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This book is written for all those people, old or young, who feel sure they could write stories if only they knew how to begin. The author has no patience with formulas and fiction factories, with authorship by correspondence schools; but neither does he believe that fiction cannot be taught. But it was not, primarily, to inspire a flood of new stories that he wrote this book. Many of those persons who feel sure they could write stories if they only knew how to begin may be helped merely by the discovery that knowing is not enough: that, in spite of knowing, they cannot. This book is presented in the hope that better, if perhaps fewer, stories will be written.
Kenneth Kempton believes that the creation of every good story entails an unwritten contract between its writer, the editor, and its readers. He studies the subject from all three of these often conflicting, but compatible, points of view, and outlines and recommends a clearer conception of the writer’s obligation to the other two contracting parties than has usually existed either in young writers’ minds or in books on writing. He helps the novice consider the pros and cons of his step into authorship, and then discusses and compares the various techniques used by different authors. He presents and explains examples, good and bad, of dialogue. He interprets spontaneity, plausibility, suspense and surprise, characterization, place and atmosphere, plot versus theme, indirection and restraint in terms not only of the reader’s needs, but also of the editor’s.
The Short Story is neither an abstract study of the fine art of writing, nor a commercial handbook. It is not a book to be studied. There are no footnotes, there is no index; the only appendix is a list showing the whereabouts in print of the various stories used for illustration. The reader who runs may read this book with no loss, and with pleasure as well as profit.