Letter 072, pg . 1

To Gerald Loeb

Gerald Loeb (1899–1974) was a founding partner of the stock brokerage firm E.F. Hutton & Co. Rand and Loeb had a lengthy correspondence between 1943 and 1949, during which period her daily calendars list numerous meetings and dinners with him. He was also a budding writer and a friend of Frank Lloyd Wright.


January 15, 1943

Dear Mr. Loeb:

I suppose you won’t trust me at all now—because I like your story “He and She” very much. I think it is a very good story, but it has one major technical fault. It is not written in short story form.

The characterizations are excellent and it is amazing how much you have told about the two characters in such a brief space. I loved your indirect method of characterization—by small, objective, eloquent facts, rather than by explicit statements from the author. You did not say that the woman was no good and that the man was an admirable character—you showed it. I don’t know whether you noticed that this is my own method of writing. I think it is a difficult method and you have used it extremely well.

The technical fault lies in the fact that you never brought the story down to the present, that is, to a concrete incident taking place in detail before the eyes of the reader. You have told it all in the general narrative, in the manner of a synopsis. So that after one finishes it, one has the feeling of having read the outline of a novel, not a short story. The first requirement of a short story is that it must be built around one single incident. It can be an incident which is complete in itself, or it can be an incident which summarizes and climaxes a long development of events, but it must be a single incident, like a sharp focus. Otherwise it is not the construction of a short story, but of a novel, no matter what the length. Length is not the standard by which one differentiates a short story from a novel; the method of construction is. One cannot take a broad view of a subject, such as one takes for a novel, and say: “I will make it a short story by telling it briefly.” One must take a subject which can be brought into one focus, one concrete incident, and build the narrative around it. If the material cannot be treated in such a way, then it is not material for a short story.

Now, “He and She” can be treated in the proper short story form. To do that, you must show one scene between your characters in detail, with action and dialogue. That scene must be a crucial one, not just an incidental one chosen at random, but a scene that climaxes the rest and resolves the theme of the story. By these requirements, you can see for yourself what scene it must be. What is the theme of your story? It is in the last two lines: