East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A complete writing course for 4 bucks


So, the idea was to check out a few short story collections to use them as writing handbooks. And the real problem is, as usual, to select the right books. There’s a few personal collections I’d recommend, like Bradbury’s and Dahl’s from Everyman Classics, or The Best of Charles De Lint, and a few others – say Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder. These I have mentioned often in the past, and are wort checking out (and make for great gifts at Christmas).

But right now I’d like to point out a series of books that might be worth a look, that by providing a grab-bag of different authors writing within one genre and about a narrow range of topics, make for a great resource as one-stop tutorials.

Back when the world was young and we did not have ebooks, the Mammoth Books line was a treasure trove of short fiction.
My first was the Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories, that offers a huge selection of just what it says on the cover. Mammoth books tend to present a wide selection of voices within one single genre, and make for great comparative study. The line was launched back in the mid-80s, and so you can actually use the volumes to map the evolution of a certain genre. They are also quite good if you want to try and break into a genre you never wrote before, and want to survey the landscape before you have a go at it – I mean, get yourself a copy of The Mammoth Book of Special Ops Romance and see what it takes to write love stories featuring Navy Seals.
And there’s two subsets, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror and The Mammoth Book of Best New Science Fiction, that… well, OK, you guess what’s inside of those.

From what I am seeing on Amazon, one of these volumes, in ebook format, will set you back about four bucks per copy, that is a lot less than your average writing course.

Granted, some of the stories in each volume will not be as good as the others, that’s part of the game. But on the plus side, as a side effect, by going through one of these books you’ll become acquainted with a lot of established names within a specific genre – this will allow for further exploration, and at the same time elevate you above those readers (and, alas, writers) out there that are basically limited to two or three authors in their favorite genre.

But, you tell me, I’ve got me a copy of The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes now what?

The best way to learn from a short story is, probably, to copy it – sit down and copy it word by word, paying attention at the way it’s going, at the way the words fall on the page. If you do it without distractions, you’ll develop an ear for the rhythm of the author’s writing, and will start to see how he does it. So the idea is to read your collection, decide what story you like the best, and then set out to copy it.
Or maybe find two or three stories you like and copy them, and compare how the inner mechanics are similar, or differ.

The nice thing of this method is that it will not bog you down with handbook definitions and technical lingo – pinch points, beats and what else – but it will provide you a hands on experience of how the story is constructed.
Give it a try.
It’s not a race. Take your time. Pay attention.
And enjoy your reading.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “A complete writing course for 4 bucks

  1. Last week I received a copy of your “Scrittura e Tarocchi” manual. It’s very interesting. Now I just have to buy the cards to start with the exercises. I never thought I would buy tarot cards! 🙂
    In the meantime, I will copy Frederic Brown’s “Geezenstacks” word by word. It’s a short story I forgot I had read years ago. And that in the last days scared me again. Very effective.
    And thanks for the post, as usual!


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