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35 Beautiful and Insightful Quotes about Short Stories

                                     I.

How to Mix Voices Like Annie Proulx

“In a rough way the short story writer is to the novelist as a cabinetmaker is to a house carpenter.” – Annie Proulx

II.

“A good short story crosses the borders of our nations and our prejudices and our beliefs. A good short story asks a question that can’t be answered in simple terms. And even if we come up with some understanding, years later, while glancing out of a window, the story still has the potential to return, to alter right there in our mind and change everything.” ― Walter Mosley

III.

“Find the key emotion; this may be all you need know to find your short story.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

IV.

“It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power.” – Raymond Carver

V.

“Short stories consume you faster. They’re connected to brevity. With the short story, you are up against mortality. I know how tough they are as a form, but they’re also a total joy.” – Ali Smith

VI.

“I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft.” – George R.R. Martin

VII.

“A short story I have written long ago would barge into my house in the middle of the night, shake me awake and shout, ‘Hey, this is no time for sleeping! You can’t forget me, there’s still more to write!’ Impelled by that voice, I would find myself writing a novel. In this sense, too, my short stories and novels connect inside me in a very natural, organic way.” – Haruki Murakami

VIII.

“A short story is confined to one mood, to which everything in the story pertains. Characters, setting, time, events, are all subject to the mood. And you can try more ephemeral, more fleeting things in a story – you can work more by suggestion – than in a novel. Less is resolved, more is suggested, perhaps.” – Eudora Welty

IX.

“When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you.” – George Saunders

X.

“You become a different writer when you approach a short story. When things are not always having to represent other things, you find real human beings begin to cautiously appear on your pages.” – Zadie Smith

XI.

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” – Ray Bradbury

XII.

Neil Gaiman Writing Tips

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” – Neil Gaiman

XIII.

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” – Andre Dubus

XIV.

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced that there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes but by no means always find the way to do it.” – John Steinbeck

XV.

“The great thing about a short story is that it doesn’t have to trawl through someone’s whole life; it can come in glancingly from the side.” – Emma Donoghue

XVI.

“A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” – David Sedaris

XVII.

“With a novel, which takes perhaps years to write, the author is not the same man he was at the end of the book as he was at the beginning. It is not only that his characters have developed—he has developed with them, and this nearly always gives a sense of roughness to the work: a novel can seldom have the sense of perfection which you find in Chekhov’s story, The Lady with the Dog.” – Graham Greene

XVIII.

“Short stories are fiction’s R & D department, and failed or less-than-conclusive experiments are not just to be expected but to be hoped for.” – Walter Kirn

XIX.

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”
– Edgar Allan Poe

XX.

“Most stories we tell in real life are under 500 words. You’re at a party, everyone has a glass of wine, and suddenly you have the floor. You throw out your little story like a grenade. ‘Once I knew a guy who…’ And if you have any social graces at all, you probably keep it under 500. So my advice would be this: Don’t get all up in your head thinking short-short stories have to be poetry without the line breaks. Don’t put on your beret. Just tell a story, an actual story. Quick, while they’re still listening.” – Rebecca Makkai

XXI.

“When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium.” – Truman Capote

XXII.

Michael Swanwick

“A short story…can be held in the mind all in one piece. It’s less like a building than a fiendish device. Every bit of it must be cunningly made and crafted to fit together perfectly and without waste so it can perform its task with absolute precision. That purpose might be to move the reader to tears or wonder, to awaken the conscience, to console, to gladden, or to enlighten. But each short story has one chief purpose, and every sentence, phrase, and word is crafted to achieve that end. The ideal short story is like a knife–strongly made, well balanced, and with an absolute minimum of moving parts.” – Michael Swanwick

XXIII.

“I don’t think I would ever want to be a writer of detective stories – but I would like to be a detective and there is a large deal of detection in the short story.” – Mary Lavin

XXIV.

“Great short stories and great jokes have a lot in common. Both depend on what communication-theorists sometimes called “exformation,” which is a certain quantity of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient.” – David Foster Wallace

XXV.

Roger Selazny

“One of my standard — and fairly true — responses to the question as to how story ideas come to me is that story ideas only come to me for short stories. With longer fiction, it is a character (or characters) coming to visit, and I am then obliged to collaborate with him/her/it/them in creating the story.” – Roger Zelazny

XXVI.

“In short stories there’s more permission to be elliptical. You can have image-logic, or it’s almost like a poem in that you can come to a lot of meanings within a short space.” – Karen Russell

XXVII.

“Short fiction is the medium I love the most, because it requires that I bring everything I’ve learned about poetry – the concision, the ability to say something as vividly as possible – but also the ability to create a narrative that, though lacking a novel’s length, satisfies the reader. – Ron Rash

XXVIII.

“Short stories can be rather stark and bare unless you put in the right details. Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better.” – V. S. Pritchett

XXIX.

“Short stories do not say this happened and this happened and this happened. They are a microcosm and a magnification rather than a linear progression.” ― Isobelle Carmody

XXX.

“We get so many people saying short fiction is not economical, that it doesn’t sell; but there are so many of us enjoying writing it and reading it. So it’s wonderful to be around people who love short fiction too – it’s like hanging around with my tribe.”
– Junot Diaz

XXXI.

