5 Essential Short Story Elements You’re Missing

By its definition, the short story is supposed to be, well, short. And because it is a concisely written tale, it’s less complex than a novel. Unlike novels, your tale will usually focus on only one incident, plot point, and setting. It will also feature a small cast of characters that are only present for a short time.

Short stories bring their own level of difficulty.

Some writers find it hard to write a short story but easy to write a novel and vice versa. No matter what camp you fall into, every short story has specific standards that need to be adhered.

Let’s Talk About Short Story Length

According to Edgar Allen Poe, a reader should be able to read a shorty story in one sitting. The one-sitting rule has been the standard for ages until recently.

Now the definition of a short story includes a maximum word count of 7,500 words. And yet another more contemporary definition states that short stories can be no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000.

So what do we believe?

Personally, I adhere to Poe’s original edict to read the tale in one sitting. That means I try not to write anything longer than 7,500 words. However, if you have a specific literary journal or magazine you’d like to submit to, check out their guidelines, and tailor your work to fit their word count.

As long as you hit that word requirement and the following short story essentials, you’ll be golden.

5 Short Story Elements to Keep in Mind

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, here are five short story elements that every tale should have: character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme. However, there are five elements that many writers miss when writing short stories. Let’s dissect them.

#1: Get to the heart of the conflict

You have a limited number of words that you can use to get your point across. Don’t waste them on a lengthy introduction to your characters, setting, etc. Get straight into the action instead.

#2: Only share critical details

There’s no need to give an overwhelming amount of backstory to your characters or the situation. Tell us what we need to know, right when we need to know it. Everything else should be cut.

Additionally, those backstory pieces typically tell us about specific moments, and they don’t show them. So if you do need to provide some background information, show it to us.

#3: Being artsy is overrated

This is a personal preference for me, but flowery prose and philosophical dialogue does nothing for me. It’s boring. I skip over it.

And the types of writers who do this on purpose are trying to cover up a lack of plot, characterization, etc. So don’t give me artsy—artsy does not beget art. Just give me a good story.

#4: Build to the climax efficiently

You don’t have time to meander through your story. You have a limited amount of words to convey your message, so write with intention. Every word, sentence, and paragraph should have a purpose and lead the reader to your tale’s climax. If it doesn’t, cut it.

#5: Have a clear conclusion for your short story

Ambiguous story endings are the mark of a less experienced writer. This is due to the writer’s fear that their story can’t do the heavy-lifting, which is not often the case.

Clear conclusions are satisfying whether you’re reading a novel or a short story. Readers like things to be tied up in a bow at the end. They want to know the why of the story.

Mastering the short story can help you hone critical writing skills that you can use to tackle all forms of writing. Why? Because it forces you to get ruthless with your storytelling, your story’s weaknesses are more likely to emerge.

On top of this, short stories are easier to publish. There are numerous literary journals and magazines in need of content to fill their pages and websites.

The more short stories you publish, the more likely your novel will be picked up by a publisher. Think about it; you can demonstrate that you’ve been building an audience and writing publish-worthy stories.

Do you think writing a short story is easier than a novel? Does your short story have all five elements?

Stay safe, everyone.

Until next time.



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


6 Responses

    1. I think everyone suffers from that tendency—we all, at some point, dream of being the bestselling or award-winning author with fancy prose. As long as you’re aware of it, you’ll be able to fix it. 🙂

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