The first section of Hills’ book is titled The Short Story, as against the Novel and the Sketch. It runs four pages. In those four pages you will find Hills’ overarching thesis, a detailed explanation of what a story is and isn’t, a paradigm by which language can be mapped to every aspect of fiction technique, and an explanation of how short stories achieve a unity of purpose and focus unlike any other written form. It is the densest, most informative four pages ever written about fiction writing, and if you read the section ten times you will learn something new each time.
The single most important sentence in the whole section, however, is the first:
This book implies that some techniques in fiction tend to have absolute effects, and tries to explain what they are.
For all the disdain Hills directed at how-to-write books in the Introduction, here he is letting you know that Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular is a how-to-write book. Note also that he uses the word ‘fiction’ above and not the phrase ‘short fiction’. The techniques that Hills describes in his book are not unique to short stories, they are simply intensified and concentrated in short stories. Everything that he talks about — every technique — is portable to every kind of fiction.
What Hills is saying, here and throughout his book, is that ably doing X will necessarily cause the reader to think/feel Y. He’s not saying this might happen, he’s saying that these relationships are “absolute” in storytelling. The implied obverse of this claim is that your inability to do X — even if driven only by ignorance — will keep the reader from thinking/feeling Y. Bold claims to be sure, but what if he’s right? [ Read more ]