Famous short stories can show you how good a story can be. It can have you glued to the pages and reading into the late hours of the night or just leave you feeling exhilarated. Plus, there are plenty of famous short stories that you can read within an hour or two.
Whether you’re a student or a writer, reading is always fundamental, particularly if you want to improve your craft. If you’re interested, the following are some of the most famous short stories to add to your reading list:
Famous Short Stories – Mystery Detectives
Many famous short stories are about mystery detectives who not only find but also solve the crime in one story. We’ve listed the best ones here:
1. The Murders in the Rue Morgue – Edgar Allan Poe
Hailed as the “Father of Modern Short Stories”, did you know that Edgar Allan Poe is also the father of detective stories? The short story “Murders in the Rue Morgue” is the first detective fiction story that paved the way for other writers to follow.
If Dupin reads like a familiar character, just know that his traits have been adopted by many other fictional detectives, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. It is a very short story but a classic nonetheless.
2. A Haunted House – Virginia Woolf
Renowned for her classic work such as “A Room of One’s Own, “To the Lighthouse,” and “Orlando,” Virginia Woolf showcases her writing skills with her collection of short stories, including “A Haunted House.” When it comes to a very short story, this one takes the cake.
It is remarkably brief, coming up to only 700 words but it definitely draws readers in. This story can also have a lot of interpretations based on the reader.
3. The Problem of Cell 13 – Jacques Futrelle
Another short story that involves a detective, the Problem of Cell 13 was written by Jacques Futrelle. Futrelle’s main protagonist is Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen. As a highly educated man, Augustus believes that the power of the mind is stronger, in any situation.
To prove the truth behind this statement, he agrees to be incarcerated for one week in a high-security prison and try to break out from it. Augustus’s ingenuity takes a new turn here and he’s pushed to stay one step ahead of the ever suspicious warden.
4. Miss Marple Tells a Story – Agatha Christie
Hailed as the “Queen of Crime Stories,” Agatha Christie is renowned for her detective novels and her short stories too. While one of her most famous detectives happens to be Hercule Poirot, another one is Miss Marple, an unassuming lady.
Out of her collection, “Miss Marple Tells a Story” is one of the best detective ones. How does Miss Marple solve a case without entering the crime scene? You’ll have to read this very short story to find out more.
5. A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Famous for his Sherlock Holmes short stories, “A Study in Scarlet” is the one that stands out because it shows how Watson makes the acquaintance of Sherlock Holmes. As their first crime story together, this is a must-read.
Additionally, you’ll find that once you finish this story, you’ll end up wanting to read more. That’s just the skill of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the interesting and complex characters he creates.
Famous Short Stories – Murder Mystery
Some of the most famous short stories are about murder, crime and revenge. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop reading them.
1. Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood
While she is famed for her novels, such as the “Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood also loves writing short stories. “The Stone Mattress” is a very short story from Atwood’s book with the same title. The story, “The Stone Mattress” follows the story of the brave and resilient Verna who runs into Bob, someone from her high school.
As old memories resurface, is the past easy to let go off? Are the odds stacked against them or is it too late? Time has definitely run out for one of them.
2. The School – Donald Barthelme
With some dark humor and a very short story that comes in at 1,200 words, “The School” by Donald Barthelme will have you feeling like you’re going to hell for laughing. Applying his signature, post-modern writing style, Barthelme weaves a narrative where the school teacher’s absurd adventures aren’t too hard to believe.
This story will definitely have you questioning everything you read and also show that maybe, things aren’t as innocent as they seem.
3. In My Hands – Sarah Cortez
The best friendships are always between two unlikely people who’re complete opposites. However, they can often be the bitterest enemies too. Sarah Cortez explores this unique dynamic in friendships with the help of her short story, “In My Hands.”
This story explores the complexity of relationships and friendships and how we never truly know a person.
4. The Rector of Veilbye – Steen Steensen Blicher
This unique mystery story starts out with love and sunshine and has a twist which would make your jaw drop to the floor. Written by the Danish author, Steen Steensen Blicher, the story gives you glimpses into the diary of the main protagonist and the events surrounding them.
What’s even more surprising is the fact that the short story was based on the real trial of the Pastor, Søren Jensen Quist in Vejlby. While the circumstances were different, the manipulation of the trial and the verdict were pretty much the same.
5. Killer Fudge – Mary Kay Andrews – Kathy Hogan Trocheck
This brings a new twist to the normal murder mystery stories and it features a female detective named Callahan Garrity. “Killer Fudge” is about a former cop turned cleaner who solves crimes that are either committed in the house she cleans or, she hears about it in the neighborhood.
Skillfully written, this short story will have you wondering what’s happening next. Plus, you’ll be happy to know that Garrity shows up in another short story named “Fatal Fruitcake” by the same author too.
Famous Short Stories – Science Fiction
Science fiction is also a very popular genre and has produced many famous short stories. The following are some of the best ones in our opinion:
1. The Last Night of the World – Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury creates a great masterpiece with a new twist on the end of the world trope. Already a legend in the field of science fiction writing, Bradbury wrote the “Last Night of the World” as a part of his 12 part series.
