There are all kinds of stories; on one end of the scale, there are epic tales that take weeks or even months to read, then, on the other hand, you have stories that are only a few words long, plus everything in between. But just how short does a story have to be, to be officially classed as a “short story”?
In this post, I’ll cover everything you need to know about short stories. I’ll talk about what they are, how long they are, and discuss some of the different subcategories of short stories.
Short Stories: What Are They?
Short stories are written works of fiction that focus on a small number of characters and events within a limited word count. They can usually be read in a single sitting, and unlike longer stories, they’re usually designed to evoke just one particular feeling, mood, or moral. That being said, there’s no hard or fast rule for the structure or plot of a short story.
Short stories have been around for millennia. Even before humans begin to record information in written format, short stories were passed down orally through generations. Everything from fairy tales and folklore to legends and fables can be classed as short stories.
The short stories we’re more familiar with today were first popularized in the early 1800s by authors like Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, and Charles Dickens.
How Long is a Short Story?
There’s no overriding definition that everyone agrees on, but most publishers class a short story as a work of fiction with fewer than 10,000 words. Some definitions even lower that number to 7,500 words.
There are also several subcategories when it comes to short stories, such as flash fiction, microfiction, and novelettes, to name a few.
Famous Examples of Short Stories
Here are some examples of famous short stories. Some are classic, and some more contemporary, and they are all less than 10,000 words in length.
- 7 Mesmeric Revelation by Edgar Allan Poe
- A Nest of Ghosts, A House of Birds by Kat Howard
- The Baron of Grogzwig by Charles Dickens
- The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
- Beware of the Dog by Roald Dahl
- Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
- The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
Shorter than Short Stories
Within the short stories category, there are also subcategories for super short stories. Two of the most well-known subcategories are flash fiction and micro fiction.
Stories with a word count shorter than around 1500 words are often classed as flash fiction. Even shorter stories with less than 400 words tend to fall under the micro fiction umbrella.
Flash Fiction Examples
These fascinating flash fiction stories are super quick to read yet really pack a punch.
- If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky
- Baby Dolls by Becky Robison
- Give It Up! by Franz Kafka
- Girl by Jamaica Kincaid
- Ramona by Sarah Gerkensmeyer
Micro Fiction Examples
These super short stories cram in a whole lot to such a limited word count.
- The Outing by Lydia Davis
- Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise
- Doctor Chevalier’s Lie by Kate Chopin
- I Don’t Need Anything from Here by László Krasznahorkai
Longer Short Stories
Stories that are longer than 10,000 words but still relatively short are often referred to as novelettes. Stories that are longer than novelettes yet shorter than a regular novel fall under the category of novellas.
So how long are novelettes, novellas, and novels? A novelette is generally accepted to be anywhere from 10,000 words to 17,500 words in length, although some novelettes are even shorter than 10,000 words.
Novellas are longer, at around 17,500 to 40,000 words, and full length novels are generally any work of fiction longer than 40,000 words.
Famous Examples of Novelettes
- The House of Aunts by Zen Cho
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
- The Call Of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft
Famous Examples of Novellas
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
- Animal Farm, George Orwell
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
- Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
- The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Collections of Short Stories
Short stories are often published as collections rather than standalone books. Sometimes, they’re by a single author, and sometimes they’re a collaboration of works by many different authors. But no matter who the writer is, collections of short stories tend to follow a particular theme, mood, or feeling, rather than being randomly thrown together.
That being said, each story exists independently from the others and has its own unique characters, setting, and plot. Often, collections of short stories are referred to as an anthology.
Here are a few examples of famous short story collections and anthologies.
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Sci-fi writer Ted Chiang’s collection of eight short stories are set in mysterious and fantastical science fiction worlds.
- Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
This otherworldly collection of short stories and poems from Neil Gaiman won the Newberry Medal and the Hugo Award.
- The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Angela Carter casts a dark and supernatural twist on classic folk and fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood.
- Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl
There are 16 stories in this classic collection from Roald Dahl, all previously published in magazines and other collections. They’re not his usual child-friendly style; these stories are packed with elements of crime, horror, thriller, and suspense.
- Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This collection of short science fiction and phycological fiction stories by Carmen Maria Machado won the Shirley Jackson Award and was nominated as a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.
A well written short story can transport the reader into a fascinating fictional world just as well as a full-length novel.
There are a wealth of short stories, both classic and contemporary, to explore, as well as fantastic collections to help you get your reading fix when you’re short on time.
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