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Fun and Creative Narrative Short Story Examples

Table of contents.

Life is made more colorful by the stories we cherish in our minds and hearts. We build many habits and values based on different stories.

We learn to face many of life’s challenges when we read about characters who face their struggles. If you want to learn more about short stories, try these  narrative short story examples .

A person typing on a laptop computer.

Definition of a Narrative Short Story

A narrative short story is a common form of storytelling. It’s shorter than a novel and features a few characters and a single plot line. Short stories are short works of fiction that happen over the course of a single day, a single weekend, or a single season. They usually take place in a familiar world and have an emotional or intellectual plot.

Short stories have an average length of fewer than 10,000 words. They are shorter than novels and longer than fables.

Readers enjoy short stories because of their simplicity. Story simplicity allows writers to use a story and its characters to share a moral lesson. This makes short stories ideal for young children as it allows them to focus on the story and characters.

In contrast, adult short tales focus more on life’s meaning and existential questions. They usually present readers with situations they can relate to and examine for their message on meaning and existence. 

For instance, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper follows the story of a woman who suffered hysteria. The book tells the story of a woman’s mental health deterioration during her “rest cure” with her family.

The narrator begins the story by marveling at the beauty and grandeur of the temporary home her husband rented for their Summer vacation. John, the woman’s husband, restricts the narrator’s freedom and confines her to the bedroom.

The story follows the decline of her mental health, represented by her increasing obsession with the yellow wallpaper that adorned her room.

The story focuses on the importance of freedom and identity.

The Importance of Short Stories

Short stories are important because they take pressure off an author by allowing them to create innovative, original but brief creations. 

They provide a platform for stories to unfold in an imaginative way and for authors to experiment with themes and styles. It’s also an opportunity for readers to connect and reflect on the quality of the story. Writers of short stories can get creative by incorporating a wide array of themes, techniques, and rhetorical devices.

Short stories are an excellent way to ease into the habit of reading. This is why schools love to assign short stories for students to read.

They are unlike full-length novels that require a lot of time and commitment to read through. More importantly, they leave readers with a positive reading experience which can encourage young readers to search for more literature to read.

Narrative Short Story Examples

Literature is full of short stories. Short stories are a perfectly acceptable way for you to share conflicts and resolutions with an audience. Because of this, it may be worth experimenting with a few short story types and learning more on the way.

Below is a small collection of classic short stories you can draw inspiration from:

The Bottom Line

A short story is a narrative form of writing characterized by highly condensed events, a brief setting, and a focus on a particular moment. 

The brevity and simplicity of this form of writing leave more room for writers to focus on the moral of the story. Short stories are some of the best ways to learn new things about life. The characters in a short story are not just going through their life as we did, but sometimes experience a drama within them. Readers of any age learn to relate to characters and to focus on the story’s resolution. 

The conclusion of the story often leaves a reader with a better understanding of human behavior. 

Short stories are great for introducing young people to the joys of reading. They are simple yet hold enough room for a writer to express their creativity. Understanding how to write short stories begins with reading them and analyzing their writing and expository style. 

Whether you plan to come up with your own short story or simply want to discover the joys of reading, read these books. They will all serve you well.

Fun and Creative Narrative Short Story Examples

Abir Ghenaiet

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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Encyclopedia Britannica

Analysis of the genre

short story

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Read a brief summary of this topic

Analyze short fiction elements evidenced in “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Necklace,” and “The Magic Shop”

short story , brief fictional prose narrative that is shorter than a novel and that usually deals with only a few characters.

The short story is usually concerned with a single effect conveyed in only one or a few significant episodes or scenes. The form encourages economy of setting , concise narrative, and the omission of a complex plot ; character is disclosed in action and dramatic encounter but is seldom fully developed. Despite its relatively limited scope, though, a short story is often judged by its ability to provide a “complete” or satisfying treatment of its characters and subject.

Before the 19th century the short story was not generally regarded as a distinct literary form. But although in this sense it may seem to be a uniquely modern genre , the fact is that short prose fiction is nearly as old as language itself. Throughout history humankind has enjoyed various types of brief narratives: jests, anecdotes , studied digressions , short allegorical romances, moralizing fairy tales, short myths , and abbreviated historical legends . None of these constitutes a short story as it has been defined since the 19th century, but they do make up a large part of the milieu from which the modern short story emerged.

As a genre , the short story received relatively little critical attention through the middle of the 20th century, and the most valuable studies of the form were often limited by region or era. In his The Lonely Voice (1963), the Irish short story writer Frank O’Connor attempted to account for the genre by suggesting that stories are a means for “submerged population groups” to address a dominating community . Most other theoretical discussions, however, were predicated in one way or another on Edgar Allan Poe ’s thesis that stories must have a compact unified effect.

Nobel prize-winning American author, Pearl S. Buck, at her home, Green Hills Farm, near Perkasie, Pennsylvania, 1962. (Pearl Buck)

By far the majority of criticism on the short story focused on techniques of writing. Many, and often the best of the technical works, advise the young reader—alerting the reader to the variety of devices and tactics employed by the skilled writer. On the other hand, many of these works are no more than treatises on “how to write stories” for the young writer rather than serious critical material.

The prevalence in the 19th century of two words, “ sketch ” and “tale,” affords one way of looking at the genre. In the United States alone there were virtually hundreds of books claiming to be collections of sketches ( Washington Irving ’s The Sketch Book , William Dean Howells ’s Suburban Sketches ) or collections of tales (Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque , Herman Melville ’s The Piazza Tales ). These two terms establish the polarities of the milieu out of which the modern short story grew.

The tale is much older than the sketch. Basically, the tale is a manifestation of a culture’s unaging desire to name and conceptualize its place in the cosmos. It provides a culture’s narrative framework for such things as its vision of itself and its homeland or for expressing its conception of its ancestors and its gods. Usually filled with cryptic and uniquely deployed motifs, personages, and symbols , tales are frequently fully understood only by members of the particular culture to which they belong. Simply, tales are intracultural. Seldom created to address an outside culture, a tale is a medium through which a culture speaks to itself and thus perpetuates its own values and stabilizes its own identity. The old speak to the young through tales.

