Canada Writes

Lisa Moore's 5 tips for writing a great short story

The acclaimed writer reveals what she looks for in a good short story and how she goes about writing hers.
Lisa Moore is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. (Heather Barrett)

Lisa Moore is a Newfoundland-based writer. Her books include February, which won Canada Reads 2013 when it was defended by Trent McClellan, the YA novel Flannery and Caught, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2013 and was made into a miniseries for CBC television. Her latest book is the short story collection, Something for Everyone, which was longlisted for this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Last year, when Moore was a juror for the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize, she spoke to CBC Radio about the art of the short story and shared some helpful advice for those wanting to write a winning short story.

1. Use language wisely

"Begin with language. It should be innovative, experimental and imaginative. Every single word should matter. Writers should always choose their adjectives and adverbs with care. Voice is also important, including how the narrator speaks, and how the characters speak, to be able to actually hear the story. Those are a few of the things that make a good story great — when all these elements come together they move readers through the narrative in a beautiful wave of feeling and ideas."

2. Think about plot and tension

"Plot should be something that's thought about at all times. A story can be quiet — and there can be a tension that's produced through a shift in perception. Stories can be delicate or they can be powerful, but whichever way you go, the tension has to be maintained until the end of the story."

3. Polish your stories

"It's a cliché to say that it's important to rewrite, because every writer says that. But it's absolutely true! It's just like polishing an old teapot — you don't get the shine without the elbow grease. Be free and wild when dashing down the first draft. Then take your time and question each word when rewriting — shape those sentences so they do the work, the best work they can possibly do."

4. Break the mould

"It's important to explore what the short story can do and have fun with that. Even within that shape or form, you can have all kinds of innovation. Be inspired to write wild, wild things."

5. Let others read your work

"Sharing your work does require a kind of nakedness. You're putting your heart and soul out into the ether. I like to think of stories as messages in bottles. Write it down with everything you have and every moment of truth you can possibly capture — and then just stick it in a bottle and toss it out there! In this instance, I hope that the contest is the water that accepts that bottle and brings it back to shore. So, get writing!"

Lisa Moore's comments have been edited and condensed. 

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