Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How-to / advice about finding short stories / novels from their plot descriptions

Some strategies picked up along the way for locating short stories. 

Peter, a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, wrote a very helpful summary guide for finding short stories and novels.  Well worth checking out:
 LOC Guide to finding stories:    http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/lost/stories.html 

To summarize the LOC guide and add a couple of ideas:  

1.  Try regular web searches for a quote (using double-quotes) IF you have a quotation fragment or element.  (But keep in mind that often the surest memory of what was in the story might be incorrect.)   You can also look for characters
 (e.g., [ "Robin Hood" "Maid Marian" ]  )
2.  Library databases may also be helpful in locating short stories. Some databases let you limit searches by categories such as genre, subject, first and last line, and setting, or search for keywords in plot summaries: Lit FinderMagillOnLiterature PlusShort Story Index   Note that you can often connect to these databases through your local public library.  (Usually requires a login with your library card.)
3. Short story index: You should know that there are many short story indexes, including the print editions of Short Story Index, can be identified by searching the Library of Congress online catalog under subject headings such as:,  Short Stories, American - Bibliography   Short Stories, American - Indexes  Short Stories - Bibliography   Short Stories - Indexes.  Unfortunately, almost none of these index books are available for searching online (they're certainly not in Books.Google.com), even though they would be incredibly useful to have.
4.  Other online collections of stories you might want to search (say, by using site: to restrict your search to just one of these sites):    Bartleby.comProject GutenbergThe Online Books Page
5.  Social solutions:  Some listservs and message boards might prove useful.  These are collections of people who have broad knowledge about plots, characters, setting and stories in general.  Try posting your question to one or more of these:  

In general, these kinds of searches are difficult (to say the least).  Depending on how much time you can devote to the project, it's a great hunt.  

Search on! 

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