Literature Essay

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What IS a Short-Story? by Alex Keegan The Internet Writing Journal, September 1999 In a recent class I was asked "What is a short-story?" My first answer was that it was something which could be read in one sitting and brought a singular illumination to the reader, sudden and golden like sunlight cracking through heavy cloud. I went on to say that in my opinion a "real" short-story was closer to poetry than to the novel. It would be fair to say that not all my students were convinced. Were Alice Munro's "long ramblings" shorts or short-novels, someone asked? Maybe they were novellas? And surely they weren't "poetic"? Putting poetry or the poetic approach aside for awhile, let's discuss word count; when is a short-story too long to still be a short? Is there an official point where a short becomes a novella, another where a novella becomes a novel? Is Hemingway's The Old Man & the Sea(very short) truly a novel? To begin with, let's set an arbitrary limit of words. Let's for now agree that we are to deal with stories up to 10,000 words as short stories. No doubt someone can throw in a celebrated novel of 9,999 words, but humour me... I'm not trying to be definitive here, so let's cherry-pick some definitions of the short-story. My favourite is Benét's: Something that can be read in an hour and remembered for a lifetime. I've been raving about a truly wonderful story by Nathan Englander called "The Twenty-Seventh Man." That's a "lifetime memory thing", a story I want every other writer to read, and one I'll re-read time and again. It got up under my rib-cage and touched me. I was jealous. I wanted to be its author. Other definitions: "under 5,000 words, not a novel". One writer said, "The theme of a novel will not fit into the framework of a short-story; it's like trying to cram a mural into the frame of a miniature. And as in a miniature

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