Recently Facebook Members received "tags" listing twenty-five random facts about the sender. They were then supposed to post twenty-five random facts about themselves and send it to twenty-five others. Thousands of these tags were sent out. I received a couple. I realized I did not have twenty-five interesting facts about myself--a sobering thought. So I thought I would post twenty-five random facts about the short story (actually, not facts, but opinions about the form by various short-story writers and critics). I encourage my readers to post any opinions about the form with which they are familiar as a comment to this post. Of course, opinion about the authorial opinions would be welcome also.
Twenty-Five Random Opinions about the Short Story
1. "The particular problem of the short story writer is how to make the action he describes reveal as much of the mystery of existence as possible...The type of mind that can understand [the short story] is the kind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery."
2. "A tale from which pieces have been raked out is like a fire that has been poked. One does not know the operation has been performed, but everyone feels the effect."
3. "In short stories it is better to say not enough than to say too much, because, because--I don't know why."
4. "The short story is a dream verbalized, arranged in space and presented to the world...the dream is said to be some kind of manifestation of desire, so the short story must also represent a desire, perhaps only partly expressed, but the most interesting thing about it is its mystery."
--Joyce Carol Oates
5. "Story is very close to liturgy, which is why one's children like to have the story repeated exactly as they heard it the night before. The script ought not to deviate from the prescribed form."
6. "The novel...creates a bemusing effect. The short story, on the other hand wakes the reader up. Not only that, it answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience."
--V. S. Pritchett
7. "A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry...A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has."
8. "The short story, compared with the novel, is a lonely, personal art; the lyric cry in face of human destiny, it does not deal as the novel does with types or with problems of moment, but with what Synge calls 'the profound and common interests of life'."
9. "Always in the short story there is this sense of outlawed figures wandering about the fringes of society.... As a result there is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not often find in the novel--an intense awareness of human loneliness."
10. "The first necessity for the short story...is necessariness. The story, that is to say, must spring from an impression or perception pressing enough, acute enough to have made the writer write.
11. "The first thing we notice about our story is that we can't really see the solid outlines of it--it seems bathed in something of its own. It is wrapped in an atmosphere. This is what makes it shine, perhaps, as well as what initially obscures its plain, real shape.
12. "The strongest convention of the novel, prolonged coherence of tone...is false to the nature of whatever can be grasped of human reality.... where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, not there, in darkness. Short-story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing one can be sure of--the present moment." --Nadine Gordimer
13. A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents--he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect... In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one preestablished design."
--Edgar Allan Poe
14. "The real challenge is to pull as much of life as a story can bear into the fewest possible pages: to produce, if possible, that hallucinatory point in which time past and time future seems to co-exist with time present, that hallucinatory point which to me defines the good or great short story..."
15. "It's possible in a...short story to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things--a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman's earring--with immense, even startling power."
16. "[The short story] is as if it were torn away from its cultural background." --A. W. Schlegel
17. "The short-story writer knows that he can't proceed cumulatively, that time is not his ally. His only solution is to work vertically, heading up or down in literary space."
18. "[The short story is] a form in which the writer makes alive some experience which we are not accustomed to observe everyday, or which the ordinary man may never experience in his ordinary life.... Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected."
19. "The belief that life is a dream and we the dreamers only dreams, which comes to us at strange, romantic, and tragic moments, what is it but a desire for the great legend, the powerful story rooted in all things which explains life to us and, understanding which, the meaning of things can be threaded through all that happens."
20. "In real life, as in a story, something must happen. That is just the trouble. We grasp at a state and find only a succession of events in which the state is never quite embodied.... All that happens may be delightful: but can any such series quite embody the sheer state of being which was what we wanted.... In life and art both, as it seems to me, we are always trying to catch in our net of successive moments something which is not successive."
-C. S. Lewis
21. "[The short story creates] a vivid realization for the reader of that which moved the author to write, be it incident, be it emotion, be it situation.... thus the art of the short story becomes as much an art of tone as of incident."
-H. S. Canby
22. "The essence of the short story is to isolate, to portray the individual person, or moment, or scene in isolation‑‑detached from the great continuum‑‑at once social and historical.... the short story is a natural form for the presentation of a moment whose intensity makes it seem outside the ordinary stream of time, or the significance is outside the ordinary range of experience." ---Wendell Harris
23. "In the short story, the narrative form which pin‑points the strangeness and ambiguity of life, lyricism must entirely conceal itself behind the hard outlines of the event...The short story is the most purely artistic form; it expresses the ultimate meaning of all artistic creation as mood."
24. "I see today a new art of narration, a novel literature and category of belles-lettres, dawning upon the world. And this new art and literature--for the sake of the individual characters in the story, and in order to keep close to them and not be afraid--will be ready to sacrifice story itself.... The literature of individuals is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story.... Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: 'Who am I?'"
25. "The short story, free from the longuers of the novel is also exempt from the novel's conclusiveness--too often forced and false: it may thus more nearly than the novel approach aesthetic and moral truth."