CREATING SHORT FICTION by Damon Knight is a foundational, 101-level, instruction book that you’ve probably been looking for, especially if you are interested in writing genre fiction. This book will teach you to write better short stories and get them sold.
For those who are unfamiliar with Knight, he was an author, an editor, and a critic. Knight was a Hugo Award winner, founder of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), cofounder of the Milford Writer’s Workshop, and cofounder of the Clarion Writers Workshop. SFWA’s Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement was renamed after him. In other words, Knight the real deal.
CREATING SHORT FICTION begins by describing the four stages of a writer’s development. If you are not yet making sales, this list gives you an idea of how close you are. Knight then works through all the elements of writing a short story, so that you may progress from one stage to the next.
He teaches developing writers how to select and develop ideas, offering a checklist of all the elements a story must contain for it to be able to stand under its own weight. Knight then provides an annotated version of one of his short stories as an introduction behind the curtain, to see those elements at work. The remainder of CREATING SHORT FICTION helps writers decide how to begin a story; how to select and develop a character, his motivation, and his viewpoint; how to maintain a reader’s attention; and how to finish a story. Always the good teacher, Knight then concludes his book by offering some advice on what writers should expect as their career develops, offering tips and highlighting traps to avoid.
Nearly every page of CREATING SHORT FICTION contains great advice that is all but guaranteed to improve the quality of your short stories. Do not mistake its brevity for lack of substance. It is a powerful tool that will reward re-reading, so long as you put Knight’s advice to work.