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Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction

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Distilled from decades of teaching and practice, this book offers clear and direct advice on structure, pacing, dialogue, getting ideas, working with the unconscious, and more. Newly revised and expanded for this Third Edition, Creating Short Fiction is a popular and widely trusted guide to writing short stories of originality, durability, and quality. Celebrated Distilled from decades of teaching and practice, this book offers clear and direct advice on structure, pacing, dialogue, getting ideas, working with the unconscious, and more. Newly revised and expanded for this Third Edition, Creating Short Fiction is a popular and widely trusted guide to writing short stories of originality, durability, and quality. Celebrated short-story author and writing instructor Knight also includes many examples and exercises that have been effective in classrooms and workshops everywhere.


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Distilled from decades of teaching and practice, this book offers clear and direct advice on structure, pacing, dialogue, getting ideas, working with the unconscious, and more. Newly revised and expanded for this Third Edition, Creating Short Fiction is a popular and widely trusted guide to writing short stories of originality, durability, and quality. Celebrated Distilled from decades of teaching and practice, this book offers clear and direct advice on structure, pacing, dialogue, getting ideas, working with the unconscious, and more. Newly revised and expanded for this Third Edition, Creating Short Fiction is a popular and widely trusted guide to writing short stories of originality, durability, and quality. Celebrated short-story author and writing instructor Knight also includes many examples and exercises that have been effective in classrooms and workshops everywhere.

30 review for Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I've wanted to attend the Clarion Writing Workshop since I was fourteen. I'm sure books by the Clarion instructors are no match for the actual experience, but they'll have to do for now. And, well, this one will have to do for always, since Damon Knight passed away a few years ago and therefore isn't on the current list of Clarion instructors. As with any writing guide, there are parts that are more and less useful depending on where the reader is as a writer. For me, the most interesting parts I've wanted to attend the Clarion Writing Workshop since I was fourteen. I'm sure books by the Clarion instructors are no match for the actual experience, but they'll have to do for now. And, well, this one will have to do for always, since Damon Knight passed away a few years ago and therefore isn't on the current list of Clarion instructors. As with any writing guide, there are parts that are more and less useful depending on where the reader is as a writer. For me, the most interesting parts of this particular guide were the annotated story, in which Knight broke down everything he had done in a short piece and why, and the section on controlling a story. Knight compares the experience to that of a stage magician, and proceeds to break down those skills. He says the writer needs to command, to focus attention, to hypnotize, and of course, to create illusions. "There is no such thing as a story. The words on paper are only instructions used by each reader to create a story. The story itself exists in the reader's mind and nowhere else. And it is different for each reader, because no two people have the same experience, background, training, interests, and so on." These aren't exercises: they're psychological tools.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    Among the few practical and practicable writing books, this is a classic. Knight was a fabulous short writer. With many authors that doesn't translate to writing good writing advice, but Knight as also introspective, insightful, and interested in theory. The book contains both cognitive models to help organize thinking and steps/processes to help get stories done. The book begins with a great introduction on "Three Reasons I Should Not Have Written This Book" two being myths/half-truths about Among the few practical and practicable writing books, this is a classic. Knight was a fabulous short writer. With many authors that doesn't translate to writing good writing advice, but Knight as also introspective, insightful, and interested in theory. The book contains both cognitive models to help organize thinking and steps/processes to help get stories done. The book begins with a great introduction on "Three Reasons I Should Not Have Written This Book" two being myths/half-truths about whether writing can be learned and one being the belief that learning about writing stifles creativity. Knight addresses them without dismissing them entirely. He admits to his personal dogmatism without claiming either to be right or to have minimized it in the text. And he gives several practical and practicable techniques for reading a book on writing. After those incredibly educational three pages, we get to the actual material :-) The sections of the book are interesting: 1. Developing your talent as a writer (21 pages, 5 exercises) Motivation, stages of development, observation 2. Idea into story (75 pages, 2 exercises) Getting ideas, research, constraints, conflict, plot types, theme, meaning, some excellent and detailed examples 3. Beginning a story (47 pages, 4 exercises) Five questions about your story, four decisions to make 4. Controlling a story (29 pages, 9 exercises) Being interesting, compression, surprise, tone, voice, style, dialog 5. Finishing a story (9 pages, 1 exercise) What to do when stuck, targeting a market, working with editors 6. Being a writer (16 pages) Bylines, work habits, drugs and alcohol, reading, networking, spouses/partners, etc. That's an interesting layout: it's both structured/linear/small-chunk (idea, beginning, "controlling," and finishing) as well as theoretical/cognitive and large-chunk/big picture (developing talent, "controlling" as a metaphor, "being a writer"). That's both part of Knight's talent as a writer and part of his message for writers, that the small and cognitive details are equal to the larger structure and more fuzzy concepts like voice, style, structure, and character. The exercises, examples, and suggestions complement this. The book is written in very small sections, many no more than a page, that pack a lot of training into a small number of words--sometimes almost covertly. A major part of the value of the book is in Knight's rare ability to cover multiple elements of the process of writing at once. In his classes on managing a school classroom and in his classes on public speaking, Michael Grinder uses the "ABCs" of kinds of teaching: teaching Attitide, teaching Behavior (or skill), and teaching Cognition. Very few teachers do all three well and extremely few combine them into one. Knight does that here. In a TusCon panel on writer's block, I presented the model that a writer needs five things: motivation to write, conviction that the story is worth writing and they can write it, decision to write the story and about the elements of the story, creativity to create the story, and a process to write. Most writing books cover one or two (Writing Down the Bones covers motivation and conviction, the Fundamentals of Fiction Writing series cover decision and process, etc). Knight covers each of these both explicitly in their own sections and implicitly/covertly in his presentation. Highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Too many books on writing are written by people who aren't primarily known as good writers. This is not one of them. Damon Knight was a well-respected and prolific writer, as well as a teacher of writing over many years at the highly-regarded Clarion workshops. His depth of knowledge and insight are on display on every page of this book. Though a lot of the advice is foundational and suitable for beginners, as an intermediate writer I found plenty to learn. Occasionally, it feels like a Too many books on writing are written by people who aren't primarily known as good writers. This is not one of them. Damon Knight was a well-respected and prolific writer, as well as a teacher of writing over many years at the highly-regarded Clarion workshops. His depth of knowledge and insight are on display on every page of this book. Though a lot of the advice is foundational and suitable for beginners, as an intermediate writer I found plenty to learn. Occasionally, it feels like a collection of thoughts around a theme rather than an argument that flows throughout a section, but each portion contains valuable gems. Although Knight was a science fiction author, very little of the advice is specific to SF. Most of the advice would also be just as useful for novelists as for short story writers. However, the section on short story structure provides confirmation of something I'd begun to suspect, but have never seen taught anywhere else. A lot of writing advice tends to assume that a short story is just like a novel, only in miniature, and needs to have what Knight calls the "plot skeleton" (five-act, or at least three-act, structure). Knight's opinion--and mine, based on reading a great many successful short stories that don't have that structure--is that a short story can have any of a number of structures, as long as it does have a structure, a unity, and a sense of completion. (Many of today's short stories seem to dispense with the sense of completion, but personally I find those stories unsatisfying.) Even though it's now several decades old, most of this book--apart from a couple of things about technology and the industry at the very end--has aged well, and the advice remains useful and relevant. Surprisingly, much of it hasn't been repeated endlessly in other people's advice books, either. Definitely worth reading, especially if you write short stories.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kira Gold

