The categorized quotes here deal with various aspects of the short story I find interesting.


A short story is “a short prose narrative, requiring from a half hour, to one or two  hours in its perusal…having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out…”
– Edgar Allen Poe


“A short story is what you see when you look out of the window.”
– Mavis Gallant


“The basis of almost every argument or conclusion I can make is the axiom that the short story can be anything the author decides it shall be;…In that infinite flexibility, indeed lies the reason why the short story has never been adequately defined.”
-H.E. Bates


“As I see it, a short story, if it is a good story, is like a child’s kite – a small wonder, a brief, bright moment.”
-Sean O’Faolin


Comparison to Novel

“Unlike the novel, a short story may be, for all purposes, essential.”
– Jorge Luis Borges

“(In a novel) you can be more careless, you can put more trash in it and be excused for it.  In a short story that’s next to the poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right.  In the novel you can be careless but in the short story you can’t.”
– William Faulkner


“You have to be kind of clued into them, they are a world of their own, and most people find them disappointing because the best short stories are not constructed like novels.”
-Tobias Wolff


”I haven’t read a novel that I didn’t think couldn’t have been a better story.”
-Alice Munro


“(The short story) is a form that has all the power of the novel – some would say more – but none of the self-importance.”
-Joseph O’Connor


“Why does the short story lend itself so naturally to the muted but still shattering sentiments of yearning, nostalgia and regret?…in its search for the surprising yet inevitable chain of events that will illuminate a character’s — and the reader’s — life, a short story has the power to summon, like a genie from a bottle, the ghost of lost happiness and missed chances. That’s partly why this kind of fiction can affect us as intensely as a novel. Arguably, our final vision of Joyce’s Gabriel Conroy, at the end of “The Dead,” gazing at the snow and feeling his soul swoon slowly over the graveyards of Ireland, packs the emotional wallop of Captain Ahab’s battle with Moby Dick.”
-Francine Prose


Interpretation / Style

“Because the meaning of a story does not lie on its surface, visible and self-defining, does not mean that meaning does not exist.  Indeed, the ambiguity of meaning, its inner private quality, may well be part of the writer’s vision.”
– Joyce Carol Oates


“When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one.”
– Flannery O’Connor


“The short story is not as restrictive as the sonnet, but, of all the literary forms, it is possibly the most single-minded.  …at the end there has to be the literary equivalent of the magician’s puff of smoke, an outcome that is both startling and anticipated.”
-Louis Menand



“…but I am not sure it would contain any short stories.  For the short story is a minor art, and it must content itself with moving, exciting and amusing the reader. …I do not think that there is any (short story) that will give the reader that thrill, that rapture, that fruitful energy which great art can produce.”
– W. Somerset Maugham (on what a bookcase of great books would contain)


“That so much of our experience, or the stereotype which passes for it should be dealt with by means of the short story is perhaps a symptom not unnoticeable elsewhere in the public domain of an unlovely cynicism about human character.”
-Howard Nemerov

“The short story – because of its brevity – has been accused of seeing life through a knothole, a kind of ‘peep show’.”
-Thomas A. Gullason



“When a reader finishes a wonderful story and lays it aside, he should have to pause for a minute and collect himself.”
-Raymond Carver


Strange that so many of our best writers going way back, have been artists of the short story.  Strange that so many of the best young writers coming along, in schools and out, do their best work in the short story form.  Strange that the short story has not managed to capture and keep its rightful place.”
-George Garrett


“For me the thing that signals a great story is what we might call its autonomy, the fact that it detaches itself from its author like a soap bubble blown from a clay pipe.”
-Julio Cortazar


“Short stories are my addiction and my permanent, professional heartbreak. I love them but they just don’t sell well. Short stories, if put in a single volume and placed before the general reading public in the same way as any other book, will be avoided like a dull uncle at a family wedding. When suggesting things for customers to read I often ask if they like short stories. The answering “no” is nearly always accompanied by a distasteful wrinkling of the nose as if they had scented cabbage boiling nearby.”
–Matthew Perren (bookseller)

“Who reads short stories? one is asked, and I like to think that they are read by men and women in the dentist’s office, waiting to be called to the chair; they are read on transcontinental plane trips instead of watching banal and vulgar films spin out the time between our coasts; they are read by discerning and well-informed men and women who seem to feel that narrative fiction can contribute to our understanding of one another and the sometimes bewildering world around us.”
-John Cheever




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