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Why Defining The Short Story Genre Makes Your Eyes Roll Back In Your Head

Why Defining The Short Story Genre Makes Your Eyes Roll Back In Your Head

genreCan a short story be a short story if it’s a nonfiction piece? In short—no. In reality—it depends.

Short stories have traditionally been considered a fiction genre. They can be about anything as long as they are about one thing—and they’re short.

So, technically, if you identify your stories as nonfiction, and they follow a storyline using elements of fiction, you have written creative nonfiction or short nonfiction, but not short stories.

Sounds a little silly, doesn’t it?

Did your eyes start to roll backward?

Did you scratch your head and say, “What?”

Here are some things you can do to qualify your short nonfiction creations as short stories:

  1. Call your stories fiction and voilà—short stories are born. That’s the beauty of it. You decide.
  2. Lose the unreliable 1st person narrator and write it in 3rd person. There’s no actual rule or tradition that says you have to limit your options in point of view, so it’s still your choice.
  3. Write your story to read in the present as if it’s happening right now, and remember, writers argue that it’s fine to write a story where the action happens in the past. Again, your choice.

Genres of literature evolve over time, and new types develop from the creativity of writers. So, as a writer, it’s always your choice.

And you’re a writer. Let yourself create.

Short Story Structure

If you want to mask your nonfiction stories to read like fiction, they need a structure that includes these elements:

  • character,
  • conflict,
  • plot,
  • climax,
  • and resolution.

Think about Truman Capote’s book, In Cold Blood,” considered the first nonfiction story to read like fiction. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a try; use it as a study in writing creative nonfiction.

The genre of Capote’s story is identified as a nonfiction novel, and novels are traditionally classified as fiction. Why not try what Capote did; apply the same elements of fiction to your nonfiction short stories and call them creative nonfiction short stories?

Or just call them short stories and save yourself the confusion.

Why Bother With Genre?

Genre is just a fancy-sounding French word for type, kind, or sort and used to describe something artistic. In literature, there are two main types: fiction and nonfiction. All the others, such as science fiction, fit into one of the two main categories and are referred to as subgenres. Each has a set of characteristics, and if you have a genre preference, you do need to keep them in mind when you’re planning to write.

The labels also matter when it comes to publishing your work. If you haven’t chosen a genre, and you’re not sure where your writing fits, the best advice comes from Writer’s Relief. They say you’ll find it by asking yourself in what section of a bookstore and on what shelf would readers find your short story collection or novel.

All genre play aside, try not to think too much about it while you write. When you’re writing, you’re creating. Worrying about what genre to call your work while you’re trying to write is as stifling as fretting over correct spelling and grammar.

For now, just write.










About the author

Sheri Rose administrator

Writing a book? Need someone to edit the content? I can help. My specialty is substantive and developmental editing. Substantive/Developmental editing is like collaborative gardening, and I help cultivate manuscripts. I work with writers to design plots and organizational structures that develop thematic elements; dig through content and weed out the excess that interrupts narrative flow; plant suggestions and additions that enhance narrative action; feed meaning with grammatical structures that detail intent, and nurture book writing processes to fruition with tools that maintain style and voice.

2 comments so far

Betsy KentPosted on10:06 pm - Sep 13, 2016

What a brilliant concept. Thanks!

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