The Short Story: home to short fiction

Quotations

Below, The Short Story provides a list of cracking quotations from short stories and quotations about short stories.

 

Please note that these are to inspire, inform, and challenge writers and readers of the short story and do not necessarily reflect TSS’s views – indeed, while some do, others definitely do not!

Quotations below

 

Slightness and slickness often infect the short story when adapting to market requirements – Ian Reid in The Short Story (London, 1977)

 

The modern short-story writers is bound to see the world in a certain way – Bernard Bergonzi

 

The short story… is disposed to filter down experience to the prime elements of defeat and alienation – Bernard Bergonzi

 

Short stories amount for the most part to parlour tricks, party favours with built-in snappers, gadgets for including recognition and reversals – Howard Nemerov

 

The short story can move us by an intensity which the novel is unable to attain. If on the one hand the popularity has tempted short stories towards the reductive formulae of merchandise, on the other hand it sometimes encourages protean variety – Ian Reid in The Short Story

 

Ideas once proposed as definitive about the proper structure and subject material of the short story have needed revising to meet the facts of literary evolution – Ian Reid in The Short Story (London, 1977)

 

At the risk of eroding completely any idea of an essential generic type, a quasi-Platonic form of the short story, we need to be empirically mindful of changes undergone by short prose fiction before and since its widespread acceptance in the Romantic period as a field of serious literary activity – Ian Reid in The Short Story (London, 1977)

 

With short stories, the story-teller must have a story to tell, not merely some sweet prose to take out for a walk – Herbert Gold contributing to the International Symposium of the Short Story in Kenyon Review (1968)

 

Legends of demons, saints, gods and the like, and tales of outright wizardry seldom have a claim to be short stories – Alfred G. Engstrom

 

I have preferred adopting the mode of sketches and short tales rather than long works… there is a constant activity of thought and nicety of execution required in writings of the kind… in these shorter writings, every page must have its merit. The author must be continually piquant – Washing Irving in a letter to Brevoort (Dec., 1824)

 

In almost all classes of composition, the unity of effect or impression is a point of the greatest importance. It is clear, moreover, that this unity cannot be thoroughly preserved in productions whose perusal cannot be completed at one sitting – Edgar Allan Poe

 

We allude to the short prose narrative, requiring from a half hour to one or two hours in its perusal – Edgar Allan Poe

 

If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step – Edgar Allan Poe

 

In short stories it is better to say not enough than to say too much, because – because I don’t know why! – Anton Chekhov in a letter to I. L. Shchglov (Jan, 1888)

 

Your work lacks the compactness that makes short things alive – Anton Chekhov in a letter to E. M. Sh- (Nov, 1895)

 

To make a face from marble means to remove from the slab everything that is not the face – Anton Chekhov in a letter to E. M. Sh- (Nov, 1895)

 

Make the short story tremendously succinct – with a very short pulse or rhythm – and the closest selection of detail – in other words summarise intensely and deeply and keep down the lateral development. It should be a little gem of bright, quick, vivid form – Henry James from a Notebook Entry (February, 1891)

 

Crude at first [the short story] received a literary polish in the press, but its dominant quality remained. It was concise and condense, yet suggestive. It was delightfully extravagant – or a miracle of understatement – Bret Harte in ‘The Rise of the Short Story’ (Cornhill Magazine, July 1899)

 

It would seem evident, therefore, that the secret of the American short story was the treatment of characteristic American life, with absolute knowledge of its peculiarities and sympathy with its method… – Bret Harte in ‘The Rise of the Short Story’ (Cornhill Magazine, July 1899)

 

The London ‘Academy’ has seen fit recently to scoff at the critics who have been exercising themselves ove rthe so-called art of the Short Story… But the new Short Story has gained more individuality. It supports the magazines and has invaded the newspapers – Henry Seidel Canby in The Dial (October, 1901)

 

While the novel-writer aims at an eminently natural method of transcription, the author of the short story adopts a very artificial one – Henry Seidel Canby in The Dial (October, 1901)

 

A short story is simplification to the highest degree – Henry Seidel Canby in The Dial (October, 1901)

 

