20 Short Stories That Will Make You A Better Writer

Don’t try to write short stories without reading some. Here are 10 modern and 10 classic stories to get you started.

Reading in front of the fire

Chosen by members of the StoryADay Superstars community

  • Perhaps you want to write short stories because novels seem overwhelming.
  • Perhaps you’ve been told that you ought to start with short stories.
  • Perhaps you read a short story you loved and thought “I want to do that!”

The rules for novels and movies don’t apply to short stories. Part of the fun of short story writing is that the form is so flexible.But how would you know that if you’re not reading them?.

Here are 20 great short stories you should read, suggestesd by the StoryADay community.

Each story is either a classic or one that stuck in the reader’s head for years.

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Short Stories I’ve Enjoyed in January 2020

I’m planning to read a story for every day of this year. In this new series, I share my favorite short stories from the month. I hope it’ll help you find some new inspiration, some new authors to follow, and some new places to share your work.

Woman, reading
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

January 2020’s Faves

Remedies –  Kali Fajardo-Anstine 

Accident – Agatha Christie

Meat and Salt and Sparks – Rich Larsen – The Hugo Longlist Anthology 2019

Leak – Sam Ruddick

When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis – Annalee Newitz

More Tomorrow – Premee Mohamed

Always Let Your Dragon Fly First Class – Wendy Nikel

If you’d like more analysis of short stories, check out the Reading Room series.

What have you read this month? Why not share a story in the comments?

[Reading Room] The Third Tower by Deborah Eisenberg

The Opening

Therese

Julia found it in a pile of old stuff. She didn’t want it so she said she would give it to Therese.

I love this as an example of starting in medias res. We dont know what it is of who they are, but THEY do.

In medias res means in the middle of things but it doesn’t necessarily mean a car chase or a fight. In the middle of a conversation where the participants know their world better than we do, counts too.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] The Third Tower by Deborah Eisenberg”

[Reading Room] No More Than A Bubble by Jamel Brinkley

The Reading Room is a series of posts where I review short stories with a writers’ eye.

The opening

“It was back in those days. Claudius Van Clyde and I stood on the edge of the dancing crowd, each of us already three bottles into one brand of magic brew, blasted by the music throbbing from the speakers. But we weren’t listening to the songs. I’d been speaking into the open shell of his ears since we’ve gotten to the party, shouting a bunch of mopey stuff about my father. Sometime around the witching hour, he stopped his perfunctory nodding and pointed towards the staircase of the house. “Check out these biddies,” he said. Past the heads of the dancers and would-be seducers I too saw the two girls he meant.”

So what do we know from these opening lines?

Continue reading “[Reading Room] No More Than A Bubble by Jamel Brinkley”

[Reading Room] The Great Interruption by Wendell Berry

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This story was featured in The Best American Short Stories 2019, edited by Anthony Doerr

This story’s full title is The Great Interruption: The Story of A Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased To Be Told (1935-1978). It’s a great example of the benefits of writing a lot, and never trying to sound like anyone else.

The Opening

The style of this short story was a challenge, for me. Its long, complex sentences, so unlike most of what I read these days, slowed me down. In fact, I had to read a page or so, out loud, to get myself into the rhythm of the narrator’s voice.

Even the title was confusing—until I untangled it, when it became intriguing.

It read like Mark Twain, like Charles Dickens: of a time and place that is not mine.

But I knew straight away it was going to be worth it. Here’s how it starts.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] The Great Interruption by Wendell Berry”

[Reading Room] Natural Light by Kathleen Alcott

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This story was featured in The Best American Short Stories 2019, edited by Anthony Doerr

This story was dense and literary with a slow-build to a quiet conclusion. It was not to my usual taste at all. I didn’t much care for the protagonist. It had several elements that usually make me roll my eyes. And yet when I got to the end of this story, I immediately wanted to read it again. 

The language slowed me down, but not in a way that annoyed me. The exact meaning was often opaque, but through repetition, the author showed me how to read it and understand it. It was an odd experience, and I really liked it.

The Opening

I won’t tell you what my mother was doing in the photograph—or rather, what was being done to her—just that when I saw it for the first time, in a museum crowded with tourists, she’d been dead for five years.

Kathleen Alcott, Natural Light

Well. Isn’t that intriguing? We don’t know anything about the characters before this opening line, but all of a sudden we know quite a lot. 

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Natural Light by Kathleen Alcott”

[Reading Room] The Era by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

This story was featured in The Best American Short Stories 2019, edited by Anthony Doerr

The Opening

“Suck one and die,” says Scotty, a tall, mostly true, kid. “I’m aggressive ’cause I think you don’t know sh*t.”


I’m used to not knowing what’s going on at the start of a story. I expect it.

But this story slid under my skin with that weird ‘mostly true’, quickly followed by the kid unexpectedly explaining himself to the victim of his insult.

Something about it seemed off, but it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to figure it out. It hinted to me that we were in the ‘not-now’.

It’s important to orient the reader in the first few lines (something I learned from Mary Robinette Kowal), with the ‘who’, the ‘where’ and the ‘genre’. I’m fairly sure this is goign to be a story featuring kids, and it’s not going to be realistic contemporary fiction.

For the first story in a collection of literary short stories (which can be, for my taste, a little relentlessly contemporary and realistic) this was a very promising start.

Continue reading “[Reading Room] The Era by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah”

[Reading Room] Theories of the Point of View… by Jennifer Wortman

This story is a great example of a short story that doesn’t follow a narrative structure but succeeds anyway.

Its full title is Theories of the Point of View Shifts In AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”

The Opening

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Theories of the Point of View… by Jennifer Wortman”

[Reading Room] Good With Boys by Kristen Iskandrian

This story captures the intensity of pre-teen life in all its aching glory and vibrating physicality. If you’re looking for a story that’s an example of how to create a strong voice for your first-person character, read this one!

The Opening

Continue reading “[Reading Room] Good With Boys by Kristen Iskandrian”