Sometimes, it feels as though writing short stories or flash fiction can be harder than writing a full-length novel. You may be limited to a relatively short word or page count. You might not have any idea how to come up with a storyline that will fit into the length required for a short story. You might have too many ideas, but may not be sure how to get them to fit into the limits of word or page count.
The aim of this Spellbinder blog post is to offer some inspiration of how to go about tackling the challenges that short stories and flash fiction pose. This will come in the form of sharing a few works that I have read recently that I have found really inspiring, and which serve as excellent examples of one of the great powers of short fiction: saying a great deal without using many words at all.
This is simply a personal selection, shaped by my own interests and reading habits – if you have your own suggestions, or works that have inspired you then do please share them; we would love to hear from you.
Without further ado, here are three examples of short stories or short story collections that I have read recently and have found particularly inspiring.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver (1981)
This is a bit of classic choice – Carver is well know as one of the foremost American short story writers. His stories are populated by sharply-drawn characters who are often lonely or bored (or both) and with real clarity his stories offer revealing insight into the way people communicate (or do not). The main reason I have picked this collection, however, is because Carver’s work showcases the power of brevity. No word is wasted. Carver is a master of saying a great deal without writing very much.
The Forester’s Daughter – Claire Keegan (published in 2007 as part of the Walk the Blue Field collection of short stories).
This is a beautifully written short story that packs a great deal into relatively few pages. On the surface it is simply a story about a man who finds a dog. He then gives it to his daughter as a present, much to the unease of his wife. However, it is about so much more than that – marriage, loneliness, family, rural community – and is a great example of how short stories can create characters and worlds that feel well-rounded, real, and complex. Keegan has written a number of other short story collections and most recently has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2022 for her novella Small Things Like These.
Male Tears – Benjamin Myers (2021)
In his novels Myers often balances lyrical descriptions of the natural world and landscape with the often cruel and brutal behaviour of the people within it. That tendency is evident in this, his first collection of short stories, which I have chosen for this list because of the way they all centre on a particular theme: masculinity. Myers explores this complex theme in a variety of ways that result in an intriguing collection of stories that I have read again and again. It serves as an excellent example of how a short story collection can be used to approach a theme from a number of different angles.
I hope this post might inspire you to have a look at the authors and stories I have mentioned here and perhaps even influence you in your own writing of short stories and flash fiction; as ever, do let us know how you get on!
Ned Vessey, Blog Co-Ordinator