    Er. Well. Classic indeed. This made me think of old college professors mouthing lectures they'd written back in the 1970's--the most modern storytelling reference was to the movie Alien, and almost every writing example used was by a white male author who hasn't published anything for 50 years. But there are a lot of nuggets in this lesson, and it's worth a read if you're in the mood for good textbook stuff. I was struggling not to skim three-quarters of the way in, but this is more likely my old Er. Well. Classic indeed. This made me think of old college professors mouthing lectures they'd written back in the 1970's--the most modern storytelling reference was to the movie Alien, and almost every writing example used was by a white male author who hasn't published anything for 50 years. But there are a lot of nuggets in this lesson, and it's worth a read if you're in the mood for good textbook stuff. I was struggling not to skim three-quarters of the way in, but this is more likely my old study habits kicking in rather than the quality of the book. One line that I jotted down: When the demands of one person rise to a level that another person can't tolerate, there is conflict. ETA: Just discovered the author died 15 years ago. An introduction explaining this might have put the dated material in better context. I'd have been less frustrated.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    The funniest thing about this book was, while reading it, I became absorbed in its advice so much so that I didn't pay attention to how old it was. I came across a line about "new technology" and following that, home word processors. I was floored to say the least. But the advice is just that good, the advice is without restraint in the realm of time. Highly Recommend it!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    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 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    TrumanCoyote

