Short story

Short story

The short story is a literary genre of fictional prose narrative that tends to be more concise and to the point than longer works of fiction such as novellas (in the modern sense of the term) and novels.


Short stories have their origins in oral story-telling traditions and the prose anecdote, a swiftly-sketched situation that quickly comes to its point. With the rise of the comparatively realistic novel, the short story evolved as a miniature version, with some of its first perfectly independent examples in the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. Other nineteenth-century writers well-known for their short stories are Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Nikolai Gogol, Guy de Maupassant, Bolesław Prus and Anton Chekhov. Short stories were a staple of early-19th-century magazines and often led to fame and novel-length projects for their authors. More recently, short stories have been reprinted in anthologies, categorized by topic or critical reception. Today many authors release collections of their short stories.

Some authors are known almost entirely for their short stories, either by choice (they wrote nothing else) or by critical regard (short-story writing is thought of as a challenging art). An example is Jorge Luis Borges, who won American fame with "The Garden of Forking Paths," published in the August 1948 "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine". Another example is O. Henry (author of "Gift of the Magi"), for whom the O. Henry Award is named.

Authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bolesław Prus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, P.G. Wodehouse and Ernest Hemingway were highly accomplished writers of both short stories and novels.

Short stories have often been adapted for half-hour and hour radio dramas, as on "" (1951-52).


Short stories tend to be less complex than novels. Usually a short story focuses on only one incident, has a single plot, a single setting, a number of characters, and covers a short period of time.

In longer forms of fiction, stories tend to contain certain core elements of dramatic structure: exposition (the introduction of setting, situation and main characters); complication (the event that introduces the conflict); rising action, crisis (the decisive moment for the protagonist and his commitment to a course of action); climax (the point of highest interest in terms of the conflict and the point with the most action); resolution (the point when the conflict is resolved); and moral.

Because of their length, short stories may or may not follow this pattern. Some do not follow patterns at all. For example, modern short stories only occasionally have an exposition. More typical, though, is an abrupt beginning, with the story starting in the middle of the action ("in medias res"). As with longer stories, plots of short stories also have a climax, crisis, or turning point. However, the endings of many short stories are abrupt and open and may or may not have a moral or practical lesson. As with any art form, the exact characteristics of a short story will vary by author.


Determining what exactly separates a short story from longer fictional formats is problematic. A classic definition of a short story is that one should be able to be read it in one sitting, a point most notably made in Edgar Allan Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846). Other definitions place the maximum word length at 7,500 words. In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000. Stories less than 1,000 words are usually referred to either as "short short fiction" or "short shorts" or even "Flash Fiction." [ [ Fulton, Deidre. "Who reads short shorts?" "The Portland Phoenix", June 11, 2008.] ]



Short stories date back to oral story-telling traditions which originally produced epics such as Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey". Oral narratives were often told in the form of rhyming or rhythmic verse, often including recurring sections or, in the case of Homer, "Homeric epithets". Such stylistic devices often acted as mnemonics for easier recall, rendition and adaptation of the story. Short sections of verse might focus on individual narratives that could be told at one sitting. The overall arc of the tale would emerge only through the telling of multiple such sections.

Fables, succinct tales with an explicit "moral," were said by the Greek historian Herodotus to have been invented in the 6th century BCE by a Greek slave named Aesop, though other times and nationalities have also been given for him. These ancient fables are today known as "Aesop's Fables".

The other ancient form of short story, the anecdote, was popular under the Roman Empire. Anecdotes functioned as a sort of parable, a brief realistic narrative that embodies a point. Many surviving Roman anecdotes were collected in the 13th or 14th century as the "Gesta Romanorum". Anecdotes remained popular in Europe well into the 18th century, when the fictional anecdotal letters of Sir Roger de Coverley were published.

In Europe, the oral story-telling tradition began to develop into written stories in the early 14th century, most notably with Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and Giovanni Boccaccio's "Decameron". Both of these books are composed of individual short stories (which range from farce or humorous anecdotes to well-crafted literary fictions) set within a larger narrative story (a frame story), although the frame tale device was not adopted by all writers. At the end of the 16th century, some of the most popular short stories in Europe were the darkly tragic "novella" of Matteo Bandello (especially in their French translation). hi novella was used when referring to short stories.

The mid 17th century in France saw the development of a refined short novel, the "nouvelle", by such authors as Madame de Lafayette. In the 1690s, traditional fairy tales began to be published (one of the most famous collections was by Charles Perrault). The appearance of Antoine Galland's first modern translation of the "Thousand and One Nights" (or "Arabian Nights") (from 1704; another translation appeared in 1710–12) would have an enormous influence on the 18th century European short stories of Voltaire, Diderot and others.

Modern times

Today's short stories emerged as their own genre in the early 19th century. Early examples of short stories include the Brothers Grimm's "Fairy Tales" (1824–26) and Nikolai Gogol's "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka" (1831–32). The first examples in the United States are Charles Brockden Brown's "Somnambulism" (1805), Washington Irving's "Rip van Winkle" (1819) and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820), Edgar Allan Poe's "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" (1840) and Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice-Told Tales" (1842).

In the latter 19th century, the growth of print magazines and journals created a strong demand for short fiction of between 3,000 and 15,000 words. Famous short stories of this period include Bolesław Prus's "A Legend of Old Egypt" (1888) and Anton Chekhov's "Ward No. 6" (1892).

At the same time, the first literary theories about the short story appeared. A widely known one is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846). In 1901, Brander Matthews, the first American professor of dramatic literature, published "The Philosophy of the Short-Story."

In the first half of the 20th century, a number of high-profile magazines such as "The Atlantic Monthly", "Scribner's" and "The Saturday Evening Post" published short stories in each issue. The demand for quality short stories was so great and the money paid for such so high that F. Scott Fitzgerald repeatedly turned to short-story writing to pay his numerous debts.

The demand for short stories by print magazines hit its peak in the mid-20th century, when in 1952 "Life" magazine published Ernest Hemingway's long short story (or novella) "The Old Man and the Sea". The issue containing this story sold 5,300,000 copies in only two days.

Since then; the number of commercial magazines that publish short stories has declined, though several magazines such as "The New Yorker" continue to feature them. Literary magazines also provide a showcase for short stories. In addition, short stories have recently found a new life online, in publications, collections organized by author or theme, and blogs. Some online short-story publications are designed to be inviting to the eye, much like paper magazines.

ee also

* Tale
* Sketch story
* Essay
* Novella
* Novelette AKA mini novel... short version of the novel
* Flash fiction
* Drabble

External links

* [ American Short Story Chronology]
* []
* []
* [ Slap A Story] - Short Story Competition/Social Network
* [ Munster Literature Centre] - Irish Short Story Site
* [ The Blurb] - Writers' central
* [ Every Writer's Resource] How to Submit Your Short Story.

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  • short story — n. a kind of story shorter than the novel or novelette, characteristically developing a single central theme and limited in scope and number of characters …   English World dictionary

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