I was looking for a book, and I found two.
I did some digging on my shelf for Damon Knight’s classic Creating Short Fiction. As I mentioned, I started talking about short fiction with my friend Claire, and I wanted to check out if Knight’s book held some momentous secret I had forgotten.
For the uninitiated (but then, what are you doing here), Damon Knight was one of the greatest short story crafters in the field of science fiction – he is the author of To Serve Man, that was adapted in what is possibly the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone – and he also was an editor and critic. He was one of the founders of the SFWA, and of the Clarion Workshop.
He is the man that, as a critic, defined the idiot plot.
His writing handbook focuses on short stories, and it is quite good all things considered. It was originally published in the early ‘80s, but it is still well worth a look.
Anyway, I found it, after a little work – it was hidden behind a pile of other writing and criticism books – and I was surprised when I found a book by its side that I did not remember I had bought, or read.
Pushing back the leering ghost of Alzheimer, I took it down and gave it a look.
It’s called Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories and it was published in 1998. It had the look and feel of all of those Schaum’s students guides.
Did I really buy this?
Did I really read it?
The answer to the second question is obviously yes, as I found, two-thirds into the book, a blue post-it note used as a bookmark. A quick scrawl on the post-it reads
Four airships incoming, fast.
A little bit of self-archaeology, and I can place the post it – it’s a quick note to one of my players, scrawled as we played Castle Falkenstein.
It’s from late in 1999 or early 2000.
This allowed me to place the book, and the reason why I did not remember buying it.
It was a gift from my players. Their idea of a joke, considering I had just made my first professional sale back then.
I did read it, at least in part. I found it thorough but very dry – especially compared to Knight’s. Also, it includes a lot of stuff that is not exactly short-story oriented, but it’s more general writing advice for beginners.
It’s good, but I did not like it very much.
Anyway, I have both books out on my side table now, and I’ll give them a look. Refresh the basics and all that.
I still believe that the best writing handbook for short stories is a good collection of short stories, but we’ll talk about that another time.
And I wonder how many books are hereabouts, that I have completely forgotten I have.