Fiction That Hurts

by Travis Richardson

When writing a short story, besides telling a compelling plot, it is often good to have a character change, differentiating who they were at the beginning to who they became by the end of the story. In crime fiction, this could mean a breathing character on page one ends of up dead by the last period. One of the things that I like in good noir-ish crime fiction is when I am hurt as a reader. And that is the feeling that I try to do as writer. In a world where movies and commercials over-sensationalize every moment they can, and, on the other end, video games desensitize, I still want to make a unique impact in the jaded headspaces. I want to have a hard emotional gut punch that leaves readers breathless at the end. If I’ve learned one thing by reading short stories, especially crime, is that you can have horrible, awful things happen in a story, but if you have heartfelt emotion that amplifies the tragic happenings in the story, you’ve got gold.

Here are a few examples of stories I love because they moved and hurt me deeply:

Misery by Anton Chekhov. Although not a crime story per se, Chekhov gives a heart-rending story about a man trying to communicate his loss. I would love to write something this good.

Uncle by Daniel Woodrell. This story is not for the faint of heart. The story is about a rapist (a topic I find hard to write about) and his adolescent accomplice. It is savagely brutal and heartbreaking, yet Woodrell managed a full and perfect ending to the story. It was nominated for Anthony and Edgar awards. You can find the story in the anthology Hello of A Woman.

Peaches by Todd Robinson. This story made me want to take my crime fiction to the next level. Nominated for Derringer and Anthony awards, this story blew me away and inspired me to write “I’m Not Sure Where I’m Headin’”, a story that will be coming out in All Due Respect issue #4 in September. Todd’s story concerns a man reuniting with his transvestite baby sitter, and it will knock the breath out you. Here is a link to Grift Magazine Issue #1:

Are there any stories that you’ve read that have made a lasting impact?

Travis Richardson is fortunate to be nominated for both the Anthony and Macavity awards for his short story “Incident on the 405,” featured in the anthology MALFEASANCE OCCASIONAL: GIRL TROUBLE. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines as well as the anthologies SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER AND FINANCIAL CRIMES and ALL DUE RESPECT ISSUE #1. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter, reviews Chekhov short stories daily at and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. 


10 thoughts on “Fiction That Hurts

  1. If there is not movement in the characters of some kind, the story is not as enjoyable. Your examples illustrate your point well. Thank you for a very interesting post. Doris


  2. Interesting, Travis. Using damaged characters in short stories offer up many plot possibilities for a writer. At the Henderson/Las Vegas Writers Group meeting last week, I did a writing exercise where I could only use I, me, my, etc. two times. My POV was a man climbing a mountain trail to the summit to get a better view of the river valley below where searchers were looking for the body of a murdered girl. It was only at the summit with a posse closing in that I revealed that the trail climber was the murderer. He baited the posse, his aim to get killed. It was kind of a Tom Dooley theme.


  3. Reblogged this on L.LEANDER BOOKS and commented:
    Short story writing. Is it for you? What makes a reader want to read more? Author Travis Richardson has written a post with those questions and more answered, plus a great list of links to check out some of the best short stories for yourself. On today’s Writing Wranglers and Warriors, where there’s always a little bit of everything for writers and readers!


  4. Enjoyed the post Travis. I’ve not written short stories, although I guess my songwriting could almost be called that. After reading your informative post I believe I may try one. Thank you for the links so we can check out some of the best short stories. I have reblogged this post to my website because I feel a lot of writers will take these facts and run with them. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be inspired like me, to write their first short story!


  5. Great post Travis. Those short stories sound intriguing and perhaps awful to read? I wrote a short murder story that got published in our college press, you have inspired me to try to get it published elsewhere.


  6. Great Blog and links, Travis. I really enjoyed the thought of how does a story affect me. I have read some that had a lasting impression on me. Thanks for making me think of them again. Cher’ley


  7. I learn so much from my Writing Wranglers colleagues! Thank you, Travis, for an interesting post. I don’t write in this genre but found your words and examples compelling. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight!


  8. I have only written, and have had published, one short story. I found it pretty difficult to get that serious gut punch you speak of, Travis. It’s a real art! Good post, thank you.


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