What is a Short Story?

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What is a Short Story?

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Editado: Maio 12, 2007, 12:31 pm

Sounds like an appropriate area of discussion. Is a short story a work of fiction that meets a certain word count, or is there a more vague, indeterminable quality that makes something a short story? Let's hear some ideas.

Out 10, 2006, 5:42 pm

I like a short story to be a story that is short - I`m not keen on vague indeterminable qualities.

More than that, I think the genre obliges the author to make sure every word counts, and to hone their skills in a disciplined framework.

For the record, personal favourites that spring to mind are the King in yellow by Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely Appetizer by S J Perelman and many of the non-Holmes short stories by Sir Arthur Conan doyle. Also many by H G Wells.

Maio 11, 2007, 10:56 am

I'm not sure where the distinction comes between novella and short story - but shorter is better.

I've read few novellas that couldn't have been trimmed to better short stories. Gilden-fire is perhaps an exception.

I think it is word-count. I fyou can publish at as a book on its own 5mm thick or so, its a novella. If it only takes a couple of pages, its a short story.

Apparently they can be almost as hard to write as full novels.

Maio 11, 2007, 3:02 pm

i agree with the fox: if you've been published before and can sell it on it's own, it's a novella. Otherwise, it's a short story.

Maio 11, 2007, 3:38 pm

From Wikipedia:

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.

I assume anything shorter than 1,000 is flash fiction.

Nov 4, 2008, 8:23 pm

I also think of the definition of short story versus novel in terms of elements within it: are there multiple subplots being developed? Or is it focuses on specific elements? If a story is 100 pages but still focuses on one basic epiphany with one person or within one relationship, I think it's still a short story/novella. If it's dealing with a lot of elements (i.e., characters coming to realizations in various subplots), I think it's a novel.

I don't distinguish between short story/novella. To me, that is a length difference.

Nov 5, 2008, 11:29 am

Here are a couple of definitions I've run across, but I can't remember the source of either:

• A work of fiction intended to be read in one sitting/session (this was just part of a longer def'n, but I don't remember the other parts because they weren't unique to this def'n).

• "A slice of life, the thinner the better." I don't remember where I read it, but I do remember that it was offered by some creative-writing grad student who'd clearly been drinking the plotless psychodrama kool-aid by the barrelful.

Nov 5, 2008, 11:46 am

I bookmarked the article below (hope link works; if not paste into your browser). It's more about the evolution of the short story than it's actual definition, but the two actually go hand-in-hand, and I found it helpful and interesting. It discusses the elements that go into the short story as previous posters here have mentioned.


The Hugo Awards have several short form categories: Novella, Novelette, and Short Story. I've always assumed it was at least partly based on word count, but maybe the medium it gets published in has something to do with it, too. I'm really not sure.

Nov 5, 2008, 11:58 am

drububbles, I really like the "slice of life" definition. And ludmillalotaria, I'll go check out that article!

Nov 6, 2008, 9:50 pm

I agree with rebeccareid #6. From what I remember in lit class it's mostly a question on focusing and developing one plot only. It has to be tightly written, and it usually ends with a twist (either a clever denouement, a moral or an expected ending). Length is definitely a criteria, but not the only one since there exists some pretty long short stories.

Nov 7, 2008, 12:22 am

clever twists have nothing to do with the short story format...that's more a genre consideration...really, they very often don't...that has nothing to do with it...

Nov 7, 2008, 10:42 pm

# 11 - perhaps I didn't express myself properly. From wikipedia (although not an authority), this is what I meant :
"More typical, though, (the short story) is an abrupt beginning, with the story starting in the middle of the action. (It has) a climax, crisis, or turning point. However, the endings of many short stories are abrupt and open". To me, that's what makes the form interesting.

But you are probably right. I'm reading a series which is a bunch of fairly jejune love stories with nary a twist - and I'm bored! Perhaps I dismiss those more quickly than others.

Nov 8, 2008, 4:31 am

I think "7,500 words or under" is about right as a definition for the short story. As far as I'm concerned, though, the "or under" goes right down to 1 word (well, let's say 10) - although flash fiction is now a well-established publishing category, is there any structural difference between short stories and flash fiction?

(My book Transported is a short story collection which contains stories ranging from under 500 to over 5000 words, so I guess I have a vested interest in claiming that they are all short stories!)