Learn from the Best
As an occasional short story writer, I often look to authors I admire for inspiration. As a creative writing facilitator, I always try to examine the craft of writing to see what I can learn from other authors. These are some lessons I’ve picked up from three favourite short story writers.
- For me, a love of short stories started with Dorothy Parker. If I’m feeling down, rereading The Standard of Living or I Live on Your Visits never fails to lift my spirits. What I can learn from this mistress of prose is that humour is a great way to show character. That laughter, instead of hiding pain, can bring it into sharper psychological focus. The glib tone may just be a clever disguise—as a writer, use it to trick the reader.
- Banana Yoshimoto is one of my much-loved short story writers. What this Japanese wunderkind gives me is a polished simplicity and honesty. She lives the Keep It Simple rule. The less frills—the more thrills. In the story Helix, she recounts a single event, a casual date with a girl, but manages to transform it into an archetypal love story. What I try to take from this storyteller is to show characters at that one crucial moment of change in their lives.
- The one writer I find myself turning to again and again is David Leavitt. Another master of minimalism, his short stories are often better than his novels. An early story, Territory, was published in the New Yorker and tells of a young man mapping out his own emotional and sexual territory on a trip back home. In Roads to Rome, he shows the chaotic creative ‘family’ surrounding an Italian matriarchal figure. For me, Leavitt shows me to be authentic—to write about what I know, feel, live. The lesson: a coolly observed detachment around an intimate or familiar theme can give it deeper resonance.
When you start your next short story, take a trip back to your favourite short story writers and jot down the lessons you could take away from their work—and use them in your own stories.
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