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Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular Paperback – September 6, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0618082346 ISBN-10: 0618082344 Edition: Revised

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Revised edition (September 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618082344
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618082346
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"There are now not enough commercial magazines regularly publishing literary fiction to count on the fingers of a single hand," says Rust Hills. So why bother writing literary short stories, or books about doing so? Because, says Hills, a longtime fiction editor at Esquire, "what young writers want to write, or ought to want to write, is literature." In Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Hills examines "the essential techniques of fiction and how they function." The short story is a tricky form, with no margin for error: "The successful contemporary short story," says Hills, "will demonstrate a more harmonious relationship of all its aspects than will any other literary art form, excepting perhaps lyric poetry." Many of the fictional elements discussed in this book will not be new to most fiction writers. We know that stories must have beginnings, middles, and ends; we know about epiphany and suspense and stock characters. But Hills claims that much of how we look at fiction derives from drama theory and from the formulas of "slick fiction" (fiction that once served the purpose mindless television now serves). Learned but not pedantic, Hills addresses these elements strictly in terms of literary short fiction.

An interesting side note here is Hills's discussion of the shift in support for American writers. "It is no longer the book publishers and magazines," he says, "but rather the colleges and universities that ... provide the major financial support for the great majority of American writers today." Given that, we might find it odd that this book comes from a man best known for his magazine editing. But we shouldn't. "Teaching fiction writing and editing magazine fiction have ... the same rather odd ultimate purpose in common: trying to get someone else to produce a fine short story." One caveat emptor: our copy of this edition fell quite apart upon our first, gentle reading of it. --Jane Steinberg

Review

“When [Hills] writes about writing, we should all pay close attention.” -- Richard Yates

“Admirable, wise, and comradely.” -- John Leggett

"Every aspiring fiction writer ought to read this." --WRITER'S DIGEST

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Customer Reviews

I highly recommend this book to everyone who writes fiction, especially short fiction.
Gustav
The worst that could happen would be to really learn to understand and appreciate short stories and novels.
Don Bell
In some cases, I felt a section did little to expand upon what was stated in its title.
Matthew K. Moore

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Tools of the Muse
In his informative and entertaining book,Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Rust Hills sets out to reach a broad range of potential writers. He attempts to establish a basic guide, useful to the nascent writer working in a workshop environment and to the solitary writer, who wishes "to learn to read literary stories in such a way as to help...write them." Hills' main idea that he stresses throughout the book revolves around the interrelation of every element within a short story. He writes: "A successful short story will thus necessarily show a more harmonious relationship of part to whole, and part to part...Everything must work with everything else. Everything enhances everything else, interrelates with everything else, is inseparable with everything else- and all this is done with a necessary and perfect economy." Hills formats the book so that each of the major literary terms and devices, essential to the short story writer, receive its own section for deeper analysis. Within these ongoing essays he often uses simplified fictional characters of his own invention to illuminate the discussion at hand. The characters, "Martin" and "Miranda," grow irksome at times, but his point is to make sure the reader unquestionably comprehends. Most of the sections close with a statement that reiterates how the specific device or term fits into the overall design of the whole. He pounds this notion of interrelation into the reader's head. Hills presents a vast array of useful literary terms and devices in a manner that never hinders the logical sequence of the book.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Craig L. Howe on June 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you have to read one book on writing, pick Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. It matters not if you are an aspiring fiction writer or craft journalistic feature stories, you will savor the time spent with Rust Hills book.
This is a practical writing guide. It explains in an understandable fashion all the techniques of fiction - from Character and Action, Foreshadowing and Suspense to Irony and Point of View in a simple and useable fashion. Using experience cultivated over more than 20 years as the Feature Editor of Esquire Magazine, Hills organizes the information in an ingenious fashion. Each chapter not only explains, but also employs the particular technique to demonstrate how it works. Hills amplifies his thoughts with insightful comments on many of the enduring theorists and practitioners of the craft.
My only regret is that it is easier to read about the techniques that to translate them into working stories.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
Rust Hills' writing aphorisms range from brilliant to bland (there are parts that are worth only a skim). Where Hills really sizzles is when he bucks conventional wisdom, for instance, his contention that much of today's teaching is derived from the conventions of the Playwright, who is more constrained by the need to explain mood and thought verbally (textually) than the Short Story Writer, who has a different set of tools and problems.
Other sections worth a close read include Hills' analysis of the so-called "Golden Age" of the short story. Hills points out that though there were more titles devoted to short fiction, much of it was pulp and exists today, only in the televison format to which it migrated. For those like me who would criticize the influence of today's MFA programs, Hills makes a strong case that academia has taken over the gestation of young writers from a consolidating (and more indifferent) publishing industry.
The text also could have used more examples from master writers than (I can only presume that it was) Rust Hills himself. Sorensen in her book, for instance, looks at stories such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark. What a shame that we did not get to see the lengthy analysis of a master editor such as Rust Hills on at least one notable piece of fiction; that alone would have driven my rating of this book to five stars.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
This really is the best book on short story writing out of the couple of dozen I've read. Lucidly explains what makes a good short story. It's more of an examination of good fiction than a how-to, but it's incisive and valuable. If I could have only one book on writing, this would be the one.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 7, 1997
Format: Paperback
Rust Hills has created a reference that is valuable for even the most experienced writer. His expertise in the short-story, after years of editing The Esquire, has allowed him a unique ability to point out those simple things that are the most complicated for writers and offer helpful advice in the correction of these concerns. A brilliant read for anyone interested in writing
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Hasmita CHANDER on May 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
I think I've read all I need to know or want to know for now on writing the literary short story. I learnt a lot from this book and liked the way Hills talks straight about the high-flown stuff. I found that his commentary was based a little too much on Henry James--for, against, etc. And in one too many areas I was irritated by his saying one thing and saying that the contrary works, too.

The reading is sometimes arduous, but mostly it's worth reading this book and absorbing all the advice and good inputs that a writer may never receive otherwise.
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