What is a Short Story?

At a recent writer’s conference, I was talking with another writer about short stories. She happens to be working on writing some, and I have written some in the past. However, she told me that when she shares her short stories with others, they want more–more details, more descriptions, more information, more everything. I shared how I had run into the same issue the last time I had written a couple of short stories.

Then, of course, there’s flash fiction, and let’s not forget the microfiction, which means literally creating a story with one or two sentences. Now, with microfiction, I can fully understand “wanting more”. However, the thing is I haven’t heard many people declaring they “want more” from flash fiction and microfiction. Go figure!

Therefore, I just thought I’d take a look at what a short story is in a blog post. I started by doing a Google search to find out what the required word count for a short story is, since we, writers, measure everything by word count. I was surprised by the span I found. According to Writer’s Digest, they claim that according to “general guidelines”, short stories range from 1,500 words to 30,000 words. ChristopherFielden.com states “for contests/competitions”, short story length is usually between 1,000 and 5,000 words, although he has seen some competitions with a 17,00 word maximum. Finally, according to “Every Writer’s  Resource”, the short story falls between 1,000 and 15,000 words.

Now, based on my experience in looking to submit short stories to magazine publications, the maximum I have seen accepted for a short story is 2,000 words, and that’s rare. So, apparently, the actual length of a short story varies greatly, but what I know a short story must have are: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I believe that the reader should feel satisfied that they have, indeed, read a complete story when they reach the end of a short story.

However, I would like to remind readers that a short story is not a novel, nor is it a novella. Therefore, you cannot expect too many details, extremely detailed descriptions, nor every detail of your characters’ lives. What you should expect is to fill in some details with your own imagination based on the details the writer does provide, and you should definitely expect a clear beginning, middle, and end–an end that is clear and feels like an end. You should leave a short story feeling satisfied.

So, I encourage all readers to ask yourself, when you reach the end of a short story, “do I feel satisfied”, then, if you do not feel satisfied, specifically share with the writer what left you feeling unsatisfied. That could be quite helpful to the writer, but, it could also just be a matter of your personal preference for longer stories. So, I suppose one more question to ask yourself is “how many short stories do I read”.

If you are a reader of short stories, I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments section below. And, if you’re a writer of short stories, I’d love to hear about your experience with writing short stories as well as reactions from your readers. Please comment below. I love to interact with my readers.

An Unintentional Gift of Love by Z. Barr

Today’s post is a special short story — special because it was written by my youngest son. We just began our homeschool year — his 7th grade year, and this was his first writing assignment. I love how it turned out (it’s one of the best he’s written and I thought it went so well with the illustration). The photo of the illustration isn’t very good, but in the upper left hand corner, there is a man dressed in a white shirt with a hand in the air, like he’s waving. He only had to make a few minor adjustments. I asked if he minded if I share it here, and he gave his permission.

The assignment was to write a story to go with the illustration and to include what happened just before and just after the picture. If you enjoy it, leave a comment that I can pass along to him.


“An Unintentional Gift of Love”

by Z. Barr

     Three-year-old, curly blond-haired Alice and five-year-old, brown-haired Susan were helping Ma with the dishes.

“Ma, when can we go out and pick flowers?” Alice asked.

“When the dishes are done,” Ma said.

When the dishes were done, Alice asked Ruff, their dog, if he wanted to go along to pick flowers and get some fresh air.

“Ruff!” The dog barked. Ruff got his name because of the way he barks.

“Have a good time girls!” Ma called. “And take this loaf of bread, butter, and preserves to Uncle Richard’s farm. Set this basket around fifty feet from the sidewalk that leads to the house. Then go flower picking.”

“Okay, Ma,” the girls said in unison.

The girls left the house and headed toward Uncle Richard’s farm.

“I’ll put the basket down and you and Ruff stay here, Alice,” said Susan. She left the basket fifty feet away from the sidewalk. Richard’s family was under a spell of fever.

When Susan came back, she, Alice, and Ruff went flower picking. Ruff bounded around the girls happily. The girls picked violets, daisies, morning glories, and buttercups.

They saw their Ma’s friends, Joanne and Amelia, deep in conversation. When they noticed the girls, Amelia said, “Hi. How are you and your Ma doing?”

“We’re fine, thank you.” Susan answered.

Once, Susan looked in the direction of Uncle Richard’s farm, and she saw Uncle Richard picking up the basket and waving ‘thank you’ to them.

After Susan and Alice picked armfuls of flowers, they headed home.

When they entered the house, they showed the flowers to Ma, who was embroidering. “Morning glories! I love morning glories! Thank you,” she cried. “Those were the kind of flowers your Pa gave me before our wedding, and he gave more to me before he died of cancer.”

Ma put all the flowers in a vase with water. In less than an hour, the whole house smelled of flowers.