The short story is ‘a piece of fiction dealing with a single incident, material or spiritual, that can be read at one sitting; it is original, it must sparkle, excite or impress; and it must have unity of effectors impression.’ It is a short prose narrative.
It has a comparatively recent origin. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is short stories in verse. Decahedron of Boccaccio is a book of tales written in prose at the same time in Italy. In the eighteenth century Steele and Addison wrote moral short stories.
The modern short story has its origin in the tales of Hawthorne in England and Poe in America in the early part of the nineteenth century. The two writers formulated the modern theory of short-story writing. They spotlight the significance of the final impression or the end of the story.
In England Stevenson insists on an ‘initial impulse’ in a short story. It drives the writer to write the story. It can be found in plot, character or atmosphere. But the writer is not as much concerned with the subject matter as he is concerned with the impression or the idea he has to project. Therefore the end of the story is important as it always sparkle with a surprise element. The greater the twist the more enjoyable the story.
The story is roughly a miniature novel. It has a plot, and characters or setting like a novel. It demands greater skill from the writer than that of the novel. What the novelist draws on a big canvas, the short story writer does it on the thumbnail. Space and time impose many constraints on him.
Therefore it mainly concentrates on one element. Plot, character or setting predominates over the other two. Gift of the Magi by O’Leary is a story of plot. Maugham’s The Rain is the story of character. Post Haste by Colin Howard is a story of setting.
It is a very popular form in the twentieth century. The periodicals made it popular. Wells, Huxley, Bates, Joyce and Maugham are well-known short story writers.