Short stories may be magical creations, but writers need more than a wand. Judges of the 2010 Nelson Algren contest answer two questions about the craft of writing.
•Peter Ho Davies, a professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor's graduate program in creative writing, is the author of the novel "The Welsh Girl" and story collections "The Ugliest House in the World" and "Equal Love."
•Sam Lipsyte is a professor at Columbia University New York and a Guggenheim Fellow. His novels include "The Ask," "Home Land" and "Venus Drive."
•Margot Livesey, raised in Scotland, is distinguished writer-in-residence at Emerson College in Boston. She is the author of a story collection and six novels, including most recently "The House on Fortune Street."
Q: Best advice you've received about writing a short story?
Davies: Lorrie Moore's description of a short story as an "end-based" form crystallized a sense I share that a story lives or dies by its ending, much more so than a novel.
Lipsyte: There is no "getting to the good part." It all has to be the good part.
Livesey: The best advice I know comes from Sidney Cox's book "Indirection." He says, and I paraphrase, every sentence should do three things: reveal the character, advance the plot, deepen the theme.
Q: What is a favorite short story you've read, and why?
Davies: "The Dead" by James Joyce is a favorite story, for its transcendent ending. More recently I recall being struck by Charles Baxter's story "The Cousins," which appeared in this fall's Best American Short Stories 2010 and in his collection "Gryphon: New and Selected Stories."
Lipsyte: "The Falls," by George Saunders, because of the brilliant writing, of course, which is the way you make everything the good part, and also for how it shows that two worldviews can be nearly touching and yet miles apart, and how the difference is everything.
Livesey: My favorite short story changes every week. This week's is Frank Conroy's "Midair." I love how the story depicts a young boy, Sean, experiencing a traumatic event — his mentally unstable father nearly dropping him out of a high window — and then for several decades losing all conscious memory of that event. The suspense of the story, as we follow Sean through adult life, comes from wondering when, or whether, he will ever remember.
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