Tag Archives: Edgar Allan Poe

Some thoughts on the short story…..

I have an addiction which I have already owned up to in public: I’m addicted to quotations, to the bon mot. I love reading what others have written/said about form, style, narrative, content… I collect ‘sayings’, advice to writers, and reflections on a form. Although I’m primarily a playwright, I also write in different forms and for different media (radio drama, film) and when working in a particular genre, I avoid reading for pleasure in that style. There’s always a fear that unconsciously I’ll absorb or be influenced by what I’m reading, so I mix it up – read creative non-fiction when writing plays, short stories when screenwriting, poetry when digging deep into prose. Influence and inspiration may of course follow, but at least if I’m trying to write short stories, I’m not going to come out sounding like Raymond Carver.

When I’m really flat-out and focused on completing a project, I by-pass it all and read about reading and writing. So in celebration of this literary nerdiness, here are some quotations from Lorrie Moore to William Faulkner about that robust but most delicate of form, the short story:

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

“One has to imagine, one has to create (exaggerate, lie, fabricate from whole cloth and patch together from remnants), or the thing will not come alive as art… A story is a kind of biopsy of human life. A story is both local, specific, small, and deep, in a kind of penetrating, layered, and revealing way.” Lorrie Moore

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

“The novel…creates a bemusing effect. The short story, on the other hand wakes the reader up. Not only that, it answers the primitive craving for art, the wit, paradox and beauty of shape, the longing to see a dramatic pattern and significance in our experience.”  V.S.Pritchett

“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

“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

“A short story is the nearest thing I know to lyric poetry… A novel actually 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.”
William Faulkner

“A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.” Lorrie Moore


One hundred and fifty ‘rules’ for writing fiction: 111 – 114








More thoughts from those who have done it on how to do it….

111.)  A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.  (Edgar Allan Poe).

112). Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments. (Roddy Doyle).

113). For one thousand nights, before you sleep: Read one short story a night. Read one poem a night. Read one essay a night, from very diverse fields: politics, philosophy, religion, biology, anthropology, psychology, and so on. At the end of the one-thousand nights you’ll be full of stuff! All this stuff will be bouncing around in your head, and you’ll be able to come up with lots of new ideas. (Ray Bradbury).

114). Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.” (Geoff Dyer).