In 2019, I wrote an article for Book Riot about how some of the best fiction I read was under 1,000 words. I still stand by that statement. Very short stories — also known as flash fiction, micro fiction, drabbles, and the like — are a delightful form of fiction. They are tiny punches of great writing and can come in all genres.
First, an overview: On average, a short story is around 5,000 words, but the range can be anything more than 1,000 words and anything less than 10,000 words. A very short story, or flash, is usually around 1,000 words or less. Under the umbrella of very short stories, there are also micro stories, which average around 300–400 words or less. Then there is the drabble: a story that contains exactly 100 words.
The Mastery of Very Short Stories
These very short stories are quick reads, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of depth. Writing an effective short story is a feat in itself, and to do it in less than 1,000 words, 300 words, or even in 100 words takes some really tight writing. Each word has to do its job in the overall arc of the piece. When it’s done right, it makes for a masterpiece of craft.
There are many places where you can access very short stories. Online literary journals are a great place (in my opinion, the best place) to explore and find great flash fiction writers. There are also authors who are known for their very short stories. Lydia Davis often comes to mind when flash fiction is brought up. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, published in 2010, is still used as a primer of flash fiction at its best.
Many famous authors, from Edgar Allan Poe to Gabrial Garcia Marquez, write flash fiction, though it likely wasn’t called “flash fiction” at the time. They were simply very short stories.
The list below will be an assortment of very short stories you can access online, either via educational sites or literary magazines. I tried to keep them below 1,000 words, thought some are a tiny bit over. Some stories are now in the public domain, though I absolutely wanted to include contemporary authors as well. Plus, I included some anthologies and collections that include fantastic flash and micro fiction.
Very Short Stories for Young Readers
One could argue that any picture book is a very short story, since many picture books contain from 50 to 1,000 words. Considering my own definitions of what makes a very short story, I’d wager an excellent picture book is illustrated flash fiction at its finest. With that in mind, I don’t want to rehash what many of my brilliant Book Riot cohorts have already done.
I recommend checking out our selection of the best picture books of 2021, as well as a selection of fairytale board books for our youngest readers. To keep up with recent 2022 releases, Margaret Kingsbury gave a rundown of April 2022 children’s book releases.
Very Short Stories for Middle School
Middle school is a delicate time for forming a love of literature and learning. For me, it was also a time of going back and forth between reading stories for young readers, and venturing into high school–age texts. Rather than rehash a lot of the usual very short stories that come to mind in middle school (I recall a lot of Edgar Allen Poe stories and speeches in my middle school memories), I want to highlight some anthologies of contemporary short stories that might interest middle school students.
I am somewhat breaking my own rule here, as there are many stories in these anthologies that are more than 1,000 words, but they are short stories catered to students navigating this time in their lives while fostering a new love of reading.
Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance Edited by Bethany C. Morrow
Aimed at middle grade readers through high school, this anthology features stories, poems, and art that are about resistance in all its forms. From being trans allies to standing up to online trolls, this is an inspirational read by many talented authors, including Newbery Award winners.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings Edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
For middle grade and early high school readers interested in fairytales, this anthology of short stories by 16 best-selling authors reimagines the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia. This fantastic anthology includes stories of fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, romance and more.
Come On In: 15 Stories about Immigration and Finding Home Edited by Adi Alsaid
As the beginning in this book states “The immigrant story is not one story. It is a collection.” This collection of stories aimed at grades seven through nine explores the inspiration, heartbreak, and joys of immigration. Best-selling YA authors make up this compendium, and it is a fantastic read for readers who want to learn more about the immigrant experience.
Very Short Stories for High School
A few of the below stories are often included in recommended lists for high school students, but they are also just plain good short stories. These stories center on circumstances that make for great flash fiction: quick, emotional conversations and reactions. A few of these stories are often anthologized and are great for class discussions.
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
At a little over 1,000 words, “The Story of An Hour” chronicles a woman’s range emotions in the after finding out her husband was killed in a railroad accident.
