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Studying short stories
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After studying this section you should be able to:

  • think about ways in which you can approach the reading of short stories
  • think about ways you can prepare yourself for writing about short stories
  • consider some of the particular features of short stories

You may be studying a collection of short stories as one of your prose texts. If you are, then it is important to recognise that most of what has been dealt with so far in this chapter also applies to the short story too. However, it is also important to recognise that although the novel and the short story share the same prose medium the short story has its own artistic methods which can be quite different from those of the novel. Such differences as exist between these two genres are very often in scale rather than in kind. If a novel can deal with the growth of a character, trace changes in thought, follow changes in fortune and so forth, a short story can too.

Here are some features of short stories that you should bear in mind.

  • Very often a short story focuses on a single character in a single situation rather than tracing a range of characters through a variety of situations and phases of development as novels often do.
  • Often the focus for the story is the point at which the central character(s) undergo some event or experience that presents a significant moment in their personal development. It can be seen as a ‘moment of truth’ in which something or some perception, large or small, changes within the character.
  • Not all short stories reach some kind of climax, though. Some stories may give a kind of ‘snapshot’ of a period of time or an experience, for example ‘a day in the life of’.
  • Some stories end inconclusively, leaving the reader with feelings of uncertainty, while other kinds of story do not seem to have a discernible plot at all.
  • Sometimes the reader might feel completely baffled by what they have read and might tentatively explore a range of possible interpretations in his or her head. This may, of course, have been exactly the response that the writer intended.

Overall, then, because by their very nature, short stories are ‘short’, they tend to focus on fewer characters than novels because there is simply not the time or space to develop a large cast of characters. Again, because of the shortness, they often have a fairly short time-scale.

KEY POINT - Short stories possess many of the features of the novel but they are very much a separate genre. Be aware of the particular features and strengths of the short-story form.

Progress check

Look at the short story text you are studying. What kind of stories are they? How do they differ from novels that you have read?

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