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What is a short story? Can you give me a one-sentence definition of a short story?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 9, 2012 at 6:51 AM via web

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What is a short story?

Can you give me a one-sentence definition of a short story?

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nicky35 | Student , College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 9, 2012 at 7:25 AM (Answer #2)

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A short fictional narrative text that usually consist of a tight plot and is limited in theme, setting and number of character and events by its length.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:07 AM (Answer #3)

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While the above is correct, I would tend to add the the short story is a text which tends to follow the traditional plot line: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. (That being said, not all short stories follow this plot line.) Therefore, a concise definition is troublesome.

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:21 AM (Answer #4)

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The two preceding answers are very helpful.  Here's another attempt at a one-sentence definition: a work of fiction long enough to develop one plot but not long enough to develop more than one plot or to contain subplots.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 9, 2012 at 2:39 PM (Answer #5)

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It is also a story that does not have many characters because it does not have the time or the space to develop them fully.  This is in keeping with the idea that this is a genre in which there is just not enough space to do very much.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:42 PM (Answer #6)

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Edgar Allen Poe (an early pioneer of the genre) would say that it is a short work of fiction which can be read in single sitting and where all of its elements contribute to "a single effect." Thus, it will be concise and controlled as it progresses towards its ultimate end point.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 10, 2012 at 4:23 AM (Answer #7)

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The two preceding answers are very helpful.  Here's another attempt at a one-sentence definition: a work of fiction long enough to develop one plot but not long enough to develop more than one plot or to contain subplots.

Does it have to be fiction?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 10, 2012 at 4:25 AM (Answer #8)

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It is also a story that does not have many characters because it does not have the time or the space to develop them fully.  This is in keeping with the idea that this is a genre in which there is just not enough space to do very much.

You are saying that a story is a story, but I need a definition of a story as well as of a short story.

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 11, 2012 at 8:37 AM (Answer #9)

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This is not an easy question. Yes - a short story is a work of fiction almost always. A non-fiction short narrative that utilizes literary devices would be called "creative non-fiction" these days.

The "single effect" definition offered in post 6 seems more cut-and-dry than anything I can come up with, but I would write my one sentence definition like this:

A short story is a work of fiction seeking to express an idea, describe a person or place, or convey a feeling through prose and can be distinguished from a novel by a narrowness of scope and usually presents its narrative in a single, linear time frame.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 12, 2012 at 12:51 AM (Answer #10)

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This is not an easy question. Yes - a short story is a work of fiction almost always. A non-fiction short narrative that utilizes literary devices would be called "creative non-fiction" these days.

The "single effect" definition offered in post 6 seems more cut-and-dry than anything I can come up with, but I would write my one sentence definition like this:

A short story is a work of fiction seeking to express an idea, describe a person or place, or convey a feeling through prose and can be distinguished from a novel by a narrowness of scope and usually presents its narrative in a single, linear time frame.

Thank you. Very helpful. But how short is short? What is the maximum length? How can you tell whether a story is true or whether it is fiction (that is, false)?

 

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 28, 2012 at 1:57 AM (Answer #11)

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The "veracity" of a text can only be determined by talking with the writer, which means that we more-or-less have to go by the book's categorization as either fiction or non-fiction. We can never know how much a person is actually making up.

As far the "how short is short" question goes, I don't know if there is a standard. One number that gets thrown out there dividing novellas from novels is 60,000. If a book has 60,000 words or more, it's generaly considered a novel.

This obviously doesn't help distinguish a long "short story" from a novella...

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