If you need a quick refresher on how to write a good short story...well, you're out of luck. The art of the short story takes a long, long time to learn. However, there are tools you can pick up along the way that can help a whole lot — and one of the places you can always glean a ton is within the pages of books. These 14 short story collections are a great place to start.
These authors have mastered the short story, and their books have much to teach within the text. Aside from the craft terms you've had circling your brain since middle school (symbolism, allegory, characterization, imagery...), there are quite a few things that can't be as easily defined. Sure, a great writer knows the rules, but a great writer also knows how and when to break them.
This list of short story collections covers the literary spectrum when it comes to style, subject matter, and length. You'll come away from each with a new perspective on what exactly can be accomplished in a short story — and hopefully you'll be inspired to push boundaries in your own writing. So take a break, pick up a book, and just read. Your writing will be better for it.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
It's no secret that Raymond Carver is considered one of the masters of the short story. His most beloved collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, nails the craft on the head. Reading Carver can teach you many, many things — but if there's one thing this collection is bound to instill in you, it's that leaving things unsaid says a whole lot. Carver doesn't spell things out for his readers, but somehow manages to make everything clear through his lack of telling. Now that's discipline.
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
This man knows how to tell a story, and even more so, he knows how to end one. Nine Stories is a collection of the author's best, filled with as much neurosis as unsympathetic characters. What'll you learn? That sometimes you don't have to have a perfectly tied-together ending. In fact, sometimes it's a whole lot better not to.
The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston is better known for her powerful novels (Their Eyes Were Watching God, anyone?), but her talent doesn't stop there. This collection of stories is rich in imagery, one of Hurston's specialties. Every writer can learn something from the vivid portraits she draws with her words — and maybe expand their go-to vocabulary in the process.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Hailed as one of the greatest short story collections of all time, O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find is a provocative work that has earned her a spot amongst the literary masters. Her work is full of symbolism, so if you need to better your own understanding of how representative objects work in text, there's no better teacher.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
Haunting in its depiction of humanity, Packer's stories mostly follow the lives of teenage girls as they explore their own black roots and where that identity has taken them. Her writing is capable of breaking molds on character stereotypes — something all writers can learn from.
The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
Every short story ever written by Kafka is housed in this giant (and wonderful) collection, from the ever-memorable "The Metamorphosis" to the equally loved "A Hunger Artist." One of his greatest talents? Writing an allegory. Want to create double meaning in your writing? Turn to Kafka.
The Elephant Vanishes: Stories by Haruki Murakami
Murakami knows how to build incredible universes within the space of a single story. Often influenced by the world around him, his writing balances on a thin line between realism and surrealism. How does he do it? Location is key. If you want a story's setting to be integral to the work (and who doesn't, really?), then read Murakami.
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
July's stories range from wildly inappropriate to insanely bizarre, and just about everywhere in-between. One thing they always seem to accomplish, regardless? The ability to capture humanity in the most vulnerable of spaces. If you're afraid to be bold with your writing, take a read through July's work to see the power of crossing the line. It might make you rethink keeping things clean and tidy all the time.
Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Akutagawa isn't afraid to go beneath the surface level of his characters, no matter how vile they may be. A social critic, his stories explore the paradoxical nature of this world and those of us who inhabit it. His characters are complex, and there's no doubt that their intricacies hold value for any writer.
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
Written by a Pulitzer Prize winner, This Is How You Lose Her is a literary masterpiece. While made up of nine separate stories, each one of them revolves around the same beloved character. The collection's greatest achievement is its ability to show every side of love. If you want to know how to conquer a theme from inside and out, check out this work.
Stories by Anton Chekhov
Beautifully translated, this collection of Chekhov stories is one worth checking out — especially if you're a fan of Russian literature. Even if you're not interested in writing a psychological thriller, there is value in understanding the psychology of your characters, which Chekhov has down pat.
The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis has not only conquered the short story, but flash fiction as well. She's widely admired for her unique ability to wreak havoc, inject emotion, and throw in a few laughs in such a compact space. Davis sticks to no formula, and her inventive prose proves just that — take a look and see what it's like for an author to break the rules.
The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
In The Stories of Eva Luna, Isabel Allende brings one of her favorite characters from Eva Luna back to the page for a series of individual narratives. Her use of realism is on point, teaching writers and readers exactly how you can create an entire world on the page via in-depth characterization, full-bodied environments, and a whole lot of pathos.
Bark by Lorrie Moore
Lorrie Moore is an author that is hard to compare to any other because of her unique storytelling abilities and darkly humorous perception of the world. This acclaimed collection is one of her best, and one that can certainly teach the aspiring writer how to move away from being dependent on plot, instead focusing in on misfit details.
Image: Lívia Cristina L. C./Flickr