From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A sketch story, in older usage, is a piece of writing that is generally shorter than a short story, and contains very little, if any, plot. The term was most popularly-used in the late nineteenth century. It is also often referred to simply as 'the sketch.'
A sketch story may contain little or no plot; the sketch itself may describe impressions of people or places. They may focus on individual moments, leaving the reader to imagine for themselves the events that led to this occasion, and to wonder what events will follow.
In short, a sketch story aims at suggestiveness rather than explicitness.
In modern usage, the term "short story" embraces what was once popularly termed "the sketch." During the twentieth century, writers greatly extended the range of the short story to the point where the "story" itself became inessential. Today short, short stories can be called flash fiction.
Popular writers of sketch stories
- Anton Chekhov (1860-1904):
A major Russian short story writer and playwright. The point of a typical Chekhov story is most often what happens within a given character, and that is conveyed indirectly, by suggestion or by significant detail. Chekhov eschews the traditional build-up of chronological detail, instead emphasizing moments of epiphanies and illumination over a significantly shorter period of time.
- Henry Lawson (1867-1922):
An iconic Australian short story writer and poet. However, Lawson was arguably most accomplished at writing the sketch story. In 1933, Edward Garnett praised Lawson's sketches, once observing that "Lawson gets even more feeling observation and atmosphere into a page than does Hemingway." Lawson, himself, was a firm believer in the merits of 'the sketch:'
"I thought the short story was a lazy man's game, second to 'free' verse, compared with the sketch. The sketch, to be really good, must be good in every line. But the sketch-story is best of all."
Edwardian satirist, first published in the Westminster Gazette. His short stories were collected as books still in print 100 years later. His Parliamentary sketches were popular at the time.
Washington Irving (american romanticism) - "The Shetch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman" - the book of sketches (more than 30) and several short stories - mostly set in England, some in America - the most famous works from this book: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle