Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

Short stories;

A short story is a brief piece of writing that tells a story. In English literature, short stories are known for being concise, meaning they get right to the point. They usually focus on a single event, a small set of characters, and one main idea. Unlike novels, which can have many chapters and a lot of details, short stories are much shorter and can often be read in one sitting. They aim to give the reader a quick but memorable experience, often leaving a lasting impression with a twist or a powerful message. Writers use short stories to explore interesting characters, dramatic situations, or important truths about life, all within a compact and easy-to-read format.

What is a short story?

A short story is a brief fictional prose narrative that is shorter than a novel and that usually deals with only a few characters. It is intended to be read in a single sitting and to evoke a single effect or mood. A short story typically focuses on one incident, has a single plot, a single setting, a small number of characters, and covers a short period“.

One famous definition by Edgar Allan Poe, a renowned American author known for his short stories, emphasizes that a short story should have a unity of effect or impression on the reader. According to Poe, every element of the story—from the opening sentence to the conclusion—should contribute to this single emotional effect. This precision and focus distinguish short stories from longer forms of storytelling, like novels.

Ernest Hemingway – “A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened. If you leave or skip something because you do not know it, the story will be worthless. The test of any story is how very good the stuff that you, not your editors, omit.”

Historical background:

The short story has a rich and varied history that spans cultures and centuries. Here’s a simple overview:

Ancient Origins:

Short stories have existed in oral and written forms for thousands of years. Ancient cultures, like those of Egypt and Greece, often told concise, narrative tales that could be considered early forms of the short story. For example, Aesop’s fables from ancient Greece are short, moralistic tales that have influenced storytelling around the world.

Middle Ages to Renaissance:

During the Middle Ages, various forms of short narratives such as parables, fairy tales, and fables circulated throughout Europe, often with a moral or lesson. The Renaissance saw the emergence of more structured forms of the short story in Europe, such as Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” a collection of 100 tales told by ten young people isolated outside Florence to escape the Black Plague.

17th and 18th Centuries:

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the short story evolved with writers like Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, who penned fairy tales that are still popular today. In East Asia, authors like Pu Songling in China wrote influential collections of supernatural tales, such as “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.”

19th Century:

The 19th century is often considered the “golden age” of the short story, especially in America and Russia. Writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and later, Anton Chekhov, refined the short story into a more precise and artful form. Poe, in particular, defined a short story as a narrative that could be read in one sitting and focused on a single effect or mood.

20th Century and Beyond:

In the 20th century, the short story was adapted to include a wide array of styles and subjects. Modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf experimented with stream of consciousness and other new narrative techniques. In America, authors like Ernest Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor used a more direct, sparse style. The short story became a popular form for exploring the subtleties of human experience and emotion.

“A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.”
Lorrie Moore –

Elements of short stories:

Throughout its development, the short story has remained a powerful medium for writers to explore brief but potent ideas. Its ability to deliver a concentrated impact in just a few pages makes it unique among literary forms.

Short stories, while brief, are complex in their structure and can convey powerful themes and narratives. Here are the key elements that make up a short story:


The plot is the sequence of events that occur in the story. It usually follows a traditional arc of exposition (introduction of setting and characters), rising action (events leading to the climax), climax (the turning point or most intense moment of the story), falling action, and resolution.


This is the time and place in which the story occurs. The setting can establish the atmosphere, or mood, and can also play a crucial role in the development of the story by influencing the characters and events.


Characters are the individuals involved in the story. In a short story, characters are usually fewer and more focused than in novels. The main character is often called the protagonist, who faces a conflict that drives the plot. There may also be an antagonist, the force or character that opposes the protagonist.


Conflict is the central problem or issue to be resolved in the story, involving the main character struggling against one or more forces. This can be a conflict with another character, society, nature, or within the protagonist.


The theme is the underlying message or insight that the writer wishes to convey. It can be a moral, a warning, a philosophical insight, or any kind of universal truth that reflects on human experience.

Point of View:

This refers to the perspective from which the story is told. It can be first person (told from the perspective of “I”), third person (an outside narrator), or, less commonly, second person (addressing the reader as “you”). Each point of view provides different levels of closeness to the characters’ thoughts and experiences.


The tone is the attitude or feeling that the author expresses through their writing, which can set the mood or atmosphere of the story. Tone can be serious, humorous, sarcastic, sad, ironic, etc., and helps shape the reader’s emotional response to the story.


Style refers to the author’s choice of language and how it is used to express ideas and move the plot along. This includes the length and structure of sentences, the use of figurative language, and the complexity of vocabulary.


Many short stories use symbols—a physical object, event, or character used to represent something else—to add deeper meaning to the narrative. Symbols often stand for larger concepts and themes.


Dialogue represents the conversations between characters. Good dialogue can reveal characters’ relationships, and personalities, and contribute significantly to the development of the plot.

These elements work together to create a vivid and memorable short story. Each element contributes in its way to the overall meaning, impact, and structure of the narrative.

Types of short stories:

Let’s dive deeper into each type of short story, exploring the unique aspects of each and providing a more detailed example to illustrate the characteristics.

Literary Short Stories:

Literary short stories emphasize narrative craft, character depth, and thematic exploration. They often tackle complex human emotions and ethical dilemmas, offering nuanced insights into the human condition.

Example: “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway. This story uses subtle dialogue between a couple to explore the themes of communication, choice, and conflict within a relationship, set against the backdrop of a Spanish train station.

Genre Short Stories:

These stories adhere to the conventions of specific genres like science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, providing readers with familiar elements that align with those genres.

Example: “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov. Set on a planet with six suns, this science fiction tale explores the psychological impact of darkness on a civilization that has never experienced night. The impending darkness threatens to unravel societal norms and challenges the characters’ understanding of their world.

Flash Fiction:

Flash fiction is characterized by extreme brevity, challenging authors to tell a compelling story in under 1,000 words. These stories are often impactful, delivering a memorable message or twist in a few short paragraphs.

Example: “Sticks” by George Saunders. Over a few hundred words, Saunders paints a lifetime portrait of a father as seen through the lens of the different ways he decorates a metal pole in their yard across decades, encapsulating family dynamics and personal evolution.

Anecdotal Short Stories:

Anecdotal short stories are based on personal incidents or real events, often humorous or reflective, and typically relay a particular moment of significance in a way that resonates with the reader.

Example: “A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker. This story humorously and painfully captures the internal monologue of a woman waiting for a phone call from a man she’s interested in, reflecting larger themes of love, obsession, and expectation.
Historical Short Stories:

Set against the backdrop of a well-defined historical period, these stories incorporate true events, settings, or figures from history, blending factual and fictional elements to enhance the narrative.
Example: “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield. This story is set in the early 20th century and juxtaposes a wealthy family’s lavish garden party with a nearby worker’s sudden death, exploring class consciousness and existential realizations.

Mystery Short Stories:

Focused on a puzzle or crime to solve, mystery short stories often feature a detective or amateur sleuth and hinge on the intrigue of a whodunit.

Example: “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe. This detective story features C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s famed protagonist, who solves a case involving a letter stolen from a royal apartment, showcasing Poe’s influence on the mystery genre.

Horror Short Stories:

Designed to evoke fear, horror short stories utilize supernatural elements, psychological thrills, or physical horror to scare the reader.

Example: “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs. This tale involves a magical talisman that grants wishes with horrifying consequences, exploring themes of fate, loss, and the uncontrollable nature of death.

Romantic Short Stories:

These stories focus on romance, delving into relationships and the complexities of love and connection between characters.

Example: “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. This poignant story of a poor but loving couple who each sacrifice their most valuable possession to buy the other a Christmas gift illustrates themes of love, sacrifice, and irony.

Satirical Short Stories:

Using humor, irony, or exaggeration, satirical short stories critique social norms, politics, or human behavior.

Example: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber. This story uses the humorous daydream adventures of its meek protagonist to satirize romantic adventure stories and comment on mundane modern life and its impacts on the individual’s psyche.

Short stories collection:

Here are some notable collections of short stories, each featuring a diverse range of tales by renowned authors, along with their publication dates:

“Dubliners” by James Joyce (1914)

A collection of fifteen stories that collectively paint a portrait of Dublin life. This work captures the mundane and profound moments in the lives of ordinary Dubliners and is celebrated for its depth and realism.

“Nine Stories” by J.D. Salinger (1953)

Known as “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor” in the UK, this collection includes some of Salinger’s most famous short stories, such as “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” These stories explore themes of innocence, isolation, and lost love.

“Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor (1965)

Published posthumously, this collection features nine Southern Gothic stories that deal with issues like race, religion, and morality, all infused with O’Connor’s characteristic dark humor.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver (1981)

This collection is famous for its minimalist style and explores complex relationships within the framework of ordinary events and interactions.

“Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this book consists of nine stories that examine the lives of Indians and Indian Americans who are caught between their roots and the New World.

“Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami (2014, English translation 2017)

A collection of seven stories that delve into the inner lives of men who find themselves alone, exploring themes of isolation and surreal encounters.

“The Thing Around Your Neck” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)

Twelve insightful stories about the ties between men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States, showcasing Adichie’s lucid prose and the complex realities of modern life.

“Runaway” by Alice Munro (2004)

This collection by the Nobel Prize-winning author features stories mostly set in rural Canada, dealing with personal relationships and human struggles with communication and understanding.

Famous short stories:

Here are some famous short stories along with their authors:

“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
“Araby” by James Joyce
“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe



What is a short story?
It’s a brief work of fiction, usually read in one sitting, focusing on a single event and a few characters to evoke a specific mood or theme.

How long is a typical short story?
They range from 1,000 to 7,500 words. Shorter stories are called “flash fiction.”

What are the key elements of a short story?
Important elements include plot, setting, characters, conflict, and theme—all contributing to the story’s overall impact.

Why do people read short stories?
Short stories provide quick, impactful experiences, introducing readers to new ideas and emotions within a few pages.

Can you name some famous short story writers?
Notable writers include Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Anton Chekhov, and Flannery O’Connor, each known for their distinctive style and contributions to the genre.

By Romana

Hi everyone I'm Romana the creator of "Literaturebs.Online". I've always had a passion for stories, so I decided to build this space to share my love of literature with fellow bookworms like you. From classic novels to modern masterpieces, I hope to inspire and engage readers of all ages. Join me as we embark on a journey through the wonderful world of words!"

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