On Writing: 10 Types of Short Stories

A Notebook and Pen

My blog posts have taken many forms over the years – WoW-related mostly, from transmog to raiding to Best-in-Slot lists, but also short stories, personal thoughts, and school work.  I enjoy everything I write, but I have come to realize that my favorite thing (next to actual writing stories when I have the ideas) is writing about writing.

Recently, my very talented streamer and video-creator beau WoWMartiean got access to the current Alpha testing for Warlords of Draenor.  It has been interesting to sneak peeks over his shoulder, despite how adamant I usually am to keep my distance and not learn anything about WoW content before it is released.  Honestly, I think that has all been thrown out the window since 1) I live with him and 2) I am too damn nosy and curious.  I cannot help it, now I want to know about the changes to Mistweaver Monks and see every little bit of Draenor I can.

*****  *****  Spoiler Start  *****  *****

One of the things he and I have discussed so far is a new type of rare mob being introduced.  I am not sure of all the details, but Blizzard is referring to them as “vignettes” and they seem to be a rare with more complicated mechanics than a normal rare.

*****  *****  Spoiler End  *****  *****

This started me down an interesting train of thought… and I decided to write a post on the different types of short stories.

Defining a Short Story

To discuss the different types of short stories, first I should define a short story.

A short story is a piece of brief literature, usually written in narrative prose.  Short stories can be written in a variety of formats, but the most typical features a small cast of characters with names and focuses on a single, self-contained incident.  Short stories make use of a plot and other normal literary components, just to a lesser and shorter degree than a novel.  They also vary in length.

10 Types of Short Stories

Now that we know generally what a short story is, we can discuss the different types of short stories.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, since short stories come in a wide variety of lengths and styles.  But this is a list of the most common.

Anecdote

An anecdote is a short account of something interesting and amusing, which usually tells a story about a real person and/or incident.  Often, anecdotes are used to illustrate or support a point in an essay, article, or chapter.  They are very short, but have no specific limits.

From grammar.about.com’s entry for the anecdote, an example anecdote about Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“In [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s later years his memory began increasingly to fail. He used to refer to it as his ‘naughty memory’ when it let him down. He would forget the names of things, and have to refer to them in a circumlocutory way, saying, for instance, ‘the implement that cultivates the soil’ for plow. Worse, he could not remember people’s names. At Longfellow’s funeral, he remarked to a friend, ‘That gentleman has a sweet, beautiful soul, but I have entirely forgotten his name.’ Perhaps most touching was his term for umbrella–‘the thing that strangers take away.'”

(Reported in Clifton Fadiman, ed., The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, 1985)

Drabble

A drabble is an exceptionally short piece of fiction, usually of exactly 100 words in length – not including the title.  The purpose of a drabble is extreme brevity and to test an author’s skill at expressing himself/herself meaningfully and interestingly in a very confined space.

A drabble example, by the lovely Matty, is available over at Sugar and Blood: Light as a Feather.  In fact, Matty has many drabble stories!

Fable

A fable is a succinct story featuring anthropomorphic creatures (usually animals, but also mythical creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature) to tell a story with a moral.  Often the moral is explicitly told at the end.  A fable is similar to a parable, but differs most in the fact that fables use animals to tell a story but parables do not.

The most well-known example of a fable would be any of the many told in Aesop’s Fables.  The one I always remember the best is The Ant and the Grasshopper.

Feghoot

A feghoot is an interesting short story type also known as a story pun or a poetic story joke.  It is a humorous piece ending in an atrocious pun.  It can be very short, only long enough to sufficiently illustrate the context of the piece enough to lead up to the pun.

I found an interesting blog of all Feghoots.  This one is a good example and totally groan-worthy as the format requires: The Buck of the Draw.

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction refers to an extremely short piece of literature.  It has no widely accepted length, but has a debated cap of between 300 and 1000 words.

