How To Write Short Stories: 20 Tips From The Greats

write short stories

You want to write.

But you don’t know what to write about.

If this sounds familiar, why not write short stories?

It is easier, shorter, and less complicated than writing a novel.

We’ve compiled some quotes from the greats to get you started on your short story.

The same quotes will also help you finish!

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

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2. “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”

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3. “When well told, a story captured the subtle movement of change. If a novel was a map of a country, a story was the bright silver pin that marked the crossroads.” ~ Ann Patchett

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4.“Short story collections are the literary equivalent of canapés, tapas and mezze in the world of gastronomy: Delightful assortments of tasty morsels to whet the reader’s appetite.” ~ Alex Morritt

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5. “So many people can now write competent stories that the short story is in danger of dying of competence.” ~ Flannery O’Connor

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6. “Finally I do like best of all stories whose necessity is in the implied recognition that someplace out there there exists an urgency—a chaos—, an insanity, a misrule of some dire sort which can end life as we know it but for the fact that this very story is written, this order found, this style determined, the worst averted, and we are beneficiaries of that order by being readers.”

~ Richard Ford

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7. “Long fiction is wonderful and you can lose yourself in it as a reader and as a writer, but short stories don’t allow the same kind of immersion. Often the best stories hold you back and make you witness them. This may be one of the reasons some people reject the form. That and the fact that they are harder work to read. A story will not let you get comfortable and settle in. It is like a stool that is so small that you must always be aware of sitting.” ~ Isobelle Carmody

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8. “Write what you like; there is no other rule.” ~ O. Henry

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9. “A short story is not a portrayal of life. When life becomes disconsolate and the fear for the unknown seeps through the holes on the walls that we thought could protect us, telling a story could greatly help. The tradition of storytelling was oral, once. It’s history. The wisdom in this history was the possibility to abide. Stories were medicines to drive away the ghosts of loneliness, boredom and ignorance.” ~ Anu Lal

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10. “A short story is a précis: it is an essential essence, a sharp quality distilled from quantitative narrative.” ~ Richard Bunning

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11. “If we’re lucky, writer and reader alike, we’ll finish the last line or two of a short story and then just sit for a minute, quietly. Ideally, we’ll ponder what we’ve just written or read; maybe our hearts or intellects will have been moved off the peg just a little from where they were before. Our body temperature will have gone up, or down, by a degree. Then, breathing evenly and steadily once more, we’ll collect ourselves, writers and readers alike, get up, “created of warm blood and nerves” as a Chekhov character puts it, and go on to the next thing: Life. Always life.” ~ Raymond Carver

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12. “For me, the short story is not a character sketch, a mouse trap, an epiphany, a slice of suburban life. It is the flowering of a symbol center. It is a poem grafted onto sturdier stock.” ~ William H. Gass

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13. “I am a dash man and not a miler, and it is probable that I will never write a novel. So far the novels of this war have had too much of the strength, maturity and craftsmanship critics are looking for, and too little of the glorious imperfections which teeter and fall off the best minds. The men who have been in this war deserve some sort of trembling melody rendered without embarrassment or regret. I’ll watch for that book.” ~ J.D. Salinger

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14. “How Are We to Live is a collection of short stories, not a novel. This in itself is a disappointment. It seems to diminish the book’s authority, making the author seem like somebody who is just hanging on to the gates of Literature, rather than safely settled inside.” ~ Alice Munro

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15. “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

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

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17. “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

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18. “The short story is a very natural mode of storytelling; most stories can be told quickly. I always think of them as like a tightrope walk – every sentence is a step along the rope, and you can so easily misplace your step and break your neck.” ~ Kevin Barry

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19. “I find it satisfying and intellectually stimulating to work with the intensity, brevity, balance and word play of the short story.” ~ Annie Proulx

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20. “A short story is a shard, a sliver, a vignette. It’s a biopsy on the human condition but it doesn’t have this capacity to think autonomously for itself.” ~ Will Self

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With all this inspiration, you should be raring to get started on writing your own short story.

But before you do, add the tips that excite you in the comments, to inspire others.

And if you liked this post, share it on social media!

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About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at WritetoDone.com. Grab a copy of her free report, How to Create an Irresistible Lead Magnet in Less Than 5 Hours. In her “spare” time, Mary’s also the brains behind AlistBlogging.net. and GoodlifeZEN.com, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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