Writing Short Stories (Online)

Starting out | Fiction
Learn the craft of short story writing, then create and polish new stories with an award-winning writer. Includes two masterclasses, led by internationally acclaimed short story writers to be confirmed.

A short story is a shot of vodka (Chekhov), a love affair to the novel’s marriage (Lorrie Moore), a high-wire act (Kevin Barry). It’s a hand grenade, a sprint, a shock, a shiver. There’s something taut, essential, elusive about it. There’s a magic to it, an alchemy. A short story can be a mood, or a spell. It can be six words long, or six hundred, or 16,000. Whatever its length, it has to infer the entire and immersive world of a novel, create the same depth of consciousness in its characters, with a mere fraction of the words.

There is a potency, a purity to the form, and there’s a playfulness, too, with what you can do, technically: writing in the second person, say, or the future tense. On the course we’ll explore the technical possibilities with that spirit of playfulness, working forward from the fundamentals of the form.

In this course, we’ll look at what a short story is, has been historically, and what it might be – using that reading to develop your own practice as a writer. From Angela Carter and Borges to Lydia Davis and David Hayden, we’ll look at fairytales and urban legends, at flash fiction, at the concept of the ‘well-made’ short story and how contemporary writers have dismantled it. We’ll read David Foster Wallace and Dorthe Nors and talk about coming-of-age stories. We’ll read Lucia Berlin and Akhil Sharma and talk about how to write your own life, and we’ll read Lesley Nneka Arimah and Hassan Blasim and discuss the modern fable. We’ll read Kevin Barry, who blew the contemporary Irish short story wide open, and we’ll read work by some of the most exciting emerging voices, such as Yan Ge and Melatu Uche Okorie, and discuss how to write contemporary life. We’ll read Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson and Elizabeth Bowen, looking at how to create and maintain a story’s mood. We’ll read Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish and learn how to edit our own work: where to begin, and where to end, and how to cut right down to the bone. We’ll end by looking at how and where to get your own work published, and at opportunities for unpublished and emerging writers.

Each session we’ll start by discussing your own work, consolidating what you’ve learned from the week’s exercises, carefully designed to get you writing, trying out different techniques, and having fun. We’ll then workshop two people’s writing, learning, in a safe and supportive space, how to sharpen our editorial instincts, how to read work-in-progress and give useful notes, how to hear and assimilate critiques – and how and when to discard them entirely.

This course is a whirlwind introduction to the short story and its possibilities, intended to inspire, invigorate and get you writing, whatever your age or stage.

20th January 2022 - 7th April 2022

Availability: In stock

15 Places

Sessions will take place 7pm–9pm every Thursday night for twelve weeks. Below is a session breakdown, which is subject to change, but should give you a good idea of what to expect.

Session 1 – Thursday 20 January: What is a short story? We'll think about where short stories come from, fairytales and folklore, about shaggy dog stories and urban myths. We'll look at the shortest short stories, from six words to flash fiction.

Session 2 – 27 January: On the cusp: some of the best short stories dramatise or simply capture a moment, a tipping point, a character on the verge. We'll look at how the best coming-of-age stories do this, and how we can learn from them.

Session 3 – 3 February: Ma wrote true stories, not necessarily autobiographical, but close enough for horseshoes, wrote Lucia Berlin's son. We'll look at secrets and shame and how they can be a strength: at how to write – or use – your own life.

Session 4 – 10 February: Masterclass with guest tutor TBC.

Session 5 – 17 February: The weird and wild and wonderful: we'll look at contemporary types of magic realism, and how to harness the power of the modern parable.

Session 6 – 24 February: WhatsApp? We'll look at how some of the most exciting contemporary writers are incorporating social media into their work, at how to write contemporary life, and how to write a compelling contemporary setting.

Session 7 – 3 March: With so few words to play with, every word needs to matter. In this session devoted to dialogue, we'll look at how to write what your characters aren't saying, and how to get the reader to read in between the lines.

Session 8 – 10 March: Masterclass with guest tutor TBC.

Session 9 – 17 March: We'll look at how to establish and maintain a mood and atmosphere, and how to choose and write the setting so that it becomes a living part of your story.

Session 10 – 24 March: Bravura techniques: we'll look at how the short story can use unusual and virtuoso techniques such as second person or choral narrators, being told backwards or in the future tense, and other unusual and exciting forms.

Session 11 – 31 March: We'll look at how to rewrite, revise and edit your work, having fun with the famous example of how Gordon Lish edited Raymond Carver.

Session 12 – 7 April July: We'll finish by devoting the final session to answering further questions and issues that have arisen over the course of the autumn. We'll look at how and where to get published and at opportunities for new writers. We'll finish with celebratory readings of everyone's work.

Note: Two people's work will be workshopped each week. Work submitted for discussion by the group can be that week's writing exercise or simply a passage on which you would value constructive criticism, of up to around 2,000 words.

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Born in Belfast in 1981, Lucy Caldwell is the multi–award winning author of three novels,...

"There's no point staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike - to get your creative muscles working you need to start writing, reviewing and sharing your work."

Helen Shipman