"Short stories" redirects here. For other uses, see Short Stories
A short story
is a piece of prose fiction
that typically can be read in one sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a single effect or mood. The short story is one of the oldest types of literature and has existed in the form of legends
, mythic tales
, folk tales
, fairy tales
in various ancient communities across the world. The modern short story developed in the early 19th century.
The short story is a crafted form in its own right. Short stories make use of plot, resonance, and other dynamic components as in a novel
, but typically to a lesser degree. While the short story is largely distinct from the novel
or novella/short novel
, authors generally draw from a common pool of literary techniques
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 read it in one sitting, a point most notably made in Edgar Allan Poe
"The Philosophy of Composition
According to William Faulkner, a short story is character driven and a writer's job is to "...trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
Some authors have argued that a short story must have a strict form. Somerset Maugham
thought that the short story "must have a definite design, which includes a point of departure, a climax and a point of test; in other words, it must have a plot
". This view is however opposed by Anton Chekov
who thought that a story should have neither a beginning nor an end. It should just be a "slice of life", presented suggestively.
Short story writers may define their works as part of the artistic and personal expression of the form. They may also attempt to resist categorization by genre and fixed formation.
Short stories have deep roots and the power of short fiction has been recognized in modern society for hundreds of years.
As William Boyd
, the award-winning British author and short story writer has said:
[short stories] seem to answer something very deep in our nature as if, for the duration of its telling, something special has been created, some essence of our experience extrapolated, some temporary sense has been made of our common, turbulent journey towards the grave and oblivion.
Longer stories that cannot be called novels are sometimes considered "novellas
" or novelettes and, like short stories, may be collected into the more marketable form of "collections", often containing previously unpublished stories. Sometimes, authors who do not have the time or money to write a novella or novel decide to write short stories instead, working out a deal with a popular website
to publish them for profit.
In terms of length, word count
is typically anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 for short stories, however some have 15,000 words and are still classed as short stories. Stories of fewer than 1,000 words are sometimes referred to as "short short stories
", or "flash fiction
Short stories have no set length. In terms of word count, there is no official demarcation between an anecdote
, a short story, and a novel. Rather, the form's parameters are given by the rhetorical and practical context in which a given story is produced and considered so that what constitutes a short story may differ between genres, countries, eras, and commentators.
Like the novel, the short story's predominant shape reflects the demands of the available markets for publication, and the evolution of the form seems closely tied to the evolution of the publishing industry and the submission guidelines of its constituent houses.
The precursors of short story were legends
, mythic tales
, folk tales
, fairy tales
which were present in various ancient communities across the world. These short pieces existed mostly in oral form and they were transmitted from one generation to another in oral form. A large number of such tales are found in ancient literature, from the Indian
epics the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata
to the Homeric
epics the Iliad
and the Odyssey
. The 1001 Arabian Nights
, compiled for the first time probably in the eighth century, is also a storehouse of Middle Eastern folk tales and fairy tales. Emerging in the 17th century from oral storytelling
traditions and above-mentioned written works of the ancient times (which themselves are based on oral traditions), the short story has grown to encompass a body of work so diverse as to defy easy characterization.
With the rise of the realistic
novel, the short story evolved in a parallel tradition, with some of its first distinctive examples in the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann
. The character of the form developed particularly with authors known for their short fiction, either by choice (they wrote nothing else) or by critical regard, which acknowledged the focus and craft required in the short form. 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. Other of his most popular, inventive and most often reprinted stories (among over 600) include: "The Ransom of Red Chief", "The Cop and the Anthem", "The Skylight Room", "After Twenty Years", A Municipal Report
, An Unfinished Story
, A Lickpenny Lover
, Mammon and the Archer
and The Last Leaf
. American examples include: Jack London
, Ambrose Bierce
, F. Scott Fitzgerald
, Ernest Hemingway
, William Faulkner
, Flannery O'Connor
, John Cheever
, and Raymond Carver
. Science fiction
short story with a special poetic touch was a genre developed with great popular success by Ray Bradbury
. The genre of the short story was often neglected until the second half of the 19th century.
