Self-study Project: Short Stories

Rating System


I absolutely devoured media in my youth. I read hundreds of books a year and saw several movies a week. I was an avid gamer and once shipped a 130lb steamer trunk full of comics rather than leave them behind in a move. (I later learned that it is way cheaper to send books via Media Mail if you don’t care when they get there. However, if you send 13 different ~60lb boxes media mail ahead of an interstate move and then show up to collect them explaining you’re an anthropologist you will end up with the post office assuming you have been shipping dinosaur bones. This will greatly annoy you especially when years later they still ask you if you’ve heard about recent dinosaur finds and you’ve never found a polite way to explain anthropologists don’t know the ass end of a dinosaur from a mammoth behind.)

I recently realized that I’ve let my reading fall too far behind. There’s always a balancing act with writing and reading. I’ve basically stopped playing immersive video games. There are no current TV shows I’m following (though I am looking forward to season 3 of Korra). I still play puzzle games, and watch streaming shows, but those are things that happen on my terms. Reading has to be balanced with writing time, and it’s hard not to feel guilty about one or the other. If I’m not reading, my writing can’t advance. I know that. There are some things you can only learn by reading and some things only by writing. I’m holding myself back by not reading enough.

I decided to start rebuilding my reading habit by working primarily on reading short stories. To give myself a Master Class in genre short storytelling both present and classical. To do this, I need to also analyze the short stories in some form. I dislike doing in-depth fiction reviews, especially when there are intangible things like emotional impact and voice involved. Since I’m doing this for my own benefit I decided to go with a 1-5 star rating.


  • * = has potential but has technical, cultural, or voice problems.
  • ** = Good story that didn’t quite live up to potential or could have used light revisions
  • *** = Good story, I see it as publishable quality even if it didn’t work for me.
  • **** = Great story, does some really neat things
  • ***** = I would nominate/vote for this story. Excellent quality, builds a full world, drags you into it for the full duration of the story and leaves fingernail marks on your soul.


Since March 1st I’ve read 76 short stories which break down on the ratings as such:


  • one star = 4
  • two stars = 12
  • three stars = 29
  • four stars = 31
  • five stars = 2


I think this will be an ongoing thing for a while, and in a few months I will go back and do more analysis of the 5 star stories. I’m at the point right now with my writing that I pretty much know what NOT to do, I just don’t always succeed with what I was trying to do. So it makes more sense for me to focus on the top-tier of stories and figure out why stuff knocked it out of the park.

I was a little surprised to realize there wasn’t really a correlation to how much I enjoyed reading the story and if I gave it 3 or 4 stars. There were 4 star stories I did not enjoy at all and 3 star stories I greatly enjoyed. There were even a couple 2 star stories I really liked and enjoyed. The difference between two and three stars in some cases was asking myself, “If my name was on the cover as editor and I had a slot this story would fit, would I have published it as is?” The ones I said, “Yes” got 3, the others got 2. I’m only reading published stories for this, so my opinions might be different if I was finding some of these stories in slush. There were a lot of stories that didn’t work for me that still rated 4 stars.

As a result of this, I of course had to rate my own published works on this scale. Most of them were in the 2 to 3 range, with one maybe 4. I have not written a 5 star story yet. Not by my own scale anyway. That’s a very motivating thought. Anything that makes me want to get better and write more is something I need to keep doing.

I think I’ll periodically put up a post with this same breakdown in it, and any thoughts I’ve dredged up in the process. What do you think?

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