Intro to the short story

Once upon a time, I almost used a short story as my origin piece.

Really! In high school, I took a couple writing classes and learned the art of the short story there, then decided I wanted to be a fiction writer. Sure, those plans have changed a bit now, and I read and write mostly nonfiction, but for my final experiment, I wanted to return to my roots.

Most generally, a short story is fictional and has a beginning, middle and end with characters and dialogue advancing the plot. As opposed to a novel, most short stories have fewer characters and focus on only one plot line. Experts disagree about exactly what length constitutes a short story, but most say they range from 1,000-7,500 words, and some push that up to 10,000.

This is a list of short story tips from one of the craft’s masters, Kurt Vonnegut. Most of the tips involve how to cater a short story to an audience: make sure the reader doesn’t think their time was wasted, create at least one character the reader can root for, give as much information as soon as possible, but at the same time, don’t try to please everyone.

My particular genre will be a young adult short story. I want to further explore the ideas of social media and identity by writing about a high school girl who is cyberbullied and finds mean tweets about herself, but simultaneously anonymously runs one of the most popular Twitter accounts at the school. As a teen, I read several YA short-story anthologies, such as My True Love Gave to Me and Geektastic. While I plan to write a singular short story rather than an anthology, I plan to write my short story in the same style as the ones in these anthologies.

For a young adult short story in particular, it’s important to make sure your characters are people high school-aged teenagers will relate to and is written in a style they will like to read. As someone who read and wrote tons of YA in high school, I’m excited to dive back into the genre. This story will also have a personal connection to me, not just in my experience with mean tweets as it relates to my Jeopardy! appearance but also because my Twitter account is popular, but I don’t have a lot of friends in real life, similar to my main character.

How to: write a how to!

  1. Know your topic: It’s important to do research and have intimate knowledge of a topic if you’re writing a how-to guide. My guide idea, “How to Survive Having Been on a Game Show” certainly fits that, as I’ve lived that myself and know others who have been as well.
  2. Know your audience: So, yeah, a lot of how-to guides are clickbait. The “how to write a how-to guide” articles I read were mostly about how to write stuff that got the most clicks. That’s not what I want. I want to further explore the idea of having been on a game show by using my experiences and others’ — and maybe a dash of humor — to answer the question: “You’ve been on a game show. Now what?”
  3. Use list format: I read through a couple samples of “how to get on a game show” articles, some more clickbaity than others, because those originals are my inspiration — there’s a ton of “how to get on a game show” out there but nothing about what to do after you’ve aired and you have to deal with weird questions and “did you win?” constantly. For me, that was the harder part. But this article, while the best one I found, wasn’t written in list format and it bothered me. Listicles on the internet can be kinda annoying sometimes, but in this case, they make the how-to easier to read, so you can see each step set out for you before going into the specifics.
  4. Make it interesting: My main goal here is to see how I can explore a fairly unique experience using a more informational format. So, while my origin piece was an essay, I want to take some of the same themes from that but present them as more of a guide for others that have a similar experience rather than a personal narrative.

Introduction to cultural criticism

Growing up, I thought of all pieces of writing as being in one of two boxes: academic or non-academic. (Or, more bluntly, “fun” or “not fun.”) Now I realize there’s a space between, and in that space lies cultural criticism.

Cultural criticism can be somewhat academic. It involves a lot of research and, per the Poetry Foundation, often draws on techniques from the social sciences, whether that’s psychology, anthropology, sociology or history and in that way is like any other research paper. But cultural critics make sure to expand the realm of what they write about. It’s not just things in the academic canon, but pop culture, too. Cultural criticism is writing academically about the kind of books your middle-school teachers told you to stop reading because they were “fluff.”

I’m interested in cultural criticism because I always find it fascinating when I read it and because I’ve often thought of my own cultural criticisms even when I don’t label them as such. I’m a political science major, so the social science aspects of it appeal to me. For this project, I’m drawing on a personal essay about how I made a meme of my appearance on a TV show in order to reclaim my identity, and it made me wonder what the reasons are for other people behind memes, and the reasons people use such memes. The social aspects of my own story and the fact that people use memes as a form of social interaction made me think that cultural criticism would be appropriate for this project.

This piece from Vox is a combination of an argumentative editorial and cultural criticism, where the author describes cultural criticism as a way of explaining the world through pop culture. But she also engages in some criticism herself, discussing Tarantino movies and the TV series Girls as microcosms of American life. The examples at the bottom view pop culture through various lenses, including feminist and LGBT theory and inherited trauma, showing the wide range of topics cultural criticism can cover. It’s also a good example of the conventions of cultural criticism: writing on some form of culture, not discriminating between high or low culture, explaining the reasons why certain pieces of culture were made or why they’re popular or unpopular.


My name is Aria Gerson. I’m sitting in Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon in September writing this, which is notable because I usually spend my Saturdays in Big Ten football press boxes. That’s just a fancy way of saying I’m on the football beat for The Michigan Daily and I write about the team on a day to day basis. I maintain that the women’s bathroom in the press box at Michigan Stadium is the best bathroom on campus. I’m hoping to do sports journalism as a career, and I spent my summer on Cape Cod interning for the Cape Cod Times and covering the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Outside of The Daily, I’m majoring in political science. I’m a former theatre kid who blogs about theatre, dance and concerts for Arts at Michigan and I’ve been a member of Wolverine Support Network for the past year. I like to tweet (a lot). I use a lot of exclamation points, both ironically and non-ironically, and I like to yell about football coaches’ playcalling. I like music, particularly female-fronted indie pop bands, songs with key changes and songs with high notes so that I can use my old belting chops every time I’m in the car and pretend that I sound great while doing it. I shop a lot, drink a lot of coffee and eat a lot of ice cream. I love trivia and play competitively in an online league, which is not to say that I’m good, but playing itself is half the battle, right?