On Writing: The short story

I don’t really recall learning how to write a short story at school but I know I had brilliant English teachers so I must have. I was in the ‘Academic’ class at high school, that’s what the ‘A’ stood for at our school, as in 9A, 10 A etc. So this is why I find myself reading many short stories now. It started with the Ursula Le Guin’s incredible The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. I grew up watching The Twilight Zone so I was well versed in the short, punchy story with the insane twist at the end.

Then I read Raymond Chandler’s The Cathedral. This was very different. If Le Guin’s story is a one-two punch, Chandler’s is a flower slowly opening. Spoiler alert – there’s no gun, no sudden confession, just a man who has his eyes (and heart) open at the end, when they were clamped shut during the introduction.

Yesterday I came across The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. It was another one-two punch with an amazing covers. This is my fave; I think it might be the original.

Spoiler again…I did wonder if Suzanne Collins had read it before coming up with the idea for The Hunger Games. Unlike The Ones who Walk away from Omelas and The Cathedral, I was left wanting more from many of the stories. Maybe it takes a while to get used to reading short stories.

My friend Kate has some great short stories. Check out her work over at www.katekelsen.com.

I found a great article on The Bustle by Rebecca Kelly with a list of recommended short stories. Short stories, she says, are like a day trip to Paris (The Bustle is a UK site. I day trip to Paris would take me 3 days…) anyway… short stories are like a day trip to Paris. Exhausting, sure. But you still get to see the Eiffel Tower and eat a croissant. Considering I am preparing to write short stories set in Paris for the month of July I found it apt. The quote also inspired an idea for a day-tripping Brit photographer who goes to Paris, complains about the tourists, the cameras, the selfies, and goes home again. We will see if anyone ends up getting stoned to death, or perhaps have their eyes opened…

feature image by Moiz K Malik on Unsplash <3


  1. TammyB

    I don’t remember short stories from high school either but found some papers writing about them so we must have read them. I have come to learn I love short stories – writing and reading. The New Yorker Podcast [esp older ones] are great for short stories and there is a little discussion as well. Muriel Spark is amazing, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell too. I have favorites from each of them!


    1. Christine Betts

      Oh thanks so much for the tips. I’ll check them out. ☺️ my high school years are decades ago so I am not surprised that I don’t remember much! My senior English teacher went on to write two trilogies on King Arthur and Merlin that are brilliant and I so wish we’d known she was writing or at least listened when she told us. I was forever being told how clever I was at school and I fell into the trap of thinking I actually knew a thing or two. I so wish I’d listened and learned more.

      1. TammyB

        Decades ago for me as well! That is amazing that your teacher was a writer. I wish I would have absorbed more from college. I was so apt to get out and get a job! I loved the learning but didn’t appreciate all it was then.

      2. Christine Betts

        Same. This is why I write now I think. I am curious and just want to learn now about the things that fascinate me. If you’re interested my teachers name is MK Hume. The books are incredible.

  2. melcat76

    I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” in a compilation of his short stories, some of which were so haunting that they stayed with me to this day though it must be over 30 years since I read them. Ever read these? If not, then your education in short-stort writing would be missing an entire chapter. Locate and consume, then let’s discuss! X

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