The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing

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A Los Angeles Times bestseller: wonderfully lucid and illuminating, Alice LaPlante’s guide to writing fiction “recalls Francine Prose’s bestseller, Reading Like a Writer” (Library Journal).The Making of a Story is a fresh and inspiring guide to the basics of creative writing—both fiction and creative nonfiction. Its hands-on, completely accessible approach walks writers through each stage of the creative process, from the initial triggering idea to the revision of the final manuscript. It is unique in combing the three main aspects of creative writing instruction: process (finding inspiration, getting ideas on the page), craft (specific techniques like characterization), and anthology (learning by reading masters of the form). Succinct, clear definitions of basic terms of fiction are accompanied by examples, including excerpts from masterpieces of short fiction and essays as well as contemporary novels. A special highlight is Alice LaPlante's systematic debunking of many of the so-called rules of creative writing. This book is perfect for writers working alone as well as for creative writing classes, both introductory and advanced.
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Editorial Reviews

“Comprehensive in its coverage of inspiration, craft, aesthetics, veracity, and purpose, this one-stop guide to writing is casual in tone and rigorous in content, elucidating the nature of diction and nonfiction and clarifying the qualities unique to each and common to both. Each chapter contains an explication of such subjects as point of view, characters, and narrative structure; writing exercises; and an illustrative story by the likes of Tim O’Brien, ZZ Packer, Lorrie Moore, John Cheever, and Maxine Hong Kingston. Expansive, clear, and sophisticated, LaPlante’s richly resourced guide is destined to become a standard.”
Book Passage
“This big, comprehensive book is almost a complete writing course.”
Library Journal

This thorough primer on the craft of creative writing is evidence of LaPlante's valuable classroom expertise (she teaches creative writing at both San Francisco State and Stanford universities). The organization is familiar: the text begins with definitions of fiction and creative nonfiction and then moves through a discussion of the writer's impetus for putting words to paper. It continues with chapters that discuss the short story, description, narration, point of view, dialog, plot, character, and revision. Each chapter (except the last) has the same three-segment structure. In Part 1, LaPlante explains and illustrates a topic; in Part 2, she gives the reader corresponding exercises; and in Part 3, she offers short stories and essays for further illustration. LaPlante is especially helpful when she addresses clichéd writing axioms, acknowledging the foundational premises of catch phrases such as "show, don't tell" while warning against their tendency to limit truly creative writing. Because she emphasizes the importance of reading good writing as a means of self-improvement, her guide, though presented in textbook format, recalls Francine Prose's recent best seller, Reading Like a Writer. Suitable primarily for academic libraries.
—Stacey Rae Brownlie