I found a whole webpage of flash fiction, called Flash Fiction Online.  It has a small section of fantasy and I thought this one a good example to share: One Last Night at the Carnival Before the Stars Go Out.

Frame Story

A frame story is also known as a frame tale or a nested narrative.  It is a literary technique of placing a story within a story, for the purpose of introducing or setting the stage for a main narrative or a series of short stories.

A few good example of a frame story would be a flashback within a larger piece or a quest within a larger game environment.

Mini-saga

A mini-saga is a short story told in exactly 50 words.  It is a test in brevity – about saying a lot with a little.

I found a fascinating “guide” to writing a mini-saga.  It has a few examples and the bottom is for filling in with your exact 50 words.  There was another page with good advice and a progressive piece as an example.

Story Sequence

A story sequence, also called a short story cycle or a composite novel, is a group of short stories that work together to form a longer piece, while still functioning as complete short stories on their own.

It would be hard to link to an example, but the best I can think of are several of the works of Isaac Asimov – the Foundation books and I, Robot (the original book, NOT the story portrayed in the Will Smith movie) in particular.  They are not a novel in the traditional sense, but instead a collection of short stories in chronological order that both tell small stories and one larger one.

Sketch Story

A sketch story is a shorter than average piece containing little or no plot.  It can be merely a description of a character or a location.  Character sketches are common, and a good way to build a character that will eventually be part of a longer piece.

I found this good handout about character sketches, including an example.  I wrote a piece a while back about writing character sketches.  I think Regrets, my original blog post and the start of my Shaman-Effy/DK-Effy stories, and the character sketch piece I wrote for creative writing last semester are both good examples as well.

Vignette

And finally, we come to the vignette, which started this whole post in the first place!

A vignette is a short, impressionistic piece that focuses on a single scene, character, idea, setting, or object.  There is little emphasis on adhering to conventional theatrical or literary structure, or story development.  It can be a stand-alone piece or part of a larger work.

From grammar.about.com’s entry for the vignette, an example vignette by E.B. White:

“The strong streak of insanity in railroads, which accounts for a child’s instinctive feeling for them and for a man’s unashamed devotion to them, is congenital; there seems to be no reason to fear that any disturbing improvement in the railroads’ condition will set in. Lying at peace but awake in a Pullman berth all one hot night recently, we followed with dreamy satisfaction the familiar symphony of the cars–the diner departing (furioso) at midnight, the long, fever-laden silences between runs, the timeless gossip of rail and wheel during the runs, the crescendos and diminuendos, the piffling poop-pooping of the diesel’s horn. For the most part, railroading is unchanged from our childhood. The water in which one washes one’s face at morn is still without any real wetness, the little ladder leading to the upper is still the symbol of the tremendous adventure of the night, the green clothes hammock still sways with the curves, and there is still no foolproof place to store one’s trousers.

“Our journey really began several days earlier, at the ticket window of a small station in the country, when the agent showed signs of cracking under the paperwork. ‘It’s hard to believe,’ he said, ‘that after all these years I still got to write the word “Providence” in here every time I make out one of these things. Now, there’s no possible conceivable way you could make this journey without going through Providence, yet the Company wants the word written in here just the same. O.K., here she goes!’ He gravely wrote ‘Providence’ in the proper space, and we experienced anew the reassurance that rail travel is unchanged and unchanging, and that it suits our temperament perfectly–a dash of lunacy, a sense of detachment, not much speed, and no altitude whatsoever.”

(E.B. White, “Railroads.” The Second Tree From the Corner. Harper & Row, 1954)

In Conclusion

I find all of these types of short stories interesting.  So much so that I would like to try my hand at each.  I am hoping to steer my fiction in a more personal direction, and start writing more pieces that take place in the fantasy world I created.  Some of these are very short pieces – which will probably take me longer to write than my usually pieces.  We shall see.

~ Effy

Are there any major short story types you think I missed?  Or do you have any good examples of some of the types listed above?  Please let me know!  I am always on the look out for good fiction!

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