What makes this story so interesting is that he brings a unique perspective to the end of the world. Instead of mass hysteria, you have resignation, calmness and acceptance of this fate.
2. The Magic Shop – H.G Wells
What would you say if you entered a shop and the contents in it changed in accordance with your perspective and outlook on life? H.G Wells manages to answer that very same question with his short story “The Magic Shop.”
While he’s famous for writing about alien encounters and other worldly beings, the human elements and perspectives in this story are sure to touch your heart. With an almost fairy tale like feel to it, this short story is one which will leave you feeling spellbound and amazed.
3. Spider the Artist – Nnedi Okorafor
It’s rarely ever that you read about a future world where artificial intelligence (AI) has progressed to become a threat to human life. This area is covered in the short story, “Spider the Artist.” With a storyline that combines future elements, AI and spiders; it’s hard to stop reading it.
Set in Nigeria, the story will definitely be a bit mind-bending but in a good way. Plus, you’ll love this fresh take on the science fiction genre.
4. All Summer in a Day – Ray Bradbury
If you were ever bullied, you might find this hard to read but “All Summer in a Day” is about a girl from Earth who moves to live in Venus. We get a look at a day in her life. With the sun only appearing for two hours, every seven years; summer really does happen in a day for them.
The story is moving and takes a closer look at the challenges we might face when looking to settle into an alien planet.
5. The Janitor In Space – Amber Sparks
Ever wondered how you’d be able to clean anything in space? Then read the “Janitor in Space.” This very short story shows how a lonely, often overlooked janitor goes about her duties in zero gravity. Living in a spaceship can be fun after all but does the novelty wear off soon?
With concepts of death, morality, right and wrong, this short story definitely leaves you feeling more than you bargained for.
Famous Short Stories – Horror
You might not think so but horror short stories can give you chills. These famous short stories can be pretty spooky and make your hair stand on end.
1. The Signal Man – Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens prowess as a novelist is hard to deny but he’s also skilled in writing a very short story as well. “The Signal Man” stands out for being a horror story that is very different from his usual writing style.
Interestingly, the events of the story were inspired by Dickens own involvement with a train accident. The accident had a most profound impact on his life. As a means of processing the incident, Dickens wrote “The Signal Man.”
2. The Body Snatcher – Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson is renowned for his work on classics such as “The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped.” However, he’s also a master of horror and his short story the “Body Snatcher” is a testament to this factor.
The story of “Body Snatcher” revolves around two industrious medical students and their escapades in medical school. Let’s just say that one of them is able to always supply fresh cadavers for their classes.
3. The Little Men – Megan Abbott
An award-winning famous mystery short story, “The Little Men” explores the realm of fantasy and reality with a touch of insanity. Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Short Story, once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop.
Not only is this story hair-raising, but it has a legit mystery to it which will have you on the edge of your seat while you try to figure out what is going on.
4. August Heat – W.F. Harvey
If you’re looking for a very short horror story, “August Heat” by W.F. Harvey is the one for you. It’s got horror, some implied murder and an element of the supernatural that is hard to brush off. As the story unfolds, you’re truly left stunned as the ending of the story is left to your depiction.
The characters also make it difficult for the ending to be less than agreeable and the August heat is stifling and enough to drive one mad.
5. The Tell Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe’s the “Tell Tale Heart” is one of the most famous short stories of any genre. As a horror story, it has all the elements of suspense, surprise, murder and the supernatural. Additionally, Poe’s skill in turning the narrator into an unreliable one already makes you pre-disposed to suspect that things aren’t quite as they seem.
It’s an unsettling feeling which goes well with the final ending. Plus, it shows you just how a very short story can be a good horror one too.
Famous Short Stories – Romance
Many famous short stories are about the heart and romance too. In fact, they’re more poignant because of their brevity. The following are some of the most famous short stories about romance.
1. A Mere Interlude – Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy is particularly skilled at writing about the complexity of human relationships and how we don’t always get what our heart wants. This area is explored further in “The Mere Interlude.” It covers the age difference in a relationship and how youthfulness can lead to bad decisions.
Thankfully, the story has a much happier ending than other works by Thomas Hardy. Plus, it leaves you feeling all warm and mushy like a good heartwarming romance does.
2. The Lady with the Dog – Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov is gifted when writing about romance in his short stories. “The Lady with the Dog” is also considered to be his best work. The story covers the lives of two people who fall in love, despite being married to other people.
It’s a controversial topic but one which Chekhov covers with a lot of delicacy and with great insight into the female perspective of this scenario too. It is a good romance story with plenty of drama thrown in which will make it hard for you to stop reading.
3. The Gift of the Magi – O. Henry
A heartwarming tale about what we’re willing to do for the people we love, “The Gift of the Magi” will leave you feeling emotional and thankful for your spouse. The irony of the sacrifice made also adds a bit of mirth and humor to this story.
It was originally meant as a Christmas story but the couple’s obvious love for each other also makes it a great wholesome romance story to enjoy at any time of the year.
