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Epiphany: Catherine Cole’s Lecture on How to Write a Short Fiction

Last updated:2017-06-10

On June 6th, 2017, the Sun Yat-sen University Center for English-language Creative Writing presented its 25th Book Club Event, a lecture on how to write a short fiction by Catherine Cole, professor of Creative Writing in University of Wollongong, Australia.

Professor Cole started her lecture by asking “What do we mean by short fiction?” She gave a brief introduction of the origins of short stories, tracing it back to the oral tradition, religious tracts, and legends as early as the 5th century. She said that short stories could be very short as in micro fictions of less than 250 words or longer, covering lengthy periods of time as in Chekov stories such as “The Lady with the little Dog”. Unlike Novels, Short stories take the reader immediately into the text; the reader doesn’t need lengthy buildup, scene setting, character development or explication as one expects of a novel.
“But like novels, short stories need strong beginnings,” Professor Cole remarked, “a good short story can engage the reader immediately, just like the beginning in Katherine Mansfield’s “Bliss” and Raymond Carver’s “A Small Good Thing.” As for the narrative structure, Professor Cole pointed out that one striking difference between novel and short story was epiphany-the short story has a sudden flash of knowing, and James Joyce’s Dubliners set a good example as in one particular moment characters suddenly see and understand something in a new way.
Professor Cole delivering the lecture

At the end of the lecture, Professor Cole explained the important factors in writing short stories, such as the idea-how might this differ from a novel’s development, space, room for development, character, point of view, pace, sections and section breaks, mood, movement and epiphany etc. She quoted Lorrie Moore who compares short story to a love affair, and novel to marriage. In another comparison, Moore talks about the short story being like a photograph while the novel is like a film. Cole emphasized the power of a short story lies in its “explosion of spiritual energy, which suddenly illuminates something far beyond… (Julio Cortazar)”.

After the lecture, Professor Cole gave the audience an exercise of writing a micro-fiction of no more than 3 sentences to tell a complete story; then she asked the audience to list 5 potential stories or themes they might wish to explore in a short story; after that, she asked the audience to select a character, make the character do something and then write it down. Professor Cole suggested that the last exercise ,could be a good way to overcome the writer’s block.

Professor Cole gave the audience a writing exercise

Professor DAI Fan, director of the Sun Yat-sen University Center for English-language Creative Writing, thanked Professor Cole for the lecture which she referred to as a feast of world literature.

Written by Zheng Wei & Li Ling
Photos by Nie Hua