Characteristics of Short Stories




As a general rule short stories are less complex than novels. Usually a short story focuses on only one incident, has a single plot, a single setting, a small number of characters and covers a short period of time.


The following are the some of the main characteristics of a short story:


The length may vary from very short to 20,000 words, but the story can be read in a single sitting.

There is nothing included in the story that does not further the action of the story. As such nothing can be added nor taken away.

It deals with one situation and has no subplots (secondary storylines).

As the story is concise, short story writers depend on the reader bringing personal experiences and prior knowledge to the story.

There is often a conflict or struggle between two opposing forces.

There is a distinct climax or crisis which develops directly from the conflict.

It has one central character, the protagonist, and few others, with no unnecessary characterisation.

Often the amount of time that passes and the location of the story are limited.

It has a definite outcome that is satisfactory to the reader. This does not have to be a "happy ending."


Four major components of a short story are:


PLOT; this is the action (or actions) that takes place in the story.


SETTING; this is the background against which the incidents of the story take place.


CHARACTER(S); there must be living beings in the story. These living beings must act or think in order to keep the story going. The characters must therefore appear like living and feeling individuals in order for the reader to be interested in them.


THEME; this is the overall subject of the story. Without a theme, the story lacks meaning or purpose.




1. What do you personally think what makes a good short story? What should it do and what shouldn't it do?


2. "The short story form is better suited to the demands of modern life than the novel." (statement by Simon Prosser - Publishing Director Hamish Hamilton) 

Do you agree with this statement or not? Explain and illustrate. You could refer to the three short stories that you are reading as part of this assignment.








































American Short Stories