If I had to pick a single reason why I think Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular is the best book ever written about storytelling, it would be that Rust Hills is entirely focused on liberating writers through craft. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you bungle the manner in which you tell a story it’s not going to have the intended effect. If what you ultimately want to do is express yourself Hills would never stand in the way of that goal, but he would expect you to master technique and craft as a means to that end. Simply gutting yourself on a blank page doesn’t cut it, no matter how vital the experience might feel or how much attention you might get as a result. (Rubbernecking isn’t only for car wrecks.)
In practice, however, I don’t think most writers start with a desire to make art. They begin, rather, with the humble objective of exploring the medium, while perhaps also harboring dreams of critical or commercial success. As with any craft or profession, what most students want are hard and fast rules that lead to success. And while Hills (and I) would say there are no rules, it’s understandable that many if not most beginning writers would like a few guideposts and markers to follow — if only to keep from getting lost.
My grandmother was a teacher for fifty years, mostly in junior high. One of her favorite stories concerned assigning a short paper on any topic students wanted to write about. Within minutes, she said, her desk was always surrounded by students looking for topic suggestions. If that’s where you’re at with fiction, that’s okay. It’s understandable the you might like some rules to follow until you decide to break them yourself. And if what you’re looking for is a step-by-step guide that’s okay, too. Whatever it takes to get you writing and exploring the craft of fiction is the right way to go. [ Read more ]