As an aspiring writer, or even one who has successfully had work published, you are constantly on the search for inspiration for that next story, and inspiration can be drawn from a multitude of eclectic sources. Nothing should be considered off-limits in that, if your voice is genuine, the original source of the story, as long as it is not being plagiarized, is unimportant. With that in mind, looking for ideas should certainly involve reading as voraciously as possible.
Short stories in particular are a rich source of ideas, simply because in bite-size chunks, they offer a plethora of styles, voices and topics, especially within anthologies, from which to draw your focus. And there are literally hundreds of thousands of examples. That can be overwhelming, but any story should possess the ability to inspire, even if it is not a story that you have particularly resonated with. Great stories will provoke imitation, while others will give you the motivation to do better.
The five short stories listed here are the former: beautifully written pieces which will surely stir a desire to produce similarly inspirational pieces. So, without further ado, here are five stories which should certainly seek to inspire the writer within:
‘All Summer In One Day’ By Ray Bradbury
Although written in 1954, this short story by Ray Bradbury possesses one of the most elusive qualities in a piece of fiction: it is timeless. Set on a Venus, this sci-fi-themed tale follows a group of 9-year-olds as they await a momentous occasion: the presence of the sun, which is only seen on this rain-ravaged planet every seven years or so. And in the style of ‘Lord Of The Flies’, ‘All Summer In One Day’ examines the dynamic between a group of children in a harsh climate, and in that way it is a work of sci-fi that has a very real message to relay. Beautifully written and with an interesting premise, this tale is sure to stir your creative juices into looking for new angles to tell familiar and powerfully relevant stories.
‘Jug Of Silver’ By Truman Capote
This short story by the legendary author tells the tale of a young boy of an apparently simple nature, and his fascination with a jar of coins which is the focus of a competition in a small-town convenience store. Crafted as you would expect by Capote in a way that is beguiling and uncomplicated, ‘Jug Of Silver’ has that ability to leave a lasting impression despite the story itself being something quite unremarkable at first, but then hooking the reader with a sense of expectation. The story beautifully paints a picture of the 1950s small town America that it features, and introduces us to a cast of characters that are intriguing and normal in equal measure. And the child’s focus within the story is particularly revealing as to the talent and voice of the author, who is able to view events through this prism in such an authentic way that it is an inspiring piece of fiction for anyone wishing to explore a different voice in their writing.
“I am always fascinated and inspired by writers who have the capacity to deliver stories through the viewpoint of one so different through themselves. That, for me, is the genius of true storytelling,” argues Beatrice Round, a blogger at Britstudent.
‘Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption’ by Stephen King
Many will know the legendary movie based on this 1982 novella by acclaimed author Stephen King, but not quite as many will be familiar with the work of fiction that it was based on. Telling the story of Andy Dufresne’s wrongful incarceration in Shawshank prison, this really is an impeccable example of how a great story will always be the basis of inspiring works of fiction. In some ways a story of revenge in the theme of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, and in others a human journey and one examining friendship, there are so many layers to this work that it is not hard to see how it was the inspiration for one of the most critically acclaimed and popular movies of all time.
And it is perhaps no coincidence either that King’s story itself was based on another short story, ‘God Sees The Truth, But Waits’, by Leo Tolstoy. That is revealing of the perpetual spark that is created by a truly wonderful piece of fiction.
‘Cathedral’ By Raymond Carver
Another extremely well-known piece of work and unsurprising to find on this list, Carver’s 1983 short story is a masterpiece of metaphor and suggestion. Told in the author’s famously minimalist style, it is the tale of a blind man who comes to dinner at a couple’s home. Through the narrator’s perspective we learn that the host, who is indeed the narrator, is jealous of the relationship between his wife and the blind man, who have been sharing communications. Through conversations and the drawing of a cathedral after dinner we see the development of the relationship between the narrator and the blind man, and at the heart of the story is the examination of the ability of one who cannot see to inspire another to do so through different eyes. Intriguing and inspiring in equal measure, the introspection the tale provokes is at the core of its genius, and is ripe material to invoke a desire to produce something equally as meaningful.
‘Paper Menagerie’ By Ken Liu
The most recent work on this list is also one of the most successful from an awards perspective: the 2011 story won the three most prestigious sci-fi/fantasy awards of the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award. Once again it is a simple tale – a feature of many of the great stories – and examines the timeless topic of cultural differences, both at a societal and personal level. In that way it resonates with anyone who has ever experienced the notion of being ‘different’ or has tried to fit in somewhere, and that is perhaps the key to the story’s inspiration – that and the fact that is written with such an element of emotion that it stays with you long after you have finished reading.
Liu’s subject matter here is particularly contemporary due to the relevance of the subject matter in the world today, but at the same time it is a universal message which transcends nationality, and has the mark of genius in that it works at various levels too.
“Liu’s work is a prime example of how, once again, examining all-too-familiar issues through a fresh perspective is one of the most compelling ways of producing a fine work of fiction,” adds Mark Hellman, a writer and editor at Australia2write.
It is an impossible task restricting this list to five because there are simply so many examples of wonderful storytelling available in the short-story format. It is also worth trawling through the published entries to the countless numbers of short-story competitions which take place each year to find fresh examples of beguiling fiction. And due to the very nature of taste and perspective, everyone can find something in a story to wrap up and keep for inspiration at a later stage.
Emily Marchant is a marketing manager at PhdKingdom and Nextcoursework, renewing and retaining existing subscription-holders. From sponsored content to effective advertising campaigns and well-judged PR events, moving through the dissemination of newsletters and the building of fruitful partnerships. Her skill sets include project management and effective team collaboration.