Shorter fiction (and short creative non-fiction) has sometimes been treated as the poor cousin of the novel. However, less can be more.
What is a Short Story?
Often defined as a work of prose fiction, a short story can be read in a single sitting. It can be as little as 300 words or less (micro-fiction), 500-1,000 words (also known as ‘short-short’ or ‘flash’ fiction) or as long as 7,000 – 10,000 words. Anything longer and it’s getting into novella territory.
Typically, a short story involves a small number of characters with a limited plot. The form is ideal for innovative prose and experimentation. It can encompass many genres: adventure, comedy, crime, fantasy, horror, romance, science fiction, and western. There are many writers who regard the short story as a superior form.
Where Did the Short Story Come From?
The short story owes its origins to an older tradition, emerging from oral storytelling through the ages. In ancient times, short stories existed as parables, anecdotes, fairy tales and fables. Two of the more famous medieval long-form narratives, The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron, consist of individual short stories, linked by common thread. However, it was during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that the short story came into its own as a literary artform.
[Writers: Anton Chekhov, Alice Munro, Jorge Luis Borges]
Masters of the Short Story Form
A few of the more famous short stories:
- ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ (1843) Edgar Allen Poe
- ‘The Necklace’ (1884) Guy de Maupassant
- ‘Gift of the Magi’ (1905) O. Henry
- ‘The Dead’ (1914) James Joyce
- ‘The Garden Party’ (1920) Katherine Mansfield
- ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ (1927) Ernest Hemingway
- ‘The Lottery,’ (1948) Shirley Jackson
- ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ (1953) Roald Dahl
- ‘Sonny’s Blues’ (1957) James Baldwin
- ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ (1961) Flannery O’Connor
Our Favourite Short Stories
Here are some reading selections from our staff:
Beverley Eikli, author and writing teacher, including the CAE course The Short Story
‘Everyone’s favourites are personal, so it hardly matters whether they are conventional or whether no one has ever heard of them’.
- ‘Habit’ (2006) by Cate Kennedy
- ‘The Necklace’ (1884) by Guy de Maupassant
- ‘Parson’s Pleasure’ (1977) by Roald Dahl
Bill Collopy, author and CAE Program Manager
‘The short story form is infinitely variable, with an intensity quite unlike longer fiction.’
- ‘Araby’ (1914) James Joyce
- ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ (1941) Jorge Luis Borges
- ‘A Sound of Thunder’ (1952) Ray Bradbury
- ‘Life With Sea Views’ (1999) Michelle de Kretser
Denbeigh Inman, Marketing Manager
- ‘The Swimmer’ (1964) John Cheever
- ‘Baster’ (1996) Jeffrey Eugenides
Grant Krupp, Marketing Communications Officer
- ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’ (1966) Gay Talese
Judi Sanford, Manager Short Courses & Languages Centre of Excellence
‘I’m not a fan of short stories but I thought the diversity of stories in Women of a Certain Rage (2021, by Liz Byrski) was fabulous, many of which resonated with me but at different stages of my life.’
Interested in writing?
Follow the link to see all the writing courses we have on offer at CAE: