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14 Short Stories Every Creative Writing Major Should Read

Bad writers steal. Good writers imitate.

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1. "How to Become a Writer" by Lorrie Moore


Moore accurately describes the process of needing to write but not quite knowing how to.

"Later on in life you will learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them. You, however, have not yet reached this stage of literary criticism."

2. "A temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri / Via

A wonderfully crafted story. Lahiri's writing style is deliberate and descriptive. This is a beautiful story about a couple trying to deal with the implications of the death of their child.

"'Let's do that,' she said suddenly.

'Do what?'

'Say something to each other in the dark.'

'Like what? I don't know any jokes.'

'No, no jokes.' She thought for a minute. 'How about telling each other something we've never told before.'"

3. "White Angel" by Michael Cunningham / Via

A harrowing and stunning story about the bonds of brotherhood.

"We have taken hits of acid with our breakfast juice. Or rather, Carlton has taken a hit and I, considering my youth, have been allowed half. This acid is called windowpane. It is for clarity of vision, as Vicks is for decongestion of the nose. Our parents are at work, earning the daily bread. We have come out into the cold so that the house, when we reenter it, will shock us with its warmth and righteousness. Carlton believes in shocks."

4. "Bullet in the Brain" by tobias Wolff


You can also hear Wolff read 'Bullet in the Brain" in an episode of This American Life

Wolff creates the perfect unlikeable character while seamlessly making the reader sympathetic to his story.

"Anders burst out laughing. He covered his mouth with both hands and said, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry," then snorted helplessly through his fingers and said, 'Capeesh, oh, God, capeesh,' and at that the man with the pistol raised the pistol and shot Anders right in the head."

5. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" / Via

First published in The New Yorker in 1948, it follows a young married couple while on vacation however the story never places them together until the shocking ending.

"'Well, they swim into a hole where there's a lot of bananas. They're very ordinary looking fish when they swim in. But once they get in, they behave like pigs. Why, I've known some bananafish to swim into a banana hole and eat as many as seventy-eight bananas.'"

6. "Miles City, Montana" by Alice Munro / Via

Alice Munro has revolutionized short stories. As it follows a family's vacation and a mother's flashes into the past, "Miles City, Montana" touches on themes such as movement in time, death, and parental accountability.

"When they set out, hours before, the dogs were nervy and yelping, the men tense and determined, and there was a constrained, unspeakable excitement about the whole scene. It was understood that they might find something horrible."

7. "The Beginnings of Grief" by Adam Haslett / Via

This story shows how to write about grief, sadness, and loss in the most heartbreaking and extraordinary way.

"A year after my mother's suicide I broke a promise to myself not to burden my father with worries of my own. I told him how unhappy I was at school, how lonely I felt. From the wing chair where he crouched in the evenings he asked, "What can I do?"

8. "The Rememberer" by Aimee Bender / Via

Bender's "The Rememberer" teaches how to make the surreal believable.

"My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don't know what happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape. It's been a month and now he's a sea turtle."

9. "Lust" by Susan Minot / Via

Not only is "Lust" written in second person, Minot plays with the form and arc of what makes a typical story.

"Lots of boys, but never two at the same time. One was plenty to keep you in a state. You'd start to see a boy and something would rush over you like a fast storm cloud and you couldn't possibly think of anyone else. Boys took it differently. Their eyes perked up at any little number that walked by. You'd act like you weren't noticing."

10. "The Hartleys" by John Cheever / Via

A perfectly crafted story about an All American family who are not as happy as they seem.

"'Why do we have to come back?' Mrs. Hartley was crying. 'Why do we have to come back? Why do we have to make these trips back to the places where we thought we were happy? What good is it going to do? What good has it ever done?'"

11. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor / Via

The iconic Flannery O'Connor is the master at writing about realistic yet grotesque Southern characters.

"The grandmother has the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was."

12. "Redeployment" by Phil Klay / Via

Phil Klay's first novel won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction. The title story is an honest and chilling look at integrating back into society after serving time in the military.

"When I got to the window and handed in my rifle, though, it brought me up short. That was the first time I'd been separated from it in months. I didn't know where to rest my hands. First, I put them in my pockets, then I took them out and crossed my arms, and then I just let them hang, useless, at my sides."

13. "Forever Overhead" by David Foster Wallace / Via

"Happy birthday. Your thirteenth is important. Maybe your first really public day. Your thirteenth is the chance for people to recognize that important things are happening to you."

A beautiful and sweet story that embodies the change of adolescence. David Foster Wallace's ability to capture a single moment and draw it out is unparalleled.

14. "Notes for Young Writers" by Annie Dillard / Via

A step-by-step guide to writing. The best advice comes from the writer's pen.

"Read books you'd like to write. If you want to write literature, read literature. Write books you'd like to read. Follow your own weirdness."

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