Small Fissures in Reality:
: The ‘Artifice’ Short Story


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


My thesis has two components: 1) a collection of eighteen original short stories entitled Mayflies, and 2) a critical work, which proposes a definition of the ‘Artifice’ story structure, examines the techniques used by its authors, and reflects on my own Practice as Research.

Artifice stories feature one impossible element introduced into an otherwise normative context, whereupon one or more characters adapt to a new fictive universe. The structure was originally proposed by Tzvetan Todorov in The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Todorov does not give a name to the Artifice story; I instead take the term from Ra Page’s introduction to the short story anthology Parenthesis: ‘Some stories have such a high content of artifice or unreality [that] they offer themselves as an immediate sub-species […] — the ‘Artifice story’ — the archetype of which would have to be Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’’ (Page, 2006: iv). Page himself borrows the term from Jorge Luis Borges’ use of ‘Artifices’ as the title for Part Two of his collected stories: Fictions (Borges, [1965] 1998: 93-152).

My collection of stories forms an original contribution to knowledge as a) original creative works, which intrinsically contribute to the short story corpus; b) experiments in the Artifice story structure, and c) occasionally, to demonstrate what does not qualify as an Artifice story, testing to destruction my proposed definitions. Accordingly, the collection meets the National Association of Writers in Education’s benchmarks for Practice as Research, ‘that the creative writer will undertake this research through the act of creating; that they will invest knowledge and understanding into this practice, and that they will develop their knowledge and understanding through their practice’ (NAWE, 2008).

While the Artifice structure recurs in the work of many prominent short fiction writers of the past hundred years (Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo, Ted Chiang, Hassan Blasim, et al), it has so far evaded definition and investigation as a distinct form. The critical section of my thesis constitutes an original contribution to knowledge by defining the Artifice structure, by analysing archetypal Artifice stories and their narrative mechanisms, and by considering the form’s sub-species and genre hinterlands.

The thesis, as a whole, will address the following questions:

What are Artifice short stories?
What aren’t Artifice short stories?
What are the different kinds of Artifice short stories?
How do Artifice stories work, and how do I go about writing them?
Date of Award28 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorAILSA COX (Director of Studies) & ROGER GLASS (Director of Studies)


  • Todorov
  • artifice
  • fantastic
  • short story
  • magic realism
  • Irrealism
  • poetics
  • metaphor
  • allegory
  • Adam Marek
  • Hassan Blasim

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