    Actually, I'd give this one more like 2-1/2 stars. It gets pretty Oregonian in places (and all that business with the pronouns and such started to come off sounding vaguely anti-male), and it's also rather snobby and pedantic at times. But I did after all make it through the whole thing, which is more than I can say for most writing manuals. Anyway, the stuff about the stages in a proto-writer's career was illuminating, especially his account of his own fumbling efforts in that direction. And at Actually, I'd give this one more like 2-1/2 stars. It gets pretty Oregonian in places (and all that business with the pronouns and such started to come off sounding vaguely anti-male), and it's also rather snobby and pedantic at times. But I did after all make it through the whole thing, which is more than I can say for most writing manuals. Anyway, the stuff about the stages in a proto-writer's career was illuminating, especially his account of his own fumbling efforts in that direction. And at least the guy has written some worthwhile stuff in his career; it's not like all he writes is writing books. However, all that talk of "students" soon grew pretty dreary; it's especially annoying when one of them points out something that everyone else missed yet still continues to be relegated to that ghetto classification. It all seems rather inbred and artificial, as most college things do. Anyway, I doubt if I really got much out of all of this beyond the usual inane injunctions (like "Be observant!" or "Omit needless words!"). So would I (like Harlan) "commend this book without reservation"? Nope. A more interesting matter is: I wonder if Damon would've bought it himself had he been the reader and not the writer... ;)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Georgina Allen

    A good general guide to writing short fiction (although much of the advice could be applied to any type of fiction). I particularly found the description section useful as this is something I struggle with, also helpful was the annotated breakdown of a short story talking through the reasoning behind each part - it's always much easier to understand the process with a good example. I was hoping to gain a better understanding about the structure of a short story, though (particularly as I'm far A good general guide to writing short fiction (although much of the advice could be applied to any type of fiction). I particularly found the description section useful as this is something I struggle with, also helpful was the annotated breakdown of a short story talking through the reasoning behind each part - it's always much easier to understand the process with a good example. I was hoping to gain a better understanding about the structure of a short story, though (particularly as I'm far more used to novel structure) and felt that section could have been better developed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shaye

    This book immediately feels invaluable to me as I am trying to navigate my way into writing more short fiction. This book is practical and filled with great exercises, as well as plenty of useful advice. I will be returning to this book frequently in the coming years.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Fortier

    Probably the best book I've read on writing short fiction and one that helped me think about the smaller details, which helped my longer works.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Ann King

    Fabulous book, with tons of useful advice presented in an accessible style with humour and common sense. One of my favourite writing books and one I re-read regularly.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James

    A great practical manual of the craft of writing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    There's a lot of great information in this book, even if some of the references are a bit dated due to the advances of technology.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Madly Jane

    Wonderful book on short fiction.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ezra Vasquez

    Probably, the most helpful craft book I've read yet. I recommend it highly for learning how to write the short story.

  16. 4 out of 5

    James Yu

    A concise book about writing short stories. Focuses on very practical advice. I especially liked the section on how to diagnose issues in a story, and how to go about fixing them.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Therese Gilardi

    love this book, especially the clever way the author sneaks in references to his wife kate's work as though she is just another writer out there ....

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Hirsch

    Guidebooks that have something to recommend them typically come in two flavors. Those with good, general information that may or may not be of use to the novice, and those that stress the granular details of whatever craft is being explained. The very best books manage to mix the right amount of information about the big picture and the small picture, to give the reader something more comprehensive and rewarding. "Creating Short Fiction" belongs to this smaller canon of masterworks on creating Guidebooks that have something to recommend them typically come in two flavors. Those with good, general information that may or may not be of use to the novice, and those that stress the granular details of whatever craft is being explained. The very best books manage to mix the right amount of information about the big picture and the small picture, to give the reader something more comprehensive and rewarding. "Creating Short Fiction" belongs to this smaller canon of masterworks on creating short fiction. The writer shares his wisdom on every page, in language that everyone from a freshman in high-school to a post-doctoral student can quickly apprehend yet still find rewarding. Subjects include understanding different voices and viewpoints (a common theme for teachers, but rarely if ever treated as well as it is here), how to edit and submit fiction, and how structure a story (with the caveat that you don't over-structure it and thereby undercut the creative process, or stifle "Fred" as Mr. Knight calls the muse who lives in the back of his brain). Some of the information is dated, but charmingly so. The author speaks of various resources to use, like yearly almanacs, dictionaries, and texts that undoubtedly took up quite a bit of space on his own shelf but could now probably fit onto a single flash-drive with room to spare. And one can't help but feel a flash of nostalgia when hearing the author expound on the advantages of the newfangled word processors versus the merits of those typewriters of yore. On the other hand, there is some eternal wisdom in the book, stuff that not only won't date, but can't, as it is part of our collective DNA when it comes to the need to tell stories and to hear them told. Perfection arguably doesn't exist, but reading this book will get you closer, regardless of whether you've never written a word of fiction or you're a bestselling author. Highest recommendation.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Carrabis

