What makes a story?

I am currently working a project on storytelling, examining it from all kinds of angles, from biological to social to past to present to future. One of the questions, naturally, is what kind of impact the current turn towards short-form narrative will have on stories. Can very short stories still be good stories?

I could just leave it with Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”). But there is also Félix Fénéon, whose very brief newspaper stories (1906, Le Matin), published over here as Novels in Three Lines, with an introduction by Luc Sante, prove that just a few words can create small worlds, each with their own miniature dramatic arcs.

Here are a few (my own translations, apologies):

A young man was killed by electric current on the peak of the roof of the Enghien railway station. The sound of his dentures was heard before he fell on a blind.

A young lady of an ambulatory profession hit A. Renaudy with an axe in a restaurant on the Blvd. Rochechouart, then disappeared.

In the bushes by the shore of Saint-Cloud the sword and uniform of the solider Baudet were found; he had disappeared on the 11th. Murder, suicice or bluff?

The Rabies Institute in Lyon was able to heal Mademoiselle Lobrichon. However, because her dog had rabies too, she died anyway.

A 65-year old bookkeeper who had almost stopped eating because he did not have a job died in the quarry of Gauvin of starvation.

Of five mussel-eaters, all of whom were workers in the 2nd artillery regiment (Nizza),  two (Armand and Geais) died, and the others are sick.

Perhaps they are the kinds of stories that would have been rewritten by a content farmer and aggregated by the popular news sites, but one feels that they would probably have been deemed too slight, not sticky enough. These are the small dramas from the back of the paper, extraordinary only to their protagonists and their kin.


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