What In Your View Makes The Genre Distinctive English Literature Essay

Short stories have been a popular form of entertainment prior to the written word form. Many cultures had their very own unique stories of which ancient and modern writers used as a foundation to create classic tales. Over the centuries, short stories have developed into its very own literary form. Although it wasn’t considered a true art form until the 1900’s, when writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Anton Chekhov arguably mastered the form, these tales have been in existence for a long time prior to this. The main themes of short stories included that of religion, myth, romance and adventure which are all known to date back to the time of our ancestors. Short stories were being told as tales that were often performed in rhyme or verse and were passed down from one generation to the next often by the region’s official storyteller. With the approach of the nineteenth century, many more writers began to experiment with the short story form along with a range of new themes. This interest would see the eventual evolution of what literary critics call the modern short story.

A short story is characterised by its short format and its portrayal of one single situation whereby one, or few, characters must find a resolution before the story’s end. Because of its rather brief format, the main characters can never be fully developed. Instead, character is often discovered through the action within the plot, and emotions are usually presented through a small number of scenes and by the general surrounding theme. Several literary movements such as romanticism, impressionism and realism explored the concept of the short story, and as a result it evolved in Europe and the United Stated during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, readers’ taste in short stories began to change by the sixties and seventies, therefore the requirement for short tales to fill gaps in magazines had decreased. Despite this reduced interest, the day of the short story was far from over. Today hundreds of magazines and anthologies publish new and innovative short stories crafted by expert and beginning writers alike. The short story format survives and evolves as it always has. As our ancestors knew so very well, short stories are addictive and will never lose their power to draw us in and introduce us to interesting people or sweep us to another time and place, if only for a short while.

There are several known characteristics of a short story that distinguish the form. To begin with, a short story is essentially a piece of prose fiction that can be read entirely in one sitting. Also, it tends to combine impartial matter of fact description with a poetic atmosphere. In addition to this, it must present a unified impression of tone, colour and effect. In accordance to this idea, Edgar Allen Poe’s essay, The Philosophy of Composition [1] suggested that most of the story should be secondary to the effect that is meant to be achieved, and proposed the concept of the ‘unity of effect’ whereby it is suggested that if the tone is constant throughout the plot, and the effect is carried throughout all elements; with the notion of ‘effect’ in mind, the story will be considerably dramatic and emotionally exciting. Further, in order to make a short story considerably good, it should also show a rather decisive moment of life which can essentially involve a fatal blow.

Within a short story, there also tends to be little action, and not much character development, yet despite this we get a somewhat snapshot of life within the story. The plot of a short story is arguably not very complex, contrasting with the novel, but nonetheless it creates a somewhat unified impression and leaves readers with an intense feeling rather than a number of remembered facts. In addition to this, it can be considered that there is a somewhat close connection between the short story and the poem in that there is a rather unique combination of idea and structure. Also, there is a very restricted set of characters alongside one main plot with one set of action. This usually consists of a description of events in the beginning, followed by a complication and a disruption of equilibrium, and finishing with an ending whereby the equilibrium is restored. A short story is known for its lack of open beginnings and endings, and ii tends to also be restricted in regards to only having one setting, be it a fixed place and time or a social surrounding.

It could be argued that a short story is essentially somewhat like a photograph in that it is able to capture a specific moment, whether that particular moment be mysterious, interesting or rather gentle. A photo however may not be able to suggest any consequences of that moment, but this is instead what a short story does. The story's moment of time is something rather important in that something permanent has occurred. The change may be subtle or obvious, but nonetheless it is definite and conclusive. This idea is reinforced by H.E. Bates when he says "The method by which the story is told is not by the carefully engineered plot but by the implication of certain isolated incidents, by the capture and arrangement of casual episodic movements. It is the method by which the surface, however seemingly trivial or unimportant [my emphasis] is interpreted in such a way as to interpret the individual emotional life below" [2] . Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot [3] , is an example of this notion as, even though it is not a short story specifically, it doesn’t show much to happen, yet nonetheless it is arguably deep and meaningful.

A short story is only one of many forms of narrative structures. Narratives are created with jokes, ballads, tales, novels, poems, anecdotes, etc. The short story form has been opened up dramatically with experimentation in adult venues, but remains very true to its traditional European roots in children's and young adult venues. While there are many satisfactions to be found in the conventional beginning-middle-end narrative that is common in short fictions for children, it can be argued that young readers may also respond to many other forms of short narrative. The short story, when we talk about adolescent literature, is a usually a form of plotted narrative, which comes to a climactic ending and is arguably resolved in about fifteen pages or less. The short story is considerably difficult to define well. If we look at collection of short stories by Jack London, it could be suggested that what excites readers most about some of these stories is not just the fast-paced action and exotic locations, but their digestibility. One could possibly go to bed feeling like they'd completed a whole adventure - very satisfying for just a half an hour of reading. What could be liked most about the stories was the fact that there was always something left to the imagination. Readers value the room that the author has left to explore.

It is rather ironic that short stories in the modern world don't sell; they nevertheless explain our very 'modern' dilemma perfectly. The short story is perfect for expressing destruction in the modern world. In Valerie Shaw’s The Short Story [4] it is suggested that ‘"our modern attraction to the short story" wrote Chesterton in 1906, "is not an accident of form; it is a sign of a real sense of fleetingness and fragility; it means that existence is only an impression, and perhaps only an allusion [...] we have no instinct of anything ultimate and enduring beyond the episode. The brevity of the form, that is to say, is directly imitative of the modern experience of being alive"’ (p.17).

The short story is a type of fiction which, ultimately, is characterised by its limited length. This means that in the short story every detail is designed to carry the utmost significance, every detail is important. The term "in medias res" is Latin for "in the middle of things". Due to the short story being so concise, the author usually disregards as much of the background information as possible and throws the reader right into a situation without any idea of what has happened prior to these events. In contrast to a lengthier novel, there is a brief sketch of the character whereby the author leaves it up to the reader in order to form an impression. Although the setting is always important in fiction, in short stories there is never a lengthy description. There is also usually one simple plot: quick rising action, climax, falling action, and end situation.