About this course

In this course, we are going to explore the basic components that make up short stories. We are going to discuss different narrative structures, characters and points of view, suspense, mood, narrative voice, and themes. You will read several short stories from around the world and we will work together to analyze them and their techniques. By the end of the course you will have written your very own short story, which you will have the opportunity to share with your classmates (and you will hear their stories too!).

Lesson 1

Today we are reading “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood. This is a work of metafiction, which means it is a work of fiction about fiction. It is not a representation of real life; instead, it is drawing attention to the fact that it is a work of literature. Its goal is not necessarily to tell a story, but rather to explore the limits of storytelling, or comment on what it means to tell a story. While you are reading, pay attention to what Atwood’s message might be about writing fiction. Make sure you read the last few lines. What is the point of showing all of these patterns? What is the important part of storytelling? Why? Be ready to share your thoughts!

Read “Happy Endings” here.

Lesson 2

Today we are talking about fairytales: plots, common elements across cultures, and how fairytales have been reinvented or reimagined over the centuries. Please read “Marked by the Moon: An Ancient Tale” by Nasser Yousefi, and keep track of elements you have seen in other fairytales. Also, please think of a fairytale that you are familiar with, either from reading it, hearing it as a child, or seeing it in a movie. I’m looking forward to hearing from you in class!

Read “Marked by the Moon” here.

Also, if you want to see the video Šejla shared about a Norwegian fairytale (it actually touches on a lot of the topics we’re going to discuss), you can watch it here.

Lesson 3

Today we’re talking about “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin. This is a parable, which means it teaches a lesson or has a moral, and it reflects a real world problem. As you read, think about the question that the story is asking you, and consider your answer to this question. Do you see any connections to the real world? How is this story relevant to your own life?

Read “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” here.

Also, read this fun article by Neil Gaiman (the author of Coraline) about where he gets ideas and his “what if” method of writing stories. What are some “what ifs” that you could use for building a short story? Read the article here.

Finally, if you’re still hungry for fairytales, feel free to check out the video on Hungarian folktales that Ajla shared with us here.

Lesson 4

Today we are reading “Chac Mool” by Carlos Fuentes. Fuentes was a highly influential Mexican writer during the Latin American literary “boom” of the 1950s and ’60s, and one of the many writers of that period who experimented with magic realism. Magic realism, as the name suggests, has a realistic foundation combined with magical elements, often related to indigenous imagery, religions, or practices. The chac mool in this story is related to the Aztec god of water, earth, fertility, and lightning, Tlaloc. As you read, pay attention to how Fuentes builds suspense, and do your best to follow the plot! Be ready to share your thoughts on this story 🙂

Read “Chac Mool” here.

Lesson 5

Today we are reading “The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes,” a short story of “nightmarish realism” by Hassan Blasim, a contemporary writer from Iraq. Published in 2013, the story portrays the effects of the US/Western invasion and war in Iraq and also the struggles of immigration, identity, and prejudice. While you read, focus on the main character. Why does he make these decisions (or what is his motivation)? Why does he struggle so much with his identity? What does Blasim mean by “nightmarish realism”? Do you see any connection to Chac Mool?

Your second task is to bring a short story idea to class. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you will discuss your idea with a partner, so be ready to share something!

Read “The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes” here.

Also, here’s the link to the entertaining video Šejla shared on Spanish conquistadors if you’re interested!

Lesson 6

Today, we will have a big peer-editing session! This is an opportunity for you to share your work so far, get feedback from your classmates, and see what everyone else is doing! There is no reading this weekend—just focus on writing your story. Write as much as you can, because we will spend the whole class sharing and editing. Feel free to reach out to me at if you need any help or have any more questions! And don’t forget to have fun 🙂

If you feel stuck, try answering these guiding questions (or look at our class Jamboards, the links are here).

Also, please give me feedback on the class so far! Your (anonymous) comments are super important to me! You can leave your thoughts on this feedback wall here.

Lesson 7

Today we are reading “Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami, a contemporary Japanese writer. Some of the themes in this story include love, gender, loneliness, and grief. How are these themes related to the story? What is his relationship with women, or with other men? What does it mean to be “men without women”? What does love mean for the narrator? Is this the same way you think about love? Be ready to discuss this in class!

Read “Men Without Women” here.

Here’s the Jamboard from last class if you want to give more feedback to your classmates.

Feel free to send me your story! I would love to read your rough draft. Email and I will get back to you as soon as I can 🙂

Lesson 8

Today we are reading “Misery” by Anton Chekhov, a Russian writer from the late 19th/early 20th century. We are going to focus on mood, which is the emotional atmosphere of the story. While you read, pay attention to details related to the setting, the main character’s behavior, and the ending. What is the overall feeling of the story? How do the characters feel, and how do you feel as the reader? 

Read “Misery” here.

Don’t forget to keep working on your short stories, since we might do some editing tomorrow! And if you want feedback from me, feel free to email your story to

We also started planning the closing ceremony on this Jamboard (if you missed this, I will explain more in class).

Lesson 9

Today we are reading “A Poisoned Tale” by Rosario Ferré, a Puerto Rican writer. This short but complex story has more than one narrative voice and you may have to read it twice to figure out what is going on. Do your best to understand it (pay close attention to the ending!) and try to find connections to other stories we have read. Do you see fairytale elements? Does it remind you of metafiction or magic realism? Is the villain a plot twist?

Read “A Poisoned Tale” here.

Don’t forget to keep working on your short story, or think of illustrations or designs that we can add to our collection of stories. And feel free to send me your story if you want proofreading or feedback! Send it to

Finally, make sure you do your part for the closing ceremony! Write a few sentences for your assigned day/story, and add your sentences to the “script” page of our Jamboard. You can see a list of links to all our Jamboards and presentation slides here.

Lesson 10

The day has finally come! We are officially presenting our short stories to each other! You should all be proud of making it this far 🙂 Your task is to finish up your story and reflect on the process of writing it. What inspired you? What were the challenges while writing? What did you learn from this experience? And I’m still offering my last-minute editing services, so feel free to send your story to for proofreading!

Make sure you do your part for the closing ceremony! Just write a few sentences describing what we did/what you learned on your assigned day. You can see an updated list of all the jamboards and presentations here.

Also, please vote for the design of our collection’s cover (thank you again, Šejla, for your help with this!). Vote here.

IMPORTANT: please submit all stories, illustrations, photos, biographies, and anything else you want to include in the collection by 5 pm on Friday.



Sylvie Vidan Gallagher