Introduction to Short Story Writing
Maybe you’ve read a lot of short stories and want to start writing some of your own. Or maybe you’ve been writing stories, but can’t seem to get them published anywhere. We all know what a short story is, but what should a short story be? And what makes some better than others?
Having spent eight years editing literary magazines and working with some of the most notable authors in the industry, I know that not every fantastic short story starts out that way. But I also know that, through a careful, strategic approach, you can transform any story from good to great. Over the next ten lessons, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about crafting a killer short story (and getting it published).
Let’s talk about the most important point of writing short stories. Yes, short stories can help you land an agent and launch your entire writing career, which I’ve seen happen more than once, and they can make you a pretty penny. But the best thing that writing short stories can do is help you become a better writer.
How? Simply put, writing short stories teaches you to be focused, pointed, and concise. Because you don’t have 100,000 words to talk about side stories or histories, you must know exactly what you want to say and then figure out how to pare it down to its essence. Short stories are a great exercise in discovering where you spend too much time, what information you’re repeating, and how to make the most of what you give the reader.
The best thing that writing short stories can do is make you a better writer.
Where to Start?
Begin by asking yourself what you want to write about. And I don’t mean plot. Dig into the heart of what you are using your writing to uncover. Are you looking to crystallize loosely connected thoughts on social equality? Are you struggling to process a trauma in your life? Are you interested in the way social constructs crumble when people are pushed to their limits? Kneading at whatever elemental themes are driving you will allow you to create a more cohesive and powerful short story that resonates with readers.
Exercise: Peel back the top layer
Pull out your two favorite short stories: one you’ve written and one you’ve read. Reread each and write:
- A one-sentence description of what literally happens in the stories
- A one-sentence description of what is being explored below the surface.
Next, think about how these undertones manifest through plot — where and how do they appear? Is it through mood, character description, dialogue? Where are these elements subtle and where are they most obvious? How we perceive stories is the first step to changing the way we write them.
In the section below, I’ve recommended five of the best short story collections (in my opinion). I would highly recommend that you read them if you haven’t already.
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (book)
- Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor (book)
- The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis (book)
- A Hand Reached Down To Guide Me by David Gates (book)
- This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (book)