The sketch, by contrast, is intercultural, depicting some phenomenon of one culture for the benefit or pleasure of a second culture. Factual and journalistic, in essence the sketch is generally more analytic or descriptive and less narrative or dramatic than the tale. Moreover, the sketch by nature is suggestive , incomplete; the tale is often hyperbolic , overstated.

The primary mode of the sketch is written; that of the tale, spoken . This difference alone accounts for their strikingly different effects. The sketch writer can have, or pretend to have, his eye on his subject. The tale, recounted at court or campfire—or at some place similarly removed in time from the event—is nearly always a re-creation of the past. The tale-teller is an agent of time , bringing together a culture’s past and its present. The sketch writer is more an agent of space , bringing an aspect of one culture to the attention of a second.

It is only a slight oversimplification to suggest that the tale was the only kind of short fiction until the 16th century, when a rising middle class interest in social realism on the one hand and in exotic lands on the other put a premium on sketches of subcultures and foreign regions. In the 19th century certain writers—those one might call the “fathers” of the modern story: Nikolay Gogol , Hawthorne, E.T.A. Hoffmann , Heinrich von Kleist , Prosper Mérimée , Poe—combined elements of the tale with elements of the sketch. Each writer worked in his own way, but the general effect was to mitigate some of the fantasy and stultifying conventionality of the tale and, at the same time, to liberate the sketch from its bondage to strict factuality. The modern short story, then, ranges between the highly imaginative tale and the photographic sketch and in some ways draws on both.

Learn about Ernest Hemingway's short story “My Old Man” and his time as an expatriate in Paris

The short stories of Ernest Hemingway , for example, may often gain their force from an exploitation of traditional mythic symbols (water, fish, groin wounds), but they are more closely related to the sketch than to the tale. Indeed, Hemingway was able at times to submit his apparently factual stories as newspaper copy. In contrast, the stories of Hemingway’s contemporary William Faulkner more closely resemble the tale. Faulkner seldom seems to understate, and his stories carry a heavy flavour of the past. Both his language and his subject matter are rich in traditional material. A Southerner might well suspect that only a reader steeped in sympathetic knowledge of the traditional South could fully understand Faulkner. Faulkner may seem, at times, to be a Southerner speaking to and for Southerners. But, as, by virtue of their imaginative and symbolic qualities, Hemingway’s narratives are more than journalistic sketches, so, by virtue of their explorative and analytic qualities, Faulkner’s narratives are more than Southern tales.

Whether or not one sees the modern short story as a fusion of sketch and tale, it is hardly disputable that today the short story is a distinct and autonomous , though still developing, genre.

How to Write a Short Story in 5 Steps

Lindsay Kramer

Short stories are to novels what TV episodes are to movies. Short stories are a form of narrative writing that has all the same elements as novels—plot, character development, point of view, story structure, theme—but are delivered in fewer words. For many writers, short stories are a less daunting way to dive into creative writing than attempting to write a novel . This doesn’t mean writing short fiction is easy—it, like every other kind of writing, comes with its own unique challenges. 

If you’re wondering how to write a short story, we’re here to help. We’ve got tips for everything from coming up with short story ideas to fleshing out a plot to getting your work published in literary magazines. 

Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.

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What is a short story?

A short story is a short, self-contained work of fiction that generally falls between 1,000 and 10,000 words. 

Because of this length constraint, short stories tend to be less complex than longer works—in certain ways. In a short story, you can build a world, but not to the extent you can build a world in a (longer) novel. Similarly, you can have multiple fleshed-out characters, but you can’t give every character a full backstory and meaningful character arc like you can in a lengthier work. Generally, long, intricate plots with multiple subplots are better suited to novel-length works than a short story. 

Don’t take this to mean your short story’s theme can’t be as deep as a longer work’s theme. You don’t need an extensive world with a complex magical system and an entire cast of three-dimensional characters to express a theme effectively. While short stories have fewer words, simpler settings, and smaller casts than novels, they can have just as much of an impact on readers. If you’re looking to read a powerful short story and see how other authors communicate substantive themes in just a few thousand words, check out these famous, impactful works:

How long should a short story be?

Like we said in the previous section, short stories typically contain between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Stories longer than 10,000 (but shorter than 40,000) words are generally considered novellas . You might even come across the term novelette to refer to a story between 7,500 and 17,000 words. Once you hit about 50,000 words, you’re in novel territory (and you’ve won NaNoWriMo!) 

Stories that clock in under 1,000 words are known as flash fiction and stories of 500 words or fewer are considered microfiction .  

There’s really no limit to how short a story can be, though. Consider Hemingway’s famous six-word story: 

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In just six words, Hemingway evokes an entire scene and the backstory that led to that scene. This is an extreme example of a short story, and it relies on the reader extrapolating meaning from the words, but because it does so successfully, it counts as a short story. 

What’s in a short story?

Every short story has these five elements:

Characters are the people (or animals, aliens, mythical creatures, or sentient objects) who do the action in your story. Your protagonist is the character who undergoes some kind of change (or lack thereof) as a result of the story’s main conflict. Your antagonist is the character (or something abstract) attempting to prevent the protagonist’s change. To clarify, the antagonist doesn’t have to be a person—it could be the protagonist’s environment, their society, or even an aspect of themselves. 

>>Read More: What Is Direct Characterization in Literature?

Plot is the series of events that illustrate the story’s conflict. When you’re writing a short story, it’s generally best to start your plot as close to the end as possible. In other words, if your story is about an alien who visits Earth and then retreats, horrified, back to her spaceship, start your story just as she’s approaching Earth or just as she’s touching down. You can build up a backstory later through tools like dialogue, flashbacks, and the protagonist’s actions. With a short story, you don’t have space for a lengthy exposition, so drop your readers right into the action. 

A short story’s theme is its central message. This is the point the author wants readers to take away from their work. 

Conflict is the action that drives the story’s plot. It’s the obstacle the protagonist has to overcome or the goal they’re attempting to reach. A conflict can be internal, like our example alien setting out to prove to herself that she can manage a mission to Earth on her own, or it can be external, like the protagonist striving to prove to her society that Earth is a worthwhile planet with which to establish a relationship. 

