Characteristics of a short story – scope, content, language

cksideWhat is a short story?

Related imageThe short story is a young literary genre from the 20th century. It forms a subgenus of the epic ; because of its small size, it is one of the small epic forms. The term is a loan translation from English. The story comes from the short story in the American short story .

Characteristics of a short story

The main features

  • Direct entry into an everyday situation
  • A description of a conflict that is not resolved
  • Open end, from which the reader can think further
  • Just a storyline
  • Accelerated storytelling speed
  • Precise, concise language, often colloquial


Located between short novel, novella and anecdote, the short story is characterized by a small amount of text. Sometimes it covers only one or two pages, but it can also be much longer. Because of its length alone, it can not always be distinguished from a narrative.


The staff (characters) of a short story is limited to one or a few main characters. These are ordinary people and are often typed. You are in a decision situation that leads to a conflict. This sometimes leads to a surprising turn.

The event captures a short period in the life of the protagonists; Sometimes flashbacks or foresight come up. The everyday happenings focus on one moment and point to universal truths. Often the content of a short story is fantastic or scary.


Characteristic of a short story is the unmediated opening: the reader is set in one sentence in the middle of an already started event. The course of action of the short story is straightforward. The narrative tempo is accelerated, the narrated time experiences a compression. The end is often surprising, but the outcome of the story always remains open.

Examples of direct entry

  • “The woman was leaning against the window and looking over.”
    Ilse Aichinger: “The Window Theater”. From: IA, The Tied Up, Fischer, 1953
  • “We lived on the third floor in the middle of the city and have never been guilty of anything. We also had years of friendship with Dörfelts from across the way, until the wife borrowed our frying pan and did not bring it back shortly before the feast.”
    Gerhard Zwerenz: “Do not let everything please …” From: GZ, Gesänge in the market. Fantastic stories and love songs, Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1962


The language of the short story underscores its closeness to reality. It is simple and unaffected and focused on the essentials. The sentence structure is precise and concise. The tone is often colloquial, especially in verbal speech.

Reference to the reader

The short story is aimed at a broad readership by publishing in magazines and magazines. It picks up on current topics that often stem from the reader’s everyday or experiential world. This offers him the opportunity to identify. The illumination of a single everyday moment corresponds to the lack of commitment of modern times. The open form does not dictate anything, but leaves the reader room for their own thoughts. The short story asks the reader to interpret. In the narrative, he can find the essence of life.

Development of the short story


One pioneer of the German short story , for example, is Johann Peter Hebel with his calendar stories (“Schatzkästlein der Rheinischen Hausfreunde”, 1811). Approaches can also be found in Heinrich von Kleist (“The beggar woman of Locarno”, 1810), ETA Hoffmann and Hebbel.

Like the short story in America, the short story in Germany arose in connection with the requirements of magazines and magazines : Was previously the gregarious reading of short stories cared for, you needed in an accelerated period from about 1920 a short read for the hurried single reader.

Authors of German short stories in the prewar period

  • Alfred Döblin (1878-1957)
  • Leonhard Frank (1882-1961)
  • Heinrich Mann (1871-1950)
  • Robert Musil (1880-1942)
  • Walter Serner (1889-1942)

time after war

In the post-war period, the short story after American model in Germany became very popular. The experience of the Second World War led to a break with old narrative traditions . One was suspicious of large literary forms such as the novel. The reader did not want to be explained to the world by a supposedly omniscient narrator. Small clippings of reality and subjective experiences in short stories, however, seemed credible.

Conversely, the laconic, concise language was particularly suitable for the contents of post-war literature. It seemed appropriate to portray experiences such as persecution and imprisonment. Between 1945 and 1965 short stories were first of all style exercises of a new, ideology-free German literature, then an examination of the past, the existential need of the present or the economic miracle.

Later, the political conditions in the Federal Republic were discussed, interpersonal relationships, alienation and communication disorders. But already at the beginning of the 1970s , the short story had reached its peak in Germany. Novels, tales or hybrids of the Kurzepik came to the fore.

Well-known German short stories from the post-war period

  • “Felix” by Hans Bender (1919-2015)
  • “San Salvador”, 1964, by Peter Bichsel (born 1935)
  • »Wanderer, are you coming to Spa …«, 1950, by Heinrich Böll (1917-1985)
  • »The Bread«, 1946, by Wolfgang Borchert (1921-1947)
  • »The Great Wildenberg«, by Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014)
  • »The Fat Kid«, 1952, by Marie Luise Kaschnitz (1901-1974)
  • “Jeno was my friend”, 1958, by Wolfdietrich Schnurre (1920-1989)

Short story and short story

Related imageThe English-American Short Story was written around 1820. The blossoming of magazines and magazines took a short epic form. Many of the authors were both journalists and writers. The short story met the demands of modern man. The everyday gear increasingly lacked the time for longer reading.

The world’s first short stories included “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesques” by Edgar Allan Poe (1840). Poe was also the one who requires a “letter tale” to be precise. It should not contain anything that does not serve the purpose of narrative. Above all, she must be able to read all at once in order to develop her artistic effect. [1]

Short story

Founder of the American short story at the beginning of the 19th century:

  • Washington Irving (1783-1859)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
  • Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Authors of short stories from the middle of the 19th century (selection):

  • Mark Twain (1835-1910)
  • Jack London (1876-1916)
  • Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

Well-known authors of short stories in the 20th century:

  • William Faulkner (1897-1962)
  • Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)