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393337082
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/11/2010
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 98,470
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Alice LaPlante
Alice LaPlante teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and Stanford University, where she is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her fiction has been published in the Southwest Review, Epoch, and Stanford Magazine, and her nonfiction has been published in Discover, BusinessWeek, and the San Jose Mercury News, among other publications. She lives in Palo Alto, California.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     19
What Is This Thing Called Creative Writing?     23
The Basics     23
Getting Started     23
Reconciling the Method with the Madness     24
Some Basic Definitions     25
Creative Nonfiction: A Working Definition     26
Writing That Is Surprising Yet Convincing     27
Resisting Paraphrase     28
Creative Nonfiction: Capturing What Has Eluded Capture     30
On Sentiment and Sentimentality     31
Our First Job as Writers: To Notice     35
Avoiding the "Writerly" Voice     36
Exercises     38
"I Don't Know Why I Remember..."     38
I Am a Camera     39
Reading as a Writer     40
"On Keeping a Notebook"   Joan Didion     40
"Emergency"   Denis Johnson     47
The Splendid Gift of Not Knowing     57
Writing as Discovery     57
Getting Started     57
What Do You Know?     58
Creative Nonfiction: Making the Ordinary Extraordinary     61
Writing Down What You Don't Know (About What You Know)     62
On Rendering, Not Solving, the Mysteries That Surround Us     63
Moving from "Triggering" to Real Subject     65
Surprise Yourself, Interest Others     67
Obsession as a Creative Virtue     68
Exercises     69
Things I Was Taught / Things I Was Not Taught     69
I Want to Know Why     71
Reading as a Writer     72
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"   Joyce Carol Oates     72
"Welcome to Cancerland"   Barbara Ehrenreich     87
Details, Details     107
Concrete Details as the Basic Building Blocks of Good Creative Writing     107
Getting Started     107
On Thinking Small     108
Defining "Image" within a Literary Context     109
Imagery That Works on Two Levels     111
On Seeing the General in the Particular     113
On Crowding the Reader Out of His Own Space     116
Don't Lose Any of Your Senses     117
Use of Concrete Details in Creative Nonfiction     119
Use and Abuse of Metaphor     120
When Should You Use Metaphor?     123
Avoiding the "S" Word: Banishing Conscious Symbols from Your Writing     124
Imagery as Creative Source     124
Exercises      127
Harper's Index on a Personal Level     127
Render a Tree, Capture the Forest     130
Reading as a Writer     131
"The Things They Carried"   Tim O'Brien     131
"Nebraska"   Ron Hansen     147
The Shapely Story     152
Defining the Short Story     152
Getting Started     152
Some Basic Definitions     152
The Conflict-Crisis-Resolution Model     155
Linear vs. Modular Stories     157
To Epiphany or Not to Epiphany?     159
Is Change Necessary? (The Debate Continues)     161
On Not Becoming Slaves to Theory     162
Exercises     165
False Epiphanies I Have Had     165
Opportunities Not Taken     166
Reading as a Writer     167
"What Makes a Short Story?"   Francine Prose     167
"Helping"   Robert Stone     178
Why You Need to Show and Tell     204
The Importance of Narration     204
Getting Started     204
Some Basic Definitions     204
Why "Show, Don't Tell" Is Such Common Advice     206
The Show-and-Tell Balancing Act      210
Traditional Uses of Narration (Telling)     213
Why Narration Is Such an Important Creative Tool     214
How Showing and Telling Complement Each Other     216
Good Intentions, Bad Advice     216
The Showing-Telling Continuum     218
Showing and Telling in Creative Nonfiction     223
Exercises     224
Tell Me a Story     224
What Everyone Knows / What I Know     226
Reading as a Writer     227
"Brownies"   ZZ Packer     227
"Winner Take Nothing"   Bernard Cooper     245
Who's Telling This Story, Anyway?     258
Introduction to Point of View     258
Getting Started     258
Some Basic Definitions     259
First Person     259
Whose Story Is It?     261
Second Person     265
Third Person     267
A Word about Attitude     272
Distance and Point of View     272
Shifts in Narrative Distance     275
Choosing a Point of View for Your Creative Work     276
Point of View and Creative Nonfiction     278
Common Point of View Problems      280
Exercises     282
Change Point of View and Dance     282
Using Point of View as a Way "In" to Difficult Material     283
Reading as a Writer     284
"The Lady with the Little Dog"   Anton Chekhov     284
"Moonrise"   Penny Wolfson     299
How Reliable Is This Narrator?     318
How Point of View Affects our Understanding of a Story     318
