Writing Short Stories (by Ailsa Cox)

A little over a year ago, I decided to order a couple of books on writing short stories. I read several reviews, and chose a couple that looked good. I had never heard of Ailsa Cox; it turns out that she's an academic who reads and tutors for a BA programme in creative writing. She also, as would be expected, has had several short stories published.

However, I was a bit disappointed in her book 'Writing Short Stories', which is billed on the back as a non-literary guide for the average short story writer. The book looks in turn at several genres of short story, with explanations of how they work.

But instead of focusing on character-building and plot development, which I had hoped for, it basically gives extensive examples of how the author herself or other authors have written in the various genres.

The examples given are - to my mind - fairly literary and mostly rather dark, even those labelled humourous. None of them were the kind of thing that appealed to me at all. None of them were the kind of thing that I would want to write, either. There were a lot of exercises at the end of each chapter, none of which were remotely appealing to me as a writer of light character-based short stories.

For someone who enjoys dark and literary short stories, this book might well be useful. But I'm afraid that I found it rather tedious. It took me over a year to wade through it as I kept losing interest; eventually I skimmed the last couple of chapters, hopeful that I might find something more interesting.

I did look at the extensive assignments given at the end of each chapter and even tried out one or two, but didn't find any inspiration. I guess they're the kind of thing that might be assigned in a university course, but I really don't want to write at that level.

Still, the book is very well-written and clear. For someone who likes darker literary short stories, and who is academically inclined, it may well be worth reading. However, if you prefer to write for light women's fiction, I would recommend either 'Writing Great Short Stories' by Margaret Lucke or 'How to Write and Sell Short Stories' by Della Galton.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 13th April 2009

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