Setting is the time and place where a story’s action occurs. For example, our alien story’s setting might be Nevada in 1955. 

How to write a short story

Mine your imagination.

Just like every other type of writing, a short story starts with brainstorming . In fact, the process for writing a short story is the same writing process you use for other kinds of writing, like essays and presentations. 

Ask yourself this: What do I want my short story to be about? Jot that down. Do you already have a clear idea of who your characters are or the setting they’ll inhabit? Or are you starting with a theme you want to convey, and now you need to develop a story to express that theme?

Start your brainstorming session with the elements you already have, then flesh out your story idea from there. Write down your setting, your characters, the conflict they face, and any key plot points you have in mind. You can fill in details later; right now, the goal is to have some rough data to use for your outline. 

Don’t move on to outlining until you’ve defined your story’s conflict. Without a conflict, you don’t have a story. Although all of the five elements listed above are necessary for writing a great short story, conflict is the one that drives your plot, shapes your characters, and enables you to express your theme. 

The next step in writing short fiction is outlining your story. 

When you outline your story, you organize the notes from your brainstorming session into a coherent skeleton of your finished story. Outlining your story is a key part of prewriting because it’s where you develop your story’s framework and sketch out how each scene follows the previous scene to advance the plot. This stage is where you determine any plot twists or big reveals and fit them into the story’s sequence. 

Next, it’s time to write. 

Don’t worry about grammatical mistakes—you’ll fix them later. 

Don’t worry about your narration or dialogue being extraneous or not making complete sense—you’ll fix that later too. Right now, you’re working on a rough draft. Just get that story out of your imagination and onto the page without being self-conscious about it. 

Keep that first draft as tight as possible. You’re writing a short story, after all, so be economical with your words. Keep these tips in mind as you write :

Once you have a finished first draft, let it rest. If you have the luxury of waiting a day or so to come back and read what you wrote, do that. That way, you can read your writing again with fresh eyes, which makes it easier to spot inconsistencies and plot holes. 

Then it’s time to edit. Read your writing again and note any places where you can make the writing more descriptive, more concise, more engaging, or simply more logical. At this stage, it can be very helpful to work with readers’ feedback. If you’re comfortable sharing your work and receiving constructive criticism, share your rough draft with friends and family—and, if possible, with other writers—and let their feedback guide the revisions you make.  

Move past creative blocks

So you’ve got writer’s block. 

Writer’s block can strike at any point in the writing process. You might have a great idea for a short story, then find yourself struggling as you try to brainstorm ways to transform that idea into a narrative. Or you might have no problem brainstorming and creating a coherent outline, but then feel like you’re running into a wall as you try to write linear scenes and craft realistic dialogue that advances the plot. Or maybe you aren’t stuck in the sense that you don’t know what to write, but you’re having a hard time determining the most effective way to write it.  

It happens to every writer.

Because writer’s block is such a universal condition, we gathered up a few helpful tips you can use to defeat writer’s block and write effective, engaging scenes:

Give a writing prompt a shot

If getting started is what’s giving you a hard time, consider using a writing prompt . A writing prompt is like kindling for your short story. They’re generally brief, at just a sentence or two, and describe scenarios writers flesh out into full-fledged stories. Run a web search for  “writing prompts” and you’ll find a ton. You can even tailor your search to a specific genre, like “horror writing prompts” or “romantic comedy writing prompts.”

Skip the scene and work backward

When a particular scene is what’s making it difficult to move forward, skip it. There’s no rule that says you have to write your short story in order. Just move ahead to the next scene that you can write, and then when you’re finished, revisit the challenging one. In many cases, it’s easier to write a scene once you know what happens after it. 

We’ve talked about writing sprints before. They’re a great way to make yourself write faster . When it comes to busting through that brick wall of writer’s block, sprinting can put you into a mindset where you’re writing words, any words, just to reach the word count goal you set. You probably won’t craft publishable prose this way, but you’ll likely find creative ways through the difficult scenes that you can build on later.

Where to distribute your short story

If you’re like most authors, one of your goals is to publish your story. 

There are two main ways to do that: traditional publishing and self-publishing. 

In the short fiction world, traditional publishing generally means having your work published in a literary magazine. There are thousands of literary magazines currently being published around the world, each with a unique combination of editorial focus, publishing schedule, submission process, acceptance rate, and payment for authors.

Some literary magazines accept nearly every story they receive. Others select very few—as in, a single-digit percentage of the stories submitted—to publish. You can find literary magazines and contests through resources such as Poets & Writers , Duotrope , and Writer’s Digest . 

If you’ve got a collection of short stories that together are approximately book-length, you can also query agents to have your work published that way. A few well-known short story collections include The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin.

The other way to publish your work is self-publishing. With self-publishing, you don’t need to have your work greenlit by a magazine editor or a publishing house. Although that hurdle isn’t present, self-publishing can be a complex process. As a self-published author, you’re responsible for everything, including these elements:

Whether self-publishing is the right route for your story depends on your goals for the story. If you’re looking to have your work featured in a widely circulated magazine, guaranteeing that thousands of people (or more!) read it, traditional publishing is the way to go. If your priority is to simply get your work out there, or if you want total control of every part of building your platform as an author, self-publishing can be the perfect choice. 

Popular self-publishing platforms include Kindle Direct Publishing , CreateSpace , Apple Books , and Barnes & Noble Press . Each has a unique publishing process and royalty rate for authors. 

You can also self-publish your short story on your blog . Blogs are personal (and professional) outlets for writing, and if you’ve got a story to tell and don’t want to go through the process of getting it published or going the “traditional” self-publishing route, you can create a blog and publish your work there. 

Finding a writing community

For many authors, being part of a writing community is a key part of staying in regular writing practice and striving to grow as a writer. Writing communities exist online and offline, with some existing as simply places for writers to connect with each other and others offering up more structure, like a regular critique schedule. There are also writing communities built around writing challenges like NYC Midnight and NaNoWriMo .

