Writers On Writing / Ryan O’Neill recommends his top short stories

We asked author Ryan O’Neill to recommend a couple of his favourite short stories, ahead of his course Online Feedback: Short Stories, and he responded with some crackers. All stories are available to read online, so you can see what the fuss is about.

Asking a short story writer to choose their favourite short stories is like asking a parent to choose their favourite child, only much harder. However, here are some great examples of the form you can read online right now.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

Some beginner writers think that a short story needs to have a twist: an unexpected development at the end of the narrative. This is not the case. But if the story does have a twist, and only a twist, that doesn’t make it worth reading. Bierce’s story has one of the most famous twists in literature, but even without that it is beautifully written and unsettling.

Great Rock and Roll Pauses by Jennifer Egan

The brevity of a short story makes it a great place to try out weird ideas. No one would want to read a novel in lists, but a short story? Why not? How about a short story in questions? Or a short story in tweets? Or in the form of an index, or eulogy?

In Egan’s story, a child’s PowerPoint presentation about pauses in rock and roll songs packs in more emotion than many novels. Egan’s work shows taking risks in short fiction can pay off enormously.

Last Night by James Salter

Because of its length, and its focus, a short story can approach closer to perfection than a novel. It is possible to write a short story that doesn’t waste a word. This is one of those short stories.

A husband. A wife with a terminal disease. A friend of the couple.

To tell you any more would be criminal. Read it, and see what a short story can do.


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 Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings 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 course, Online Feedback: Short Stories, starting Monday 3 August. Enrol now>>

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