“One of These Days” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
You may know Marquez best for his epic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, but he also wrote great flash fiction. Also in the public domain, this story is under 1,000 words and focuses on a heated exchange between an unlicensed dentist and a mayor. Flash Fiction Online, a fantastic online literary magazine for flash fiction, included this story in a 2008 issue, which is where this link originates.
“A CONVERSATION FROM THE THIRD FLOOR” by Mohamed Al Bisatie
A woman tries to speak to her husband through a third floor window, where her husband is imprisoned. Like “One of These Days,” this story excels in its use of dialogue and purpose for conversation.
“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
At almost 700 words, this story is both poetry and fiction. It is lyrical, rhythmic with a repeating “this is how…” Although this link is from The New Yorker’s website,”Girl” has been anthologized in likely dozens of anthologies on the mastery of the short story. Each line is a layer, revealing a life.
Very Short Stories for Adults
Honestly, I think any story listed in this article can be for adults, but for the sake of differentiating from the above lists of younger readers, the below section is a great list of very short stories from excellent literary publications.
“Five Stories” by Lydia Davis in Conjunctions: 24 Critical Mass
One cannot make a list of very short stories without including the great Lydia Davis. These five very short stories range from a single sentence to a paragraph. “The Outing” is probably my favorite. It’s a single sentence, revving up an emotional quarrel that ends in tears. It’s a gut-punch sentence.
“The Huntress” by Sofia Samatar from Tin House Online
Unfortunately, Tin House literary magazine is no longer running, but we still are lucky to have access to this magnificent micro fiction — being just under 400 words — when they used to do Flash Fridays. Sofia Samatar is one of my favorite authors, having adored her collection Tender. “The Huntress” is haunting story of a being stalking the city at night. It is like ink blot bleeding through paper. So good.
“A House Needs a Reason to Turn” by M.L. Krishnan in The Offing
Let’s get even shorter. At under 100 words, this micro is a brilliant surreal story about buildings turning into grandmothers. Krishnan’s work is stunningly visceral and haunting, and this micro is no different. It’s one of my favorite micros ever.
“Cure for Tears” by Avra Margariti in Pidgeonholes
This is another stunning micro story at under 300 words. It gives a whole new perspective on crocodile tears. I still think about that ending line. Margariti is a talented poet as well as short fiction writer, and I highly recommend checking out more of her amazing work.
“A Prancing Light” by K.C. Mead-Brewer in Twin Pies Literary
The LOVE I have for this piece. This is another great very short story in the form of micro fiction. It is a single paragraph, and so atmospheric, artfully building these feelings of haunting and dread. Every story of Mead-Brewer’s is perfectly honed and beautiful.
Anthologies Specifically Composed of Very Short Stories
Each year, editors from literary magazines will nominate “small fictions” to be chosen and anthologized by a guest editor. According to its website: “Now in its sixth year of existence, Best Small Fictions features the best micro fiction, flash fiction, haibun stories and prose poetry from around the world.” Guest editors have included Pulitzer Prize winners and Pushcart Prize Winners. The 2022 selections have not yet been announced, but you can see the list of 2021 at the link above. This is a great place to discover contemporary authors and literary magazines who specialize in very short stories.
Best Microfiction 2022 (July 2022)
This is an anthology that specializes in stories consisting of 400 words or less. Like Best Small Fictions, the Best Microfiction anthology has different guest editors and a final judge for each year.
The 2022 anthology is forthcoming in July 2022, with the TOC yet to be announced. This is another great anthology to discovery contemporary authors and the breadth of talent in creating excellent stories in such a short amount of words.
Exploring The Realm of the Short Story
There is so much under the umbrella of the short story. From long short stories that veer on novellas, to these perfect edible bites of craft, the short story is indeed live and well. It is a perfect form for all ages to digest and explore. In the past, I’ve written about reading short story collections out of order, as well as speculative fiction collections.
Whatever your preference for length or genre, I do hope you find something to be inspired by in the above list. Even if it’s merely a paragraph or sentence long, it can still have a great impact.
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