Short Prose

"Not that the story needs to be long,
but it will take a long while to make it short."

-- Henry David Thoreau

Ranging anywhere from a single paragraph to a few thousand words, short prose is primarily distinguished by its brevity. Sometimes called the short-short story, the prose poem, the vignette, or the sketch, short prose has become increasingly popular in recent years. A brief prose work can create certain effects and concentrations of suggestiveness that a longer piece of writing cannot, and often in short prose the impact on the reader is more immediate and more intense than in a longer work. However, with this comes the challenge of being spare with words and details. As Thoreau tells us in the quote above, by making the story shorter it may become more difficult to write. Some examples of famous short prose in English are Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour", Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl", and Samuel Beckett's "Lessness".

Because of the brevity of blog posts (or the brevity of attention span of blog readers) many bloggers have taken up short prose as a way to work expressively and connect with their audience. Two bloggers I especially recommend checking out are Jimmy (a Scottish blogger whose wit and humor springs from the bottomless well of everyday life) and Pisces Iscariot (who is sometimes surreal, sometimes morbid, but always entertaining).

All of the links above will lead you to writings of between 300 and 3000 words, however short prose certainly does not need to be this length. I would contend that even a few sentences are a work of short prose, and in closing this post I offer, humbly, a very short prose piece. If you decide to try one for yourself, leave me a comment so I can have a look... I'd love to see what you come up with.

Lake Portage

Jed and I had carried the canoe for a couple miles when we finally came to Lake Portage. It was disappointing to see it was all dried up -- only beach rocks left over like once was an ocean rolling where we stood. The gulls flew overhead and there were crushed shells beneath our feet.

"I know," said Jed. "I never really figured we'd catch any fish either. But the hike was worth it all the same."

I thought it was a fairly fine line that Jed had cast, as I didn't think he had a click to begin with, and there's ten thousand clicks in a clue.


human being said...


the short story of the long candle

it was lit on a wedding night and was the only one that could see the sunrise before it died...


December 17, 2009 at 5:45 AM
Jon said...


It doesn't get much shorter or sweeter than that! I love it. Thanks a lot for adding this in here. I'm going to have to see if I can be even more brief. Hmmmm... how about:

Frog. Pond. Plop.


December 17, 2009 at 2:33 PM
human being said...

you are number one!

this is how i felt some minutes ago... when i turned on my computer... signed in... and the first thing i saw was this mircostory... plop! i was in the pond...

but it can be even shorter:

frog... plop!

pond can be implied from the word plop-- the sound of something dropping in water... and frogs usually live by ponds...

our mind tends to fill in the blanks... and more blanks result in more excitement while reading...
and yes... sometimes in confusion!
it depends on what is omitted and what is kept...
(have you seen any of Bresson's films? he doesn't show many things but the suspense is... wow... very high...)

inspired by you:

apple... crunch!


and how do you like this one?

the long story of a short candle

it was never picked... it was never lit... and lived a very long life... with no flame...


December 17, 2009 at 3:27 PM
Jon said...

I like what you say about the mind filling in the gaps. That's the really powerful thing about shorter prose... it leaves a bigger gap to be filled in, and the reader becomes just as much of the creator of the story as the writer. Thanks for your insights on this...
And I love the second version of the candle story here! Thanks again for sharing these with us.

No way to top that one! But with the addition of one other word the story can be radically changed:

If only

December 18, 2009 at 12:38 PM
Harlequin said...

how lovely and lively are these comments.... a treat to read and behold
how brief is enough

December 19, 2009 at 11:17 AM
Harlequin said...

... and I managed to post a not so short prose ....
I will have to do a more disciplined attempt to make a shorter prose :))

December 19, 2009 at 7:31 PM
Jon said...

Well that changes everything!

I love the short prose on your blog. Great story about a cop and a bee. I bet that it's autobiographical!

December 21, 2009 at 3:03 PM
the walking man said...

A little longer one Jon?

I never should have.

December 22, 2009 at 6:31 AM
Jon said...

This is getting a bit cryptic now!


You mean that this second sentence "I never should have" is the little longer prose, or you mean the latest post on your blog?

December 22, 2009 at 9:11 AM
the walking man said...

This is longer prose than only if. The idea being that in succinctness, economy of verbiage the readers mind automatically fills in the needed details.

I never should have.

well sir your imagery is going to be quite different than mine but the tale none the less will be told and all that is needed for the readers is I never should have.

December 22, 2009 at 10:18 AM
Anonymous said...

Hi I"m Samantha. What does the short prose that you've posted mean? What is the Lake Portage all about? I don't understand the story. Please make it clear.

December 10, 2014 at 6:05 PM