Sunday, December 16, 2007


My friend Ruth pointed out that "stories" in English tends to mean short stories. We don't have a word that includes fiction of every length.

Short story is a length category for the Science Fiction Writers of America Nebula Award. It's the shortest length. Novelette and novella are longer works of short fiction. All of these are defined by word count. This leads to a problem for me. What do I call short fiction that is longer than 10,000 words?

(This is usually a problem that comes up when I am writing a short biography for some purpose. "Eleanor Arnason has published five novels and 30 short stories." Wait a minute! Many of those short stories were novelettes or novellas.)

Usually, I end by thinking, "I say they are all short stories, and I say to hell with the problem."

Because I am in an Old Norse kind of mood, I checked the Old Norse words for story and short story.

Thattr is the word for short story. It means a single strand within a rope, a section or division, and a short story.

Saga is the word for every other kind of story. Stories from novella length, and maybe novelette length, are called sagas. It comes from the verb "to say" and means what is told, a statement, a tale, story, history, the events which gave rise to a story, a report.

What I found interesting is -- thattr implies that a short story is incomplete, a strand or a section. I don't know where this leads, except it gives me another way to look at short stories.


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