramatic literature, published The Philosophy of the Short-Story. At that same year, Matthews was the first one to name the emerging genre "short story". Another theorist of narrative fiction was Henry James. James wrote a lot of short stories himself, including "The Real Thing" (1892), "Maud-Evelyn" and The Beast in the Jungle (1903). In the 1890s Kate Chopin published short stories in several magazines.
The most prolific French author of short stories was Guy de Maupassant. Stories like "Boule de Suif" ("Ball of Fat", 1880) and "L'Inutile Beauté" ("The Useless Beauty", 1890) are good examples of French realism.
In Russia, Ivan Turgenev gained recognition with his story collection A Sportsman's Sketches. Nikolai Leskov created his first short stories in the 1860s. Late in his life Fyodor Dostoyevski wrote "The Meek One" (1876) and "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (1877), two stories with great psychological and philosophical depth. Leo Tolstoy handled ethical questions in his short stories, for example in "Ivan the Fool" (1885), "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" (1886) and "Alyosha the Pot" (1905). The greatest specialist of the Russian short story however was Anton Chekhov. Classic examples of his realistic prose are "The Bet" (1889), "Ward No. 6" (1892), and "The Lady with the Dog" (1899). Maxim Gorky's best known short story is "Twenty-six Men and a Girl" (1899).
The prolific Indian author of short stories Munshi Premchand, pioneered the genre in the Hindustani language, writing a substantial body of short stories and novels in a style characterized by realism and an unsentimental and authentic introspection into the complexities of Indian society. Premchand's work, including his over 200 short stories (such as the story "Lottery") and his novel Godaan remain substantial works.
A master of the short story, the Urdu language writer Saadat Hasan Manto, is revered for his exceptional depth, irony and sardonic humour. The author of some 250 short stories, radio plays, essays, reminiscences and a novel, Manto is widely admired for his analyses of violence, bigotry, prejudice and the relationships between reason and unreason. Combining realism with surrealism and irony, Manto's works such as the celebrated short story Toba Tek Singh are aesthetic masterpieces which continue to give profound insight into the nature of human loss, violence and devastation.
In India, Rabindranath Tagore published short stories, on the lives of the poor and oppressed such as peasants, Women and villagers under colonial misrule and exploitation.
Machado de Assis, one of the majors novelist from Brazil was the most important short story writer from his country at the time, under influences (among others) of Xavier de Maistre, Lawrence Sterne, Guy de Maupassant. In the end of the 19 th century the writer João do Rio became popular by short stories about the bohemianism. Writing about the former slaves, and very ironical about nationalism, Lima Barreto died almost forgotten, but became very popular in the 20th century.
In Portuguese literature, the major names of the time are Almeida Garrett and the historian and novelist Alexandre Herculano. Still influential, Eça de Queiroz produced some short stories with a style influenced by Émile Zola, Balzac and Dickens.
In the United Kingdom, periodicals like The Strand Magazine and Story-Teller contributed to the popularity of the short story. Hector Hugh Munro (1870–1916), also known by his pen name of Saki, wrote satirical short stories about Edwardian England. W. Somerset Maugham, who wrote over a hundred short stories, was one of the most popular authors of his time. P. G. Wodehouse published his first collection of comical stories about valet Jeeves in 1917. Many detective stories were written by G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Short stories by Virginia Woolf are "Kew Gardens" (1919) and "Solid Objects," about a politician with mental problems. Graham Greene wrote his Twenty-One Stories between 1929 and 1954. A specialist of the short story was V. S. Pritchett, whose first collection appeared in 1932. Arthur C. Clarke published his first science fiction story, "Travel by Wire!" in 1937.
In Ireland, James Joyce published his short story collection Dubliners in 1914. These stories, written in a more accessible style than his later novels, are based on careful observation of the inhabitants of his birth city.
In the first half of the 20th century, a number of high-profile American magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, The New Yorker Scribner's, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and The Bookman published short stories in each issue. The demand for quality short stories was so great and the money paid for such so well that F. Scott Fitzgerald repeatedly turned to short-story (as Matthews preferred to write it) writing to pay his numerous debts. His first collection Flappers and Philosophers appeared in book form in 1920. William Faulkner wrote over one hundred short stories. Go Down, Moses, a collection of seven stories, appeared in 1941. Ernest Hemingway's concise writing style was perfectly fit for shorter fiction. Stories like "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (1926), "Hills Like White Elephants" (1927) and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1936) are only a few pages long, but carefully crafted. Dorothy Parker's bittersweet story "Big Blonde" debuted in 1929. A popular science fiction story is "Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927) is called the Father of the Japanese short story.
In Brazil, the most famous modern short story writer is Mário de Andrade. At the time, Paulistan writer António de Alcantâra Machado became very popular from his collection of short stories titled, Brás, Bexiga e Barra Funda (1928), about several Italian neighborhoods, but now he is mostly read in just São Paulo. Also, novelist Graciliano Ramos and poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade have significant short story works.