    Caveat up front: I studied with Damon Knight a lifetime and a half ago. This was a fascinating read for me as I could hear Knight speaking throughout. Is it a worthy book? Not convinced it is. There’s a lot in it and Knight provides plenty of exercises. What is not provided is clear, concise examples of technique. There’s lots of “Some people do it this way, others do it that way, you find your own way.” I’m not an advocate of that “find your own way” school until you’ve learned the basics. In Caveat up front: I studied with Damon Knight a lifetime and a half ago. This was a fascinating read for me as I could hear Knight speaking throughout. Is it a worthy book? Not convinced it is. There’s a lot in it and Knight provides plenty of exercises. What is not provided is clear, concise examples of technique. There’s lots of “Some people do it this way, others do it that way, you find your own way.” I’m not an advocate of that “find your own way” school until you’ve learned the basics. In traditional Japanese martial arts, there’s a concept of “cutting” and if there’s anything demonstrating that 10,000 hour rule, “cutting” has to be it. My point is (and all my teachers might agree), once you’ve got “cutting” down, everything else just happens. I prefer books that help you perfect your cutting then let you find your own way. I’ve written more on my blog.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Francine

    The information found in this book could be applied to all forms of writing, not just short story form. The author effectively describes all aspects of writing craft in a simple and straightforward manner. My favorite part of the book is Part II Idea into Story. Within this section, the author discusses how it is not enough to have a singular idea, but that one must connect it to at least another and develop it further. This section also covers research, plot, character, setting, and what a The information found in this book could be applied to all forms of writing, not just short story form. The author effectively describes all aspects of writing craft in a simple and straightforward manner. My favorite part of the book is Part II Idea into Story. Within this section, the author discusses how it is not enough to have a singular idea, but that one must connect it to at least another and develop it further. This section also covers research, plot, character, setting, and what a story should be.

  21. 5 out of 5

    a hooded figure from your friendly neighbourhood dog park

    White a bit dated and not exactly an eye opener, this book is very honest and somehow true to what being a writer is all about! And sometimes it just helps to see all this seemingly obvious stuff put together. Especially liked the part about being partners with your own subconscious - a helpful advice I'm going to try and follow from now on))

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emily Irish

    Great book on the fundamentals of writing good fiction. The only reason this didn't get 5 stars from me is because the name is misleading. The book talks a lot about good general fiction practices, but offers no specifics on short fiction, what makes it different from novels, or advice on how to write a strong story with limited space. Still, I'd recommend to any writers of fiction.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Staticblaq

    Some very sound general writing advice. Not enough practical advice on writing Short Fiction for my expectations - nothing on SS structures, and the differences between short fiction and longer fiction, thenuances that can make short fiction writing more challenging.

  24. 5 out of 5

    malrubius

    Good for beginners. Mostly about the creation process. Beginning, controlling, finishing. Not that much about the fine points of craft, which is not really the point of the book. Best part is about working with the unconscious, coming up with ideas and letting them gel.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Val Mathews

    Good exercises for aspiring writers to get outside themselves and see, hear, smell, and experience the world as a writer.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Hammerstein

    I found this book to be a succinct, balanced and practical guide to writing fiction. Damon Knight writes with the authority of a dedicated and accomplished author. The book offers practical exercises that complement the theory. Although most parts of the book are clear, I felt that the section on point of view lacked clarity. I enjoyed the passages about the life of a professional author, such as ways to cope with slumps and writers’ block. Damon Knight even offers suggestions about spouse I found this book to be a succinct, balanced and practical guide to writing fiction. Damon Knight writes with the authority of a dedicated and accomplished author. The book offers practical exercises that complement the theory. Although most parts of the book are clear, I felt that the section on point of view lacked clarity. I enjoyed the passages about the life of a professional author, such as ways to cope with slumps and writers’ block. Damon Knight even offers suggestions about spouse selection for an author. The writing advice is generally timeless; however, some sections reflect the passage of time: recommendations of traditional print reference materials (such as a dictionary and encyclopedia set) and the merits of electronic versus manual typewriters. There is even a section on an emerging technology: word processors. I recommend the book to all aspiring authors.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Moira Russell

    I think this is the book that first taught me about how the human mind likes to go 'ing ing ing': 'Opening the door and racing up the stairs the man only thought of grabbing the glittering ring.' (Along with the dry remark that the man couldn't do all that even if his arms were twenty feet long.) If this is so I owe Damon Knight a very large debt, and he also owes me one because now whenever I see that kind of thing (ing, ing, ing) in a story it makes me wince.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Angela Penrose

    Great book for beginners, a useful summation and reminder-of-details for the more experienced. A bit out of date in a couple of places, but that's understandable. Definitely a good read if you're into writing short stories. Note that although Knight is known as an SF writer, this book isn't particular to SF.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alisha Brook

    Title: Creating Short Fiction - The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction Series: - Author: Damon Knight Genre: Informational/ Writing Rating: 3.5 stars Very informative. It offers great advice to beginning writers and is quite a detailed resource.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    I felt like less went over my head than it did years ago when I read it the first time, and that makes me happy, like I'm smarter or more perceptive now. Simple, practical and insightful writing advice.

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