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?
I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, we read several classic American short stories. The most memorable to me was The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe (2,030 words) with The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (3,378 words), coming in a close second. Both are in what I call the “nightmare” genre. We also read romances and tragedies, and humorous stories. Each of these was well over 1,000 words. Many of the classics are published in collections. Find them online, in the library, or 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 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
Many online magazines publish contemporary short stories. For some, you need a subscription, but some are free. For the price of your email address, 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.