4. About Love – Anton Chekhov
The last part of Anton Chekhov’s trilogy, About Love stands apart because it discusses the melancholy, misery and suffering that one experiences when they are in love. Chekhov’s depiction of lost love, missed chances and unspoken promises are poignant and very emotional.
As a love story, this one is definitely more bittersweet but it’s been hailed for giving a real depiction of what a relationship is like and how emotionally messy it can be.
5. A Rose for Emily – William Faulkner
Not exactly a typical romance story, “A Rose for Emily” takes a closer look at what our obsessions can lead us to do. For all the characters, their actions were motivated by love, albeit a more morbid and corrupted version of it.
Faulkner brings this tragic story of love to life with his skilled prose. While not a very short story, this is definitely one that grabs your interest right from the start.
Famous Short Stories – Comedy
Everyone has a sense of humor, even writers. This is evident in some of the most famous short stories that are listed here. You’ll definitely be struggling to read without chuckling at these stories:
1. Hunting Deceitful Turkey – Mark Twain
Famed for writing “Tom Sawyer” and the “Adventures of Huckleberry Fin,” Mark Twain’s skills as a writer are truly showcased in his very short story “Hunting Deceitful Turkey.” The story is his true account of trying and failing to hunt turkey for a Thanksgiving dinner.
The story stands out for its funny narrative and the fact that Mark Twain was outsmarted by a turkey all day, eventually giving up and having to make do with a meal of wild growing tomatoes only.
2. The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year – Sue Townsend
What would you do if you felt unappreciated by your family after years of doing everything for them? Not get out of bed? That’s exactly what Eva does when she’s had enough of her family’s selfish behavior. Unfortunately, Eva’s refusal to get out of bed draws media attention and support from others.
Sue Townsend’s wit and writing style make this a pleasant read but don’t go in expecting to like the characters. They’re unpleasant, selfish and thoughtless which makes them all the more hilarious.
3. The Crocodile – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
While it’s a ridiculous premise, “The Crocodile” was actually a metaphorical way for Dostoyevsky to make fun of the Russian society through satire. It shares the tale of a man who’s so lazy that when he’s swallowed whole by the crocodile, he refuses to leave its belly, believing himself to be very comfortable there.
The story ends with the bureaucrat making arrangements to work from this crocodile’s belly. While Dostoyevsky did promise to resolve the ending, he never got around to doing so and left the story incomplete.
4. The Nose – Nikolai Gogol
Another story that’s hailed for its satirical tone is “The Nose” by Gogol. The story tells of how a Major’s nose gains sentience and decides to go live on its own. It runs away, tries to make a life for itself and does its best to thwart the efforts to return to the rightful owner of the nose.
The absurdity of this story can be difficult to grasp but it will definitely make you chuckle when you read about the nose joining the military to become a high ranking officer.
5. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A book that’s become a cult classic, this story is one that will have you rolling with laughter, getting annoyed and wondering who to root for.
Toole’s story was published 11 years after he committed suicide. However, his work garnered him a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, won posthumously.
It’s definitely worth a read and the ending of this story will have you feeling a mix of emotions too.
Famous Short Stories – Fantasy
The realm of fantasy is more easily accessible to writers and it shows in their writing. The following are some of the most famous short stories based on fantasy:
1. The Paper Menagerie – Ken Liu
A moving story about the magic we all believe in when we are kids, “The Paper Menagerie” covers many topics including wanting to fit into an ever-changing society. It is the first fiction/fantasy story to win The World Fantasy Award, Hugo Award and the Nebula Award.
Reading it will have you close to tears. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic for your childhood and brash teenage years and want to be better, kinder adults towards your parents with this story.
2. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – Karen Russell
Children born to werewolf parents are sent to a finishing school to make them more presentable, ladylike and more suited for human society. The story is both heart-wrenching and also covers the experience we all go through when growing up.
You’ll get to see that after all, little werewolf girls and you might have a lot more in common than previously believed.
3. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain – Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is already renowned for his famous short stories and this one is no different. It weaves a compelling tale, sprinkled with some mythology, ancient magic and terrible truth which waits at the end of the journey. This fantasy short story will definitely have you on edge but it is definitely worth reading about.
4. As Good as New – Charlie Jane Anders
What if you were the last human on earth and you were granted three wishes? What would you wish for? How careful would you be? This very short story gives a very unique spin to the tried fantasy troupe of getting three wishes.
“As Good as New” also brings a new perspective to the end-of-the-world dystopian concept and how you would try to survive it with your sanity intact.
5. The Smallest Dragon Boy – Anne McCaffrey
Before there was George R.R. Martin, there was Anne McCaffery who is hailed for her work in science fiction, fantasy and the realm of dragons. This short story about the smallest dragon boy in Pern, a planet full of dragons will have you invested in dragons right away.
If you’re also interested in reading more about of Anne McCaffery’s work, this is the perfect short story to start out with.
All these genres cover some of the most famous short stories that you should add to your reading list. While there might be more, these are some of the best ones in each genre.