Short Story: A Guide


The Short Story: A Guide


It seems like wherever you turn someone is telling you “Writing is dead,” or “Nobody reads short stories any more,” or some other doom and gloom.

The truth is the short story isn’t going anywhere. And while it might rise or fall in popularity, and change with different trends, there will always be short fiction.

At Needle In The Hay we want to celebrate short form writing in all it’s diversity. From fiction that strikes at the heart, to the scary, weird, funny and imaginative, NiTH is all about giving authors a place to share their voice.

This guide is separated into three parts. If you want to find out more about a particular section, just follow the links.

i)What Exactly Is A Short Story?

ii)How Do I Get Started Writing A Short Story?

iii)Where Can I Find Good Stories To Read Online?


What Is A Short Story?


A short story is a piece of fiction that is shorter than a novel or novella, but is a wholly complete read on it’s own. Short stories are popular online, and also appear in physical editions, sometimes as small chapbooks, usually as anthologies. Some, like Jennifer Egan’s Visit From The Good Squad, link the short stories together under a common set of characters, settings, or themes.

There are a bunch of different ideas for how long a short story should be. Some say it’s any written fiction less than 7500 words, oothers say it’s somewhere around the 20 000 word mark. Wow!

I go by the simple rule, a short story is any story I can read in one or two sittings. If you have your own definition, let us know in the comments below.

Micro and Flash Fiction

Growing in popularity online, micro and flash fiction can be defined as the shortest of the short story. Micro fiction usually comprises of something along the lines of a tweet or series of tweets, with flash comprising of a few hundred words or so. Exact definitions allude us, but as a general rule of thumb, we go by this:

Definition of Micro-Fiction

Can be read in the time it takes to read a couple of tweets.

Definition of Flash Fiction

Can be read in roughly the time it takes to read the average Internet article


How Do I Get Started Writing Short Stories?


If you’re thinking of writing fiction, short stories are the place to start. While novels and epic multi novel sagas enjoy the prestige, almost no famous authors got to where they are without first tackling short form writing.

As an unknown, it’s also easier to get others to read your short story, then it is your 400 page novel.

If you want to write short stories but don’t know where to start, try our Writing Prompts page. It’s full of useful prompts to get you started.

You can also try your hand at entering a writing competition. We have competitions that are free to enter on our Short Story Contests page. We think everyone’s got a short story in them, so why not give it a shot?


Where Can I Find Good Short Stories To Read Online?


Part of being a great writer is being a good reader. Reading a short story will not only be entertaining, but you might learn something!

You can start with our Award Winning Short Stories page, short fiction that placed first in one of our contests for 2015.

There’s also plenty of free fiction online. Here are some of our favourites:



Wifey Redux | by Kevin Barry @ Recommended Literature

But we were happy still, just a little more calmly so, and I repeat that this is the story of a happy, happy marriage. (Pounds table twice for emphasis.)

Coming to Recommend Literature by way of Graywolf Press, Kevin Barry’s excellent Wifey Redux looks at our hypocrisy around sexuality and youth. The website is also a great place to find new literary fiction.


Train | by Alice Munro @ Harper’s Magazine

People he’d met in the past few years seemed to think that if you weren’t from a city, you were from the country. And that was not true.

Back from the war in Germany, a soldier takes up residence with a woman living on a dilapidated farm.


The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere | by John Chu @

I love you, Matt” doesn’t count as a powerful statement that holds true for all time and space. Except when Gus says it, apparently.

In the world of this short story, water falls on anyone that tells a lie. So now Matt must decide how to ‘come out’ to his traditional Chinese Parents. Winner of the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.


So what are you waiting for? Head over to the NiTH Writing Contest Page and get started.

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