The short story is a crafted form in its own right. Short stories make use of plot, resonance, and other dynamic components as in a novel, but typically to a lesser degree. While the short story is largely distinct from the novel or novella/short novel, authors generally draw from a common pool of literary techniques. The short story is sometimes referred to as a genre.
Determining what exactly defines a short story has been recurrently 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 “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846). H.G. Wells described the purpose of the short story as “The jolly art, of making something very bright and moving; it may be horrible or pathetic or funny or profoundly illuminating, having only this essential, that it should take from fifteen to fifty minutes to read aloud.” According to William Faulkner, a short story is character driven and a writer’s job is to “…trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
Some authors have argued that a short story must have a strict form. Somerset Maugham thought that the short story “must have a definite design, which includes a point of departure, a climax and a point of test; in other words, it must have a plot“. Hugh Walpole had a similar view: “A story should be a story; a record of things happening full of incidents, swift movements, unexpected development, leading through suspense to a climax and a satisfying denouement.”
This view of the short story as a finished product of art is however opposed by Anton Chekov who thought that a story should have neither a beginning nor an end. It should just be a “slice of life”, presented suggestively. In his stories, Chekov does not round off the end but leaves to the readers to draw their own conclusions.
Sukumar Azhikode defined a short story as “a brief prose narrative with an intense episodic or anecdotal effect”. Flannery O’Conner emphasized the need to consider what is exactly meant by the descriptor short. 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 formation.
As William Boyd, the award-winning British author and short story writer has said:
[short stories] seem to answer something very deep in our nature as if, for the duration of its telling, something special has been created, some essence of our experience extrapolated, some temporary sense has been made of our common, turbulent journey towards the grave and oblivion.
In the 1880s, the term “short story” acquired its modern meaning – having initially referred to children’s tales. During the early to mid 20th century, the short story underwent expansive experimentation which further hindered attempts to comprehensively provide a definition. 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. Across the world, the modern short story is comparable to lyrics, dramas, novels and essays – although examination of it as a major literary form remains diminished.