Writers On Writing / Giving feedback with Ryan O’Neill

“I think the biggest is to believe that writing a short story is just like writing a chapter from a novel; nothing could be further from the truth.” Ryan O’Neill gives us insight into writing short stories.

Which contemporary short story writers excite you the most?

I love Lydia Davis for her economy with words and unique style, Julie Koh for her sense of humour and strangeness, and Wayne Marshall for his originality and satire.

What’s the biggest mistake when it comes to writing short fiction?

There are many big mistakes, but I think the biggest is to believe that writing a short story is just like writing a chapter from a novel; nothing could be further from the truth.

What’s the best way to give and receive feedback? 

When giving feedback you should be trying to help the author realise the best version of their story. Your feedback should not be aimed at turning their story into the one you would have written. Sometimes this can be a difficult line to walk. When receiving feedback, try to be as open as possible and put your ego aside. Consider all suggestions, but don’t feel you have to accept all suggestions. You know your story best. Saying that, if three different readers give the same feedback about a scene or a character or a line of dialogue, that is a good sign that something is wrong there, and needs to be changed.


Ryan O’Neill is the author of The Weight of a Human Heart and Their Brilliant Careers. Born in Glasgow, he lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian StoriesThe Sleepers AlmanacMeanjinNew Australian StoriesWet InkEtchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards and been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Steele Rudd Award and the Age Short-Story Prize. His latest book, Their Brilliant Careers, won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award, and was shortlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Award.

Join Ryan O’Neill for his online course, Feedback: Short Stories, from 7 March to 20 May. This course will be held online. Enrol here >>

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