To Gerald Loeb [Letter 72]

Item Reference Code: 143_LO1_001_001

Date(s) of creation

January 15, 1943


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.

[Page 1]
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 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:

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“Well, women are women and it is useless to try to change them. He had found out once more.” The scene in which he finds it out, the scene where the woman shows her real character and the man receives a dreadful, tragic disappointment—the scene which takes place between the paragraphs of Part Five and Part Sixthat scene must be written and presented in detail. Then you’ll have a proper short story form.

I suspect that you won’t like this suggestion because having that scene unstated is very effective. I got a jolt when I read it. But it is the effect produced by an eloquent pause in an intelligent conversation. It is not right in a short story—because the reader has been reading a long general narrative, getting acquainted with the characters and waiting for the climax when he would see them in action. That unwritten scene is the logical climax. If the reader does not see it—nor any other specific scene—he feels cheated. And you cannot choose another scene for a focus, because in a short story it is the crucial scene that must be featured.

If you make this change, I think you will have an excellent story that will sell. The situation is tragic and very human, the characters are excellently presented, the man is most appealing and will hold the interest and sympathy of the readers.

I do not object at all to the method of using the “he” and “she”, and giving the characters no names. It underscores the theme—by saying, in effect, that it is not a matter of just this one man and this one woman, but that they are the symbols of a deep tragedy which will always take place between men and women of this nature. I did not find it confusing—except in one minor instance: on page 2, line 4. The sentences read: “But she said yes. So they met and she went to the delicatessen to buy some ready things.” The first “she” refers to the girl friend, the second to the heroine, and it is confusing for the moment. I would suggest that you change it to: “But the girl said yes.” Keep the “she” exclusively for the heroine—and you will achieve the effect you want without confusion.

I would suggest that you eliminate the subtitles of “Part One,” “Part Two” etc, and also the numbering of paragraphs. It is not done in a short story—and it only stresses the impression of the outline of a novel broken into parts and chapters. A short story must be treated as a single unit. You will achieve the same effect by simple paragraph breaks.

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As a minor compliment, let me congratulate you on some of your very good sentences. They have the quality of a calm, penetrating intelligence, and a nice kind of bitter, humorous wisdom. For instance; “He wanted to start at the bottom and work to the top—not start with illusion and work down to reality.” I think this is very well put—considering what that sentence covers.

In conclusion, just as a personal remark, I want to say that it was very interesting to me to discover how you judge people. You place competence above all, as the test virtue which determines the whole character of a person. So do I. But I don’t know anyone else who does, or who understands how and why it is the test virtue. Howard Roark does. Read page 329—about Roark’s attitude toward his employees. In a general way, that attitude toward men is the whole theme of “The Fountainhead” and of the difference between creators and second-handers. I could not help wondering whether that was why you liked “The Fountainhead”, quite apart from modern architecture.

Well, I’ll be very happy if all this is of help to you in writing. Good luck—and all my best wishes to you.

Sincerely yours,


Ayn Rand