Getting Started     318
How We Judge the Integrity of the Stories We Hear and Read     318
First Person Point of View and Reliability     319
Third Person Point of View and Reliability     324
Exercises     328
He Said, She Said     328
See What I See, Hear What I Hear     329
Reading as a Writer     330
"The Swimmer"   John Cheever     330
You Talking to Me?     341
Crafting Effective Dialogue     341
Getting Started     341
What Dialogue Is Good For     342
What Dialogue Is Not     343
A Word about Attribution     344
Five Important Tips on Dialogue     345
On Subtext     350
A Word about Dialect      351
Using Placeholders     353
Dialogue in Creative Nonfiction Writing     354
Exercises     355
Nonverbal Communication     355
Them's Fighting Words     355
Reading as a Writer     356
"Hills Like White Elephants"   Ernest Hemingway     356
"Inside the Bunker"   John Sack     360
The Plot Thickens     375
Figuring Out What Happens Next     375
Getting Started     375
Story vs. Plot: Some Basic Definitions     375
A Word about Causality     377
Render How-Don't Try to Answer Why     379
On Metafiction     380
Character-Based Plotting     380
On Conflict     381
Analyzing Plot Points     384
Avoiding Scenes a Faire: Recognizing Cliched Plot Twists     386
Exercises     388
What's Behind the Door of Room 101?     388
"By the Time You Read This..."     389
Reading as a Writer     390
"Sonny's Blues"   James Baldwin     390
Recognizable People     418
Creating Surprising-Yet-Convincing Characters     418
Getting Started      418
Flat vs. Round Characters     419
Eschewing the General in Favor of the Particular     420
Consistency as the Hobgoblin of Characters     422
Ways of Defining Character     423
Character and Plot     427
Wants and Needs     431
Characters in Relationships     433
Character in Creative Nonfiction     434
Exercises     435
Emptying Pockets     435
Sins of Commission, Sins of Omission     437
Seven or Eight Things I Know about Him/Her     438
Reading as a Writer     441
"Surrounded by Sleep"   Akhil Sharma     441
"No Name Woman"   Maxine Hong Kingston     453
Raising the Curtain     465
Beginning Your Story, Novel, or Nonfiction Piece     465
Getting Started     465
Your Contract with the Reader     465
Characteristics of a Good Opening     467
Unbalancing Acts     468
Starting in the Middle     469
Beginning with Action     471
On the Nature of Suspense     473
Beginning Your Creative Nonfiction Piece     474
Exercises     475
Give It Your Best Shot     475
Start in the Middle     477
Make Them Squirm     478
Reading as a Writer     479
"People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk"   Lorrie Moore     479
What's This Creative Work Really About?     507
The Art of Transferring True Emotions Onto Sensory Events     507
Getting Started     507
Many Different Answers to the Same Question     508
Writing about What Matters     508
Transference: Borrowing from Freud     509
We Are Made of Dust     510
The Road to Universality     511
But It's the Truth! And Other Common Pleas for Clemency     512
Creative Nonfiction: On Being True as Well as Factual     513
Making Things Carry More Emotional Weight than They Logically Should     513
Transference and Creative Nonfiction     516
Exercises     518
Getting an Image to Spill Its Secrets     518
What I Lost     519
Reading as a Writer     521
"Ralph the Duck"   Frederick Busch     521
"The Knife"   Richard Selzer     533
Learning to Fail Better     542
On Revision     542
Getting Started     542
Advice for Writers from Writers     543
Perfection Is Our Enemy     544
The Workshop Method     544
Undue Influence: A Cautionary Tale     548
The Developmental Stages of a Creative Work     549
"Hot Spots" and Other Noteworthy Aspects of an Early Draft     550
An Exercise-Based Approach to Deep Revision     551
A Word about Constraints     552
Exercises     553
Analytical/Mechanical Exercises     553
Creative Exercises     554
Research-Based Exercises     555
Chance-Based Exercises     556
Revision Example: "The Company of Men"   Jan Ellison     556
Reading as a Writer     574
"Shitty First Drafts"   Anne Lamott     574
"The Carver Chronicles"   D. T. Max     578
"The Bath"   Raymond Carver     591
"A Small, Good Thing"   Raymond Carver     597
Getting beyond Facts to Truth     619
Some Final Thoughts on Creative Nonfiction     619
Getting Started     619
Just the Facts, Ma'am      620
Recollections and Re-creations     621
Ethical Considerations     624
Subjectivity vs. Objectivity     626
A Trip of Self-Discovery     628
To Be In or Out of the Story?     630
Reading as a Writer     633
"Learning to Drive"   Katha Pollitt     633
Glossary     643
Bibliography     647
List of Stories     657
Permissions     659
Index     665
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  • Posted July 16, 2012

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