An important theoretical example for storytelling analysis is provided by Walter Benjamin in his essay The Storyteller
where he argues about the decline of storytelling art and the incommunicability of experiences in the modern world.
Oscar Wilde's essay The Decay of Lying
and Henry James's The Art of Fiction
are also partly related to this subject.
Short stories date back to oral storytelling traditions which originally produced epics such as the Ramayana
, the Mahabharata
. 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.
The other ancient form of a 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
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
. Both of these books are composed of individual short stories (which range from farce or humorous anecdotes to well-crafted literary fiction) 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).
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
Early examples of short stories were published separately between 1790 and 1810, but the first true collections of short stories appeared between 1810 and 1830 in several countries around the same period.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the growth of print magazines and journals created a strong demand for short fiction of between 3,000 and 15,000 words.
The most prolific French author of short stories was Guy de Maupassant. He composed short stories, "Boule de Suif
" ("Ball of Fat", 1880) and "L'Inutile Beauté
" ("The Useless Beauty", 1890) are good examples of French realism
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in India, Rabindranath Tagore
published more than 150 short stories, on the lives of the poor and oppressed such as peasants, women, and villagers under colonial misrule and exploitation. Some of his famous short stories include "The Kabuliwala", "The Hungry Stone", "The Wife's Letter", "The Parrot's Training" and "Punishment". Tagore's contemporary, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
was another pioneer in Bengali short stories. Chattopadhyay's stories focused on the social scenario of rural Bengal and the lives of common people, especially the oppressed classes. His most popular short stories include "Bindu's Son", "Abhagi's Heaven", "Mahesh", "Ram's Good Lesson", "Lalu" (3 parts) and "The Husband".
The prolific Indian author of short stories Munshi Premchand
, pioneered the genre in the Hindustani language
, writing a substantial body of short stories and novels in a style characterized by realism and an unsentimental and authentic introspection into the complexities of Indian society. Premchand
's works include over 200 short stories (such as "The Shroud", "The Cost of Milk" and "Lottery").
In the United Kingdom, periodicals like The Strand Magazine
contributed to the popularity of the short story. Hector Hugh Munro (1870–1916), also known by his pen name of Saki
, wrote satirical
short stories about Edwardian
England. W. Somerset Maugham
, who wrote over a hundred short stories, was one of the most popular authors of his time. P.G. Wodehouse
published his first collection of comical stories about valet Jeeves
in 1917. Many detective stories
were written by G.K. Chesterton
, Agatha Christie
and Dorothy L. Sayers
. Short stories by Virginia Woolf
are "Kew Gardens
" (1919) and "Solid Objects," about a politician with mental problems. Graham Greene
wrote his Twenty-One Stories
between 1929 and 1954. A specialist in the short story was V.S. Pritchett
, whose first collection appeared in 1932. Arthur C. Clarke
published his first science fiction
story, "Travel by Wire!
" in 1937. Evelyn Waugh
, Muriel Spark
and L.P. Hartley
were other popular British storytellers whose career started in this period.
In Ireland, James Joyce
published his short story collection Dubliners
in 1914. These stories, written in a more accessible style than his later novels, are based on careful observation of the inhabitants of his birth city.