If you think you’d benefit from being part of a writing community, find one that fits what you’re looking for—or start one yourself! You can find writing communities on social media and through websites like meetup.com. Other places to look for writing groups are local libraries and bookstores and if you’re a student, your university. Being part of a writing community can help you get your work published in two ways:

Tell your story with confidence

We all have stories inside us. Writing your story is what makes you an author, and even the most accomplished authors need help catching grammar mistakes and other issues in their writing. That’s what makes Grammarly an ideal writing assistant. Write what’s in your heart and on your mind, then when it’s time to edit, Grammarly will catch any mistakes you might have missed, flag wording that isn’t clear, and suggest the right tone for telling your tale. 

what is a narrative short story

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Last updated on Aug 12, 2022

How to Write a Short Story in 6 Simple Steps

Writing a short novel can be a challenge: in the space of a few pages you’ll have to develop characters, build tension up to a climax, and resolve the main conflict. 

To help you with the process, here's how to write a short story step-by-step:

1. Identify a short story idea

2. define the character’s main conflict and goal, 3. hook readers with a strong beginning , 4. draft a middle focused on the story’s message, 5. write a memorable ending, 6. refine the plot and structure of your short story.

Step by step, we’ll show you how to take a blank page and spin it into short-form narrative gold.

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Before you can put your head down and write your story , you first need an idea you can run with. Some writers can seemingly pluck interesting ideas out of thin air but if that’s not you, then fear not. Here are some tips and tricks that will get your creative juices flowing and have you drumming up ideas in no time.

Pro-tip: Interested in writing short stories? We recommend taking this free 10-day course taught by professional editor Laura Mae Isaacman. 

what is a narrative short story


How to Craft a Killer Short Story

From pacing to character development, master the elements of short fiction.

Start with an interesting character or setting

Short stories, by their very nature, tend to be narrower in scope than a novel. There’s less pressure to have a rich narrative mapped out from A to Z before your pen hits the paper. Short story writers often find it fruitful to focus on a single character, setting , or event — an approach that is responsible for some true classics. 

John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” is about one character: a suburban American father who decides to swim through all of his neighbor’s pools. While Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” has a larger cast of characters, the story takes place perhaps over one hour in a town square. By limiting yourself to a few characters and one or two locations, you may find it easier to keep your story from getting out of hand and spiraling off into tangents.

Mine your own anecdotes

When it comes to establishing a story’s premise, real-life experiences can be your first port of call — “write what you know”, as the old adage goes. While you might not have lived through an epic saga akin to Gulliver’s Travels, you probably have an anecdote or two that would easily form the basis of a short story. If there’s a funny story you always reach for at a party or a family dinner, you could repurpose for a piece of writing or let it serve as a launchpad for your imagination.

Eavesdrop and steal

There is beauty in the mundane. Writers these days often have a document open in their phone’s notes app to remember things that might spark their imagination at a later date. After all, something you overhear in a conversation between your aunties could be perfect short story fodder — as could a colorful character who turns up at your workplace. Whether these experiences are the basis for a story or function as a small piece of embellishment, they can save your imagination from having to do all the heavy lifting.

It’s not just your own life you can take inspiration from either. Pay extra attention to the news, the stories your friends tell you, and all the things that go on around — it will surely serve you well when it comes to brainstorming a story.

These little snippets can serve as the genesis of a story, or could even make it in verbatim as inspiration for your dialogue. Want more dialogue writing tips? We've got a free course for that.

what is a narrative short story

How to Write Believable Dialogue

Master the art of dialogue in 10 five-minute lessons.

Try a writing prompt on for size

If you’re still stumped, looking through some short story ideas or writing prompts for inspiration. Any stories that are written with these resources are still your intellectual property, so you can freely share or publish them if they turn out well!

Once you have your idea (which could be a setting, character, or event), try to associate it with a strong emotion. Think of short stories as a study of feeling — rather than a full-blown plot, you can home in on an emotion and let that dictate the tone and narrative arc. Without this emotion core, you may find that your story lacks drive and will struggle to engage the reader. 

With your emotionally charged idea ready to go, let’s look at structure.

You might be tempted to apply standard novel-writing strategies to your story: intricately plotting each event, creating detailed character profiles , and of course, painstakingly mapping it onto a popular story framework with a beginning, middle, and end. But all you really need is a well-developed main character and one or two big events at most.

Short stories should have an inciting incident and a climax

A short story, though more concise, can still have all of the narrative components we’d expect from a novel — though the set up, inciting incident, and climax might just be a sentence or two. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, writers should aim to start their stories “as close to the end as possible”. Taking this advice to the extreme, you could begin your story in medias res , skipping all exposition and starting in the middle of the action, and sustaining tension from there on in.

What’s most important to remember is that short stories don't have the same privilege of time when it comes to exposition. To save time and make for a snappier piece of writing, it’s usually better to fold backstory into the rising action .

Each scene should escalate the tension

Another effective short story structure is the Fichtean Curve , which also skips over exposition and the inciting incident and starts with rising action. Typically, this part of the story will see the main character meet and overcome several smaller obstacles (with exposition snuck in), crescendoing with the climax. This approach encourages writers to craft tension-packed narratives that get straight to the point. Rarely do you want to resolve the main conflict in the middle of the story — if there’s an opportunity for tension, leave it open to keep the momentum going until the very end. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with structure and form

Short stories by design don’t really have the time to settle into the familiar shape of a classic narrative. However, this restriction gives you free rein to play around with chronology and point of view — to take risks, and be experimental. After all, if you’re only asking for 20 minutes of your readers’ time, they’re more likely to go along with an unusual storytelling style. Classic short stories like Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” did so well precisely because O’Connor redrew the parameters of the Southern Gothic genre as it was known — with its cast of characters, artfully sustained suspense and its shocking, gruesome ending.

Want to get creative with POV? Check out our free course to master the concept, and pick the perfect perspective for your story.

what is a narrative short story

Understanding Point of View

Learn to master different POVs and choose the best for your story.

A lot rides on the opening lines of a short story . You’ll want to strike the right tone, introduce the characters, and capture the reader’s attention all at once — and you need to do it quickly because you don’t have many words to work with! There are a few ways to do this, so let’s take a look at the options.

