short story writing book

Back when I first began to learn the craft of writing, I knew next to nothing about what a story should look like. I had only the vague knowledge gleaned from the few dozen novels I had read. When I began writing, I lost my motivation because I could see I did not know how.

I started to learn how when I borrowed this book, “The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing: Volume II” from the public library, and I began taking notes. Every article, from “Getting Ideas,” by Robert Cormier, to “The Finer Points of Characterization,” by Orson Scott Card (of Ender’s Game fame), to “Trouble-Free Transitions” by Jean Z. Owen, represents a piece of an intellectual toolkit that anticipates nearly all the challenges of creative writing.

Every single article inspired me to sit and read. A great aspect of the book is how short the articles are, no one exceeding a dozen pages or so, and many of them only a few pages long. I sat for hours at the library taking notes. 

This is one of many resources I think are a must have, and so I encourage you to go to amazon now and get it from one of the sellers for what’s bound to be a very small price.


Concise Advice


This book is written by writers. Hence there is little padding. Every sentence and paragraph are there for a purpose, conveying multiple lessons per page with aphorismic brevity. Consider this passage from the first article, “Mastering the Short Story,” by Paul Darcy Boles:

“Meaning in a story is not injected with a hypodermic needle, but issues from it after it has been written. It’s highly doubtful that Aesop ever said to himself, “now I shall produce a profound fable upon the subject of Envy, and I think I’ll call this one ‘The Fox and the Grapes.'” Meaning lurks inside a story, between the lines; it is not always completely clear to the writer while the story is being written, or for that matter afterward.”

Boles then uses some of his own writing and editing to explain how he went from 24 pages to 10 in a short story, citing one example where a 50-word description was replaced with 9 words. And he offers his insights on writing “…just sufficient words to allow the reader to participate wholly in the experience.” Rather than indulging in a frivolous literary navel-gazing while the reader’s eyes glaze over.

Just Buy it

I could go on. There are an incredible array of transformative insights in this book. It’s a great book to pick up and open to any article you might happen to find. Every single one is extremely relevant. It’s an easy book to find for a decent price on Amazon (there are only second-hand copies), and if this edition is any reflection on the quality of its predecessor (vol. I), I am sure both books are a worthy investment.

If you’re an aspiring novelist, if you have a vague sense that you need to learn more about writing, and if you’re okay with starting small, look no further. This is your guidebook.


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