In the first half of the 20th century, a number of high-profile American magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly
, Harper's Magazine
, The New Yorker
, The Saturday Evening Post
, and The Bookman
published short stories in each issue. The demand for quality short stories was so great and the money paid for such so well that F. Scott Fitzgerald repeatedly turned to short-story (as Matthews preferred to write it) writing to pay his numerous debts. His first collection Flappers and Philosophers
appeared in book form in 1920. William Faulkner wrote over one hundred short stories. Go Down, Moses
, a collection of seven stories, appeared in 1941. Ernest Hemingway's concise writing style was perfectly fit for shorter fiction. Stories like "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
" (1926), "Hills Like White Elephants
" (1927) and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro
" (1936) are only a few pages long but carefully crafted. Dorothy Parker
's the bittersweet story "Big Blonde" debuted in 1929. A popular science fiction
story is "Nightfall
" by Isaac Asimov
In India, the master of the short story in the Urdu language, Saadat Hasan Manto
is revered for his exceptional depth, irony, and sardonic humor. The author of some 250 short stories, radio plays, essays, reminiscences, and a novel, Manto is widely admired for his analyses of violence, bigotry, prejudice, and the relationships between reason and unreason. Combining realism with surrealism and irony, Manto's works such as the celebrated short story Toba Tek Singh
are aesthetic masterpieces that continue to give profound insight into the nature of human loss, violence, and devastation. Another famous Urdu writer is Ismat Chughtai
whose short story "Lihaaf" (The Quilt) on a lesbian relationship between an upper-class Muslim woman and her maidservant created great controversy following its publication in 1942.
1945 to modern day
The period following World War II
saw a great flowering of literary short fiction in the United States. The New Yorker
continued to publish the works of the form's leading mid-century practitioners, including Shirley Jackson
, whose story, "The Lottery
", published in 1948, elicited the strongest response in the magazine's history to that time. Other frequent contributors during the last 1940s included John Cheever
, John Steinbeck
, Jean Stafford
, and Eudora Welty
. Cheever is best known for "The Swimmer
" (1964) which beautifully blends realism and surrealism. J.D. Salinger
's Nine Stories
(1953) experimented with point of view and voice, while Flannery O'Connor
's well-known story "A Good Man is Hard to Find
" (1955) reinvigorated the Southern Gothic
style. Cultural and social identity played a considerable role in much of the short fiction of the 1960s. Philip Roth
and Grace Paley
cultivated distinctive Jewish-American voices. Tillie Olsen
's "I Stand Here Ironing
" (1961) adopted a consciously feminist perspective. James Baldwin
's collection Going to Meet the Man
(1965) told stories of African-American life. Frank O'Connor
's The Lonely Voice
, an exploration of the short story, appeared in 1963. Wallace Stegner
's short stories are primarily set in the American West. Stephen King
published many short stories in men's magazines in the 1960s and after. King's interest is found in the supernatural and macabre. The 1970s saw the rise of the postmodern short story in the works of Donald Barthelme
and John Barth
. Traditionalists including John Updike
and Joyce Carol Oates
maintained a significant influence on the form. Minimalism
gained widespread influence in the 1980s, most notably in the work of Raymond Carver
and Ann Beattie
Some of the Bengali
short story writers of the post-Tagore and post-Sarat Chandra generation are Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay
, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
, Manik Bandyopadhyay
, Sunil Gangopadhyay
, Mahasweta Devi
, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
, Suchitra Bhattacharya
, Ramapada Chowdhury
and Humayun Ahmed
. The role of the bi-monthly magazine Desh
(first published in 1933) is imperative in the development of the Bengali short story. Two of the most popular detective story writers of Bengali literature are Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay
(the creator of Byomkesh Bakshi
) and Satyajit Ray
(the creator of Feluda
). The canon of Hindi
short story was enriched by the contributions of Jaishankar Prasad, Amrita Pritam, Dharamvir Bharti, Bhisham Sahni, Krishna Sobti, Nirmal Verma, Kamleshwar, Mannu Bhandari, Harishankar Parsai and others.
In Brazil, the short story became popular among female writers like Clarice Lispector
, Lygia Fagundes Telles
, Adélia Prado
, who wrote about their society from a feminine viewpoint, although the genre has great male writers like Dalton Trevisan
, Autran Dourado Moacyr Scliar
and Carlos Heitor Cony
too. Also, writing about poverty and the favelas
, João Antonio
became a well-known writer. Other post-modern short fiction authors include writers Hilda Hilst
and Caio Fernando Abreu
. Detective literature was led by Rubem Fonseca
. It is also necessary to mention João Guimarães Rosa
, wrote short stories in the book Sagarana
using a complex, experimental language based on tales of oral tradition.
