I’ll confess at the start of this post that I don’t have a high respect for most how-to writing guides. I’m not sure that fiction writing can be taught. Having said that, though, I do think it can be learned. In my experience this is done in two ways: extensive reading and exhaustive writing. We’re on our own for the second part, but occasionally we can find a little help with the first part.
I recently finished reading 12 Short Stories and Their Making, an anthology collected by Paul Mandelbaum and published in 2005 by Persea Books. Within are twelve richly textured short stories followed by interviews with their authors. Among the writers included are familiar names like Sandra Cisneros, Ellen Gilchrist, Gail Godwin, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Tobias Wolff. Each author’s story is presented first, and it is followed by a conversation between Mandelbaum and the author. The conversations provide insight into the varying creative processes of these diverse writers.
This isn’t a book telling you how to write your short story. Rather, it is a book telling you how these authors wrote their short stories. The conversations describe how the stories came to be written the way they were as well as how they couldn’t have been written in any other way. We see what their motivations and intentions were. Sometimes we see what other writing has influenced them or what incidents in their lives found their way into the stories and why. Mandelbaum also manages to tease some technical discussion from each writer. By offering these insights, this book lets all of us see how it might be done and so perhaps plumb our murky depths to find our own motivations. It gives us a sort of permission to venture down new creative roads.
The anthology does not try to be all things to all writers. Rather, it takes a more measured approach, offering two selections for each of the categories: character, plot, point of view/voice, setting, structure, and theme. The stories are arranged by which category they best illustrate. With a breakdown like this, and with the in-depth interviews that follow each story, this book might deserve a place on your reference shelf.
For my part, I always like to read anthologies because I get introduced to writers I have not tried before. Often I find a new favorite among them. Persea Books has several other writer-focused anthologies that might merit your attention as well.