Short Fiction Stories
Problems for Writers and Readers

The structure of short fiction stories are:

  • Less forgiving for the writer, while being
  • Less desirable for some readers

And the primary importance is -
What readers want - Right!

With that in mind, let's take a look at short stories... Short fiction stories are generally referred to simply as "short stories", because the word "story" already conveys that the subject is fictional.

Referring to the written work as a "fiction story" or "fictional story" therefore, is redundant. However in keeping with the subject of this page and to satisfy the needs of aspiring writers I will continue to use the term, "short fiction story" on this page. Short fiction stories are usually under 17,000 words but can go down to as little as (some say) 1,000 words.

But there is more to it than simple word count.

Consider this article from Wikipedia concerning the "short story":

short fiction stories
"Determining what exactly separates short stories from longer fictional formats is problematic. A classic definition of a short story is that one should be able to read it in one sitting, a point most notably made in Edgar Allan Poe's essay "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846).

"Other definitions place the maximum word length at anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 words. As a point of reference for the science fiction genre writer, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America defines short story length in its Nebula Awards for science fiction submission guidelines as having a word count of less than 7,500.

"In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000. Stories less than 1,000 words are usually referred to either as 'short short fiction' or 'short shorts' or even 'flash fiction'."

short fiction stories

The article from Wikipedia above is all well and good however, there is a very important element missing from the above discussion of short stories - STRUCTURE.

Form follows function and what separates short stories from longer stories is the structure.

Short stories are structured differently than long stories. This is a critical point requiring clarification.

Although it is said that a novel is comprised of three acts - this is not completely accurate and even the word "act" is inadequately defined in relation to storytelling.

However, we do know this. A story (such as a novel) is actually structured as:

  1. Opening
  2. First incident
  3. Second incident
  4. Event
  5. Conclusion

(Note - Although this structure is often referred to as having three acts you will notice that there are actually - 5 - Structural Elements)

Short fiction stories (on the other hand) are actually structured as:

  1. Opening
  2. Event
  3. Conclusion

(Note - Although no one refers to this structure as having only one act in keeping with the nomenclature describing long fiction one could use that term. However, it would be more accurate to describe the short story as having actually - 3 - Structural Elements)

One could even consider that long fiction (such as the novel, play or feature film) as simply constructed of three short stories connected together. This would be quite accurate - as far as it goes.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that.

However, that is the basic structural difference between Short Fiction Stories, and Long Fiction Stories (a.k.a. short stories and novels)

short fiction stories
To completely understand the above, one needs to thoroughly understand the exact definitions of three key terms related to storytelling; starting with the exact differentiation of the word "story" itself and the terms "incident" and "event".

Unfortunately, one will not be able to adequately understand these terms -- nor many of the other terms crucial to understanding the subject of writing short fiction stories or long fiction stories -- by relying on the definitions found in standard dictionaries.

This is an important point which I will discuss in more detail on another page.

And which is why -- I was forced to create the "Fiction Writers Dictionary" --

Which will be available soon.

Whether through laziness or just declining literacy, the English language has fallen into a state of poor definition and differentiation of terms.

This presents a unique problem for the aspiring fiction writer since words are our primary tool -- not only for constructing our long or short fiction stories but -- how we learn the exact procedures, sequences and techniques for constructing those stories.

Write on...

Richard A. McCullough

(Coming soon - "The Short Story is Too Short" a discussion of the main factor contributing to the decline of the short story as a viable literary format.)

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© copyright 2010 - Richard A McCullough is the creator & editor of the Fiction Writers source for Writing Better Fiction Faster and Selling More of What You Write.

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