Sales of short-story fiction are strong. In the UK sales jumped 45% in 2017, driven by collections from international names such as Alice Munro, new writers to the genre such as Tom Hanks, and the revival of short story salons
, such as those held by short fiction company, Pin Drop Studio.
More than 690,000 short stories and anthologies were sold in the UK in 2017, generating £5.88 million, the genre's highest sales since 2010.
In 2012 Pin Drop Studio
launched a short story salon held regularly in London and other major cities. Short story writers who have appeared at the salon to read their short stories to a live audience include Ben Okri
, Lionel Shriver
, Elizabeth Day
, A.L. Kennedy
, William Boyd
, Graham Swift
, David Nicholls
, Will Self
, Sebastian Faulks
, Julian Barnes
, Evie Wylde
and Claire Fuller
Short story awards
Prominent short story awards such as The Sunday Times Short Story Award
, the BBC National Short Story Award 
, the Royal Society of Literature's V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize 
, The London Magazine Short Story Prize 
, the Pin Drop Studio Short Story Award and many others, attract hundreds of entries each year. Published and non-published writers take part, sending their stories from across the world.
In 2013, Alice Munro
was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature
—her citation read "master of the contemporary short story."
She said she hopes the award would bring readership for the short story, as well as recognize the short story on its own merit, rather than "something that people do before they write their first novel."
Short stories have been cited with regard to other laureates as well, Paul Heyse
in 1910 and Gabriel García Márquez
Short stories are sometimes adapted for radio, TV and film:
- Radio dramas, as on NBC Presents: Short Story (1951–52). A popular example of this is "The Hitch-Hiker", read by Orson Welles.
- Short films, often rewritten by other people, and even as feature-length films; such is the case of "Children of the Corn", "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Birds", "Brokeback Mountain", "Who Goes There?", "Duel", "A Sound of Thunder", "The Body", "Total Recall", "The Lawnmower Man", "Hearts in Atlantis", and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".
- Television specials, such as "12:01 PM" (1993 television movie), "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (October 11, 1963, on The Twilight Zone), "The Lottery", and "Button, Button" (on The Twilight Zone).
As a concentrated, concise form of narrative
and descriptive prose fiction, the short story has been theorized through the traditional elements of dramatic structure
(the introduction of setting, situation, and main characters), complication
(the event that introduces the conflict), rising action
(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) and resolution
(the point when the conflict is resolved). Because of their length, short stories may or may not follow this pattern. For example, modern short stories only occasionally have an exposition, more typically beginning 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 the creator.
- ^ Poe, Edgar Allan (1984). Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews. Library of America. pp. 569–77.
- ^ Bunting, Joey (2012). Let's Write a Short Story. thewritepractice.com.
- ^ a b Fatma, Gulnaz A Short History of the Short Story: Western and Asian Traditions Modern History Press 2012, p.2-3
- ^ Boyd, William. "A short history of the short story". Retrieved 2018-04-17.
- ^ Deirdre Fulton (2008-06-11). "Who reads short shorts?". thePhoneix.com. Archived from the original on 2009-08-21. Retrieved 2013-06-06. each of their (less-than-1000-word) stories
- ^ Cuddon, J.A. (1999). The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (3rd ed.). London: Penguin. p. 864.
- ^ Abrams, M.H. (1999). Glossary of Literary Terms (7th ed.). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace. pp. 286–87. ISBN 0-15-505452-X.
- ^ "Complete Nebula Awards Rules Including the Ray Bradbury and Andre Norton Awards (Revised & Updated)". sfwa.org. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
- ^ Hall, Leo. ""The Storyteller" Commentary". Modernism Lab. Yale. Archived from the original on 14 February 2013.
- ^ Short Story in Jacob E. Safra e.a., The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia volume 10, Chicago, 1998.
