Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

The Long and the Short of the Story

Vicente Soto

None of the numerous descriptions thus given of the short story can be considered final. Editors, critics, authors, all say something valid and none of them, apparently, since new attempts at description or definition keep emerging, says all there is to be said. At the same time something remarkable is happening: the ease with which short stories are compiled to make up a book and the spontaneity with which the author gets down to writing a short story without stopping to consider what the dickens it may be. Everyone knows with a kind of inspired knowledge what a short story is, and no one manages to say quite what it is.

Despite its limitations, the work of the editor-as-anthologist is still fine. Necessary, I daresay. The very fact that stories of several storytellers are brought together in a book is positive. Stories are better preserved this way than they would be otherwise. Should they remain dispersed, it would be harder for the reader and the critic to discover—and keep!—them. For practical purposes, some might even disappear in an odd sort of disappearing act: as if they had never existed.

The fact remains, nevertheless, that the short story has indeed a quality of unknown quantity that demands to be found. To no avail. Curiously, arriving in the world of literature after verse like a thread of cold, clear water, prose has always refused to be measured. This has been true ever since it appeared as an oral form, in the tradition of tale telling—glimpses of which can be caught from time to time in books such as Harold Courlander's The Crest and the Hide and Other African Stories, or through some of the extraordinary, wonderful passages of Samuel Feijóo's El Negro en la Literatura Folklórica Cubana

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