Short Stories: Types & Examples

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Short stories can range from a few sentences to dozens of pages. Each short story type has unique components distinguishing it from other short story styles. In this lesson, we will cover three types of short stories: the lyrical short story, flash fiction, and the vignette.

Background

If a novel is an ocean, then a short story is a pond. Both bodies of water have rich ecosystems that make them complete, only in a pond it takes less time to swim from one end to the other. Short stories are brief prose pieces dealing with a few characters usually within the scope of a single event. They use economical descriptions of setting and character, often favoring story development through action rather than exposition. While there are many different short story styles, here we will consider three popular short story types: lyrical, flash fiction, and vignette.

short story

Lyrical Story

The lyrical short story revolves around a recurring image or symbol with minimal focus on the plot. Though a plot line is present as the symbol is developed throughout the narrative, it is not the central focus of the story. Instead, the image, which tends to remain static throughout the story, recurs in order to give readers an understanding of the plot.

Unlike plot-driven short stories that have a finite resolution, lyrical short stories have open endings. There is no definite resolution. The open ending allows for flexible readings of the central image, which gives readers the chance to reinterpret the meaning of the symbol during and after the story.

An example of a lyrical short story is Katherine Mansfield's 'The Fly,' a story about a man who tortures a fly after being reminded of his dead son. The fly is the central image of the story and the development of the narrative revolves around it. The torturing of the fly and the man's feelings after he throws it away have multiple, open-ended interpretations. The image could symbolize the man's inability to accept death, his previous relationship with his son, or his repression of grief. No one interpretation is correct and the possibility of many meanings lends to the complexity of the lyrical short story.

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is a short story with a strict word count, usually no longer than 2,000 or even 1,000 words. A piece of flash fiction is a radical concentration of plot, character, setting, and exposition. The brevity forces the writer to attend to every word.

Flash fiction stories start in the heat of the conflict, as there is no time to set up action. During the story, a focus on one or two main images, such as a deserted street or a broken lamp, works collaboratively with the plot. As fast as the story begins, flash fiction stories end with a bang. Many stories of this type leave the reader at an abrupt emotional turn or an open-ended resolution.

An example of flash fiction is Lydia Davis's short story 'The Mice'. At just over 200 words, it contains all of the elements of a short story. Davis efficiently and vividly depicts the narrator and mice as characters in the setting of an untidy kitchen. The conflict arises out of the mice choosing not to scavenge in the messy kitchen.

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