Recently, I’ve made it a habit to read a couple of short stories every day. They help to pass the time waiting for the coffee to drip or in line at the grocery store.
For me, it’s an entertaining education. My ability to differentiate between a good story and a not so good one is improving. Since I’m writing short stories myself, shouldn’t I study them?
Classic Short Stories
I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, we read several classic American short stories. The most memorable to me were The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe (2,030 words) and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (3,378 words), both in what I call the “nightmare” genre. We also read love stories and sad stories and funny stories. Each of these stories was well over 1,000 words. Many classic short stories are published in collections. Find them online, in the library, or in a bookstore.
What makes a good short story?
A story of any length is complete with plot, setting, and character. In a novel, there is lots of room for details and sub-plots with setting changes. A variety of characters might pop in and out.
A short story is concise. It must get from the beginning to the middle to the end in limited time, in minimal words. For example, flash fiction is less than 500 words. There’s no room for elaboration. In many cases, the details are left up to the imagination of the reader. If it’s a good short story, the tale is complete even if it leaves the reader wanting more or wondering what happens next.
I believe that the best short stories are suspenseful or heartwarming or simply shocking. They can make you laugh or cry. Some will keep you awake at night. Like a novel, a good short story is remembered long after you’ve finished reading.
Where to find contemporary short stories
There are many online magazines that publish contemporary short stories. For some, you need a subscription but there are some that are free. For the price of your email address, short stories can appear in your inbox every day or every week, to read whenever you want. Here are a few of my favorite publishers.
Do you read short stories? Where do you find them? Let me know in the comments below.