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  1. #1
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    The Forms of Fiction

    John Gardner and Lennis Dunlap, in their textbook The Forms of Fiction, Random House, 1962, posited the existence of the following forms of short fiction: the sketch, the fable, the yarn, the tale, and the short story. In brief, here is a look at their thought:
    The sketch, they define as a description of a person or place, occasionally, an event, e.g., Hawthorne’s The Gray Champion. As a rule, the element most consistently stressed in a sketch is atmosphere. Primarily, the difference between a sketch and a short story is that short story does use plot and thus may explore its theme more fully.
    The fable is analogical, epigrammatic, economical, and absolutely concrete. It has no room for elaboration of character or setting and, originally, had no room for a concluding statement. Consider Aesop’s The Wolf and the Lion or Kafka’s The Country Doctor. In a fable, surface is relatively insignificant and exists for the sake of the meaning it carries.
    The yarn is a bizarre or comic story related in a manner suggesting a storyteller working in the oral tradition employing verbal and structural repetition, digression, asides to the reader, homely expressions and exaggerations as he embellishes, out of memory and imagination, incidents, characters or settings. Consider Beowulf and Mark Twain’s Baker’s Bluejay Yarn.
    The tale, like the yarn, usually deals with extraordinary occurrences, either supernatural or natural. Whereas the comic or grotesque effect of the yarn may depend in part on the interplay of the reader’s awareness of reality and the narrator’s distortion of it, the success of the tale depends upon the reader’s willingness to put mundane reality out of his mind altogether, a willing suspension of disbelief. Consider Snow White and Isak Dinesen’s Sorrow-Acre.
    The short story may have the form of sketch, fable, yarn, or tale but it also has a more complex structure and less adherence to convention. Consider Guy de Maupassant’s A Piece of String, Tolstoy’s Three Deaths, and Trilling’s Of This Time, Of That Place.

    We, who spend so much time agonizing over the meaning of sff, what fits where and why and who says so, may find this quite different look at categories of fiction a shock to the system. I’ve spent a good couple of days looking at my own output and have discovered that each story I’ve written fits into one of these categories without fail and without argument. That makes one way of looking at what I write as not so much sff, but fables, and yarns, and tales. I’ve done some sketches, it turns out - Two Hands is an example - but not as much as the other categories. The interesting point for me is that I was not aware that what I was writing fell into one of these categories.
    For those of us dealing monthly with a flash fiction contest, the distinctions may be useful. I can imagine a contest requiring production of a story in one of the categories, say write a yarn about….’

    They produced the text in 1962, damned near a half-century ago, and I wonder if their notions still resonate today.

  2. #2
    It could be worse. ~tmso Moderator N. E. White's Avatar
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    Hey HE,

    That's really interesting. I guess that shows just how little 'new' there is under the sun.

    Do their notions still resonate today? I would say so. We just might re-word and re-package the ideas, but the ideas are plainly there as you found in your own recent works.

    Funny, I thought that Fung Koo with his weird way of presenting the Short Story contest theme was heading in that direction. I thought he was trying to specifically guide us to write a specific kind of story. A yarn about the choice of pirate or ninja being presented to someone sitting in front of a computer. That's what I thought the theme was when I first read it. Alas, no. It would be a great exercise to attempt a contest that like.

    I'll have to review my own stories and see how they fit into this schema.

    Cheers!

  3. #3
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    They produced the text in 1962, damned near a half-century ago, and I wonder if their notions still resonate today.
    I would say that they resonate, yes, but in the way that makes me weary old bones rattle.

    When it comes to genres, there are two very distinct historical realities at play, and between them a long period of experimentalism we typically call Modernism (aka -- industrialization). 1962 places this text at right about the end of Modernism, in the early transition to postmodernism. In postmodern terms, these wouldn't be genres, per se -- rather, they'd be something more akin to monoglossia (in a nutshell: singular form and function, as defined by use in a specific cultural linguistic code).

    Past 1962, the conversion from short fiction to long fiction as the dominant literary form was complete. Today, we look at just about everything through the lens of long fiction (aka -- the novel). When we discuss genre in long fiction, we're talking about something quite different than in short fiction -- particularly when it comes to short fiction from the Enlightenment through to the industrial revolution, as opposed to Modernist short fiction and forward. The unfortunate part is that we've blurred the two together, as if genres are the same no matter the length of the piece -- they're not.

    For one, in the history of short fiction there's an emphasis on economical use of language. Long fiction, by its very nature, has no real requirement of economy. A novel is composed of many parts and told in many voices and often employs many styles within one text -- all of which may be economical in terms of rendering a tightly delivered story, but it's the capacity of long fiction to accomodate so many different and often contradictory voices that makes it unique -- whereas short fiction is supposed to be a single part with a singular voice toward a singular aim. So, from the long fiction conception of literature, concepts like sketch, fable, yarn, and tale become something more akin to style than genre proper.

    That said, these short fiction genres are finding a resurgence of interest and the understanding seems to be coming through that the genre considerations for long and short fiction aren't necessarily equal. A lot of long fiction emulates older short fiction genres, but the nature of long fiction allows that to simply be a quality of the text, rather than its very genre definition.

    There's a whole side discussion about these specific short fiction genre forms and their relationship to the emergence of literate and post-literate societies. The fact that these short fiction genres are still employed heavily in early-literacy texts -- "grade level appropriate" texts, in other words -- speaks to their continued importance, but I would say that the awareness of them as genres and their utility in literacy education is almost completely lost (certainly the Ontario early literacy curriculum makes no explicit mention of them, but you'll find countless examples of each on every available reading list). Your typical teacher providing early literacy instruction to kids has no idea why these forms are what they are, how they're related to poetic conventions as teaching tools, and how important they are in terms of how we conceive of the modern long fiction story. Nor how important they are to learning how to be rhetorically economical.

