Over the summer I've been trying to study up on the writing of short stories, since I've had such stunning lack of success selling the things. I've just finished reading Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills, about whom I can find very little on-line, though he appears to have been an editor for, I believe, Esquire. I chose this book, quite honestly, because it was the only one on writing short stories I could find in two different bookstores.
I got a lot out of reading this book, a lot of stuff I hadn't heard of before--the difference between static action and dynamic action, for instance. I tend to write slice-of-life types of stories in which I try to expose someone's soul. I like to write about characters who aren't aware, themselves, of what they're really like. Hills insists over and over again that short stories should be about something happening to someone--the someone should change as a result of something happening to her. In my stories the main characters often don't change. What's supposed to change is the readers' perception of her.
Hmmm. Perhaps this is what I've been doing wrong?
I think reading this book has actually changed how I read short stories. As I'm reading them, I am aware when they seem to fit into Hills' philosophy. For instance, on July 3 The Hartford Courant's Northeast Magazine (a publication I'm not terribly fond of, as a general rule) carried two marvelous short stories. As I was reading Experiment by Jennifer Vanderbes and Monsters by Sabina Murray, I kept thinking, "Yes! Yes! That's exactly what Rust Hills was talking about!"
I must say, though, that I also found Hills' book somewhat disorganized and rambly. I need organization to help me retain information. After getting about halfway through the book, I had to go back and take notes to try to get a better grasp on the content. Hills has a very conversational style that seems very down-to-earth on the first page. By the middle of the book, it starts to become really grating.
I mentioned this book in this blog back at the end of April. It really isn't that long. It shouldn't have taken me two months to read it. Wanting to remember what I was reading slowed me down.