what is a short story?

We tell stories all the time.

That juicy piece of gossip that you told your bestie? A short story.

That lie you told your toddler about all the dinosaurs coming back to life if he didn't eat all his veggies? A short story.

When you retold that harrowing memory of your near-death experience? Also a short story.

We tell them, hear them, read them all the time, but what really is a short story? And what do you need to write one?

Keep it short.

Hello…seems easy enough, but to be called a short story, it has to be brief, concise, and it generally revolves around one single plot. It’s a snap of the fingers. It’s a gift tied in a bow.

Here are some examples of childhood short stories:

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”

“Goldilocks and the Three Bears”

“The Tortoise and the Hare”

A short story has a few characters.

There is no need to gum up a quick story with too many characters to keep track of. Short stories keep it simple. They usually (but not always) stick to two main characters, a protagonist and an antagonist.

A short story has a plot.

The focus of the story is on the action and has a well-defined plot. It should have a beginning, middle, and end.

A short story has conflict.

I’m always trying to avoid conflict in my life, but the short story is here for it. There is a struggle, an obstacle that your character needs to overcome.

A short story has a setting.

The story takes place somewhere. Maybe it’s a rose garden, a community garden, a beer garden. Why does it have to be a garden?

Your setting can help drive the theme of your story and be used to lean into symbolism. Is it near a garbage dump? Maybe your character’s life is hot trash? Is it raining? Perhaps your theme is the never-ending hole of black sadness. Need some inspiration for story-setting?

Check out this post.

The rest is up to you!

Other things to consider:

Point of view: Is your story told in the first, second, or third person?

Who is the narrator? Is it you?

Dialogue: You can write the entire story using only dialogue or none at all. What words are essential to say? What is necessary to keep in the narrator’s mind?

Pacing: How quick is your plot unfolding? Do you want to spend a lot of time suspending action? Or keep things fast-paced?

Theme: What is the theme of your story? Does it have a moral? What do you want the reader to treasure and take away from your prose?

Conclusion: your story should conclude nicely. It should read as a well-balanced meal, whole and complete. The ending is perhaps the most crucial element. The best stories relate the opening to the conclusion.

Ta-da! You know the general idea of a short story...now go write one!