The modern short story always shows us something about how people respond to life. The method of the short story is inevitably more limited than that of a novel. A novel tries to create a world, its own reality, within which its characters developed. In some novels, we are apparently shown the ‘whole life of a character. As it is impossible to write about every second of that character’s existence, the novelist presents the ‘whole life in a series of moments, key incidents that create a strong sense of the kind of person he or she has invented.
In the short story, however, we may catch only a glimpse of individuals – either through a dramatic incident, by showing them in an everyday situation, or by showing fleeting moments from their lives – from which the reader may gain some, but not an entire impression of characters. While we may feel that we really know characters in a novel and may respond to them as to people in real life, it is really possible to feel the same for a character in the short story. Characters in the short story are closer to those people in real life with which we have fleeting contact, like chance meetings, and holiday acquaintances. We share time with them but know little about them, of their past or of what they are really like- and then perhaps lose contact. All that remains is a brief impression based on a few shared moments. Much of the appeal of the short story lies in this incompleteness. It raises questions, doubts, and ambiguities. The incompleteness is rather like that of something that is not resolved. More is suggested in a short story than it ever tells us. Our imagination is always creatively engaged. Usually, the short story raises more questions than it answers. It arouses our curiosity. – Why do certain characters behave as they do? What will they do next? Just as poetry often seeks to communicate feeling or emotion which is often difficult – perhaps impossible – to put into words, so the ‘incompleteness’ of the story can hint at states of mind or feeling common to us all, but difficult to bring out with clarity. Like a poem, a short story can rely on a kind of ‘suggestiveness’, for example where it tries to evoke a mood rather than showing it. It certainly shares some qualities with poetry. – It seems no accident that poets like Walter de la Mare, Dylan Thomas, and Ted Huge have also written short stories.
The short story is often based around a single key moment or incident in the life of the characters. At times it represents a turning point in a character’s life. It can be a moment that actually triggers tension or conflict between two individuals, or an individual and society. It may be less the moment itself than the character’s response to it. In such cases, the key moment might already have occurred or been reported. Some moments can be trivial and ordinary; others seem dramatic and quite out of ordinary.
The short story can show a change in the main character, not through one incident but through several small moments at a significant time in the character’s life. While still lacking the space for the full psychological development of the character, this kind of story might look at a period in the character’s life rather than at a specific isolated moment.
Features of a good short story
‘A good short story reflects life and does not contain black and white characters. Themes could be topical or universal. Topical themes have a sense of immediacy and particularity. They would be pertinent to a particular place and time. Topical themes evoke greater interest and have immediate and contemporary relevance. On the other hand, there are problems, conflicts, and experiences that man has always faced and would continue to face irrespective of time and place. Such things are, for instance, birth and death, love and hate, good and evil, grief, pan, and suffering. they are of universal significance. Such themes have greater depth and endurance. It is said that great stories like symphonies contain more than one theme. Thematically topical subjects may well become ‘the rags of time. But themes of universal significance, artistically well crafted into stories form would be according to W.B. Yeats ‘ Monuments of their own significance, gathered into the artifice of eternity. Short stories may not deal with a vague or general experience. It is a section of a particular experience, special and isolated. But the particularity of the experience a universality of application in theme and value. The best stories contain both. In James Joyce’s words, a short story must have ‘epiphany’ which means self-revelation or getting a sudden vision of life. This is a self-awareness and a sense of profound insight, the protagonist or hero is exposed to, towards the end. It is said that a good short story is like a diamond; it has many facets. for example, it may reflect the facets of society, the characters, feelings, life, etc.
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