How to write short stories/novellas

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short storiesShort stories seem to be making a comeback both from existing writers (see Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher) as well as the unexpected (like the actor Jesse Eisenberg). They are obviously very different to novels, as explained wonderfully by Jane Gardem here:

“A novel is a trek home from the desert, sometimes a journey you wish you had never started. Exhausting and humbling, just occasionally wonderful. But a short story can come from a deeper part of the cave. In a novel you make preparations. You lay in for a siege, carrying a flickering lantern. For a short story you need to carry a blow-lamp for a building site.”

If you want to write short stories and don’t know where to start, here’s a quick guide:

Read short stories – Obvious really, but you need to be reading what you’re trying to write. There are some great shorts on americanliterature.com (by Stephen Crane here, by Guy de Maupassant here and another by Edith Wharton here). For a more modern flavour, try my favourites – The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King and Marion by Emma Cline. Plus, The Guardian recently ran Jonathan Tel’s winning entry in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Take tips from other short story writers – Watch Kurt Vonnegut give his 8 tips on writing good short stories here (“start as close to the end as possible”) and read Michelle Ule’s piece about how to write a novella in 5 steps on the Books and Such blog (she pretty much gives the same advice as for writing longer stories but it’s useful nonetheless).

Publish – There’s a real buzz around the new platform, MacGuffin, which is the place to self-publish shorter works or for the really short, you could use 100 word story.

There you have it. Easy as one, two, three.


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