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What Are the Different Short Story Genres?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
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Short story genres are the same as those of the novel. These include literary fiction, romance, horror and science fiction. Many minor genres have found a larger market in the shorter form, including pulp fiction, anthologies and online journals. In addition to this there are a number of short story forms, which do not affect the theme of the story, but do affect the way it is told. This ranges from the novella to micro and tweet-fiction.

The Random House dictionary defines genre as “a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique or the like.” Short stories are often broken down not only by their thematic genre, but by their form genre. For example, since the evolution of the status update into Twitter online, micro-fiction has developed to include short stories and poems that are the same length as a tweet. This has become the ultimate genre for the brief and something authors like James Joyce would have found impossible.

Micro fiction or flash fiction is short story genres that are defined by the number of words set as a limit. Publishers are often strict about a minimum and maximum word limit for such stories. Micro fiction can range from 50 to 250 words. There are also 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-word flash fiction niches for stories in magazines and mass anthologies.

The traditional short story, is there is such a thing, tends to range from 1,500 to 15,000 words. Most magazines and publishers tend to require stories of around 5,000-10,000 words. Most competitions, especially those run by writing magazines, limit short stories to 2,500 words and have become a genre of their own.

Short story genres are also defined by theme. Like their novel counterparts, short story genres are based on traditions and conventions or the purposeful twisting and breaking of said conventions and traditions. Edgar Allen Poe believed there were only two types of short story: the rational, such as the detective story, and the emotional. Anton Chekhov would disagree, preferring the psychological, while many others see the short story as their M. Night Shyamalan moment so they can provide a trick ending.

Penny dreadfuls and pulp fiction short stories provided a platform for many genres. These include horror, action, mystery and science fiction stories. Such stories helped launch the careers of writers like Stephen King. There are also platforms for erotic/adult, romantic, sports and other stories. This is especially the case online where genre specific publications have multiplied.

As well as length and subject matter, short story genres can take many forms. Short stories can be written in first, second and third person. They also provide a rare opportunity to write a story as a monologue, something that is too difficult to achieve as a novel; an example of this is “Notes From Underground” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. They can also be written as letters, diary entries and many other formats.

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Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Apr 19, 2014

I like comedy and "tragicomedy" or tragic comedy short stories. I especially enjoy the use of irony in tragic comedies. For example, when the death of a character happens by comedy of errors.

I like how tragic comedies take on a serious subject but show it in a very humorous way. I think it's not easy to write short stories in this genre because the story needs to build up. The writer doesn't have a lot of room to develop the characters, but a good writer can still make it work.

I love reading short stories but I'm afraid I can't write at all.

By ysmina — On Apr 19, 2014

@SteamLouis-- Could it be nonsense?

Nonsense is a literary genre where illogical or unconventional concepts are used. For example, a short story describing concepts in an exaggerated or absurd way would belong to the nonsense genre. But of course, there has to be heavy use of absurdity or it might not qualify as nonsense literature.

Did those stories have such elements?

By SteamLouis — On Apr 18, 2014

I read a compilation of three short stories today but I don't know what genre they belong to. All three short stories were about the sense of smell. The characters had experiences relating to scent and the meanings these scents hold. The stories were definitely not conventional so I'm not sure how to label them.

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