Guide to Literary Terms

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Short story

Short story - a narrative that is designed to produce a single dominant effect and which contains the elements of drama. It may concentrate on a single character in a single situation at a single moment. Dramatic conflict is at the heart of a short story even if it has more than one of the above elements.

Short comes through Middle English from the Old English sceort, meaning “short.” Story also comes through Middle English, but from the Old French estorie derived from the Latin historia, which itself was derived from the Greek histor, meaning “knowing” or “learned.”

Margaret Cavendish wrote early versions of the short story in the Seventeenth Century. While short stories appear inside some of Defoe’s earlier novels, Poe is considered the father of the modern short story, which developed greatly in the Nineteenth Century due to their popularity in magazines.

Some examples of short stories are Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and Henry James’s “The Jolly Corner.” James Joyce’s Dubliners (1907) was a breakthrough collection of powerful short stories, including perhaps the most famous short story in English, “The Dead.”