Short Stories

What is a Short Story in English Literature?

3 Mins read

short story usually takes the form of short fictional work, generally written in prose. The earliest precursors to the short story may be discovered within the oral storytelling tradition, in addition to episodes from historical Mediterranean epics, such as ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ and Homer’s ‘Iliad.’

Anecdotes, fables, fairy tales, and parables are examples of the oral storytelling tradition that helped form the short story, such as ‘The Painting of the Dog and His Reflection’ from ‘Aesop’s Fables. In fact, ‘Aesop’s Fables,’ first collected within the 4th century B.C., could have been the first anthology of short stories in Western literature.

Characteristics of a Short Story


Short stories usually vary from 1,600 to 20,000 words.

Although authors and critics have debated the length of the short story all through literary history, most agree on a minimum of 1,600 and a most of 20,000 words. Edgar Allen Poe recommended that a short story take 30 minutes to 2 hours to read in his contribution to the debate.


Short stories typically give attention to a single subject or theme.

Subjects or themes could vary from mundane as a daily errand or as thrilling as a ghost story. However, a single, contained plot is among the hallmarks of the short story and helps form its different characteristics.

Read About: Theme of “Paralysis” in Dubliners by James Joyce

Middle of the Action:

Short stories commonly occur in a single setting and start ‘in medias res,’ which suggests ‘into the middle of things in Latin.

In basic, short stories tend to start and end abruptly, with little to no prior information and no vital lapses in time. As they contain only one plotline and are limited in word length, there may be little room or need for the extended developments we frequently find in novels.

A limited number of characters:

Due to the constraints of the genre, short stories usually give attention to only one or a few characters.

As short stories usually cover such transient periods, even a single character may never be developed. However, like some of Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales,’ historical examples may discover compelling ways to involve many individuals.

In a nutshellthe story is;

  • One principal character, and perhaps a handful of minor characters
  • One main conflict
  • Only some events

Elements of a Short Story

Use of Main Character

Short stories normally have one principal character. However, some short stories may embody different minor characters.

Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is an excellent instance of a short story with a single principal character and some minor characters. Poe’s story features an unnamed narrator who speaks of the events from his perspective. Thus, it focuses on only essentially the most essential details about the narrator. Meanwhile, readers learn little or no about the minor characters, including an older man and several other police officers investigating the narrator.

Use of Setting

Setting; in different words, when and where the story takes place. The setting helps provide context for the reader.

Mark Twain’s short story ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’ happens throughout the 1800s within the American West. The setting helps create a context for the reader. The principal character leaves his home on the East Coast and moves to a mining city to search out his fortune.

Role of Plot

The plot is all the different events that occur within the story. If you have ever read the inside cover or the back of a book, it usually gives you a short description of what the story is about; that is a part of the plot.

Take, for instance, the plot of W.W. Jacobs’ ‘The Monkey’s Paw.’ The story begins when Sargent-Major Morris returns from India and visits his friends, the White family. Over drinks, Morris explains that he has a mystical monkey’s paw that may grant three wishes. But owner beware, the monkey paw is horrible news. Morris decides to burn it; however, Mr. White snatches it out of the fireplace, decided to make a wish.

This is how the plot unfolds the quick synopsis of a story.

Main/Central Conflict

It usually includes the principal character in some way and might take on many different forms. Conflict may be the main character in opposition to one other character, nature, society, or themselves. For instance, the central conflict in Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is between the narrator and himself. He’s so profoundly racked with guilt that he begins to lose his thoughts. Meanwhile, the central conflict in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ facilities around the effects of Mr. White’s first wish on the paw.

Themes in Short Story

The theme is the central idea of the story. In addition, the themes provide some lessons for the reader. For instance, the ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ theme is how guilt can drive an individual insane.

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