The Soul of Wit

H.H. Munro, AKA Saki
H. H. Munro or, as he was more commonly known, Saki, was a master of the terse tale. His classic story, The Open Window is a great example. In just a few pages, he uses what amounts to the literary equivalent of sleight of hand to convey the quintessential quirk of a particular character, and manages to induce suspense and humor almost all at once.

For me, brevity is very important in fiction; especially in the "short story" form. I don't have much use for that oxymoronic hybrid known as the long short story (between 30 and 60 pages), with a few notable exceptions, Bartleby the Scrivener for example (45 pages). I mean, either shorten or lengthen the piece; novella is a much more valid form, i.e.; The Heart of Darkness, A Christmas Carol.

Some other notable examples, joining Saki's, of sublime short short stories are:

  • Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
  • Fat by Raymond Carver 
  • The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain 
  • Mother by Grace Paley
  • The Sock by Lydia Davis

    Of course, of these examples it could be said that the essence of the story is enhanced by its economy of verbiage. A different story may require more loquacious language to complete the effect relevant to its theme.

    The shortest (and yet cogent) story is said to have been scribbled by Ernest Hemingway; just six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."  I guess this lends credence to another six words written by an even greater wordsmith: "brevity is the soul of wit".