We are selecting, far more than in a novel, and this is because we are looking only for the chain of related incidents that go to make up one event… The process is very artificial but very powerful: it is like turning a telescope upon one nebula in the heavens – Henry Seidel Canby in The Dial (October, 1901)

 

The function of the Short Story is to be interesting, to convey vivid impressions, an therefore it must, to a degree, work with the evident and superficial thing – Henry Seidel Canby in The Dial (October, 1901)

 

Short fiction became the ‘darling’ of the magazine, however the popular magazine established specifications that grew more and more technically exacting. The kind of short story most in demand was the fast-paced and action-centred, one which moved rapidly to a sharp climax and exploded in a ‘surprise’ ending – Eugene Current-Garcia and Walton R. Patrick in What is the Short Story (Brighton, 1974)

 

The popular magazine, however, was not alone responsible for degrading the technique of the short story to the point which some of its critics labelled ‘senile’, ‘pathological’, and ‘decadent’. A second, equally important influence, was the fiction manual or handbook – Eugene Current-Garcia and Walton R. Patrick in What is the Short Story (Brighton, 1974)

 

How can a Short-story be something other than a short story? The answer is that it cannot. All than can be usefully asserted is that a précis of a long novel might be a bad short story. The whole difference between the Novel and the Short-story arises from the difference of length. It is because the Short-story is shot that it usually deal with a ‘single episode’ – Anonymous review of Brander Matthews Philosophy of the Short-story (London Academy, 1901)

 

The short story, its course plotted and its form proscribed, has become too efficient… but efficiency is not the most, it is perhaps the least, important among the undoubted elements of good literature – Henry Seidel Canby in Atlantic Monthly, (July 1915)

 

The very technique of the short-story is pathological – in the first place, its unity is abnormally artificial and intense… unity has become an obsession – Herbert Ellsworth Cory in The Dial (May, 1917)

 

Whatever may be the content of the short-story, its technique has grown more and more self-conscious. And self-consciousness is the mortal foe of originality. We may take comfort in the very fact that the short-story teems to-day on our news-stands. This is sure evidence of its garrulous senility. And the senility of the short-story augurs the sounds of voices more sonorous, the early appearance of a larger art – Herbert Ellsworth Cory in The Dial (May, 1917)

 

Like his novels, Henry James’ short stories were influential. His almost plotless short stories seemed to apply an intricate stylistic delicacy and classical unity that epitomised many of the emerging precepts of modernism – Peter Childs in Modernism 2ndd edition (Oxford, 2000)

 

One rich vein of material mined by the modernist short story was that of sexuality, freed from the constraints of Victorian morality into the open spaces of sensuous desire and erotic carnality directly addressed – Peter Childs in Modernism 2ndd edition (Oxford, 2000)

 

One genre in particular emerged as central to not only the 1980s, but also the 1900s: the short story. The short story became important for a number of reasons: the demise of the triple-deckers novel and the end of the monopoly on fiction held by lending libraries such as Maudie’s is one reason for the rise of short fiction – Mary Ann Gillies & Aurelia Mahood in Modernist Literature, An Introduction (Edinburgh, 2007)

 

A writer of novels and short fiction, Henry James was an important exponent of the modern short story. He was inspired by the form’s power to combine richness with concision – its power to “do the complicated thing with a strong brevity and lucidity.” – Mary Ann Gillies & Aurelia Mahood in Modernist Literature: An Introduction (Edinburgh, 2007)

 

The twentieth century short story arises precisely out of a sense that life can only be rewarded in fragments and compressed subjective episodes – Valerie Shaw, The Short Story A Critical Introduction (London, 1983)

 

The Short story, like the stage, has its own conventions – Valerie Shaw, The Short Story: A Critical Introduction (London, 1983)

 

All of Joyce’s short stories utilise a similar structure: each moves deceptively towards a climax and each creates expectations of a readily identifiable revelation which is dispelled on account of the complexity of the story’s actual epiphany. In doing so, the short stories subvert the unifying conventions on which they pivot – Mary Ann Gillies & Aurelia Mahood in Modernist Literature: An Introduction (Edinburgh, 2007)

 

