Essence of the Short Story

I always start reading Mavis Gallant’s short stories with pad on knee, pencil in hand, ready to make notes about structure, style, characterization, and other nifty craft insights.

By the second paragraph all that is forgotten. I’m lost in the world of the story.

So I think about the story for a while and then re-read, this time determined to keep a clear, cold eye. Again swallowed whole by the story!

I don’t usually read introductions until I’ve read all the stories in a collection but when I started Mavis Gallant’s “Montreal Stories” again, I thought it might help get me into analytic mode.

And whoomph! There it was! In Russell Banks‘ Introduction. One of those huge, wonderful “yes, yes, that’s absolutely it” moments when all at once a basic ‘truth’ of short stories becomes totally clear and meaningful.

What is the essence of a short story? Not only did Russell Banks’ description enlighten Mavis Gallant’s stories for me, it clarified what I am trying to do with mine. I just had to share.

“The tension – and sometimes outright conflict – between remembered and felt experience on the one hand and, on the other, the known truth of what happened lies at the heart of all great short stories. It’s the argument that generates plot and structure, which, finally, gives a story meaning.” Russell Banks

You can read Russell Banks’ whole Introduction to Mavis Gallant’s “Montreal Stories” in Brick Magazine