Writing manuals come in many guises. Linda Acaster's 'Reading A Writer’s Mind: Exploring Short Fiction – First Thought to Finished Story', if you'll forgive the reference, does what it says on the tin.
If you're a reader, you'll find this book worthwhile and entertaining simply for the stories it presents for examination by writers. The fiction is varied in genre and style but consistent in its good quality. Even the stories specifically written for the 'women's fiction market' are well structured and populated by rounded characters who will be familiar to most readers.
If you're a writer, this is a book that will help develop your short fiction. The sample stories illustrate the author's points perfectly as she explains her reasons for the various selections a writer must make as a piece of short fiction is constructed. Here you'll find advice on character forming and building, plot structure, language choice, viewpoint selection and much more. Linda introduces each story, and then presents it for reading in full. She follows this with an explanation of the processes she used in the construction. Finally, she sets the reader an exercise in order to consolidate and fully bed in the lesson of the section.
Most writers are resistant to exercises: I certainly am. However, as with the excellent suggestions made by Dorothea Brande in her 'Becoming a Writer', Linda's practice pieces are designed to make the reader a better writer and will pay dividends to those who attempt them.
I'm not a lover of writing manuals, but I place this one alongside the excellent Dorothea Brande's book, already mentioned, and Stephen King's 'On Writing', both of which have been formative in my writing.
Linda Acaster's concise but comprehensive work on approaching short fiction now has a permanent place in my library and I shall return to it each time I begin a new short story, in the hope that I can improve on my skills and reach the market I am aiming at.