Start with an action

Starting with a bang — literally and figuratively — is a surefire way to grab your reader’s attention. Action is a great way to immediately establish tension that you can sustain throughout the story. This doesn’t have to be something hugely dramatic like a car crash (though it can be) — it can be as small and simple as missing a bus by a matter of seconds. So long as the reader understands that this action is in some way unusual, it can set the scene for the emotional turmoil that is to unfold.

Start with an insight

One highly effective method for starting a short story is to write an opening hook. A 'hook' can seem an obtuse word, but what it really means is a sentence that immediately garners intrigue and encourages your reader to read on.  For example, in “Mrs Dalloway” (originally a short story), Virginia Woolf opens with the line, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” The reader then wonders: who is Mrs. Dalloway, why is she buying flowers, and is it unusual that she would do so herself? Such questions prompt the reader to continue with interest, looking for answers.

what is a narrative short story

Start with an image

Another popular way of opening a story by presenting your reader with a strong image. It could be a description of an object, a person, or even a location. It’s not to everyone’s taste (especially if you love plot driven stories), but when done well, a well-drawn image has the ability to linger on the reader’s mind. Let’s go back to our example of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. This story starts opens with a vivid and detailed description of a village: The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. Though this description seems to be setting the stage for a pleasant, lighthearted tale, “The Lottery” actually takes a darker turn — making this opening image of an idyllic summer’s day even more eerie. When this story was published in The New Yorker, readers responded by sending in more letters than for any story that had come before — that’s how you know you’ve made an impact, right?

[ PRO-TIP : To read some of the best short stories, head here to find 31 must-read short story collections . ]

The old maxim of “write drunk, edit sober” has long been misattributed to Ernest Hemingway, a notorious drinker. While we do not recommend literally writing under the influence, there is something to be said for writing feely with your first draft.

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Don’t edit as you write

Your first draft is not going to be fit for human consumption. That’s not the point of it. Your goal with version 1 of the story is just to get something out on the page. You should have a clear sense of your story’s overall aim, so just sit down and write towards that aim as best you can. 

Avoid the temptation to noodle with word choice and syntax while you’re on the first draft: that part will come later. ‘Writing drunk’ means internalizing the confidence of someone on their second bottle of chablis. Behave as though everything you’re writing is amazing. If you make a spelling mistake? Who cares! Does that sentence make sense? You’ll fix that later!

Backstory is rarely needed

Hemingway ’s Iceberg Theory — correctly attributed to the man — is well suited to short stories. Like the physical appearance of an Iceberg, most of which is “under the surface”, much can be inferred about your story through a few craftily written sentences. Instead of being spoon-fed every single detail, your reader can ponder the subtext themselves and come to their own conclusions. The most classic example of this is “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” — a six-word story with a whole lot of emotionally charged subtext. (Note: that story is attributed to Hemingway, though that claim is also unsubstantiated!)

In short, don’t second-guess yourself and if your story truly needs more context, it can always be added in the next revision.

what is a narrative short story

Nothing is more disappointing to a reader than a beautifully written narrative with a weak ending. When you get to the end of your story , it may be tempting to dash off a quick one and be done with it— but don’t give in to temptation! There are countless ways to finish a story — and there’s no requirement to provide a tidy resolution — but we find that the most compelling endings will center on its characters .

What has changed about the character?

It’s typical for a story to put a protagonist through their paces as a means to tease out some kind of character development. Many stories will feature a classic redemption arc, but it’s not the only option. The ending might see the main character making a choice based on having some kind of profound revelation. Characters might change in subtler ways, though, arriving at a specific realization or becoming more cynical or hopeful. Or, they might learn absolutely nothing from the trials and tribulations they’ve faced. In O. Henry’s Christmas-set “The Gift of the Magi,” a young woman sells her hair to buy her husband a chain for his pocket watch. When the husband returns home that night, he reveals that he sold his watch to buy his wife a set of hair ornaments that she can now no longer use. The couple has spent the story worrying about material gifts but in the end, they have learned that real gift… is their love for one another.

Has our understanding of them changed?

Human beings are innately resistant to change. Instead of putting your characters through a great epiphany or moment of transformation, your ending could reveal an existing truth about them. For example, the ending might reveal that your seemingly likable character is actually a villain — or there may be a revelation that renders their morally dubious action in a kinder light. This revelation can also manifest itself as a twist. In Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a plantation owner in the Civil War escapes the gallows and embarks on a treacherous journey home. But just before he reaches his wife’s waiting arms, he feels a sharp blow on the back of his neck. It is revealed that he never actually left the gallows — his escape was merely a final fantasy. For these character-driven endings to work, the readers need to be invested in your characters. With the precious few words that you have to tell your story, you need to paint enough of a picture to make readers care what actually happens to them at the end.

More often than not, if your ending falls flat, the problem usually lies in the preceding scenes and not the ending. Have you adequately set up the stakes of the story? Have you given readers enough of a clue about your twist ending? Does the reader care enough about the character for the ending to have a strong emotional impact? Once you can answer yes to all these questions, you’re ready to start editing.

If you’re wondering how to make your story go from good to great, the secret’s in the editing process. And the first stage of editing a short story involves whittling it down until it’s fighting fit. As Edgar Allan Poe once said, “a short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build toward it,”. With this in mind, ensure that each line and paragraph not only progress the story, but also contributes to the mood, key emotion or viewpoint you are trying to express. Poe himself does this to marvelous effect in “The Tell-Tale Heart”:

Slowly, little by little, I lifted the cloth, until a small, small light escaped from under it to fall upon — to fall upon that vulture eye! It was open — wide, wide open, and my anger increased as it looked straight at me. I could not see the old man’s face. Only that eye, that hard blue eye, and the blood in my body became like ice.

Edit ruthlessly

The rewrites will often take longer than the original draft because now you are trying to perfect and refine the central idea of your story. If you have a panic-stricken look across your face reading this, don’t worry, you will probably be more aware of the shape you want your story to take once you’ve written it, which will make the refining process a little easier.

