Damon Knight’s “Creating Short Fiction”

Not one of the better books for emerging writers

Caveat #1 up front: I studied with Damon Knight a lifetime and a half ago. Caveat #2 I read the original hardcover, not the “The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction Revised Edition” paperback.

This was a fascinating read for me as I could hear Knight speaking throughout. Is it a worthy book?

Not convinced it is. There’s a lot in it and Knight provides plenty of exercises. What is not provided is clear, concise examples of technique. There’s lots of “Some people do it this way, others do it that way, you find your own way, and here are some exercises to help you find that way.”

I’m not an advocate of that “find your own way” school until you’ve learned the basics. In traditional Japanese martial arts, there’s a concept of “cutting” and if there’s anything demonstrating the “10,000 hour rule”, “cutting” has to be it. My point is (and all my teachers might agree), once you’ve got “cutting” down, everything else just happens. I prefer books that help you perfect your cutting then let you find your own way.

The book is strong on theory, weak on practice and application. There’s some good stuff here, simply not enough of it to make it a worthy read.

 

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Great Opening Lines – and Why! (June 2019’s Great Opening Lines)

A delightful science fiction mystery, a fantasy that’s never been classified as such, and both about gendering

I wrote in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines) that I’d share more great opening lines as I found them.

“The place stank.” -John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?
Tight and direct. Simple and evocative. With nothing else, you know (or at least I did) the narrator’s gender, their background, their mindset, that the story’s going to be about some kind of unpleasantness, and what to expect.

It’s worth reading the entire opening paragraph because it builds so beautifully off that great opening line: The place stank. A queer, mingled stench that only the ice-buried cabins of an Antarctic camp know, compounded of reeking human sweat, and the heavy, fish-oil stench of melted seal blubber. An overtone of liniment combated the musty smell of seat-and-snow-drenched furs. The acrid odor of burnt cooking fat, and the animal, not-unleasant smell of dogs, diluted by time, hung in the air.

If you have any doubts after reading the opening line, the rest of the first paragraph leaves no room for questioning. The entire story is a masterclass in storytelling and storycrafing technique for authors and writers of any genre. I offer a full review on Goodreads

“He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” – Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
Here is the opening line to an incredible fantasy book that (as far as I know) has never been listed as fantasy. The first line tells the reader that the book is going to be about sex, but not coitus (there’s plenty of that, don’t worry), instead sexual identity. I’ll admit here that transgendering is an oddity to me. So many people feeling a need to specify “He/Him” and “She/Her” in their social profiles. I wonder if this need to publicly self-identity is the outcome of better surgical techniques, increased awareness, or something indicative of the unsurety of our cultural identity as a whole.

Such concerns didn’t exist in Woolf’s time. She was able to write a political novel with a protagonist who could – quite literally – take a long view and the fantasy element is subtly hammered home in the last chapter. Hinted at in the first line, hammered in the last chapter – Yowza!

Nice.

I’ve written a full review on Goodreads.

Do you have any great opening lines you’d like to share?
I’d love to know them. There’s a catch, though. You have to explain in context why a line is great. Saying a line is great because it comes from some great literature doesn’t cut it. Quoting from archaic and/or little known works doesn’t cut it.

Feel free to quote from archaic and/or little know works, just make sure you give reasons why something is great. I stated the Great Opening Lines criteria back in Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?).

So by all means, make the claim. Just make sure you provide the proof according to the guidelines given. If not, your comment won’t get published.


Yes, this post is about a week late. This blog was transferred and it took a while. Sorry for the delay.

Charles R. Swindoll’s “Touching Others With Your Words”

An interesting read if you’re an anthropologist studying this segment of modern culture but not worth most writer’s time

First, it fascinates me that my copy is entitled “Touching Others With Your Words/The Art and Practice of Successful Speaking” and the Amazon version is “Saying It Well/Touching Others With Your Words.” Perhaps between my edition and the current one the author learned the importance of concision in crafting titles?

This book is about crafting good sermons. But good sermons are essentially good stories. Does the author provide enough insight into good story-telling and -crafting to make it a worthwhile read?

For my part, not really. Unless you’re evangelical, it takes a lot of reading to find the nuggets worth keeping.

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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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