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A fable and a short story both have plots with concise a development of characters and theme, but the objective of the fable is to present the reader with a moral lesson. A fable always uses an allegory to make its point. Short stories are typically longer than fables and may express a moral lesson or use an allegory, though these are not necessary components of this form of writing.
A major difference between a fable and a short story lies in the moral lesson a fable delivers to its readers. For example, in The Fox and the Crow by Aesop, a fox dupes a crow into opening its beak and dropping a piece of cheese on the ground. The fox achieves this by telling the crow it is noble, gracious and beautiful. When the crow opens its beak to answer, the cheese falls on the ground and the fox gets to eat it. The moral of this fable is to be suspicious of flattery.
Allegory, or the use of symbols to impart lessons or make a point, is another important device always found in fables. Anyone could easily say, “Don’t trust people who flatter you because they may be trying to get something out of you.” Aesop chose instead to use the crafty fox and the conceited crow to illustrate this point and make the moral lesson memorable to his readers.
Both a fable and a short story get to the point quickly, with succinct character development and a focused theme. Fables, however, are often very short, which is why they are usually considered to be childhood reading. An English translation of The Fox and the Crow has only 121 words, although some fables are much longer.
Opinions vary about the length of a short story. Some say short stories have between 2,000 and 10,000 words, while others feel that anything over 5,000 words is a novella. Many claim that readers should be able to read a short story in one sitting, although some people obviously have longer attention spans than others.
A fable and a short story can both be written to inform and entertain readers, and both can make statements about life. A short story, however, does not necessarily take the moral high ground the way a fable does. Short stories invite readers to participate in a brief interlude of characters’ lives and draw conclusions about the outcome of a conflict.