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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What’s a “Flaknoc”? (revealing tech through characters)

Readers learn about your story’s tech by character action and reaction

I took part in a writers’ discussion a few nights back. The question “How do you describe future tech in your story so your reader understands what it is?”

I said, “You don’t. Your characters do.”

Huh?

Was this the economy Flaknoc? Hell, no!
Wait. What’s a “Flaknoc”?

 
So here’s an example:
Kia paced back and forth on the roof, hands across her chest, fingers tapping against her arms, waiting for Rory’s Flaknoc to appear. She considered sitting on one of the reinforcement pylons – they were such a pretty warning yellow, and strong because Rory insisted they get a luxury, six-seater Flaknoc with the dual hemolifts, not a two-seater, single hemolift economy model, oh no, not Rory – but moving gave her a chance to practice her outrage. She raised a hand to her brow at the end of each circuit, blocking the setting, midland’s sun, and each time debated getting a thermosuit; the air carried that early evening chill so prevalent since the third evacuation.
Ah. She heard the distinctive
Rummm of Rory’s Flaknoc. A moment later the air bubbled and Rory’s Flaknoc grew in the bubble’s center. Rory waved. Kia tapped her watch and glared at him.
He hovered. She didn’t move. He motioned her back. She took a step. He glared back at her, motioning her back again, the movement quick, hostile.
She moved just outside the blue landing circle and waited for him to reploy the Flaknoc’s shield. He jumped out, hurrying past her as she followed, one step behind, matching his gait, a harpy taking irritating nibbles when his back was turned. “Your skin has that nice pink tinge it gets when you break all the containment rules. Racing back again? I told you this Flaknoc’s shields weren’t safe. How many times — “
He spun on her, his hands raised in frustration. “I have no idea how many times. I’ve lost count.” He threw the energizing-stick at her feet. “Here, take it back. Take it back, get our money, buy something
nice and shut up.”

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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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