Friday, July 02, 2021

10 Alternative Types of Short Fiction

By Rachelle Shaw

Part of the Focus on Short Fiction Series

JH: Not all short fiction is a "short story" as we know it. Rachelle Shaw shares a round-up of different short fiction options and structures.

As outlined in the introductory post for this series, a typical short story follows the kind of structure we’ve all come to know and love when we think of fiction: a tale with a beginning, middle and end. And while they only capture a single event in time, traditional short stories still include an overall plot while fostering growth or change for the characters within them. However, it’s worth noting there are other options in the world of short fiction, particularly if that setup isn’t your cup of tea.


Anecdotes are short tales offering a deeper glimpse behind an idea, place, or person. While they’re often humorous or entertaining, the intention behind them is to encourage further contemplation about the subject matter they contain. They can be used to inspire, caution, or reminisce, and typically precede a longer piece of writing such as a chapter or article. There is no set limit on their word count, but they generally don’t exceed 200 words.


A drabble, simply put, is a piece of fiction under (or exactly) 100 words in length. The biggest challenge in creating them, of course, is to develop a meaningful and captivating exposition within incredible constraints. Oftentimes, they will depict a crucial event that suggests a much more complicated backstory or conflict.

Fables and Parables

Fables are succinct fictional pieces that feature anthropomorphized creatures, typically animals, to convey a direct moral lesson. One of the most well-known examples of such works are Aesop’s Fables. Their length generally falls between 200 and 1,500 words; however, some do fall outside that scope.

Along similar lines are parables, which are also didactic. But instead of using animals or other creatures, they rely solely on humans to illustrate their point. Essentially, they are metaphors in narrative form and have a similar length to fables. The Bible holds many examples of such stories.


Feghoots, while often brief, are known for their humorous narrative. The signature element of any feghoot is a common saying or pun built up by the story, which then ultimately leads to the delivery of a punchline worthy of eyerolls and groans alike. If there was ever a literary version of a dad joke, feghoots would be it.

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction, also known as the “short short story,” consists of 1,000 words or fewer. While some of the above types of short fiction could fall into this category as well, flash fiction is a broader term meant to encapsulate micro fiction with a traditional story structure. Despite being even more limited in its length than a traditional short story, the most successful works of flash fiction also incorporate an unexpected twist. (For examples, check out past issues of Flash Fiction Online.)

Frame Stories

Frame stories hold a story within a story, sometimes known as nested stories. They provide a setup for a better understanding of an element within the larger scope of the overall story. This can be achieved through elements such as flashbacks in a larger work of fiction, or smaller tales within a bigger one, such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard in the Harry Potter series.


Minisagas have an exact length of 50 words with a title of no more than 15 characters accompanying it. That makes them perfect for places like Twitter (which also has a tremendous following around six-word stories) and other social media sites with an interactive writing community. While they might hint at a larger, unspoken story, they’re seen as bite-sized tales or reflections. Examples can be found at 50-Word Stories.

Sketch Stories and Vignettes

Sketch stories and vignettes are unique in the fact they contain little to no plot. Both aim to capture the essence of a moment or character and evoke deep contemplation rather than relying on outside conflict to move the story along. Because of that, vivid imagery is a must.

Sketch stories started losing popularity around the 19th century; however, in modern form, a specific type known as character sketches serve as a foundation for longer, more complex works of fiction. The same is true for vignettes. When it comes to hashing out a theme or a particular moment that weighs heavily on a character, these short narratives can be great for further exploring details to related story arcs. Vignettes can also be adapted into collections or as part of a recurring element of a novel.

Because sketch stories and vignettes don’t contain much in the way of plot, they’re more commonly found in theater and other forms of art where less emphasis is placed on traditional story structure and development.

Short Story Collections and Series

Of all the varying types of short fiction, short story collections are easily among the most common. There are dozens of anthologies and bound collections of individual stories printed and sold as one unit. They usually have a single underlying theme or other stylistic element binding them together. However, a lesser-known approach to combining short fiction is the series or saga.

Series are quite common when it comes to novels, but what about short fiction? Not so much, right? Well, the thing is, if you’ve ever binge-watched an entire series of a show in one week, you’ve fallen victim to a form of the short story series. Each episode is just that: a mini standalone event part of a larger, overreaching plot—one that includes recurring characters and locations, often within the same universe. So as it turns out, a short story series can be just as compelling as a series of lengthy novels.

Long Short Stories, Novelettes, and Novels

If delving into the super short end of the fiction world feels too daunting, consider the opposite direction. While not long enough to be pegged as a traditional novel, long short stories (5k to 10k words), novelettes (10k to 20k words), and novellas (20k to 40k words) are a good option for those seeking to write longer works without having to commit to a full 50,000 words or higher. They allow more room to create complex environments and rich plots than traditional short stories without the drastic word constraints.

If you haven’t given short fiction a shot, take the time to explore it further. With multiple approaches and combinations, these pint-sized pieces of fiction can be a great way to level up your writing game without taking up too much of your time. And who knows? Your next short story may be as few as six words away.

Rachelle Shaw is avid reader with an incurable need to research everything she comes across, Rachelle is an author of paranormal, horror, and writing craft books as well as the occasional women’s fiction piece. Since scribbling down her first story at the age of eight, her love for language and books has blossomed into a full-time career. She currently works as an independent editor who is passionate about writing in layers and helping authors find their voice. When she’s not busy chasing her kids and two rather persnickety cats, you can catch her blogging, tweeting, or plotting her next series. Her current publications include the young adult paranormal series The Porcelain Souls and the women’s fiction shorts Sisters and Michael’s Cry.


  1. Rachel,
    Thank you for your article. I am a new writer attempting to master the different lengths of story telling. At this time, I am mastering the flash fiction genre.

    1. No problem. Flash fiction is one of my all-time favorite types of short fiction! Best of luck with your work on it.