Introduction to the Short Story

A short story.

It’s just a novel cut short right? Less developed themes and characters? Just take a novel, cut out the slow bits, speed up everything and BAM; the perfect short story.

Well, not exactly.

When writing a short story, the author has to be precise and concise in word choice and development, both of characters and themes. Because of this, short story authors often choose to leave out background details, instead beginning in the middle of all the action and developing an understanding of the characters through the plot itself. The author shows us who the characters are by leading them down different paths, giving them characteristics through the choices they make.

The author must also make concessions on the complexity of the plot. Instead of inundating the story with multiple, intersecting plot lines, both big and small, they must focus on one plot and develop that in the limited amount of pages they have. The plot in short stories, also tends to deal with more internal problems of the protagonist, as opposed to external conflicts.

When researching different genres, the short story stood out to me. For a short story every word counts, they can’t spend two chapters developing a character; instead they have to illustrate who the character is throughout the story and in small actions which add up.

This appeals to me because it seems similar to an essay, but with the arguments and ideas hidden in fictional characters and story-lines. This idea directly translates to what I want to do with my first experiment.  When I was looking through my old papers, I found one I had written for my intro to psychology course on the Stanford Prison experiment. The goal of this essay was to critically analyze the faults, both ethical and moral, in the design of this experiment using knowledge from the textbook and lectures.

This immediately gave me an idea to write about the experiment through the eyes of a participant, an idea that was later improved upon by one of my classmates. They suggested I write from the perspective of both a prisoner and a guard. From their perspective, I plan to show the doubts and fears real participants must surely have experienced during the run of the experiment.

Through this experiment, I think I will gain a new perspective on how to formulate arguments and make the best use of what space I am allotted.

3 thoughts to “Introduction to the Short Story”

  1. Kayla, I think you did a really great job at not only illustrating how the short story has impacted your new take on a previous work, but also did a good chunk of explaining the short story. I never would have even begun to describe a short story is concise, like an essay, but really, that’s what it is. I’m interested in how you’ll transfer the arguments and conciseness from your psych paper into a story. Have you thought about creating a more abstract version of a story, or have you decided to give the guard and prisoners names?

  2. I really love your idea of using your experiment to write a hypothetical, fictional story about a prisoner and a guard to demonstrate the ethical and moral faults of the Stanford Prison experiment. This is a very creative way to repurpose your original essay that I never would have thought about. Your goals for the experiment are also well-defined. How are you planning on using the technical terms that I’m sure must have existed in a Psychology paper in this short story? I would possibly represent the psychological trauma without the jargon but through the thoughts and emotions of the prisoner and guard, which might be what you were thinking already!

  3. Hi Kayla!
    Your idea to write a short story about the Stanford Prison Experiment from the perspectives of a prisoner and a guard is fascinating! I remember watching videos about the Stanford Prison Experiment in Psych 111 and thinking how surreal it was. I think the short story would bring something new to what is already out there about the experiment because a short story deals more acutely with the protagonist’s internal conflicts. You could talk about the motivations and thought processes of a prisoner and a guard. I look forward to seeing your final experiment!

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