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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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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Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write”

A feel good book for writers not feeling good about their writing

Another interesting little book that’s about writing but not about writing. The subtitle is ‘A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit’. The first thing this indicates is that the book was written before the Oxford Comma became dominant. It also indicates the heart of the book isn’t about “how to” so much as “enjoy doing it.”

I’d recommend this book to someone starting their writer’s journey, someone unsure of their ability, their craft, someone basically unsure if writing is something they want to do or not.

There’s not a lot of “how to” in the book. I’m not sure there’s any “how to” in the book, really.

What there is is a lot of “you can do it. Yes, you can!” There’s a lot of rah-rah-go-get-em-tiger in the book. Chapter 17 is a gift to Pantsers everywhere.

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Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey”

Interesting but not convincing

Not sure what to write about this book. I read the first edition and it’s now up to a 3rd edition. No idea how much is changed.

But the book I read? Part writing text (not a good one), part psychotherapy session (meh), part homage to Joseph Campbell (does a bang up job there), part mysticism (meh). The book is overtly about screenwriting, what is offered can apply to any scribologist.

Did I learn things from the book? Yes, some. I’d recommend this book more for people writing journals, memoirs, and such. Also for people working out their own issues via the stories they craft.

 
It can provide a framework for making a story work. It is definitely full of examples and most are from movies so you can stream/dvd/download many of his examples.

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