Writers On Writing / Kerryn Goldsworthy on writing memorable short stories

‘At its best the short story can simply stick in the memory and haunt the reader for a long time afterwards…’

Kerryn Goldsworthy is a freelance writer and critic who lectured in literature at the University of Melbourne for 17 years, specialising in creative writing and Australian literature and teaching courses on the short story. She has published a collection of short stories, North of the Moonlight Sonata, and has edited four anthologies of Australian short fiction. Her own short stories have been widely anthologised, notably in The Penguin Century of Australian Stories and The Oxford Book of Australian Short Stories.

Your first successful short story: how did you know it was working?

I knew as soon as I hit on the basic idea that it was going to work as long as the actual writing was good enough: it was a story about some people travelling in the outback, and at some point the map and the landscape become interchangeable, so that tiny animated drawings of rabbits hopping about appear on the map, and when the characters come to a place where there’s a hole in the map, the road disappears. I knew that was an idea I could get a lot out of, and could take to its logical conclusion.

What is one of the biggest challenges in short story writing?

Establishing mood and knowing what you want to do to the reader with that mood.

What can the short story achieve that other literary forms perhaps can’t?

At its best the short story can simply stick in the memory and haunt the reader for a long time afterwards – novels have too much stuff in them to be memorable from start to finish, and poems tend to be remembered mechanically if they depend on rhyme and metre. But a short story usually has one sharp focus or revelation in the narrative and one coherent mood, so the reader can remember it whole.

Study short story writing with Kerryn, The Short Story: As Long as a Piece of String, Sunday 30 July, 10am-4pm at the Centre.

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