short story, brief prose fiction. The term covers a wide variety of narratives—from stories in which the main focus is on the course of events to studies of character, from the "short short" story to extended and complex narratives such as Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Most often the short story is restricted in character and situation and is concerned with creating a single, dynamic effect. Its length usually falls between 2,000 and 10,000 words. Short stories date back to earliest times; they can be found in the Bible, Gesta Romanorum of the Middle Ages, Boccaccio's Decameron, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The modern short story is said to have begun in the 19th cent. with the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Guy de Maupassant. Notable among the exponents of the form are Henry James, O. Henry, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Chekhov, Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Anne Porter, John O'Hara, Flannery O'Connor, J. D. Salinger, John Cheever, John Updike, Donald Barthelme, and Raymond Carver.
See W. Allen, The Short Story in English (1981); G. Weaver, The American Short Story (1983); C. A. Moser, ed., The Russian Short Story (1986); J. Updike and K. Kenison, ed., The Best American Short Stories of the Century (1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.