The period following World War II saw a great flowering of literary short fiction in the United States. The New Yorker continued to publish the works of the form’s leading mid-century practitioners, including Shirley Jackson, whose story, "The Lottery", published in 1948, elicited the strongest response in the magazine’s history to that time. Other frequent contributors during the last 1940s included John Cheever, John Steinbeck, Jean Stafford, and Eudora Welty. J. D. Salinger's Nine Stories (1953) experimented with point of view and voice, while Flannery O'Connor's story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" (1955) reinvigorated the Southern Gothic style. Cultural and social identity played a considerable role in much of the short fiction of the 1960s. Philip Roth and Grace Paley cultivated distinctive Jewish-American voices. Tillie Olsen’s "I Stand Here Ironing" (1961) adopted a consciously feminist perspective. James Baldwin’s collection Going to Meet the Man (1965) told stories of African-American life. Frank O'Connor’s The Lonely Voice, an exploration of the short story, appeared in 1963. Wallace Stegner's short stories are primarily set in the American West. Stephen King published a lot of short stories in men's magazines in the 1960s and after. The 1970s saw the rise of the postmodern short story in the works of Donald Barthelme and John Barth. Traditionalists including John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates maintained significant influence on the form. Minimalism gained widespread influence in the 1980s, most notably in the work of Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie.
In the United Kingdom, Daphne du Maurier wrote suspense stories like "The Birds" (1952) and "Don't Look Now" (1971). Roald Dahl was the master of the twist-in-the-tale. Short story collections like Lamb to the Slaughter (1953) and Kiss Kiss (1960) illustrate his dark humour.
In Brazil, the short story became popular among female writers like Clarice Lispector, Lygia Fagundes Telles, Adélia Prado, who wrote about their society from a feminine viewpoint, although the genre has great male writers like Dalton Trevisan, Autran Dourado Moacyr Scliar and Carlos Heitor Cony too. Also, writing about poverty and the favelas, João Antonio became a well known writer. Other post-modern short fiction authors include writers Hilda Hilst and Caio Fernando Abreu. Detective literature was led by Rubem Fonseca. It is also necessary to mention João Guimarães Rosa, wrote short stories in the book Sagarana using a complex, experimental language based on tales of oral traditional.
Portuguese writers like Virgílo Ferreira, Fernando Goncalves Namora and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen are among the most influential short story writers from 20th-century Portuguese language literature. Manuel da Silva Ramos is one of the most well-known names of postmodernism in the country. Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago published few short stories, but became popular from his novels.
The Angolan writer José Luandino Vieira is one of the most well-known writers from his country and has several short stories. José Eduardo Agualusa is also increasingly read in Portuguese-speaking countries.
Mozambican Mia Couto is a widely known writer of post modern prose, and he is read even in non-Portuguese speaking countries. Other Mozambican writers such as Suleiman Cassamo, Paulina Chiziane and Eduardo White are gaining popularity with Portuguese-speakers too.
The Spanish language. "The Library of Babel" (1941) and "The Aleph" (1945) handle difficult subjects like infinity. Two of the most representative writers of the Magical realism genre are also widely known Argentinan short story writers: Adolfo Bioy Casares and Julio Cortázar.
In Colombia, the Nobel prize laureate author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the main novelist and short story writer, known by his magical realist stories and his defense of the Communist Party in his country.
Alice Munro, 'master of the contemporary short story' according to her citation for the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2013, said she hopes the award would bring readership for the short story in general 
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". 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 Shawshank Redemption, "The Birds", "Brokeback Mountain", "Who Goes There?", "Duel", "A Sound of Thunder", "The Body", "Total Recall", "The Lawnmower Man", "Hearts in Atlantis", and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".
- Flash fiction (also called microfiction)
- Irish short story
- Literary journal
- Mini saga
- Sketch story
- Tall tale
- "Short story". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
- Poe, Edgar Allan (1984). Edgar Allan 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. p. 864.
- Abrams, M. H. (1999). Glossary of Literary Terms (7th ed.). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace. pp. 286–287.
Deirdre Fulton (2008-06-11). "Who reads short shorts?". thePhoneix.com. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
each of their (less-than-1000-word) stories
- "Complete Nebula Awards Rules Including the Ray Bradbury and Andre Norton Awards (Revised & Updated)". sfwa.org. Retrieved 2012-02-17.
- Short Story in Jacob E. Safra e.a., The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia volume 10, Chicago, 1998.
- Internet Book List :: Book Information: Oxford Book of Gothic Tales.
- "Poe's The Philosophy of Composition: a Study Guide". Cummingsstudyguides.net. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- Gelfant, Blanche and Graver, Lawrence, ed. (2000). The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Columbia University Press.
- Hart, James (ed.). Oxford Companion to American Literature. Oxford University Press.
- Magill, Frank, ed. (1997). Short Story Writers. Pasadena, California: Salem Press.
- Watson, Noelle, ed. (1994). Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Detroit: St. James Press.
- by William BoydThe Short History of the Short Story
- The Contemporary Short Story 1957 - 2013) chart