What Is A Short Story

A short story is a fictional piece of writing that typically focuses on a specific theme, event, or character. Although it is shorter in length compared to a novel, it still aims to deliver a complete narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. In this article, we will explore the elements of a short story, discuss its importance, and provide examples of renowned South African short stories.

What Makes a Short Story?

A short story typically features a limited number of characters and focuses on a specific incident or conflict. It aims to convey a single experience or idea in a concise manner. Unlike a novel, which allows for in-depth character development and multiple plotlines, a short story condenses these aspects into a short and powerful narrative.

Most short stories follow a traditional structure comprised of exposition (introduction of characters and setting), rising action (development of conflict), climax (turning point of the story), falling action (resolution), and denouement (conclusion). However, some short stories may deviate from this structure to surprise and engage the readers.

The Importance of Short Stories

Short stories play a vital role in literature and hold immense significance for both readers and writers:

1. Captivating and Concise

Short stories are known for their ability to captivate readers’ attention quickly. With their concise nature, they provide a complete and engaging story experience within a shorter time frame, making them ideal for those with limited time or attention spans.

2. Exploration of Themes

Short stories often explore specific themes or ideas with great depth and precision. They allow authors to focus on a particular subject matter and present their opinions or perspectives in a thought-provoking way.

3. Training Ground for Writers

Writing a compelling short story requires careful attention to detail, character development, and concise storytelling. For aspiring writers, short stories serve as an excellent training ground to hone their craft, experiment with different writing techniques, and practice conveying complex emotions or ideas within a limited word count.

What Is A Short Story

Famous South African Short Stories

South Africa boasts a rich and diverse literary tradition, and several remarkable short stories emerge from its cultural tapestry. Here are some notable examples:

1. “The Soft Voice of the Serpent” by Nadine Gordimer

This captivating short story explores themes of apartheid and its impact on individuals and relationships. Gordimer’s powerful writing delves into the complexity of racial tensions and the moral dilemmas faced by South Africans during the apartheid era.

2. “Jump and Other Stories” by Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer’s collection of short stories provides a multifaceted depiction of South African society, touching on various themes like racial dynamics, social inequality, and human relationships. It offers a glimpse into the diverse experiences and struggles faced by individuals in the country.

3. “The Train from Rhodesia” by Nadine Gordimer

In this thought-provoking story, Gordimer explores themes of economic inequality and individual empowerment amidst the backdrop of a passenger train journey. The narrative reflects on the racial and social disparities present in South Africa at that time.

4. “The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales” by Bessie Head

This collection of tales by Bessie Head presents a vivid portrayal of life in Botswana. Through her stories, Head delves into the cultural norms, gender roles, and societal challenges faced by the people of Botswana, creating a rich tapestry of African life and identity.

5. “Mhudi” by Sol T. Plaatje

Sol T. Plaatje’s “Mhudi” is one of the earliest novels written by a black South African author. Set during the Mfecane wars, the story follows the life of its titular character, Mhudi, and highlights themes of love, war, and the struggle for land and identity in South Africa.


Short stories are an integral part of literature, allowing writers to convey a complete narrative within a limited space while capturing readers’ imagination. South Africa has contributed significantly to the genre, with renowned authors like Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, and Sol T. Plaatje highlighting the diverse experiences and challenges faced by its people through their engaging short stories.

Whether you are a reader seeking a quick yet fulfilling story or an aspiring writer looking to refine your craft, exploring the world of short stories is both enriching and captivating.