Short stories stand as a testament to the power of brevity in the sprawling landscape of literature. They are a unique form that dances along the borders of storytelling, offering glimpses into different worlds through their ‘short-shorts’ and microfictions. The art of crafting these succinct narratives requires a writer to create meaning not just through strings of connections but through the symbolic weight of images. 

What is a Short Story in LIterature?

First, let’s define short story

This article explores the essence of the short story, shedding light on this dynamic craft and its ability to convey emotions and ideas with an economy of words. Let's start by looking at the short story definition. 


What is a short story in literature?

A short story is a brief work of fiction, usually ranging from 1,000 to 7,500 words. Unlike novels or epics, which have complex narratives spread over hundreds of pages, short stories focus on a single incident, character, or period. The form demands precise language and narrative structure, often resulting in stories rich in symbolism and subtext.

Short stories convey a complete narrative experience within a tight word limit. This includes introducing characters, setting up a plot, building conflict, and bringing about resolution, all within a compact space. They capture moments that reveal deeper truths about characters or the human condition.

Short Story Elements:

  • Brevity
  • Focus
  • Precision

What is a Short Story Made Up Of?

Features of a short story

Short stories can cover various genres like mystery, romance, and science fiction. They allow readers to explore different worlds, diverse characters, and various themes, all within the time it takes to savor a cup of coffee. 

Despite their brevity, short stories can deliver powerful messages and leave lasting impressions, proving that sometimes, less is more. Let's take a look at the features of a great short story.

Length of Short Stories

The length of a short story typically falls between 1,500 and 7,500 words. This equates to roughly 4 to 25 pages, considering the industry standard of 250-300 words per page.

However, some short stories can be as brief as 1,000 words, often referred to as 'flash fiction,' or as long as 10,000 words.

The length is flexible but it's important to remember that the essence of a short story lies in its brevity and conciseness.

In this interview, Stephen King elaborates on the brevity of short stories and their role in the process for aspiring writers.

Stephen King on the Craft of Short Story Writing

Focus on a Single Incident, Character, or Period

Unlike novels or novellas that can span across several incidents, characters, and periods, short stories usually focus on a single aspect. This could be a particular incident, a character, or a specific period in time. The aim is to provide a complete narrative within the constraints of the short story format.

This focus stretches from character to world to theme as seen in famed author Kurt Vonnegut’s advice for short story writing. 

Kurt Vonnegut on How to Write a Short Story

Precision in Language and Narrative Structure

Due to the limited word count, short stories require a high degree of precision in language and narrative structure. Every word counts and each sentence should drive the story forward. There is no room for unnecessary details or digressions. The plot needs to be tight and the characters well-defined within the given space.

Symbolism and Subtext

Short stories often rely on symbolism and subtext to convey deeper meanings. Given the brevity of the form, writers may imbue objects, actions, or characters with symbolic significance to express complex ideas. 

How to Write Subtext

Similarly, subtext plays a crucial role in adding layers to the narrative. It allows the writer to communicate more than what is explicitly stated, inviting readers to delve beneath the surface of the text.

Types of Short Stories

Short story genres

Short stories have the incredible ability to explore a multitude of genres, from the enchanting realms of fantasy to the thrilling depths of mystery. And let's not forget about the captivating allure of romance and the mind-bending possibilities of science fiction. 

So, let's dive in and discover some fascinating examples of short story genres and look at some famous short stories from them. 


Fantasy is a genre that involves elements of magic, supernatural phenomena, and mythical creatures. It often takes place in an imaginary universe.

Example: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

This collection of short stories introduces the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, in a world filled with monsters, magic, and moral ambiguity.


Mystery stories involve solving a puzzle or a crime. They usually follow a detective or an amateur sleuth trying to solve a mystery before the end of the story.

Example: The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In this classic Sherlock Holmes tale, Holmes investigates a young woman's fears about her stepfather's involvement in her sister's death.


Romance stories focus on love relationships between characters. They often have emotional, passionate, or romantic scenes and end with a happy or optimistic conclusion.

Example: Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

This heartwarming short story tells the tale of a young, impoverished couple who sacrifice their most prized possessions to buy Christmas gifts for each other, demonstrating the depth of their love.

Science Fiction

Science fiction stories deal with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.

Example: The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

This short story example revolves around a high-tech nursery that comes to life, reflecting the dangers of letting technology control human lives.


Horror stories aim to create a sense of fear, panic, alarm, and dread for the readers. They frequently involve an evil force, event, or personage.

Example: The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

In this chilling tale, a man tries to convince us of his sanity while describing the meticulous way he committed a murder.

The short story is an incredibly powerful and flexible form of literature. Its concise and precise nature allows for a concentrated narrative experience that can encompass a wide range of genres, characters, and themes. 

The enduring popularity of the short story speaks to its remarkable ability to captivate readers and make a lasting impact within a limited space.

Up Next

Converting a Short Story into a Script

Now that we've delved into the nuances of short stories, let's venture into the transformation process of how these compelling narratives can be converted into engaging scripts for the screen. 

Up Next: Short Stories into Screenplays →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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