Kirsty Logan on writing short stories that stand out

We’re delighted to welcome Kirsty Logan to the blog today. We’re all huge fans of her short fiction and excited that she’s judging the Short Story category in this year’s RW Prize.

We asked her all about her inspiration for her own writing and what makes a short story memorable for her.

What’s the best advice you can give to writers looking to master the short story form?

Remember that a short story should be just that – a story. A short word count doesn’t mean that nothing has to happen, or there isn’t room to explore a proper narrative, or to have strong characters, a vivid sense of place or a fully-explored theme. Make sure every word counts.But at the same time – a story should read smoothly. Your prose doesn’t have to be so dense and worked-over that it’s exhausting to read. Sometimes it’s best to write clearly and plainly.

Who inspired you when you started writing short stories? What was it about their work that resonated with you?

I read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch at an impressionable age, and they’ve stayed with me ever since. I love the beauty and surprise in their language, and their exploration of women’s complex and messy lives. I also grew up reading Roald Dahl, and graduated to his adult short stories before I was old enough, really. Although I’m not much of a ‘twist in the tale’ writer like Dahl, I do love a dark sense of humour and a final line that makes you look differently at the rest of the story.

What kinds of stories do you hope to see when reading the shortlist for the Short Story Prize?

I hope to be surprised and delighted and challenged.

What elements will make a story stand out for you when you read the shortlist?

Prose that manages to be both clear in its meaning and unexpected in its use of language. Characters that feel real and also unfamiliar. Stories that don’t go where you’d expect but also end in a satisfying way. A point of view unique to the writer. 

Is there a short story you wish you’d written that completely blew you away when you first read it?

Far too many for me to list them all! I’m consumed by envy all the time when I read. But I try to use that as inspiration to push myself creatively, try new things, and keep improving my writing skills.

Who are your favourite short story writers and what do you like so much about their work?

I love Joan Aiken’s surreal imagery and unexpected phrasings, Camilla Grudova’s earthy and anachronistic world-building, Daniel Ortberg’s dark humour and use of fairytale, Lindsay Hunter’s boldness, Shirley Jackson’s bleakness, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s intensity and ability to say so much in so few words, Heather Parry’s willingness to explore unsettling subjects, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s depictions of the complex ties of family, Paul McQuade’s explorations of language, and Mariana Enriquez’s use of lushness and horror.

Thanks so much for these insights, Kirsty.

You have until 31st October to get your stories polished up and sent in for the 2021 Prize.

There’s £960 in cash prizes available and everyone shortlisted gets published in our annual anthology.

Read last year’s winners here.