Reading a short story by writers like these is akin to reading poetry; there is a density and precision in the use of language that demands great care on the art of the reader – Mary Ann Gillies & Aurelia Mahood in Modernist Literature: An Introduction (Edinburgh, 2007)

 

The overt artifice of the modern short story parallels modernism’s commitment to formal experimentation as a means of transcribing social realities into literary form – Mary Ann Gillies & Aurelia Mahood in Modernist Literature: An Introduction (Edinburgh, 2007)

 

The writers deliberately utilise the genre’s formal properties and, in doing so, dissonance – at the level of form – becomes a key element of the modern short story – Mary Ann Gillies & Aurelia Mahood in Modernist Literature: An Introduction (Edinburgh, 2007)

 

Much of Woolf’s shorter fiction defies definition as sketches or caricatures or short stories. To read these pieces is not to accumulate details in the conventional narrative in sense of plot and characterisation, but to experience a visionary moment that ‘startles us into a flash of understanding’, as Woolf wrote – Kathryn N. Benzel in her essay ‘Verbal Painting in Blue and Green

 

Generally the ‘narration’ in Woolf’s short fiction draws the reader away from short story conventions or character or plot and focuses on a figural consciousness, a pattern of thought that develops as the text unfolds – Kathryn N. Benzel in her essay ‘Verbal Painting in Blue and Green

 

Readers tend to devour short stories on a newssheet, but would be disinclined to read them in collections – L. P. Hartley

 

There is general critical consensus that the genuine short story severely restricts its scope for plot or action, and concentrates rather on reiteration through pattern. The short story, according to this view, involves one dramatic event only, with other subordinate events which facilitate the understanding of the main event – Dominic Head in The Modernist Short Story (Cambridge, 1992)

 

The artifice of the short story facilitates another modernist preoccupation: the analysis of personality, especially a consideration of the fragmented, dehumanized self. The self-conscious nature of the shorts story alerts us to the fact that characters within the text are part of the design that bears and moves them… – Dominic Head in The Modernist Short Story (Cambridge, 1992)

 

A key aspect of the unity aesthetic is the idea that the short story concentrates on a single character, and whereas the novel has scope to develop characterisation, the short story is usually deemed to have space only to show, to illuminate a character in a single moment of insight – Dominic Head in The Modernist Short Story (Cambridge, 1992)

 

The short story is an art of moral revelation, the novel an art of moral evolution – Mark Schorer

 

A short story relies on those values that make poetry and jazz what they are: tension, rhythms, inner beat, into unforeseen within foreseen parameters – Julio Cortazar

 

There is the idea that there is always something more to come from the short story. The frequency with which these formulations appear attest to the importance of paradox to the short story Dominic Head in The Modernist Short Story (Cambridge, 1992)

 

The first thing we see about a short story is its mystery. And in the best short stories, we return at the last to see mystery again – Eudora Welty

 

You see I’m trying in all my short stories to get the feeling of the actual life – not just to depict life – or criticise it – but to actually make it alive. So that when you read anything by me you actually experience the thing – Ernest Hemingway

 

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and t only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show that’s important – Ernest Hemingway

 

You could omit anything if you knew that the omitted part would strengthen the short story and make people feel something more than they understood – Ernest Hemingway

 

A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it – Edgar Allan Poe

 

A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film – Lorrie Moore

 

‘The story only has authority to answer that cry of heart of its characters; that one cry of heart of each of them: Who am I” – Isak Dinesen, ‘The Cardinal’s First Tale’ in the short story collection Last Tales

 

A short story is a shard, a sliver, a vignette. It’s a biopsy on the human condition but it doesn’t have this capacity to think autonomously for itself – Will Self

 

For me, the short story is the depth of a novel, the breadth of a poem, and, as you come to the last few paragraphs, the experience of surprise – Amy Bloom

 

The reader really has to step up to the plate and read a short story – Tobias Wolff

 

I was constantly watching myself, my secret self, as dependent on my actions as my own personality – Joseph Conrad, from the short story ‘Secret Sharer’

 

I watch people sometimes, wonder how they can walk around with the weight of what they know – Cate Kennedy in Dark Roots: Stories

 

