Friday 5 June 2015

Essay vs Short Story: What is the Difference?

What are the basic differences between an essay and a short story?  An essay is non-fiction whereas a short story is fiction.  An essay can be anywhere from 1000 to 10,000 words.  A short story "should be able to be read in one sitting".  See Edgar Allan Poe's "Philosophy of Composition" (1846) at  An essayist shares his or her thoughts and beliefs.  A short story writer describes an experience or event.  An essay follows strict reason whereas a short story has the elements of plot, dialogue, setting, character and theme.

However, Sharon Lippincott points out that it doesn't hurt for an essay to have a bit of action and a short story to include a bit of self-reflection.  In fact, these are the stories that will connect with the reader.  Annie Dillard maintains that the essayist has more at his disposal than the short story writer. "The essay is and has been all over the map.  There's nothing you cannot do with it; no subject matter forbidden, no structure proscribed.

The "godfathers" of the essay are Thoreau, Twain and Poe while the expert short story writers are O'Henry, Stephen Crane and Jack London.  To learn more about essay writing, read Writing and Publishing Personal Essays by Sheila Bender.  Tom Bailey's On Writing Short Stories is a good source for writers as well.

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