“Everything has to be pulling weight in a short story for it to be really of the first order.” – Tobias Wolff

XXXII.

“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” – Henry David Thoreau

XXXIII.

“I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn’t that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn’t mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish.”  – Alice Munro

XXXIV.

“I’ll give you the whole secret to short story writing. Here it is. Rule 1: Write stories that please yourself. There is no Rule 2.” – O. Henry

XXXV.

“I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.” –Cormac McCarthy

 

This article is reblogged from Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

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Writing Advice And Inspiration

download‘A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something.’ Esther Freud

download (6)‘Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.’ Will Self

Nobel-Prize-Literature‘I always have to know my characters in a lot of depth–what clothes they’d choose, what they were like at school, etc . . . And I know what happened before and what will happen after the part of their lives I’m dealing with.’ Alice Munro

download (7)‘Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. This sounds easy, but in practice is incredibly difficult… Common phrases have become so comfortable that they create no emotional response. Take the time to invent fresh, powerful images.’ George Orwell
images (10)‘Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.’ Zadie Smith

download (8)‘Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.’ Elmore Leonard
images (11)‘Don’t say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers Please will you do the job for me.’  CS Lewis
images (12)‘Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.’ Joyce Carol Oates
images (13)‘My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.’ Anton Chekhov

download (11)‘Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.’ Margaret Atwood
download (7)‘Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion.’ Franz Kafka
images (15)‘Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ­people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.’ PD James


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Short Story Writing

writing

I am in the thick of writing short stories and I really enjoy the punch that you can use to mould a high-impact piece of writing. Last night I read the new issue of Paraxis, a wonderful online publisher of short stories, and I was impressed by the range of prose delivered and the tension created in each short story. This current issue 04 is a publication of the works of both developing and established writers and the combination gels in a surprisingly smooth run of stories:

Seclusion

by Alison Moore

Looking out of Broken Windows
by Dan Powell

Saving Face
by Emma Seaman

The Rat-catcher
by Lorrie Hartshorn

Defacement
by Stuart Snelson

The House in the Woods
by Emily Cleaver

Dan Powell’s metaphorical cracked window panes were still on my mind this morning. The other stories had a similarly disturbing effect. Good writing, writing which lasts, leaves you feeling changed, it forces you to see the world through a different lens and nowhere more so than through a short piece of fiction.

My personal preference is for literary fiction, as that is what I immerse myself in when I read and write, but I was given Ian Rankin’s collection of short stories, Beggars Banquet, for Christmas. In a disturbing and gripping set of stories he covers stories of Edinburgh’s underworld to startling effect. It is important to read outside your genre and read widely, so my repertoire of books is expanding. There was an interesting review of Rankin’s collection on Amazon from a reader who does not usually read short stories who said it was like reading a whole novel in a short story.

This is the essence of the the short story. It should be a complete story in somewhere under 5,000 words. Many are a good deal shorter, but never lacking in impact, never leaving the reader wondering about the rest of the story, apart from to search for meaning and to think about where the characters have been and how they will be impacted by an event or a ending.

Fish Publishing, who publish anthologies of the works of international emerging writers and poets, describes the writing of short stories as being, ‘a glance at the miraculous. Joyce used a religious word. He called his stories ‘epiphanies’. A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realization. Or a hint of that. A quiet bomb. There is a record by the American singer Tori Amos called Little Earthquakes. That’s a good metaphor for a short story. Often, a good short story will be a little earthquake.’

In an Introduction to the 1997 Fish Anthology, Dog Days & Other Stories,
Joseph O’Connor says this about the writers of this genre:

What kind of strange creature is a short story writer? I must confess that I don’t know. A high priest or priest of art? A wounded soul who can’t understand the real world and thus feels a need to re-invent it? A moralist? A Spinner of yarns? An entertainer? A prophet? Probably all of these things. Possibly none.

The single fact I can be sure about is this: writers are watchers. The one and only thing they have in common is an ability to look at the everyday world and be knocked out by it. Stopped in their tracks. Startled. Gobsmacked.

In an Introduction to the 2003 Fish Anthology, Feathers and Cigarettes & Other Stories, Pat McCabe quotes Frank O’Connor in saying that the form is as close as you could get to the lyric poem:

Henry Thoreau said that it didn’t have to be long but it would take a long while if you wanted to make it short. What was he saying this about? About the form we know as the ‘short story’. Everyone over the years has had something to say on the subject. For V S Pritchett it was an athletic form. If you got a good start you could sprint to the end, unlike the nineteenth-century novel. For Frank O’Connor, it was the closest you could get to the lyric poem, in that the novel requires far more logic and far more knowledge of circumstances, whereas a short story can have the sort of detachment from circumstances that lyric poetry has.

Katherine Ann Porter wrote her stories in one sitting. Or so she said. But then writers say all sorts of things. Another thing that was said about the form – and I think it’s a good one – can be attributed to William Trevor. That it’s the ‘art of the glimpse’. Meaning that if the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story tends more towards impressionism. It is an explosion of truth and its strength ought to lie in what it leaves out as much as what it puts in, if not more.

As an aside – Just after I finished writing this post I discovered Charles May’s post on The Secret Life of the Short Story. In it, he discusses the work of  Alice Munro and William Trevor, two of the greatest short story writers in the world today. Munro has been compared to Chekhov. You can read a post on Chekhov’s short stories if you are interested.