What Makes a Good Short Story

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What Makes a Good Short Story and How Successful is R.K. Narayan in Portraying the Character of Swami in the Short Story ‘A Hero’?

Nadine Gordimer – ‘Short story writers see by the light of the flash; theirs is the art of the only thing we can be sure of – the present moment.’ This is a quote from short story writer Nadine Gordimer; referring to how the art of short story writing is to get straight to the point and write everything as it is. This is an art and those who cannot perfect it should admire it instead.

Edgar Allan Poe – ‘In the whole composition there should be no word written of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the pre-established design; and by such means, with such skill and care, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it… a sense of the fullest satisfaction.’ Edgar Allan Poe is saying that no time should be wasted at the start of the short story and that the reader should be taken directly into the action, wasting no time in describing the layout, but leaving that to be unrevealed later on in the story.

A short story doesn’t necessarily have to be a short read. A short story is a snippet of a person’s life that goes into great depth of detail and grasps the reader’s attention and imagination from the very first word. A great example of earning the reader’s attention in the first sentence come from R.K. Narayan’s ‘A Hero’, where the first sentence is ‘For Swami events took an unexpected turn.’ Because of this you know there is going to be a twist in the story, but you don’t know when and this sets up the whole story as throughout it the reader is thinking about what is going to happen next and they can’t be sure how the story is going to end. This is a great way to keep the reader interested throughout the story and makes a change to those predictable stories, where you can guess the ending before you’re even in the last paragraph.

Unlike a novel writer the writer of a short has the freedom to take time to describe and create a clear picture of the scene he’s trying to set. This therefore means that the use of adjectives and colours are essential tools for the writer, helping to describe each and every smallest detail of the scene creating a world, in which the reader can join in and see with their imagination. When reading ‘A Hero’ we can just picture the second sentence where ‘Father looked over the newspaper he was reading under the hall lamp’. This is because of the description of where he was and father like most fathers is sitting there with his arms outspread reading the newspaper, and most people would be able to relate this to a member of their family or someone they know, making this sentence easier to picture. This sentence also suggests to the reader that the father is quite overbearing, checking up on his son, even when reading the newspaper. This is easily relatable to the reader as most people have an overbearing sibling or parent in their life, and can therefore picture the character and scene with little effort.

The nature in which the story is written can have a great effect on setting the mood for the story. The short story itself should bring out all the emotions of the reader, using humour and other techniques. The emotions should be changed quickly from one to another, thus giving a short story its gripping effect. R.K. Narayan perfectly uses the reader’s emotions and changes them in an instant, from scared and sad to happy using humour. He does this in lines 102 to 106 in ‘A Hero’, with the text ‘He realised that the devil would presently pull him out and tear him, and so why should he wait? As it came nearer he crawled out from under the bench, hugged it with all his might, and used his teeth on it like a mortal weapon… ‘Aiyo! Something has bitten me.’’ This is describing the moment when Swami was scared for his life as he thought the devil had come into where he was sleeping, to...
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