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This guide will explore the definition of a short story and how it differs from longer works of fiction, popular short story authors, how to analyze and critique a short work of fiction, and tips for writing your own short story. Short stories are a common format for writing works of fiction and non-fiction and can be a great source of entertainment and education. Short stories are often read in literature and writing classes at Kent State.
Oxford English Dictionary defines a short story as, "a prose work of fiction, differing from a novel by being shorter and less elaborate" (OED, n.d.).
You may be asked to analyze a short story at some point in your academic career. Analyzing literature can be difficult but with the right knowledge, it is an invaluable skill that will help you not only with your academic career but also in your professional life.
Writing short stories may be something you are asked to do in some of your classes. For many students, this can be a hard task to achieve. By reading and analyzing other short stories, you will be more equipped to confidently write your own. Also, knowing exactly what it means to write a short story compared to a longer piece will be helpful.
Short Story vs. Novel
There are no particular constraints as to how short or long a short story should be. In the book The Short Story as a Reflection of American Life, the author states that Edgar Allan Poe defined a short story as, "from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal." He also explains in the book that many magazines have often required that a short story be no longer than 2,000 words. There is no strict word or time requirement but in its definition, it is meant to be shorter in length than a novel (Fagin, 1936).
A short story differs from a novel in that the content will most likely be vastly different. Because of the story's length restraints, there is less space for the author to fully develop a plot, theme, and characters. A short story should still be a complete story and have a clear beginning and end. It should not read like a chapter of a novel but instead sound like its own individual story (Barrett, 2007).
When writing a short story it can be hard not to over-inundate the reader with too much information. Some short stories, in an effort to make a concise and length-sensitive piece, will only focus on one scene. This is important because you don't want your reader to feel confused or that the story is not focused enough. It's better to start with a smaller idea and build off of it rather than starting with a complex idea and having to scale it down (Barrett, 2007).