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This blog was featured on 05/30/2018
Curtis Sittenfeld on Writing Short Stories
Written by
She Writes
May 2018
Written by
She Writes
May 2018

Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of five bestselling novels. Her collection of short stories titled, You Think It, I'll Say It came out in April 2018. Recently she chatted with She Writes about writing short stories. 

SW: Which did you find more difficult: writing a novel or a collection of short stories? Why?

CS: A novel—it requires more patience and, at the level of paper management, more organization.

SW: When did you realize that your short stories were actually a collection? Do you set a theme early on or did it evolve over time?

CS: I semi-secretly yearned to write a story collection for a while, mostly because I love reading stories. I started wondering if it could be a reality when I'd amassed only about four stories I felt good about, and I waited until I had more like seven to show my editor. I realized certain themes were recurring—the pull of the past, the strangeness of celebrity and social media, the mysteries of marriage—and I made the decision to embrace these themes rather than trying to introduce new ones for the sake of mixing it up.

SW: How do you ensure your audience connects with a character in a short story (when you don't have as much time to develop them as you would in a novel)?

CS: I try to make my characters complex and flawed and vulnerable the way real people are, then I just hope for the best!

SW: Your stories explore the recent political landscape, but without force. How would you advise writers cover big subjects, but avoid pushing an agenda?

CS: Weirdly, I feel confusion about some of the topics and characters I write about, but I think my own confusion can serve me as a writer. If I have a crystal clear opinion about a topic, it's probably better to write non-fiction and to save the ambiguity for fiction.

SW: What advice do you have for an aspiring author? Particularly someone interested in exploring the short story form?

CS: If you want to be a writer, you need to write. Make sure to carve out time in your schedule (best done by planning in advance, then disconnecting from the Internet when your writing time is underway) and also don't be discouraged if your work doesn't turn out that well in the first draft. More concretely, you can't go wrong reading the annual anthologies Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. 

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  • I love the idea that your own confusion can serve you in writing fiction. I've found that to be true as well!