Selecting Short Stories

Author: Megan Zimmerman, 2nd Year English MA Student

When discussing my project with Dr. Wright, we came up with four genres that I would pull stories from science fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance. These genres are easily identifiable, but, moreover, genres that we felt would most likely have structural differences in their sentences due to the specific type of atmosphere they worked to create. If there is a sentence structure difference amongst genres, we theorized that these genres would be easiest to see that difference in. However, finding short story examples for my genre project was a project in and of itself.

While there were a few short stories I knew that I wanted to use, I knew I would need a good sample size in an effort to reproduce results (an important hallmark in any experiment). The stories that I knew I wanted to use were “There Will Comes Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury; “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison; and “Autopsy Room Four” by Stephen King, but I needed more as I planned to diagram three to four stories per genre. Luckily, there is no shortage of short stories for science fiction and horror – romance and fantasy, on the other hand, was harder to pin down.

When working to find short stories, my goal was to use short stories by authors that had previously been published. I also tried to find stories that were more popular – stories that most people would have heard of, even if they hadn’t actually read them. Again, this was easier said than done when it came to the romance and fantasy genres. Finding short stories for fantasy was hard as, most people would attest to, fantasies tend to be big. Worldbuilding is a large focus for fantasy authors and their writing tends to show that with novels hundreds of pages long. I was eventually able to find a couple of short stories and a couple of them are from established authors, including Ursula Le Guin.

That name probably sounds familiar to you. That’s because she’s the mother of science fiction, but here I am using one of her short fantasy stories. This is actually the case for another short story, one by Anne McCaffrey. I’m using her short fantasy story “The Smallest Dragonboy,” but McCaffrey is more known for her science fiction works. This begs the question – will these well-known science fiction writers have different sentence structures when writing fantasy or will they differ? Or will they skew the results? Analysis and time will tell.

The hardest genre to find short stories for, by far, was the romance genre. Or maybe I should say that finding good short stories was hard to find. There are plenty of romance stories available on the internet, but I wanted to avoid outright smut. In the end, I could only find three short stories from the romance genre that I felt confident enough to use. One came by the way of a romance author’s website; another came by way of a Writer’s Digest competition; and the final one came from a short story website that was written by a published author.

You may be asking why I decided to use short stories if I was having such a hard time determining my experimental samples. To be sure, reading time played a role in that decision. While I would love to recreate this project on the level of a novel, I had to be aware of the time constraints I would have in my current situation – I had to be realistic in my expectations. Secondly, and most importantly, I believe that by using short stories I will get a focused genre experience. By the nature of a short story, it has to be tight, clean, and straightforward. The rambling is kept to a minimum as the author has a very specific goal to accomplish in a very short amount of time. Theoretically, every sentence I read should be tinged with the genre it’s meant to encompass as compared to a novel that can more easily pull in hints of other genres.

Maybe down the line when I have more time I’ll scale up my project, but for now, I’m excited with what I have.

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