- ^ Internet Book List: Book Information: Oxford Book of Gothic Tales.
- ^ Sears, Donald A. (1978). John Neal. Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers. p. 93. ISBN 080-5-7723-08.
- ^ "Poe's The Philosophy of Composition: a Study Guide". Cummingsstudyguides.net. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
- ^ "Sales of short story collections surge | The Bookseller". www.thebookseller.com. Retrieved 2018-04-17.
- ^ Moore, Matthew (27 January 2018). "Short story revival cuts novels down to size". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460.
- ^ "Salon society: highbrow nights out – short stories with Pin Drop". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2018-04-17.
- ^ A Short Affair – anthology of original short fiction, illustrated by Royal Academy artists. 2018-07-12. ISBN 978-1-4711-4732-6.
- ^ a b Baker, Sam (2014-05-18). "The irresistible rise of the short story. Pin Drop Studio". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
- ^ Onwuemezi, Natasha (June 27, 2016). "Fuller wins annual Royal Academy & Pin Drop short story prize". The Bookseller.
- ^ "The top short story competitions to enter". The Sunday Times Short Story Awards. 10 February 2017. Archived from the original on 16 August 2017.
- ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2013". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 2019-04-16.
- ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2013". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 2019-04-16.
- ^ "Nobel Prize in Literature 1910". Nobel Foundation. Archived from the original on 2008-10-11. Retrieved 2008-10-17.
- ^ "Nobel Prize in Literature 1982". Nobel Foundation. Archived from the original on 2008-10-17. Retrieved 2008-10-17.
- Browns, Julie, ed. (1997). Ethnicity and the American Short Story. New York: Garland.
- Gelfant, Blanche; Lawrence Graver, eds. (2000). The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Columbia University Press.
- Hart, James; Phillip Leininger, eds. (1995). Oxford Companion to American Literature. Oxford University Press.
- Ibáñez, José R; José Francisco Fernández; Carmen M. Bretones, eds. (2007). , Contemporary Debates on the Short Story. Bern: Lang.
- Iftekharrudin, Farhat; Joseph Boyden; Joseph Longo; Mary Rohrberger, eds. (2003). Postmodern Approaches to the Short Story. Westport, CN: Praeger.
- Kennedy, Gerald J., ed. (2011). Modern American Short Story Sequences: Composite Fictions and Fictive Communities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Lohafer, Susan (2003). Reading for Storyness: Preclosure Theory, Empirical Poetics, and Culture in the Short Story. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Magill, Frank, ed. (1997). Short Story Writers. Pasadena, California: Salem Press.
- Patea, Viorica, ed. (2012). Short Story Theories: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
- Scofield, Martin, ed. (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Watson, Noelle, ed. (1994). Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Detroit: St. James Press.
- Winther, Per; Jakob Lothe; Hans H. Skei, eds. (2004). The Art of Brevity: Excursions in Short Fiction Theory and Analysis. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
Still often cited
- Eikhenbaum, Boris, "How Gogol's 'Overcoat' is Made" in Elizabeth Trahan (ed.) (1982). Gogol's "Overcoat" : An Anthology of Critical Essays,. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis.
- Hanson, Clare (1985). Short Stories and Short Fictions, 1880–1980. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- LoCicero, Donald (1970). Novellentheorie: The Practicality of the Theoretical. (About the German theories of the Short Story) The Hague: Mouton.
- Lohafer, Susan; Jo Ellyn Clarey, eds. (1990). Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.
- Mann, Susan Garland (1989). The Short Story Cycle: A Genre Companion and Reference Guide. New York: Greenwood Press.
- O'Connor, Frank (1963). The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing Company.
- O'Faoláin, Seán (1951). The short story. Cork: Mercier, 1948; New York: Devin-Adair.
- Rohrberger, Mary (1966). Hawthorne and the Modern Short Story: A Study in Genre. The Hague: Mouton.
Last edited on 5 April 2021, at 23:27
Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0
unless otherwise noted.