A well-executed edit starts with a diligent re-read — something you’ll want to do multiple times to ensure no errors slip through the net. Pay attention to word flow, the intensity of your key emotion, and the pacing of your plot, and what the readers are gradually learning about your characters. Make a note of any inconsistencies you find, even if you don’t think they matter — something extremely minor can throw the whole narrative out of whack. The problem-solving skills required to identify and fix plot holes will also help you eventually skim the fat off your short story.

What to do if it’s too long

Maybe you’re entering a writing contest with a strict word limit, or perhaps you realize your story is dragging. A simple way to trim your story is to see if each sentence passes the ‘so what?’ test — i.e., would your reader miss it if it was deleted?

See also if there are any convoluted phrases that can be swapped out for snappier words. Do you need to describe a ‘400ft canvas-covered, steel-skeleton hydrogen dirigible’ when ‘massive airship’ might suffice?

Get a second opinion

Send your story to another writer. Sure, you may feel self-conscious but all writers have been embarrassed to share their work at some point in their lives— plus, it could save you from making major mistakes. There’s nothing like a fresh pair of eyes to point out something you missed. More than one pair of eyes is even better! 

Consider professional editing

If you decide to go with a professional editor, it’s your lucky day! Freelance literary editors will work on short stories for a lot less than they would for novels (from as little as $100 for a story under 5,000 words) — and it’s the perfect opportunity to get some experience working with a professional who knows exactly what a great short story should look like.

Now that you know how to a short story people will want to read, why not get it out into the world? In the next post in this series, discover your best options for getting your short story published.

4 responses

Douglas Smith | Writer says:

08/05/2019 – 12:28

I'm a big fan of Reedsy, but the above para on submitting is woefully inadequate, incomplete, and wrong. Contests? Sorry, but I rarely recommend entering contests and certainly no contest (or market) that charges an entry fee. I'll give a biased recommendation for my book PLAYING THE SHORT GAME: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. I'm a multi-award-winning writer of short fiction published in 26 languages. The book gives a clear strategy on how to go about getting your first sale, then managing that sale, and learning to develop a career in short fiction by leveraging your stories via reprints and other means. Available at all the major retailers: https://www.books2read.com/b/bo6R14 And Reedsy, if you're interested, I offer workshops on each stage of short fiction careers. Would love to partner.

↪️ Vanessa Saxton replied:

17/09/2019 – 03:00

I respectfully disagree here. Any contest that does not charge an entry fee screams amateur. Any writer worth their salt knows this. I am also an award-winning writer, published author, and award-winning writing teacher,

Zack Urlocker says:

14/01/2020 – 05:51

I've written only novel-length stories, and I found this advice very helpful. Of course, it's still not easy to craft a short story, but this has given me some constraints to make it easier.

René Rehn says:

15/04/2020 – 03:04

What a great article! I truly think that mastering the short story is a prerequisite to writing a novel. I've been writing more than a hundred short stories in the past two years and I've learned a lot during that time. Still, there's some information here that made me think quite a bit. The focus on a central emotion is a great point. It's something I've not been thinking about. Sure, my stories end in a sad or terrible way, but I think my stories are generally broader and only lead up to the aforementioned events and emotions. So that's a great point and something I might want to think about on the next one I'll write. Thank you for the great article!

Comments are currently closed.

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Free Bedtime Stories & Short Stories for Kids

Difference between short story and narrative essay.

In day-to-day lives, students have to deal with different kinds of writing tasks. Some of them are completely different from each other. It’s easy to tell the difference between a research paper and a descriptive essay. However, the difference between short story and narrative essay may not be easy to differentiate. They may seem to have a lot of things in common because in both cases, you tell a story. Well, the truth is that these two types of assignments are not as similar as they seem.

Usually, the term “narrative” is used when we talk about different kinds of writing styles, including essays, novels, and short stories. Different kinds of writing, however, are associated with different narratives. A narrative essay tells a true story or a real-life experience. In contrast, a short story requires you to come up with a fictional plot and characters. 

difference between short story and narrative essay

difference between short story and narrative essay

Understanding the distinctive features of different kinds of narratives enables you to improve your writing skills and to choose the right approach for each type of assignment.

If you’re struggling to understand the difference between these writing assignments, you can use some help from a company that specializes in writing academic papers like that. LegitWritingServices may help you choose a popular essay writing service among dozens of different options and find a writer for your narrative essay in minutes. But if you want to know the difference, write it yourself or improve your understanding of different writing styles,  just read on.

Short Story vs. Narrative Essay

First of all, these two types of writing styles do have something in common: they basically consist of the same elements. Both narrative essays and short stories should have a plot and characters, as well as a climax and resolution. In both cases, you may use dialogues.

Now let’s take a closer look at the differences:

1. Fiction and facts

Perhaps, the main difference between narrative essays and short stories is that the former simply writing about things that have actually happened, while the latter is based on fiction. When writing narrative essays, you can rely on your personal experiences and facts from real life. Short stories require you to use your imagination, making up characters and events. Therefore, the key to writing short stories is creativity, while a good narrative essay must be factual so you shouldn’t change events.

2. Thesis statement

Another important difference is determined by the very nature of the essay format. Many essays are based on a thesis statement and narrative essays are no exception. Usually, the thesis statement is presented in the very first paragraph, within the introduction. According to the UNC , the thesis statement represents the main idea of the entire essay. When writing narrative essays, your thesis statement may focus on what you’ve learned from a certain experience or how it influenced your life. The rest of your essay should illustrate your thesis statement and prove its validity.

Unlike essays, short stories don’t have a thesis statement. Moreover, short stories may not even have a main theme that ties together different events. In a short story, you may illustrate the impact of love, fear, loss, or other things. You can, however, let readers figure out the main theme rather than state it explicitly.

3. Point of view

Usually, narrative essays provide the first-person perspective. This way, you can highlight the significance of your personal experience and you become one of the characters or, in most cases, the main character. In contrast, short stories enable you to choose any perspective you like. You can still use the first person, but you can also choose the third person voice and therefore distance yourself from the events and characters described in the story.

