What is the definition of a short story?
I define a short story as a brief, focused fictional piece that contains at minimum the following key elements: plot, setting, characterization and some sort of resolution.
How long should a short story be?
In my opinion, the optimal length for a short story is between ten and fifty double-spaced pages of text. To me, anything longer than this is a novella (a short novel). Some other ways of defining the length of a short story are:
- Short stories are short enough to be read in a single sitting (from a half hour two hours). This definition can be traced back to Edgar Allen Poe, one of the first great short story writers.
- Short stories are less than 5000 words.
- Short stories are shorter than a novel.
How is a short story different from a novel?
In my opinion, the true difference between a short story and a novel is that a short story has a unity of theme, character and plot that is much more focused than a novel. Here are some other ways of stating the difference:
- Short stories tend to concentrate on one major event or conflict.
- Short stories have only one or two main characters.
- Short stories create a single specific effect.
- Short stories are more compressed than novels.
- Short stories do not have sub-plots.
What are the minimum elements of a short story?
In my opinion, a short story has all of the elements of a novel. Specifically, they tell a story, as the name suggests. One or more characters experience an event or conflict, and that event or conflict has an observable effect on the character or characters. This differentiates a short story from a character sketch, which serves only to illustrate or flesh out a character. It also differentiates a short story from anecdotes or parables, which are often amusing or demonstrate a lesson, but which do not necessarily call for a character to be changed in any real way.
What kind of short stories are there?
Short stories are as varied as novels. They can come from such genres as horror, fantasy, romance, erotica, adventure and science fiction. They can be action packed and exciting or introspective and philosophical. They can be romantic, sexy, satirical, cynical, bleak or optimistic.
I tend to write what are called literary short stories. Literary short stories focus more on character and tone than plot. In most cases they avoid other genres. I also tend to include a lot of humor in my stories, often unintentionally. That is simply my style. Your style can be whatever you want it to be.
What are some good short stories that I can read online to get myself ready for this project?
The downside of the web is that most of the stories we can access by major authors are older, public domain stories. With that said, I found a nice variety of short stories to get people started.
- The Tell-Tale Heart — Edgar Allan Poe
- Hills Like White Elephants — Ernest Hemingway
- Cathedral — Raymond Carver
- To Build a Fire — Jack London
- Eyes of a Blue Dog — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- What You Pawn I Will Redeem — Sherman Alexie
- Softcore — Joyce Carol Oates
How do YOU define a short story?
It’s your turn to speak up. Please leave your own definition of a short story in the notes below or at least comment on my definition. Feel free to mention your favorite short stories.