As a novelist myself, this view of the short story cannot be further from my experience of writing. The short story is not a seedling novel, any more than a poem is a novel embryo. Short stories require immense discipline to write, the restricted palate and size constraints of the short story provoke a different style of thinking to that required for the novel. The novel is an expansive genre one which can contain multiple plot lines and many characters. Novels are also more likely to be character driven as the expanded space allows for significant development of the character rather than the short stories epiphany. Thus on the surface the two forms would appear to have little in common.
However, as Gerald Prince discusses in his attempt to define the short story, the short story “must be “literary”; offered for “display”; intended or taken to be beautiful, pleasing, aesthetically affecting.” (Prince 1993) The vagueness of this definition can easily be also applied to the literary novel, another genre of writing without a solid definition, unlike its sisters, crime writing, historical fiction, romance fiction etc. As literary fiction is the genre in which I am writing, the problems of definition are mine also. What is a literary work? When in either long or short form, this is a difficult question to answer. For me as a novelist it means that I classify my work as a Histographic Metafiction, after the postmodernist definition advanced by Linda Hutcheon, a process which denies closure, and disrupts ideas of grand narrative and certainty. (Clark, 1993) The contemporary short story interested in the disruption of identity, of the limits of language and the possibility of existing outside language and signification, outside the ‘I’ is a challenge to the society as a whole and an example of extreme individualisation where every marker of selfhood is thrown off. This is a difficult idea to sustain for a novelist, though writers like Beckett, Kafka and Calvino have managed to write works along such themes. The novelist with their expanded canvas is less likely to engage with this close disruption of identity, rather as I choose to do, the novelist will look to disrupt dominant social narratives, as Jeanette Winterson does in her novel, Boating for Beginners or more seriously in Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant.
From a purely structural point of view, all narrative fiction uses the same or similar devices and techniques to tell the story. What interests me, is the looseness of the definitions and how I can exploit this looseness to my own end, aiming to produce work that is, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing and also disruptive.
Anderson, J, 2012, The Commandant, 1st edn, Text, Melbourne.
Bryson, M, 2009, Short story theory, The New Can Lit, viewed 4th June 2014, http://thenewcanlit.blogspot.com.au/2009/08/short-story-theory.html
Clark, M.M, 1993, After epiphany: American stories in the postmodern age – The Short Story: Theory and practice, Style, Vol. 27 Issue 3.
Prince, G, 1993, the long and the short of it – The short story theory and practice, Style, Vol. 27 Issue 3.
Winterson, J, 1999, Boating for Beginners, 29th edn, Vintage, London.