    Blah blah blah....

    Yes, the terms resonate. The SFF genre discussion we get stuck in is another beast entirely, though. If we could limit the discussion to pre-1950s SFF, we might get somewhere, and these short fiction genres would really apply. In fact, that would probably be a comparatively painless discussion. It's the long fiction form that's the big issue there. SFF, like every other kind of literature, went through the Modernist phase and is now decidedly postmodern. But there's a pole up so many people's respective arse-ends about modernism and academic elitism that it's nearly impossible to have a reasonable discussion of the issue.

    As to the flash fiction contest, I say we do it up.

    TMSO -- I didn't originally have this sort of return-to-the-past in mind for the short fiction contest, but nor would I have precluded it as an option -- you could certainly adopt one of these genres if you choose. Fantasy as a genre doesn't preclude any one of these -- in fact, The Tale and The Fable are two of the original source genres for the long fiction genre we today call Fantasy. I'd be intrigued to see what you do with the theme if you were to adopt one of these.

  4. #4
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hereford Eye View Post
    John Gardner and Lennis Dunlap, in their textbook The Forms of Fiction, Random House, 1962, posited the existence of the following forms of short fiction: the sketch, the fable, the yarn, the tale, and the short story.
    Interesting categorization. Did they come up with anything similar for long fiction?
    ____________

    --WB

  5. #5
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    To be fair to the authors, I have summarized their thought about short fiction in my first post and any summary omits a great deal of supporting detail. To summarize their thought on longer fiction, I will again summarize: The short novel -novella, novelle, novelette and brief novel - are defined in terms of length The short novel is 20- to 50,000 words. Anything over 50,000 words is a novel. They provide a few paragraphs describing both forms describing capabilities and limitations.
    This is a textbook and that drives its construction. The outline looks like:
    Part I - Short Frms: Form and Its Relationship to Meaning
    Katherine Anne Porter: The Witness Questions and comments
    Ernest Hemingway: After the Storm Analysis
    James Thurber: The Unicorn in the Garden
    Nathaniel Hawthorne: Wakefield Questions and comments
    Franz Kafka: A Country Doctor Analysis
    Mark Twain: Baker's Bluejay Yarn
    Sherwood Anderson: Death in the Woods Questions and comments
    William Faulkner: Spotted Horses Analysis
    Edgar Allen Poe: Ligeia
    Isak Dinesen: Sorrow-Acre Questions and comments
    Part II Short Forms: Short Fiction for Study
    Fyodor Dostoevski: The Peasant Marey
    Leo Tolstoy: Three Deaths
    Guy de Maupassant: The Piece of String
    Anton Checkhov: A Trifling Occurrence
    James Joyce: The Sisters
    Katherine Mansfield: The Fly
    Luigi Pirandello: War
    Isaac Babel: The Story of My Dovecot
    John Steinbeck: The Chrysanthemums
    Liam O'Flaherty: The Lovely Beasts
    Peter Taylor: The Fancy Woman
    Flannery O'Connor: A Good Man Is Hard To Find
    Part III Longer Forms
    Stephen Crane: The Blue Hotel Questions and comments
    Joseph COnrad: The Secret Sharer
    Lionel Trilling: Of This Time, Of That Place
    Henry James: The Jolly Corner
    D.H. Lawrence: The Fox Questions and comments
    Herman Melville: Benito Cereno
    Thomas Mann: Death in Venice

    Indicating the forms listed for short fiction carry over to long fiction. Long fiction has more time to explore specific and varied aspects of a given instantiation of the form.

  6. #6
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    forms of fiction

    Thanks, Hereford, for the info. It seems we live in a time where much of the mid-range is covered by the film industry rather than the publishing industry. With the exception of offerings in the Young Adult market, you don't see many novellas these days.

    --WB

  7. #7
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    I would firmly disagree. You didn't see a lot of novellas in the 1990's maybe, but, particularly in category SFF, they're all over the place since. They are put out mostly by smaller presses who can afford to do them as novella novels, as well as sometimes inserted in big anthologies or short story collections. I recently read Shambling Toward Hiroshima, a SF novella by James Morrow put out by Tachyon Publications, (it was excellent,) and God Created Zombies by Andrew Hook, put out by the British press NewCon. John Scalzi just now has a novella out, The God Engines, from Subterranean Press. It's not just big names; (Hook is well-known in the field and had his own small press, Scalzi and Morrow are bestsellers,) but novellas are also a good way for smaller press to bring out new authors. Bigger publishers have been known to try them too. On the non-SFF front, the novella The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett was put out by Random House in 2001 and was an international bestseller. Novels have always been the bigger market, but novellas always make up a small market and with electronic publishing, have been expanding.

  8. #8
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Add to Her Greatness' data the idea that Hugos have been consistently awarded in the novella and novelette categories.

  9. #9
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    NewCon Press is I believe gearing up for a couple more novella length publications.

    In fact "The Push" by Dave Hutchinson a novella published by NewCon is in there with the big guys on the long list for 2009 BSFA awards.

    In fact NewCon has a number of nominations. The short list will be announced soon...

  10. #10
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    forms of fiction -- novellas

    Hey KatG, Hereford Eye & Holbrook --

    Why is it that SFFworld is one place where it's actually fun to be corrected? Now I simply need to track down a few of these tomes and give 'em a try.
    Thanks -- WB

  11. #11
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    This is the link for NewCon Press. Not sure if Ian posts to the states, but worth asking.

    http://www.newconpress.co.uk/Books/t...0/Default.aspx


    And if you fancy to meet the owner/editor in person, Ian will be at Eastercon at Heathrow this Easter.

    http://www.odyssey2010.org/

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