Genres of Short Prose: Short Story, Defining Essay, Memoir, Commentary, and Mixed Genre

Genres of Short Prose: Short Story, Defining Essay, Memoir, Commentary, and Mixed Genre
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Many students find short prose genres confusing. For example, two students may write essays but one of them will call it a story, while the second student will call it a memoir. There is also a trending type of writing called a mixed genre, which makes this issue even more complicated. Don’t worry, is here to help you figure out what is the difference between all these short prose genres.

Short Story

A short story belongs to the category of fictional prose, however, such stories may be also based on real events or inspired by real people. Simply put, such stories present what the author considers to be fiction. They may be entirely made-up or based on real events similar to those described by an author. There are literary short stories, as well as stories that strictly follow the traditions of a certain genre (sci-fi, horror, romance, etc.).

Academic, Personal, and Narrative Essays

Personal essays, which are also referred to as narrative essays, look similar to short stories because they have a plot, characters, etc. However, these essays describe real events from an author’s life and so belong to the nonfiction category. At the same time, such essays are different from academic essays, which are nonfictional as well.

A personal essay focuses on the author’s personal experiences, while in academic essays, personal opinions or experiences play the secondary role or are not presented at all. Personal essays may be entertaining or aimed to illustrate an author’s argument using his or her experiences as examples.


Commentary and the personal essay format have something in common but also are quite different from each other. First, a commentary is usually no longer than a few hundred words and so shorter than a personal essay. A commentary is also written in a journalistic tone: you can easily imagine it published in a newspaper but not in a literary journal.


A memoir is a longer genre of nonfiction that focuses on the author’s perspective. The main difference between a memoir and a personal essay is the length: if you write a short work about your personal experiences, it will be a personal essay, while if you write a book, it will be a memoir. A memoir may also consist of many personal essays related to each other.

Nonfiction Short Story?

There’s no such genre as a nonfiction short story. Short stories are always fictional, no matter whether or not they were inspired by real-life events.

Mixed Genre

If you see a short prose piece that doesn’t fall into any of the categories above, it’s an example of a mixed genre. In the mixed genre, an author can easily combine fictional elements with nonfiction in any way possible. This term is also often used when talking about novels and books that mix sci-fi elements with the elements of a legal thriller. Mixed genre novels may also blend fiction with facts.

Tips on Mixed Genre Writing

Mixed genre writing is often self-aware, providing subtle hints for readers who were not fooled by the mix of facts and fiction. This is an experimental genre so you should choose a smart writing approach in order to meet the specifics of this genre.

You should also be clear about the genre of your writing because if you try to submit the mixed genre as a short story or an essay, editors may think that you’re trying to fool them. This is a reason why the mixed genre is self-referential: such works refer to themselves as being a combination of fiction and facts.

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