The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing

A good worker’s trade book

The Goodreads blurb is “Some of the best advice available on how to create character, use description, create a setting and plot a short story.” The Amazon blurb is “Here’s a collection of the most helpful articles from WRITER’S DIGEST magazine covering every aspect of short story writing. Every writer, from beginner to professional, will find guidance, encouragement, and answers to such concerns as how to make characters believable, developing dialogue, writer’s block, viewpoint, the all-important use of conflict, and much more.”

Definitely some advice although not until the third section (Characterization). The first two sections read more like Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, basically cheering sections for those unsure and/or starting out (which is to be expected. This was the handbook for the Writer’s Digest Fiction writing course).

I can believe that the separate chapters were Writer’s Digest articles. They both read as such and, from a business perspective, why solicit for something already owned?

Is it helpful? Yes. I was suprised at how much new (to me), useful information the book contained (once I got past the rah-rah sections).

There’s enough in here to keep writers developing their craft going for quite a while. I do recommend it.

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Quit Stage Directing

Keep Moving Forward!

Do you ever go back over your past efforts to rewrite/rework/update/improve?

I do. Often. I’ve discovered lots of stage direction in my earlier works (“earlier” meaning everything from just a few days ago to my earliest efforts).

Funny, because I spot stage directing easily when critiquing others’ work. And note that stage directing is different from stage direction characters. The latter serve a story purpose, the former rarely does.

The crux is in that last line – “…serve a story purpose…”

Example
Here’s a scene from the published version of Empty Sky:
She walked up to him and ruffled his hair. “Hey there, skippy. You here to dream?”
Jamie frowned under her hand. “My name’s Jamie.”
Carsons, walking back to his sleep chamber, turned. “What’s your name, son?”
“Jamie McPherson, sir.”
Joni’s hand had dropped from Jamie’s head and pointed to the old, small, black and white picture on Lupicen’s console desk. “Who’s that?”
Jamie followed Joni’s gaze. He looked from the little boys in the picture to Lupicen and back.
Lupicen tapped the dark complexioned boy’s face with his fingers, then pointed to the lighter faced boy. “Yes, that boy, the younger of the two, that is me. this other boy, he is my older brother, Émile.
“He is the reason for all of this.”
Al Carsons came over to get a good look at Jamie and found himself staring at the picture. He pointed to the older boy. “Him? That’s your brother, Émile?”
“Yes. He is responsible for all I do here.”
“How’s that?”
Dr. Lupicen rocked back in his chair so that his feet were unable to touch the ground. He looked at the picture and sighed, then tilted his head back until he was staring at the ceiling, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and began. “It happened long ago, on a hill on the outskirts of my village, Crit¡, in Rumania…

Keep the reader moving forward smoothly!

 
If nothing else, the above is full of rough transitions. Character A does this, character B does that, character C does something else and the reader is tugged and shoved from A to B to C like a prisoner in a chain gang rather than being smoothly passed back and forth like a basketball in an All-Star game.

Here’s the rewrite followed by what makes it better:

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Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics”

A Series of Open Book Exams on Writing, Regardless of Genre

This is another book I picked up years ago during my first round at writing. Longyear signed it and I’d highlighted parts of it so obviously read it before and didn’t remember doing so.

The power of this book is that it’s written from a student’s perspective. Longyear (I’m thrilled to see he’s still active. I lost track of him for several years) puts in the effort to remember his mistakes and the mistakes of others, and show the reader how to correct them. Another strength is the book’s examples – mostly from Longyear himself – with detailed explanations of what’s wrong with them and how to fix them.

 
Each chapter comes complete with an extensive Q&A/Study guide at the end, every answer to which can be found in that chapter or by combining knowledge gained from previous chapters with the current chapter. Anybody remember “Open book exams”? This is one and it’s a wonderful training program.
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Oakley Hall’s “The Art & Craft of Novel Writing”

A definite keeper. A resource. Read it twice and will read it again.

Rarely have I read a book that covers the entirety of a subject so well, so elegantly, so masterfully, with detailed examples and explanations. I had trouble finding pages I didn’t dogear, highlight portions of, make notes on, et cetera. This book is a must for anyone learning/practicing/perfecting their craft. My great loss is my local library not carrying any of his books. I’ll spend the money to see how this wonderful teacher applies his craft. If he’s half the master at writing as he is at teaching, Whoa!

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What do you mean, exactly, when you tell me to Read and Write to be an author?

It’s what they don’t tell you that’ll ruin you

Almost every writing-how-to book I’ve read has something about having to read, read, read and write, write, write to be a good author. Few books (nor any classes I’ve taken in classrooms, workshops, online, et cetera) include the two pieces of information without which all the reading and all the writing are…well, maybe not worthless but definitely worth less: How to Read and How to Write.

Reading
Read anything and everything. Read omnivorously. Read trashy novels. Read pulp. Read magazine articles, newspapers. Read onlines. Read prizewinners. Read in and definitely outside your genre.

Here’s what nobody told me; Read for craft, not content.

Pay attention to what you’re reading.

 
Pay attention to how characters are developed, pay attention to how scenes unfold, how things are foreshadowed, pay attention to how mood, atmosphere and tone are constructed to create specific effects. Pay attention to how the author does everything they do to get you to read their story.

Especially pay attention to what they do that makes you stop reading their story.

An example of the former is from Fritz Leiber’s A Pale of Air. I read this story mumbledy-mumbledy years ago and remember literally feeling cold after the first few paragraphs. No idea why and continued blissfully ignorant for ever so long. Take a moment to read the opening and enjoy the chill:
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