Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Ah, writing books. With a few exceptions, authors of said books like to hold you gently by the hand and lead you down the path of writing philosophies, rules (which, as they say, can always be broken if you know what you’re doing), and sometimes exercises. Some go so far as to repeat aphorisms and affirmations.

Not so with Nick Mamatas’ Starve Better, which I think of as belonging to the extreme end of the writing school of hard knocks. Mainly about the art of the short story (and general writing principles that hold up anywhere you end up writing), he pulls no punches, even questioning your need to write stories in the first place—for instance, short stories and novels don’t really lead from one to the other, novels have better bang for the buck if you manage to sell, and a lot of book writers end up letting stories fall by the wayside for some reason. He of course also talks about the merits of writing short stories—as well as an allusion to the real reason to engage in this not-very-high-paying area. “Why Write What Nobody Reads”, indeed.

Starve Better is a collection of essays rather than a write-by-numbers book, organized by subject matter. My favorite piece of advice comes from the introduction, “All Advice is Terrible Advice, Plus Other Useful Advice”:

There are no rules. Only the results matter; the process of shoving the kindhearted zombie mortician into the rented coffin is irrelevant. The problem is that when people can’t get results they want, they become obsessed with process.

He doesn’t pull punches even on his own advice. That’s cojones as far as writing books go.

Some interesting Mamatas advice (and possibly terrible advice, depending on your situation—it’s a hard thing, but sooner or later you have to fess up to the fact that you need to know, or at least get a feel for, what you need to do with your work):

  • Short stories can’t do everything, so it’s best, like a photographer, to focus on certain elements—in particular your strengths. Like everything on this list, he expands on the subject and gives examples.

  • Hooks should not be thrown carelessly at the reader.

  • Breaking scenes is like ringing a gong; do it with care.

  • Ending a story meaningfully.

  • The four elements to a good piece of dialogue.

  • What I’ll call anti-patterns to avoid in your writing (threaded throughout all his essays).

  • And more!

On the practical, fast survival money side of things, hence the title of the book, he also talks about freelancing, something not covered in other artsy books about writing.

The appendix and the introduction are important and not to be skipped.

Will you like Mamatas’ style? If you’ve never read his essays before, you can start with his blog. A few posts focused on writing, at his blog and Salon:

Ah, man, I wish I still had access to my old LiveJournal favorites, so I can dredge up some of his older posts, when he was an editor for Clarkesworld. (I can’t even figure out where that is anymore, but it was another account in another time.)

Looking for acerbic amusement? Looking for a frank accounting of the hazardous-to-your-checkbook nature of taking on a full-time writing career? In particular, looking for advice on short stories?

Starve Better is your book.


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