How to Read Very Short Fiction and Enjoy It

Updated on March 10, 2018
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Chris has written more than 150 flash fiction/short stories.Working Vacation took 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

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Accessorized Literature vs Stripped Down Short Stories

People can be very different when it comes to something like purchasing a new vehicle. There are those who love all the accessories and gadgets available today. Others opt for hand-cranked windows. How about you? Do you check your tire pressure by looking at a digital reading on your dashboard or by sticking the gauge on the tire valve stem? Some people are utilitarian, others are quixotic and love to dress things up.

We can see this same phenomenon in the literature we choose to read. Some enjoy the ornate prose of the literary style. Others are taken away in thrillers, mysteries, and horror.

It isn’t only the genre and style of literature that appeal to us or turn us off. We also have preferences when it comes to the form of the writing. One aspect of form has to do with the length of the story.

Remember This?

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Long Fiction or Short Fiction?

In one of my articles, I included a poll regarding my readers’ preferences for story length. Out of one hundred respondents, one person said they preferred very short stories. Fifty-two chose novel-length stories. Those who prefer very short fiction are like the utilitarian who still manually pushes the car door lock down. They don’t want all the accessories that come with the longer story.

Some people shy away from the very short story, also called flash fiction, because it looks to them like an aberration of real literature. When the novel lover looks at a very short story, their expression might be similar to that of a bird watcher who expects to view ducks through his binoculars but spots a platypus instead. There are similarities, but something’s wrong. The novel reader has certain expectations about what they read which very short stories don’t seem to meet.

If It Sort of Looks like a Duck, It Must Be a Duck, Right?

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Expectation Adjustment

Do you have the same expectations for your bicycle that you have for your automobile? Are your expectations the same for a five-star restaurant and a fast food place? Should our expectations for an eighty thousand word novel be the same as those for a one thousand word short story?

A reader might have the opinion that only amateur, inexperienced writers write very short stories. I won’t argue the point because there is some truth to that conception. Shorter must be simpler, right? Well, the short story does not take as long to write, but it requires at least the same amount of talent and skill to write as does a novel. The problem is, there are a lot of poorly written short stories being self-published just as there is an abundance of poorly written long fiction. The good stuff is out there, and at the end of this article, I will point you to two excellent sources of online short fiction.

Long Fiction/Short Fiction, A Story is a Story, Right? Think Again

Authors write novels and short fiction very differently. The reader will do well to keep this in mind. The enjoyment of reading a short story will be enhanced if the reader has the appropriate expectations. The difference between long and short fiction is comparable to the difference between a mansion and a cabin on the lake. Long fiction gives the reader everything they could want in the story including backstories, side stories, and many complex characters. Short fiction avoids these elements and tells the bare bones of the story in a fast-paced, exciting way.

Bare Bones Fiction

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Seven Ways to Adjust Your Thinking About Reading Short Stories

In order to read a very short story and enjoy it, keep in mind these facts:

  • Limited charactersA good short story will have one, two or possibly three named characters. There will be other characters, but likely they won’t even be named.
  • No backgroundThe story will begin as close to the action and main point of the story as possible. Background, if mentioned at all, will be filled in as the story progresses.
  • Fast paced—Not only does the story begin close to the action; it maintains this pace throughout. A well-written thriller in the short fiction format will leave you breathless.
  • No side storiesThese are similar to backstory except they create a whole new story about people or circumstances related to the main story. There won’t be any of this in a good piece of short fiction.
  • GrippingThe first sentence or two should grab your attention and not let it go until the end. The very short story should be difficult to put down.
  • The End is NearIt comes fast. Many works of very short fiction are one thousand words or even fewer. If you settle in for the long haul like you do when you read a novel, you will be disappointed. A reader can snuggle up on the couch with a novel and a cup of tea. The very short story might well be read while sitting on the edge of your chair.
  • The tensionshould begin immediately and rise until you’ve read about two-thirds of the story where it reaches its climax. That will all likely happen on the same page as the opening. In a novel, that would happen somewhere around page three hundred seventy-five.

The Greatest Writers of History

When you think about the names of great writers, who comes to mind? Hemingway?

I'll make a list of

Some of the favorite writers of history. See if you recognize many of these names:


  • Poe
  • Chekhov
  • O Henry
  • Twain
  • Wilde
  • O'Connor
  • Borges
  • Faulkner
  • Conan Doyle
  • Maupassant
  • Kipling
  • Melville
  • Tolstoy
  • Joyce
  • Bradbury
  • Joyce
  • Dahl
  • Salinger
  • Wells
  • Vonnegut
  • Lovecraft
  • Irving
  • Anderson
  • London
  • Hawthorne
  • Cheever
  • Conrad
  • Christy
  • Lawrence
  • Dick
  • Updike

I'll leave out some critical names and jump to Stephen King. All of these great writers were/are predominantly if not exclusively short story writers. Did you catch that? The greatest writers in history may not have been novelists, but short story writers. So you recognized many of these men and women as great writers, but you didn't realize they are remembered today because of their short stories.

