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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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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Character Development

You can’t tell the assholes from the bitches from the idiots from the arrogancia without a scorecard

The image below is of a sign at my gym a few days back. My gym routinely posts “Questions of the Day.” I wish they’d keep a list of the responses because some of them are priceless.

And it occurred to me that such a device would be a good tool for character description purposes, much like how the calendar was used to set a scene in Setting Scenes with Props.

click for larger image

 
Let’s say you want to demonstrate a character who wants to portray themselves as an intellectual, someone knowledgeable:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells?”
Lori shook her head. “I don’t know. I just pick the question from a file. I wouldn’t know the difference between…what did you call it? Shells?”
“It makes a difference.”

We can also show that Emerson doesn’t know what they’re talking about:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. Pam chuckled in the office. She came out and high-fived Lori as Emerson hurried down the stairs.

Continue reading “Character Development”