Short Story Month 2017—Part 5: Short Story Writers on the Novel vs. Short Story
Isak Dinesen: "I see today a new art of narration, a novel literature and category of belles-lettres, dawning upon the world. And this new art and literature--for the sake of the individual characters in the story, and in order to keep close to them and not be afraid--will be ready to sacrifice story itself.... The literature of individuals is a noble art, a great earnest and ambitious human product. But it is a human product. The divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story.... Within our whole universe the story only has authority to answer the cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: 'Who am I?'"
A.E. Coppard: “First I want to crush the assumption that the short story and the novel are manifestations of one principle of fiction, differentiated merely by size. In fact, the relationship of the short story to the novel amounts to nothing at all. The novel is a distinct form of art having a pedigree and practice of hardly more than a couple of hundred years; the short story, so far from being its offspring, is an ancient art originating in the folk tale, which was a thing of joy even before writing, not to mention printing, was invented… The folk tale ministered to an apparently inborn and universal desire to hear tales.”
Deborah Eisenberg: “There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on about the demands of doing something long, something that looks just slightly more conventional.”
H. E. Bates: “The short story, whether short or long, poetical or reported, plotted or sketched, concrete or cobweb, has an insistent and eternal fluidity that slips through the hands…. The novel is predominantly an exploration of life…The development of character, the forward movement of time, have always been and perhaps always will be the pulse and nerve of the novel. But in the short story time need not move, except by an infinitesimal fraction; the characters themselves need not move; they need not grow old; indeed there may be no characters at all.”
Grace Paley: For me, somehow, the short story is very close to the poem in feeling and not so close in feeling to the novel, although it’s about the same people that a novel would be about. But what it tries to say is the poem of those lives.
Anne Beattie: “I don’t think that short stories have all that much in common with novels. A story re-creates for me more directly what my sense of the world is; a short story writer has to use language differently from a novelist.”
Annie Proulx: “The construction of short stories calls for a markedly different set of mind than work on a novel, and for me short stories are at once more interesting and more difficult to write than longer works. I think the short story is a superior form. It’s definitely more difficult than writing a novel.”
William Faulkner: "A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry...A novel actually requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has."
Grace Paley: I really am in love with the story form, so I can’t say the novel will do something a short story can’t. I would just say they probably do something different. And I’ve never been really clear about it.
George Saunders: The novel and the short story “are, at their origin, very different… In a novel the whole point is the little constructions along the way… A chance to describe a certain household or a certain while-travelling phenomenon. And the plot is just a way to link these together, and, in a sense justify them…. Whereas in a story the progression of the plot is what the whole machine is ultimately judged against. You can do the other things—description, dialogue, etc., but any piece that is inessential to the sense that this thing is moving forward, and along a certain thematic track is felt as extraneous.”
William Carlos Williams: What are the advantages of the short story as an art form? One clear advantage as against a novel—which is its nearest cousin—is that you do not have to bear in mind the complex structural paraphernalia of a novel in writing a short story and so may dwell on the manner, the writing.
Edith Wharton: “The chief technical difference between the short story and the novel may be summed up by saying that the situation is the main concern of the short story, character of the novel; and it follows that the effect produced by the short story depends almost entirely on its form, or presentation. The short story, free from the longuers of the novel is also exempt from the novel's conclusiveness--too often forced and false: it may thus more nearly than the novel approach aesthetic and moral truth."
William Faulkner: “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.”
Frank O’Connor: "The short story, compared with the novel, is a lonely, personal art; the lyric cry in face of human destiny, it does not deal as the novel does with types or with problems of moment, but with what Synge calls 'the profound and common interests of life'."
Nadine Gordimer: "The strongest convention of the novel, prolonged coherence of tone...is false to the nature of whatever can be grasped of human reality.... where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, not there, in darkness. Short-story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing one can be sure of--the present moment."
Richard Bausch: T”he short story is such a persistent form: For the fact is that there are matters of the spirit the short story addresses better than any other literary art."
Lee K. Abbott: Stories are sometimes as demanding to read as they are to write, and frankly writing a couple hundred pages or three or four hundred pages of that kind of thing would kill me, exhaust the hell out of me.
John Cheever: I do think that if it is good, it is perhaps the most intense form of writing that I’ve ever had any experience with. The last story I wrote that I liked—I felt as though it had been written out of my left ventricle—I thought ‘I don’t want to write any more short stories, because you don’t fool around…. With a short story, you have to be in there on every word; every verb has to be lambent and strong. It’s a fairly exhausting task, I think.”