THE SHORT-STORY differs essentially from all the longer forms of fiction because its brevity forces the writer to confine himself to a single one of the three elements which the author of a novel may combine at his pleasure. These three elements are the plot, the characters, and the setting.
The novelist may pay equal attention to what happens, to the persons to whom these things happen, and to the places where they happen. But the limitations of space forbid this variety to the short-story writer; he has to make his choice among the three. If he centers his efforts on his plot, he has no time to elaborate either character or background; this is what Poe has done in the "Murders in the Rue Morgue." If he focuses the interest on a character, his plotting must be summary, and his setting can only be sketched in; this is what George W. Cable has preferred to do in "Posson Jone." If he concentrates the reader's attention on the environment, on the place where the event happens, on the atmosphere, so to speak, he must use character and incident only to intensify the impression of the place and the time; this is what we find in Hamlin Garland's "Return of the Private." When once the writer has decided which of the three elements he intends to employ, he must abide by his decision. 1
In an admirable paper on the "Structure of the Short-story," by Clayton Hamilton (published in the Reader, February, 1906), we are told that "the aim of the short-story is to produce a single narrative effect with the greatest economy of means that is consistent with the utmost emphasis." Success is attained almost as much by what the author leaves out as by what he puts in. The examples in the present volume reveal that it was only very slowly that authors came to a full understanding of this principle. Even Boccaccio, a master of narrative, wastes time in the telling of his tale. Addison has more than one useless page in his story; and he also discounts the effect of what ought to be his most striking scene by letting out his secret in advance. Pushkin injures the forward movement of his story by shifting the point of view in the second half of the narrative. On the other hand, Lamb gains by making his story a monologue, and Dickens begins by striking exactly the right note with his opening words,