Last year was the first time I had heard of L. Rust Hills, the former fiction editor of Esquire magazine. I edited his obituary for the newspaper. In it, the writer mentioned a book Hills had written: "Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular." The obit said the book was used in many creative-writing classes. I made note of the title with the intention of buying it, but I never did.
A week or two ago, a published writer on a message board I frequent mentioned that same book as being one that changed the way she writes. So I got off my butt and got it from my local library.
Now I see what the buzz is about.
Hills doesn't say anything extraordinary. There are no amazing revelations. But he does make me think about the techniques of writing short fiction in ways I haven't before. The key part of that being: He makes me think.
Probably the thing I'll take away the most is his insistence (rightly so) that a short story must have theme, action and character that all work together to create one harmonious unit. I haven't thought much about theme in my writing thus far. If I'm lucky, doing so will help me write better fiction.