Vlog #5: What is a short story?

by Laura Michelle Thomas


With our 7th Annual International Junior Authors Short Story Contest less than a month away, I thought this topic would be timely. More than one young writer has emailed me or left a comment asking me what exactly makes a short story a short story. Watch my vlog and then read the summary notes below.

Short stories are:

  • fictional
  • written in prose (not poetry)
  • narratives (have a beginning, middle, and end)
  • less than 25,000 words

Short stories typically have:

  • one plot (one story problem)
  • one point of view
  • one main setting
  • one main character with one or two essential traits
  • a single effect on the reader
  • unity (every element works together to create a single effect)

If you are still not clear on what makes a short story different from a novel, poem, or script, pick up a short story collection at your local library or used bookstore and read a dozen of them. It won’t take long to see that short stories are special. They are hard to write, but when done well, they can have a profound effect on a reader.

Some classic short stories to read are:

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

“Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield

“The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence

“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

“The Guest” by Albert Camus

“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut

If you are planning to enter our short story contest this year and want some help writing a story that has a better chance at winning a prize, consider picking up a copy of my new short story workbook, Polly Wants to Be a Writer Workbook #1: Write a Short Story.


Laura Michelle Thomas

About Laura Michelle Thomas

Laura Michelle Thomas is a novelist, freelance writer, writing mentor, and the owner of Laura Thomas Communications. She is the creator and administrator of the Junior Authors Contests and Junior Authors Conferences. Laura is publisher and senior editor of jaBlog! and is dedicated to fostering the development of young writers worldwide.

9 comments on “Vlog #5: What is a short story?

  1. Natasha Victoriano

    Hello Ms. Laura!

    I would just like to ask whether you know how to make a legend? I mean it’s still short story, right? We were asked to write one for our Creative Writing class and I don’t know where to start. Perhaps you could give me tips? Thank you! :)

    • Laura Thomas

      Hi Natasah. A legend can be told in any format you like: poem, short story, novel, etc. I would start by making up the name of a heroic character, a historical setting, and a major problem your character solved for his people. Then just start writing and see what you come up with.

      • Natasha

        Thank you! I had just finished it :)

  2. Akshta

    Hey Laura.
    I have a little confusion about ‘unity’ in a short story. How do I put ‘unity ‘ in my story?

    • Laura Thomas

      Hi Akshta,

      Unity means that there is nothing in your story that does not fit, nothing extra, nothing that goes against the story your are trying to tell. It’s not something you put into a story. It’s what happens when you revise your story very carefully to make sure that every element fits your story – every word, plot, character, setting, tone, title, point of view, etc.

      Think of it like this: when you want to dress up in a costume, you make sure that every piece of clothing, jewellery, shoes, hair, makeup, etc. fits the thing or person you are dressing up as. You wouldn’t wear a green baseball hat if you were going to dress up as a princess. A story with unity is like a well-put-together costume.

      I hope that helps,

      • Akshta

        That gives the perfect discription, Laura!
        Yesterday, I saw the movie Men In Black 3 which truly explained me what unity ment in a story.

        • Laura Thomas

          That’s great, Akshta. Most good books and movies have strong unity. For writers, it’s what makes a story publishable. You need to create unified pieces to break into print and get paid for your work.

  3. marylyn

    Is it free to enter this competition and if not, how much is it?

    • Laura Thomas

      All of our contests are free to enter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>