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A Brief History of the Short Story

As Ron Tanner points out the short story evolved and developed from the story form of the tale.

At which point you no doubt ask, well whats a tale?

Tales have been with humans since the dawn of time. Even as cave men and women sat around their fires at night, tales would be told to both entertain and inform the listeners. Tales have existed for as long as humans have. They are the way we construct and pass on advice, morality, information and warnings.

The tale has a long history and, still today, has huge cultural impact on our world. Here are a couple of examples;

  • The Greek Historian Herodotus, often refered to as the father of Western history, travelled the Greek Mediterranean in the 5th Century BC collecting tales to include in his history
  • The Roman writer Aesop is still remembered today for his fables and his most famous, the Tortoise and the Hare, is retold to every generation of young children. There are few in the world that don’t recognise the moral to that tale.
  • Disney has revolutionised the fairy tales, written by the likes of the brothers Grimm and Han Christian Andersen. Many though originate as folk tales passed on by communities as a way of explaining the world around them. Now though we have Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and so many more (even though it is worth saying that the versions we have now are watered down versions of the original stories that reflected a much more brutal and hard world in which the teller hoped a good ending could occur). Take a look here if you’d like to find out more about folk and fairy tales. They are fascinating things.

Defining Tales

In trying to define the tale we can break those stories down and define them in 5 different ways;

  1. There are the recitals of events or happenings; reports or revelations of some kind
  2. Then you have the malicious story, piece of gossip, or petty complaint.
  3. Also there is the deliberate lie; a falsehood.
  4. Mainly they are narratives of real or imaginary events; a story.
  5. But in Archaic terms we also have a tally or reckoning; a total.
It’s the fourth definition that impacts on the short story; a narrative or real or imaginary events.
What is different about the short story though is its character driven narrative compared to the tales focus on events or morality.
In that way the short story is similar to the novel in design and purpose. But what sets it apart is its size and quick resolution.

It is worth noting the difference between and short story and the novel. E.M. Forster defined a novel by citing the definition of a Frenchman named Abel Chevalley who stated: “a fiction in prose of a certain extent” and adds that he defines “extent” as over 50,000 words.

So a novel is fiction written at length and has the time and words to develop characters, setting and plot in a complex and varied way. A short story doesn’t. It has to be more focused in its story telling, narrower in its scope/scale and crisper in arriving at its outcome.

The modern short story evolved during the 19th century with the explosion, in the west, of a more educated and thus wider readership and a growing number of magazines and periodicals to service those new markets.

Consequently authors that today remain households names, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott, Edgar Allan Poe and of course Charles Dickens, all contributed to these new shorter publications with stories that embraced the new genre.

If you’d like to know more about the history of the short story, the British writer William Boyd has written a fantastic article on the subject and it can be found and read here.

The Modern ‘Short’

In many ways global publishing is once again going through the sort of titanic shift that saw the short story born during the 19th century.

With the advent of the internet and development of technology both the traditional means of publishing work and the form that it takes has changed and evolved.

Today when we talk about the ‘short’ we no longer just mean the short story. Now we have to embrace a whole range of new media forms; from radio podcasts, to youtube videos, to interactive works.

In part this is why Solqu Shorts was born. Not only did we want to give something back to both readers and writers (for free) but we also felt there was a gap in the market. Lots of sites promote short stories but few offer a platform for short story writers to work alongside podcasters, artists, photographers, illustrators, video short makers and many more.

For us today the short can be any of these things and probably in the coming years a whole lot more new things that we haven’t even though of yet.

It’s an exciting future. That much we know.

So we want to embrace it here at Solqu Shorts and we hope you enjoy the work posted.

If you’d like to contribute then have a look at our submissions guidelines. Then take the plunge and get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

(Of course telling everyone you know about the site would help a whole a lot of course!)

So why not start by clicking the Facebook ‘LIKE’ button. Every little helps after all.

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One thought on “History of the Short Story

  1. Pingback: How to create a short story plot « SolQu Shorts

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