The short story packs a self in a few pages predicating a lifetime – Bernard Malamud

 

I live in a house over there on the Island, and in that house there is a man waiting for me. When he drove up at the door I drove out of the dock because he says I’m his ideal – F. Scott Fitzgerald in Winter Dreams

 

In the short story we find at its most characteristic something we do not find in the novel – an intense awareness of human loneliness – Frank O’Connor in The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story

 

You become a different writer when you approach a short story. When things are not always having to represent other things, you find real human beings begin to cautiously appear on your pages – Zadie Smith

 

Short stories consume you faster. They’re connected to brevity. With the short story, you are up against mortality. I know how tough they are as a form, but they’re also a total joy – Ali Smith

 

I feel very protective in the first draft, when all the pieces are coming together. I work in a way that is not linear or chronological at all, even with the short story. I will just be writing bits and pieces, and then when I have all the pieces on the table, that for me is when it feels like the real work begins –Jill McCorkle

 

Homo Americanus is going to go on speaking and writing the way he always has, no matter what dictionary he owns – Kurt Vonnegut in Welcome to the Monkey House

 

If we’re lucky, writer and reader alike, we’ll finish the last line or two of a short story and then just sit for a minute, quietly. Ideally, we’ll ponder what we’ve just written or read; maybe our hearts or intellects will have been moved off the peg just a little from where they were before. Our body temperature will have gone up, or down, by a degree. Then, breathing evenly and steadily once more, we’ll collect ourselves, writers and readers alike, get up, “created of warm blood and nerves” as a Chekhov character puts it, and go on to the next thing: Life. Always life – Raymond Carver in Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose

 

Excuse me gentlemen, I know it is a little disturbing, because tomorrow is the end of the world, and that man is dead, but still…he hadn’t paid. Can we arrange the matter somehow? – she looks the gathered with endless anxiously and still a little angry face – Alexandar Tomov in Tales About the Insanity

 

Faith is a capacity of the spirit. It is like talent: you have to be born with it – Anton Chekhov in Love and Other Stories

 

You can write a short story in two hours. Two hours a day, you have a novel in a year – Ray Bradbury

 

Moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory – James Joyce, from the short story The Dead’

 

A short story is something that you can hold in your mind. You can really analyze how the entire thing works, like a machine – Chuck Palahniuk

 

The Grim Reaper isn’t grim at all; he’s a life-saver. He isn’t grim because he isn’t anything. . . . he is nothing. And nothing is a hell of a lot better than anything. So long, boys – Jack Kerouac in Atop an Underwood Early Stories and Other Writings

 

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row – Ray Bradbury

 

Finally I do like best of all stories whose necessity is in the implied recognition that someplace out there there exists an urgency—a chaos—, an insanity, a misrule of some dire sort which can end life as we know it but for the fact that this very story is written, this order found, this style determined, the worst averted, and we are beneficiaries of that order by being readers – Richard Ford in The Granta Book of the American Short Story

 

‘The Dead’ cannot be understood in the way that most novels are read, one thing after another; rather it exemplifies the way in which the modern short story must be read – as aesthetically patterned in such a way that only the end makes the rest of the story meaningful – Charles May, in The Short Story: The Reality of Artifice

 

The only one everlasting love is the unrealized one. The love to this thing that you’d never had. Behind it is hidden the love to your own ego and feelings – Alexandar Tomov in Unexpected Tales from the Ends of the Earth

 

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. What I want is to have the reader come out just 6 percent more awake to the world – George Saunders

 

Everything has to be pulling weight in a short story for it to be really of the first order – Tobias Wolff

 

In short stories it is better to say not enough than to say too much – Anton Chekhov

 

The task of finding concrete ways to communicate emotional states becomes the central problem for most short story writers in the twentieth century – Charles May, in The Short Story: The Realities of Artifice

 

The short story is still like the novel’s wayward younger brother, we know that it’s not respectable – but I think that can also add to the glory of it – Neil Gaiman

 

I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the ‘what happens,’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me – Alice Munro

 

If you are working in an office, where do you find the time to write a novel? But you can finish a short story in five pages. Furthermore, a short story is a perfect place to learn the craft – Ben Okri