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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > January 2016 > Short story masterclass: Few words, big worlds

Short story masterclass: Few words, big worlds

Conjure a strong sense of place in your short stories by analysing some of the classics, guided by Helen M Walters

When I teach short story writing to beginners I often start by asking students what the essential elements of a short story are. People readily come up with characters, plot, dialogue, theme and so on, but they rarely mention setting until I prompt them.

Yet setting is absolutely crucial in a short story. Imagine you have two characters – let’s call them Tom and Jim. You’re going to have a very different story if you put them in the local pub propping up the bar from if you have them dressed in scrubs and facing each other across an operating table. Be imaginative with your settings. Where else could Tom and Jim be? A Greek Island, an Oxford college, on board a luxury jet. All these settings will lead to very different stories.

An unusual, or particularly vivid, setting can really make a short story, and in this article I want to show you some classic examples of how short story writers have used setting or world building to great effect. I want to look at the importance of setting to plot, and also at how you can make your settings come alive and seem real and authentic even within the limited word count of a short story.

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