Great stories are all well and good, but there are some that are so perfectly written that they are actually able to teach more to their readers about the craft of writing and telling a story than any how-to guide could. Only the best of the best are able to do that. Some novels and short stories can have the most beautiful descriptive writing and the most vivid and engaging character development, and still not teach any lessons.
Neighbors is a story by Raymond Carver, arguably the greatest writer of short fiction who ever lived, and it perfectly encapsulates his minimalist style, and the way he can take a mundane aspect of everyday life and use it to reveal the dark side of humanity. It is written with such a strong command of the English language that you can see the story taking place in your mind’s eye. While George Eliot is a highly regarded author, Silas Marner is far from her best-known work, but it is shockingly underappreciated. Eliot teaches a lot of important lessons with her novel, such as how to juggle a succinctly-told story with tackling such big issues as religion and economic growth. It’s a heart-warming story about the endurance of the human spirit through the eyes of a man who loses everything and finds hope when a mysterious young girl enters his life. The Old Man and the Sea is a very short novel by Ernest Hemingway, and it’s that short because not a single word is wasted. Every word progresses the plot or develops the central character. As you read it, you can visualise every moment, and it’s a story about conflict, which is the entire basis of the concept of drama. Simply put, it’s literature at its finest. Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis needs no introduction. It’s a seminal study of human nature and how quickly your whole life can change, and he writes it with such gravitas. Everything Kafka writes is weird and surreal yet with a point to make about society, and The Metamorphosis is the best representation of that. How Much Land Does a Man Need? is a short story by Leo Tolstoy. James Joyce once called it the greatest story ever written, and he’s not wrong. It is a powerful fable about the corruptible nature of power and greed, all told as succinctly as can be, with religious undertones bubbling subtly under the surface. To the Lighthouse is a turning point in literature for women writers. It is Virginia Woolf’s most autobiographical work, and expresses her frustration that as a woman, she is not expected to be intelligent or creative. It shows us that we can turn the events of our own lives and our own views and frustrations into brilliant works of literature, and she practically tells us how to do it.
- Neighbors, by Raymond Carver (1971)
- Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861)
- The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway (1952)
- The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (1915)
- How Much Land Does a Man Need?, by Leo Tolstoy (1886)
- To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf (1927)
Ben Sherlock is a writer of short fiction and novels. Sherlock’s fiction writing is characterised by its dark humour, excessive use of profanity, and a cynical worldview. Sherlock is also a political and film/TV journalist for online news outlets, with over 100 articles published and more than 50,000 readers.