4. Structure

You may have already noticed that short stories give you a lot more creative freedom. The same applies to the structure as well. When writing a short story, you can leap right to the middle of the action from the very beginning. You can decide on the starting and ending points of your story and place your readers wherever you want.

This isn’t the case with narrative essays because all essays should have a clear structure. Your narrative essay should start with an introduction, where you can explain the background of the events described in the essay and present your thesis statement. After this, you should write the main body, describing events in a logical or chronological order. The main body itself should be well-structured, with every paragraph being dedicated to a particular event or point. The conclusion section should briefly summarize the whole essay and it can also explain how your story proves the thesis statement.

5. Intention

Your narrative essay may aim to communicate some deep meaning and teach your audience an important lesson. At the same time, a narrative essay is based on real events and therefore it can also be informative. Given that you describe real events, your readers can get first-hand knowledge and better understand relevant topics.

A short story is aimed to entertain. A good short story can also teach your audience a lesson, but you won’t achieve this goal if you don’t make your story entertaining and engaging.


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Examples of Short Stories for All Ages

Short Story Examples

Stories are an accessible and universal means of escapism. But who’s got time to read a lengthy novel these days? Short stories are self-contained stories that give you all the thrills, chills or charm of a full-length story in an abbreviated, accessible form.

What Makes a Great Short Story?

Unlike novels, short stories have a finite amount of time to tell a tale, introduce characters and themes, and tie it all together in a neat proverbial bow. While novels are 200-400 pages on average, short stories tell a complete story in 10,000 words or less. They also cut to the chase and establish and resolve conflict.

Iconic Examples of Short Stories for Adults

When you think of short stories, you might think of children’s books. However, short stories are designed for all ages. Adult short stories deal with all the topics that full-length adult novels do, just in an abbreviated and easily digestible way.

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Explore an individual's fall into the abyss of insanity in Edgar Allan Poe’s “ The Fall of the House of Usher .” Poe’s poetic prose creates an air of suspense as he weaves the twisted tale of the House of Usher.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

In " The Lottery ” by Shirley Jackson, tradition and community ties lead to deadly consequences when a woman is chosen in the eponymous lottery to be stoned to death.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

“ The Gift of the Magi ” by O. Henry is a classic story with a powerful theme of love and giving. In just a few short pages, O. Henry creates sympathetic characters that the audience can relate to. This glimpse into their lives highlights both their power of character and the key themes of the story such as love, giving and sacrifice.

The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant

In “ The Necklace ” by Guy de Maupassant, the main character, Mathilde, has always dreamed of being an aristocrat but lives in poverty. Embarrassed about her lack of fine possessions, she borrows a necklace from a wealthy friend but loses it. The story is known for its subversive and influential twist ending.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“ The Yellow Wallpaper ” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman explores a woman’s descent into madness after she’s confined to a room with yellow wallpaper to help her nervous disorder. It is a groundbreaking short story that drew attention to mental health and women’s rights when it was released and has influenced many writers, including Alice Walker and Sylvia Plath.

Additional Adult Short Stories

Reading some of these short stories can better acquaint you with the short story form and the challenges faced by authors to develop an interesting plot and detailed characters . Investigate a few additional popular examples of short stories.

" The Scarlet Ibis " by James Hurst

“ A Christmas Carol ” by Charles Dickens

" About Barbers " by Mark Twain

" The Garden of Paradise " by Hans Christian Andersen

" Leave It to Jeeves " by P.G. Wodehouse

" Out of Nazareth " by O. Henry

" Portrait of King William III " by Mark Twain

" Two Boys at Grinders' Brothers' " by Henry Lawson

“ The Dead ” by James Joyce

“ To Build a Fire ” by Jack London

“ The Veldt ” by Ray Bradbury

“ In the Penal Colony ” by Franz Kafka

“ Hills Like White Elephants ” by Ernest Hemingway

“ The Lady with the Little Dog ” by Anton Chekhov

“ The Most Dangerous Game ” by Richard Connell

Fun Children's Short Story Examples

Short stories for children often include fairy tales and fables . Many of these stories have morals or teach a lesson while also entertaining readers.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Robert Southey

A famous children's fable, " Goldilocks and the Three Bears " details the adventures of Goldilocks breaking into a bear family’s house and eating all their porridge. It teaches the importance of respecting other people's property.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

The adventures of this rabbit are known worldwide. " The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter tells the story of a mischievous little rabbit who doesn't listen to his mother and goes through a heart-pounding chase with Mr. McGregor.

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Often on Christmas Eve, parents will read " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas " (also known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”) by Clement Clarke Moore to their kids. While technically a poem, this text takes the form of a short story about Santa delivering presents around the world.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Routine is important, and " Goodnight Moon " by Margaret Wise Brown is a perfect way to introduce this concept to children. This classic bedtime story explores the routine of going to bed and telling all the world goodnight.

Where the Wild things Are by Maurice Sendak

The beloved picture book " Where the Wild Things Are " tells the story of a young boy named Max whose bedroom transforms into a jungle and he sails to an island inhabited by monsters called “The Wild Things.” When the monsters fail to scare Max, they crown him the king of the Wild Things. This whimsical tale is the perfect short story to engage your child’s imagination and carry them off to their own faraway lands.

Other Short Stories for Children

Children’s picture books could all be considered short stories, and there are plenty of options to choose from.

" Little Red Riding Hood " by Charles Perrault

" Hansel and Gretel " by the Brothers Grimm

" Peter Pan " by James Matthew Barrie

" The Boy Who Cried Wolf " by Aesop (from Aesop’s Fables)

" The Tortoise and the Hare " by Aesop (from Aesop’s Fables)

" The Little Match Girl " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Little Mermaid " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Princess and the Pea " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Emperor's New Clothes " by Hans Christian Andersen

" The Gingerbread Man " by Jim Aylesworth

" The Ugly Duckling" by Hans Christian Andersen

" Rapunzel " by the Brothers Grimm

" Beauty and the Beast " by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve

" Cinderella " by Charles Perrault

" Rip Van Winkle " by Washington Irving

" The Prince and the Pauper " by Mark Twain

" Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs " by the Brothers Grimm

" Three Little Pigs " by James Halliwell-Phillipps

" The Cat in the Hat " by Dr. Seuss

" Green Eggs and Ham " by Dr. Seuss

" Love You Forever " by Robert Munsch

" Corduroy " by Don Freeman

" The Little Engine That Could " by Watty Piper

" The Rainbow Fish " by Marcus Pfister

" Stone Soup " by Ann McGovern

“ The Giving Tree ” by Shel Silverstein

“ Where the Sidewalk Ends ” by Shel Silverstein

Short Stories Abound

Now that you have a grasp on short stories, why not write your own?

