Set The Ripples Of Imagination

“I believe that any short story can become a novel, and any novel can be converted into a short story or into a poem.” Joyce Carol Oates

A short story is not the same as a novel, and the two cannot be interchanged. Different elements go into the structure of each and while a novel covers a wider picture, whole lives, whole generations, whole countries, whole centuries, a story must be kept compact and as economical as possible. It can only cover one or two incidents. A significant moment where a character realizes something for the first time, or maybe fails to do so. Sometimes the most significant moment doesn’t even occur in a story. But somewhere in the story the main character will begin to discover or learn something and as a result he/she will change. A story is dense, every word, every detail plays a part.

The action of any short story is concerned with some sort of turning point or crisis. Every action, every incident, every scene leads to the resolution of the crisis. Biographies and long descriptions have no place in a short story. While reading a novel, you as a reader might get lost in the events of the book, especially towards the middle. You might get off course, take detours by the name of subplots, only to find yourself back on track again before reaching the end.

Norman Mailer said:

“When I’m in the middle of a novel I feel like a monk in the wrong monastery.”

In a short story you have to be in the right monastery always. You have to continue throughout with the same enthusiasm and excitement. You can’t have any sidetracks, or else you will lose your readers. As the saying goes there are no boring stories, only boring storytellers. And in the words of Cecil Hunt:

“Perhaps the nearest comparison that will help the beginner is to call the novel a picture and the short story a cameo.”

Storytelling is an ancient art that has kept mankind enchanted for centuries because of the ability of the storyteller to transfer his listeners into a world which is more fascinating and real to them than their own everyday life. A storyteller who has this power will draw the readers irresistibly into his story from his very first words. Perhaps the best way to explain the effect a short story has on the reader is to use C. Henry Warren’s words:

“It is sometimes complained against the modern short story, by those unsympathetical to its more lyrical aspects, that it is more of a sketch than a story… But the aim of the short story writer need not necessarily be to tell a story, however briefly, in all its detail. If he has art enough, he can so portray a moment in life, a pose, a gesture, that it evokes the reader’s imagination and compels him to complete the story, or enlarge it, according to his own fancy. Such a story or sketch, is like a pebble dropped into the still waters of a pond: where the stone falls, the quiet surface is broken into rings of tiny waves which widen until, infinitely small, they reach the limits of the shore. That is what a skilful sketch can do; by its impact with the reader’s own mind it can set the ripples of imagination expanding until they are finally lost on far away shores.”


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4 Responses to Set The Ripples Of Imagination

  1. I sometimes find it hard to condense a story. More often than not, my short stories end up as novels! (Or two!) I have managed to create a few short stories for kids. I like how you describe the differences between the two forms. I just wish I had the skills to write more in the short form. 🙂

    • chichikir says:

      Susan you have the skill to describe events in such minute details. I on the other hand avoid descriptions because I struggle with it. Keep doing what you do best my friend! 🙂

  2. Samir says:

    Interesting topic. I often find the magic of a contemporary novel should contain the same execution as those of a short story: economical, straight to the point, condensed and always relevant. I find novels with the qualities of a short story to be the best written novels.

    On the other hand, I find novels written today following the 19th century pattern of novels to be dreary, boring and not always relevant. I almost never finish them. Mind you, I find many of the classics have the same qualities of irrelevance. But this is all personal. Sometimes I feel that many readers don’t dare speak against the classics, but I can’t imagine everyone who loves literature loves reading every classic…

    • chichikir says:

      Hehe! Two weeks ago I read a novel by James Michener. It was a big book, 400 + pages, that could easily be cut into half, maybe even less and the story would still be the same. Right now I am reading Anita Brookner, even though it’s a tiny book, I don’t think I will be able to finish it. The story doesn’t move and I can hardly read more than two pages without putting it down.
      However, two winters ago I decided to reread some of the classics. I could finish The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace. 🙂 Happy reading!

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