I'm looking to learn how to write good short stories, what are some good instruction manuals I should use to learn from?


4 Answers 4


I like the Modern Library Writer's Workshop by Stephen Koch. It's not limited to Short Stories, it covers fiction in general. But it's small and approachable and full of helpful ideas.


For writing short stories try this one:

  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway

I also found it really helpful to read a lot of short stories. Two anthologies I really liked were:

  • Points of View edited by James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny
  • The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, Shorter 7th Edition by Richard Bausch and R. V. Cassill

A couple of authors whose short stories I found inspirational were:

  • Anton Chekov
  • Leo Tolstoy (his novellas e.g "Kruetzer Sonata" and "Death of Ivan Illyich"
  • O' Henry
  • Guy DeMaupassant
  • Edgar Allan Poe

For more recent short stories you can pick up the last couple years of "Best American Short Stories" - which collects the best short stories by year.


This one's kind of "out there", but unbeatable if you'd like to take the organic, from-the-heart, not-the-head kind of approach: Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction. Rather than old-fashioned, technique-based instruction, Butler really encourages you to go to your "dream space" (almost becoming the character) to the point where you are walking around in your fictional world. You will soon "discover", he says, what is supposed to naturally happen next.

Another excellent one, which is more practical and down-to-earth: Ron Carlson Writes a Story. I love this one not just because it's a short read, but because Carlson actually takes you through pretty much the exact thought process he used to write one of his most popular stories. He pauses and tells you what he was thinking at each moment of the story-writing process, and tells you where he added content, debated about character choices, etc. One of the most unique elements of this book though, is that he also gives tips about your external environment, not just the story itself. He tells you how he got rid of distractions, set himself up in a good place to begin writing, and importantly, when he let himself take a break.


Two more suggestions:

Rick DiMarinis -- The Art & Craft of the Short Story

Rust Hills -- Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular

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