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Home » Writing » What is a short story?

what is a narrative short story

What is the history of the short story?

Short-form storytelling can be traced back to ancient legends, mythology, folklore, and fables found in communities all over the world. Some of these stories existed in written form, but many were passed down through oral traditions. By the 14 th century, the most well-known stories included  One Thousand and One Nights (Middle Eastern folk tales by multiple authors, later known as  Arabian Nights ) and Canterbury Tales  (by Geoffrey Chaucer).

It wasn’t until the early 19th century that short story collections by individual authors appeared more regularly in print. First, it was the publication of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, then Edgar Allen Poe’s Gothic fiction, and eventually, stories by Anton Chekhov, who is often credited as a founder of the modern short story.

The popularity of short stories grew along with the surge of  print magazines  and journals. Newspaper and magazine editors began publishing stories as entertainment, creating a demand for short, plot-driven narratives with mass appeal. By the early 1900s,  The Atlantic Monthly , The New Yorker , and  Harper’s Magazine were paying good money for short stories that showed more literary techniques. That golden era of publishing gave rise to the short story as we know it today.

What are the different types of short stories?

Short stories come in all kinds of categories: action, adventure, biography, comedy, crime, detective, drama, dystopia, fable, fantasy, history, horror, mystery, philosophy, politics, romance, satire, science fiction, supernatural, thriller, tragedy, and Western. Here are some popular types of short stories, literary styles, and authors associated with them:  

Short stories come in all kinds of genres

What are some famous short stories?

What are some popular short story collections?

Do you have a short story collection or another book project in the works? Download our free layout software , BookWright , today and start envisioning the pages of your next book!

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Types of Short Story Narratives

A short story author has to choose between telling her story using the voice of one of her characters or assuming a detached, omniscient perspective that gives her greater flexibility in describing the story's setting and characters. Each type of narrative has specific strengths and weaknesses, and the best type of narrative for a story depends on the dramatic effect the author is trying to achieve and her skill in using a particular type of narrative.

First Person

A first-person narrative is written from the point of view of one of the short story's characters, and while this character is usually the story's protagonist, a supporting character can also provide narration. A first person narrative gives readers the most penetrating look into the character's thoughts, feelings and motivations, giving the events that character undergoes greater dramatic weight. The trade-off is that the reader doesn't have any more insight into the story's other characters or events than what the narrator knows. First person narration doesn't lend itself as easily to descriptive prose as readily as a third person narrative, either. A character's descriptions of people, settings or emotions can easily sound forced and awkward if the writer tries to sound self-consciously literary, because a typical person's internal monologue isn't inherently dramatic or profound.

Second Person

A writer uses a second-person narrative to write her short story as if the reader were the story's central character, so a typical sentence might read, "You put on your coat and trudge into the downpour." Authors rarely use second person narrative, because even if the writer is exceptionally skillful, the second person form can feel very forced and unnatural to the reader.

Third Person

Third person narration is the most commonly used narrative in short stories, featuring an omniscient, detached voice. A writer can use this perspective to reveal characters' thoughts and motivations with more freedom than he has with a first person narration, giving the reader a comprehensive overview of all the events happening within the story. Limited third person narration focuses primarily on a single character's experiences, though the writer doesn't speak with the voice of that character and still retains the freedom to give the reader information that the character wouldn't have. A writer using a limited third person narrative may also shift between characters over the course of the story, focusing on different characters in different time periods or geographic locations as the story progresses.

Since 2006 Jim Orrill has produced reviews and essays on popular culture for publications including Lemurvision and "Sexis." Based in Western North Carolina, Orrill graduated cum laude from the University of North Carolina with a bachelor's degree in office systems.

Short Story

Short story definition, features of a short story.

As a short story is mostly a short narrative and has few features. The standard features include exposition , complication, crisis, climax , and resolution of the crisis. However, it is not essential that all short stories follow the same pattern.

Difference between Short Story, Novella, and Novel

How to write and plot a short story,  five (5) major elements of a short story, examples of short stories from literature.

The Happy Prince is one of the best stories written in English Literature written by Oscar Wilde. The story shows how the elites of that kingdom neglect the poor. And the statue of the Happy Prince takes the help of a Swallow to help the poor of the city. One by one, the Prince starts losing his precious stones, rubies, and gold leaves when the Swallow starts plucking them to give to the poor that the Prince can see from his high pedestal. The dramatic irony of the story reaches the climax when the city mayor sees the dead bird and the ugly broken statue. When the statue is sent to a furnace, God invites the Prince and the Swallow to live in the City of Gold in heaven.

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is another wonderful example of a short horror story. In the story, the anonymous narrator tells about the murder of an old man that he has committed in cold blood because he had ‘vulture eyes’. The story is told in the first-person narrative and explores the state of mind of a person. The narrator has hallucinations after the murder when he feels guilty. He convinces the readers that he is not insane. By the end of the story, he continues to hallucinate and asks what to do to make the old man’s heart stop. This is an excellent example of a short story having a few characters and a complicated theme .

The Necklace by Guy De Maupassant

The Necklace is one of the best short stories. It revolves around the life of a clerk in the ministry of education and his extraordinarily beautiful wife, Mathilda. She borrows an expensive necklace from her friend for a ball but loses it when they are returning home. They, somehow, arrange to replace it after purchasing the original necklace with borrowed money and spend their lives in the struggle to pay back the loan. After several years, they met the same friend again. To their horror, she tells them that her necklace was fake.

Short Story Meaning and Function

Synonyms of short story, related posts:, post navigation.



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