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Holly Lisle's Vision

Book Review

The Handbook of 
Short Story Writing, Volume II

Edited by Jean M. Fredette

By Jim Mills

2001 by Jim Mills 


I've often asserted on-line that I single-handedly keep the Writer's Digest Book Club in business.  I have at least 75 books on the various aspects of writing, most of which I have purchased from the WDBC over the past year and a half.  Fortunately, they bring out new books each month, and there are still many in their library that I have not yet purchased. 

In The Handbook of Short Story Writing, Volume II, each of the 33 chapters is written by a different author giving his or her good advice on a particular topic.  Some of the authors included are John Updike, James Gunn, Lawrence Block, Orson Scott Card, Ansen Dibell, Michael A. Banks, Dwight V. Swain, Esther M. Friesner, and Darrell Schweitzer..  At the end of the book is a bio for each author. 

The book has chapters devoted exclusively to short stories, but most of the essays relate to fiction in general, so if you write novels but avoid short stories, this book is still for you.  Topics include "The Finer Points of Characterization" (by Orson Scott Card, an article I especially enjoyed), plot, dialogue (and the six no-no's of dialogue), point of view, setting, transitions, breaking out with your first sale and mastering editorial requirements for writing young people's stories.  In a few cases, notably dialogue and plot, there is more than one chapter on the subject. 

For instance, the six no-no's of dialogue ("The Secrets of Writing Powerful Dialogue" by Gary Provost) cover such problems as too many direct references, describing dialogue, heavy-handed dialogue, unnecessary dialogue, repeated information in dialogue, and dialogue without tension.  "There's no absolute rule about when you use dialogue and when you shouldn't, but here's a good generalization: If a stranger were nearby, would he try to eavesdrop on the conversation?  If the answer is no, don't use the dialogue.  If the answer is yes, use it.  And you can quote me on that." 

Like many Writer's Digest Book Club books, this one gives good, practical advice on writing fiction, with several articles that apply directly to the short story.  It's well worth adding to your library. 

Book Report: The Handbook of Short Story Writing, Volume II

Edited by Jean M. Fredette

Introduction by John Updike

Published by Writer's Digest Books, 1988, ISBN 0-89879-463-3 (v.2)