The Best Utility Vehicle Ever Made...In My Opinion

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The Very Short Story: the Stripped Down, Utility Format for Fiction

When it comes to automobiles, some people have their luxury model which they take out for most of their driving needs. But parked out back or on the other side of the garage is that stripped down, reliable vehicle that never lets them down. It’s perfect for the back roads and two tracks that take them places the luxury model never could. It’s the same with short fiction. It will take you on quick trips to places you might never see if you confine yourself to long fiction. So clear out that parking spot on the other side of your literary garage, and try some quality short fiction on occasion.

Two Sources for High Quality Short Fiction

LetterPile.com is where I and many other capable writers share our short stories, which range from fewer than a thousand words to longer stories with multiple parts, under the teal blue Creative Writing tab.

The Creative Exiles is a site where you can find some top-notch short stories as well as fantastic poetry. For short stories, click on the Creative Writing tab at the top and choose Short Stories from the drop-down menu.

Questions & Answers

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      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 6 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        I'm on my way, John. Thanks for responding to that very specific and personal challenge.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 6 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        well, Chris and Ann. Thanks for your prompt. My finished article is at:

        https://letterpile.com/personal-essays/How-to-Read...

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        Larry, Flash fiction, for me, has a practical side. I found that as a result of writing so many of these stories for so long, that discipline has impacted my writing of longer fiction and non fiction as well. FF will not likely have the commercial success of the novel, but it can train us to write much more concisely.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        manatita, Thank you for those thoughts. Always the encourager.

      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 7 weeks ago from Oklahoma

        Haven't found a literary form that I dislike categorically top to bottom yet.

        Flash fiction, honestly, isn't my favorite, but I do enjoy it, especially when it's well done.

        Very enlightening read.

      • manatita44 profile image

        manatita44 7 weeks ago from london

        Well argued and presented. Great references to the everyday life. Sterling work!

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        I'm looking forward to it, John. For my article it was all about expectations. I have no idea what you will come up with, but it is a worthy topic. Good luck. I will be watching for a hub, but take your time. I thought about mine for quite a while before I even started writing.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 7 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Ok, guys, I'll start working on it right away. Don't expect it in the next few days, however. there are a lot of different things to consider here. Especially, trying to convince those who hate poetry that they should enjoy it. But I'll do it.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        HI Don, great to see you. There is a very loyal group of HP folks who enjoy very short fiction. I agree. I have written two other articles about literature that are doing well with organic page views. I hope this one will become part of that group of articles.

      • dahoglund profile image

        Don A. Hoglund 7 weeks ago from Wisconsin Rapids

        I have written several short-short fiction stories and find it gets positive reception from some hubpages readers.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        No pressure...Is it done yet?

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 7 weeks ago from SW England

        Ha ha, it worked! John just has to do it now. We're all looking forward to it. No pressure.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        I'm glad you came back, John. From my own experience attempting to read poetry, I think this kind of hub could be helpful. I'm guessing there are some helpful guidelines write about.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 7 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        No wonder my ears were burning. That is quite a challenge I may have to consider. Thank you Chris and Ann, I think.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        You, sir, can write anything you want with skill and excellence. You do it every day.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        All I know about short fiction is I'm no good at it and you are! :)

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        Eric, My wife's grandma always talked about shaggy dog tales. I'll get the campfire started.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 7 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        That is so cool. I am thinking of sitting around the campfire and one of us telling a shaggy dog tale. Do those even exist anymore? You are the best friend.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        I suppose we could sit in a circle, hold hands, and chant his name.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 7 weeks ago from SW England

        He should be getting all the vibes by now!

        Ann

      • nikkikhan10 profile image

        Nikki Khan 7 weeks ago from London

        Of coure it is Chris, this site is great to read so many insipiring and good stories.Especially Letterpile is an amazing site for good writers and for new comers as well.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        Nikiki, thanks for stopping by. We've got so much good reading on this site, I can't keep up. I am very happy you are a part of what is going on here. This is still a great community to be involved with.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        Ann, Maybe when his ears start burning he will come back to see who is talking about him.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        John, It has been great to see very short fiction accepted so well here on HP. There is a lot of talent here that should be able to keep LetterPile supplied with good reading. Thanks for visiting.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 7 weeks ago from SW England

        I think John Hansen is probably the best for that.

      • cam8510 profile image
        Author

        Chris Mills 7 weeks ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

        Ann, I was looking at my hubs describing genre, form, and style in literature and the thought came to me to write about how to read short fiction effectively. Now someone needs to write one on how to read poetry effectively. That won't be me, I assure you.

      • nikkikhan10 profile image

        Nikki Khan 7 weeks ago from London

        This is great Chris, you have well written the benefits and importance of flash fiction.

        Flash stories are time consuming and mostly start with a thriller to follow.

        Thats why I love to read flash stories, I love novels too but it takes much longer to read whole novel.

        Good one and yes I have visited the other website, it's got brilliant short stories and other literature work as well.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 7 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        This is great Chris. I love a good novel and I it used to be the thicker the better for me. But, now I love short fiction especially flash fiction and because of time constraints I now find flash fiction my preferred reading (and writing). I actually find anything over 1000 words difficult to sit down and read.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 7 weeks ago from SW England

        This is a brilliant tribute to flash fiction, Chris. You've given us perfect analogies and anyone who reads this would never shun a short story again!

        Clear, concise and great fun.

        Ann

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