They say that the best way to learn how to write is just to buckle yourself into your seat and start writing; but the second-best way is to read other people’s work.
If you’re a writer taking a break, reading others’ stories can help give you a new outlook on familiar experiences.
Or, if you just need some entertainment but don’t have the time to delve into a full-length novel, short stories are a great option.
Free Short Stories Online
The wonderful thing about short stories is that you can typically finish them in one sitting. And, with many of them available online, you can enjoy one even on your lunch break or while waiting for dinner to come out of the oven.
Short stories are also a great way to try out new authors, without needing to invest either money or time in reading a full-length novel.
Who knows, you may find some new writers whose style you love, opening the door to many new books for you to read in the future!
Classic Short Stories
If you are not used to reading classic books, classic short stories are a good way to start.
“The Mark on the Wall” by Virginia Woolf
This short story by Virginia Woolf follows the narrator’s thought trails as triggered by a mark she sees on the wall. Through this story, Woolf differentiates the material world from the story that exists in the narrator’s mind.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
This gothic story tells the legend of the headless horseman that haunts the town of Sleepy Hollow through the experiences of Ichabod Crane, a teacher who came to the town all the way from Connecticut.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
In this “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the unnamed narrator struggles with madness and guilt, striving to convince the reader of his own sanity. He ends up confessing his “perfect crime” to the police while denying his having committed murder out of greed.
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
This Christmas-themed short story tells about a young couple who buy each other Christmas gifts even in the direst poverty.
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London
Jack London’s experiences in the wilderness seep through this “To Build a Fire,” following an unnamed male character who sets out to the Yukon Territory in Canada. A native dog follows him as he makes his way through the extreme cold, underestimating the conditions that threaten his life.
“A Thousand Deaths” by Jack London
The first published work of The Call of the Wild author Jack London, this story follows the life of a mad scientist: he uses multiple scientific methods for his experiments with death and resuscitation. This story has been adapted into a film entitled “Torture Ship,” released back in 1939.
“Chronicles of Avonlea” by L.M. Montgomery
This collection of short stories by Anne of Green Gables author L.M. Montgomery contains just as memorable characters, such as young violinist Felix Moore in Each in His Own Tongue and Prissy and her sister Emmeline in The Courting of Prissy Strong.
“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving
This classic fantasy story tells of Rip Van Winkle, a farmer who comes upon a group of dwarfs and falls under an enchantment that causes him to sleep. He wakes up 20 years later, 20 years older, and finding everything in town changed beyond recognition.
“Across the Years” by Eleanor H. Porter
This collection of short stories by the well-loved author of Pollyanna gives us a poignant and sometimes hilarious glimpse into the life and adventures of the elderly. The reminiscences and lessons they learn through the years will surely bring a smile to your face.
“A Dark Brown Dog” by Stephen Crane
“A Dark Brown Dog” is about a young boy and the little dog that approaches him. The boy starts to play with the dark brown dog, but when he gets bored he abuses the dog. Some commentaries view this story as an allegory of the social ills accompanying the newly freed African-American slaves after the Civil War.
“Eve’s Diary” by Mark Twain
Legendary comedic writer Mark Twain is at it again with this witty and funny portrayal of the battle of the sexes. Although he writes through Eve’s entire life, the story focuses on the beginning of her life with Adam in the Garden of Eden.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain
Mark Twain opens this short story with an unnamed narrator seeking out Simon Wheeler to ask about a Leonidas Smiley. Wheeler ends up telling a story about Jim Smiley, who loved gambling over everything, even training animals to act as he wished so he could win the bets he placed before people. He meets his match when he presents his frog to a stranger, who cheats to win the bet.
Contemporary Short Stories
If classic short stories are not your thing, this collection of contemporary short stories may suit you better:
“Premium Harmony” by Stephen King
Bestselling novelist Stephen King may be better known for his full-length thrillers, but this “Premium Harmony” perfectly shows his style: An arguing couple drop by a convenience store and an unexpected event throws their lives off course.
“The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges
This short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges tells of a universe made up of one big library, where every possible combination of letters forms book after book. This results in majority of them being indecipherable, but also in the belief that somewhere in this library, one might find the meaning behind all this.
“Girls, at Play” by Celeste Ng
This short story by Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere, opens with three 13-year-old girls at school, playing an adult game away from the teachers’ eyes. But a new girl arrives, and as they help her adjust to her new home, they recapture some of their lost childhood.
“Ghosts and Empties” by Lauren Groff
In “Ghosts and Empties,” a mother goes on an evening walk contemplating the lives of the people in her neighborhood and mulling over her own troubled emotions. This short read offers a poignant look into issues and feelings of daily life.
“The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link
This enchanting story tells of Genevieve’s grandmother Zofia, who claims that a group of fairies lives in her handbag. Zofia’s stories of some strange land gains Genevieve’s mother’s disapproval, but Genevieve finds out the truth about the fairies.
“The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere” by John Chu
The author explores an interesting concept with this story where it rained each time a person lied—posing a barrage of challenges as Matt struggles to come out to his parents, who are traditional Chinese in every way. This story won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
“With the Beatles” by Haruki Murakami
Japanese author Haruki Murakami contemplates his high school years of falling in love with the Beatles at their peak. The author’s love for the Beatles definitely shines through his writing.
“The Daughters of the Moon” by Italo Calvino
In “The Daughters of the Moon,” the people of Earth decide to throw away the moon. The author explores the issue of consumerism in this fantasy short story.
“The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin
Bestselling author of Hugo Awardee for Best Novel The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin uses “The City Born Great” to tell the story of how cities reach a certain age when they must be born: New York City is in such a transition, needing to be born through the hands of a reluctant midwife.
“Sweetness” by Toni Morrison
“Sweetness,” the prelude to the Toni Morrison book God Help the Child, explores the emotions behind Bride’s mother’s struggle of accepting her daughter. The daughter rises to new heights of success and her mother starts to feel remorse for raising her daughter in a home devoid of love.
Free Stories Online
So next time you have a free afternoon or some time to pass on your lunch break, reach for a great story to keep you entertained!
Do you have a favorite short story or short story author? Share them with us in the comments below!