It sounded so simple, right?
Pick a few short story anthologies, and use them as a writing handbook. To learn how to write short stories.
Until they ask you to actually name the frigging books.
To make a list.
Because you need to make a choice.
Who’s in, who’s out?
So you start making a list – Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Tanith Lee, Charles De Lint…
But what about Roald Dahl?
Can you leave out Ray Bradbury?
And what about Fredric Brown? Nobody ever remembers Fredric Brown. Just like nobody remembers Avram Davidson…
Can you leave out Robert E. Howard?
And Dorothy Parker and John D. MacDonald and all the rest of the non-fantasy crowd?
But there is an up side – the choice is so ample and varied, you can set up a whole series of reviews of short story collections that are a good starting point.
And for the time, being, you can start with something very much out of the left field.
Two years back I was given as a gift by my friend Alex a book called Narrative Design, by Madison Smartt Bell, and published by Norton.
This is a special book to me, not only because it is a gift from a colleague I respect, but because it is one of the few really advanced writing books I ever read.
This one assumes you know the basics, and digs deeper into narrative structure. It does so by presenting a selection of fine modern short stories, and basically disassembling them, showing you the gears, how they connect, how they work, how they act on the reader.
Narrative Design is a very interesting read, and apart from teaching a lot about the advanced writing stuff, it also gives you a toolbox you can use to crack open the stories you read, to expose their inner workings, their underlying machinery.
It’s a start.
Now back to my list, and in a few days we’ll start with the short story collections reviews and suggestions.
And if you have a favorite short story collection, please post it in the comments. Maybe I read it and we can compare notes, and if I did not… well, thank you, I am always happy to discover new books to read.