Ladies and gentlemen, readers of all ages, there is a war being waged at this very moment within the literary universe, a war which has held us in its grip for centuries, a war which has produced avid warriors dedicated to both sides and both causes.
I speak, of course, of the war between the Novel and the Short Story. And now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m going to drop that ridiculous war analogy for some plain American English and proceed with the post.
In my high school English class, we’ve been reading the works of the great American writer Edgar Allan Poe. Not the most joyful of writers, but nonetheless one of my favorite literary figures. In addition to some of his poetry, we read The Cask of Amontillado, which of course is one of his deliciously gruesome short stories and which you can read here.
Now, in learning about Poe, both in class and with the help of my handy-dandy anthology from Christmastime, I found out that he was a staunch supporter of the short story. Poe claimed that the short story was essentially the pinnacle of prose in its ability to be read in one sitting. Poe became a master of the short story, writing other such works as The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher (the latter of which I, admittedly, have not read yet, but the former of which I have, and let me tell you, it is every bit as creepy as The Cask).
This got me thinking: which is really better? So, I think this post will be written much in the way of my earlier one concerning buying or borrowing books, meaning that I will name the pros and cons of each. Here we go!
The full-length novel certainly has its advantage in that everything is bigger and more elaborate. Plot can become more complicated and interesting, characters can be fully flushed out and elaborated upon, and there is more time and more pages in which to indulge all of a writer’s literary fancies. A novel sucks you in because it makes you just want more and more and it gives you that, supplying the reader with hundreds of pages of a single incredible story.
There are some drawbacks, though. A novel can often get boring, as those hundreds of pages are indeed only one story. Also, it can take a while to finish when one might wish to read something else, and some book series admittedly drag on forever with no signs of stopping.
Short stories, on the other hand, are not at all long. They can in fact be read in one sitting, and allow the reader to momentarily become immersed fully in a certain story. A true master of the short story does not need hundreds of pages to get the job done. The narrative is concise and wholly enjoyable, and over soon enough so that a reader of short stories always has something fresh on his or her literary plate.
But this style of prose is not without its cons (no pun on homophones intended). A short story often lacks in richness of plot or fullness of characters. And if one likes the story and the tale leaves something to be desired, there is the disappointment of never being able to return to that world after too short a journey into it.
What do you think, readers? For lack of a better phrase, which Team are you on? Do you prefer a concise narrative with less extravagance, or a longer tale which allows for more time in the fictional realm? For myself, I am undecided. I appreciate both for their respective virtues. But I would like to hear your opinions, as well.