Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama


Drawing on Stephen Minot's experience teaching writing, Three Genres, Sixth Edition, introduces the basic principles of creative writing in the areas of poetry, fiction, and drama. While exploring the traditional forms and conventions of these literary genres, the student is encouraged to find his or her own creative voice.
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Drawing on Stephen Minot's experience teaching writing, Three Genres, Sixth Edition, introduces the basic principles of creative writing in the areas of poetry, fiction, and drama. While exploring the traditional forms and conventions of these literary genres, the student is encouraged to find his or her own creative voice.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780139184673
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
  • Publication date: 11/28/1992
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 5
  • Pages: 384

Table of Contents

Preface for Students
Preface for Teachers
Pt. 1 The Writing of Poetry 1
1 What Makes a Poem a Poem? 1
2 The Sources of Poetry 12
3 The Language of Poetry 23
4 Images 33
5 The Sound of Words 46
6 Traditional Rhythms 58
7 Unique Rhythms 70
8 Tone 80
9 From Units to Unity 91
10 Writing Poetry on Your Own 104
11 Poems for Study 111
Pt. 2 The Writing of Fiction 133
12 The Creative Process 133
13 The Sources of Fiction 141
14 A Story by Melissa Pritchard: "Phoenix" 151
15 Viewpoint: Strategies of Presentation 158
16 A Story by Stephen Minot: "Sausage and Beer" 169
17 Structure: From Scenes to Plot 177
18 A Story by Deborah Joy Cory: "Three Hearts" 185
19 Narrative Tension 192
20 A Story by John Updike: "Man and Daughter in the Cold" 201
21 Characterization 207
22 Setting 219
23 Implication: Metaphor, Symbol, and Theme 228
24 Style and Tone 236
25 Writing Fiction on Your Own 246
Pt. 3 The Writing of Drama 253
26 Theater: A Live Performance 253
27 A Play by William Saroyan: "Hello Out There" 259
28 The Dramatic Plot 272
29 Conflict 281
30 Dramatic Characterization 288
31 A Play by Louis Phillips: "Goin' West" 295
32 Realistic and Nonrealistic Approaches 308
33 Visual Impact 318
34 Dramatic Themes 329
35 The Voices of Comedy 338
36 Writing Plays on Your Own 345
A Submission of Material for Publication 349
B Resources for Writers 358
Glossary-Index 367
Index of Authors and Titles 383
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What Are Your Goals?

Most readers skip prefaces; they want to plunge right in. That will come. If you want to make the most of this text, read this preface. First, here is an important question only you can answer: Why are you interested in creative writing?

There are many possible motives. Writing—and especially imaginative writing—is not a science. Everyone approaches it for slightly different reasons. Your answer, though, will determine how you use this text. Here are three of the most common reasons people become involved in creative writing.

1. For many, learning more about literature is the goal. There is no better way to increase your understanding of poetry, fiction, or drama than to write them. Learning by doing is effective in all the arts. And in sports, too. Those who have spent time learning to play the violin have a special understanding of classical music. And what better way is there to appreciate soccer or baseball than to play it? If you write a sonnet or a short story or a play, you will become a better reader.

2. Others hope that creative writing will become a long-term avocation. A great majority of those in creative writing classes or adult workshops don't plan to make writing their primary vocation. They are like those who play a musical instrument seriously but without any intention of joining the Boston Symphony. They devote time to improving their skills, they take part in workshop groups, they may publish from time to time; but writing remains an avocation, not a vocation.

3. For a smaller group, writing has become a central commitment. It is not an easy route. College students may have toslight other courses. When they graduate, they will probably have to enter another field to earn enough to eat and pay the rent. In spite of these challenges, they identify themselves as poet, writer, or dramatist. To support this notion, they must allot a portion of each day to reading contemporary fiction, poetry, or drama in a close, professional way. They attend readings and conferences, but most important, they write regularly. In short, they are immersed in a particular genre—not just their own work but the best of what is being published as well.

Which group do you fall into? If you are just beginning, you may well be in a fourth category: those who are testing the field. They aren't sure just how important writing may become in their lives, but they know that they are not going to find out simply by wondering. They are determined riot to become one of those wistfully passive adults who keep saying, "I've always wanted to write."

It may be that you will begin with high expectations and will discover after graduation that you are really a reader rather than a writer. But you will have lost nothing because you will have become a far more perceptive reader than you were before. The pleasure you take in reading will be greater.

Or perhaps you will begin with a commitment to one genre and find that your real talent and interest lie in another. Writers, unlike ballet dancers and atomic physicists, don't have to start early and stay on a single track. In writing, anything is possible at any stage and at any age. No aptitude test or teacher can predict how much talent and commitment will develop until you have a body of work to show.

What This Textbook Can't Do

Reading this textbook hastily won't be of much help. Don't try skimming. It is essential that you take extra time to study the poems, stories, and plays. The text will show you what to look for, but it is no substitute for close, analytical reading of the literary examples themselves. Ultimately, they are your teachers.

Next, allow time to write and revise your own work. This or any text can't be a substitute for the effort of actually writing poetry, fiction, and drama. There is a fundamental difference between content texts, such as those in literature, history, philosophy, or political science, and process texts. Content texts can be read at a steady pace. They provide facts and concepts. Process texts, such as those in the creative and performing arts, guide your creative efforts. You learn by doing. Doing in this case means writing.

Finally, this textbook will not try to persuade you that every step of the way will be fun. Workshop sessions are often the most enjoyable classes on campus, but much of the time you will be on your own. Creative writing is more than just tapping into some bubbling well of inspiration. Good writing takes effort. What this text can do is make that effort more rewarding. And it certainly will speed the process of development.

How to Get the Most from This Text

You bought this book. Here are five ways to make it a good investment:

  • In the poetry section, spend extra time on Chapter 2, "Plunging In." Almost every poem will be used later to illustrate different poetic techniques. You will be returning to them repeatedly. The special effort you make on Chapter 2 will make the entire section more meaningful.

  • There are six stories in the fiction section and three plays in the drama section. Allow extra time for them, just as you did for the poems in Chapter 2. Don't wait passively for the text to analyze them. The analysis of literary concepts won't mean much unless you become familiar with the work being discussed. Study each of these closely before going on.

  • Try to use the terms introduced in this text accurately and often. Some will be new to you, but when you start to use them in discussions, they will become familiar and helpful. They will help you to be precise in discussing literary works.

  • If some section seems unclear or puzzling, get help. Talk it over with your teacher or someone else using the text.

  • Mark up your book with legible, helpful marginal notes. Link the concepts and approaches with works you have read. Underline passages that are important. Tests have shown that those who take reading notes improve their comprehension. They convert passive reading into active involvement.

All this will take you a little more time than it would simply to read a textbook from beginning to end. But creative writing is not a skill that can be mastered in ten easy steps. It is a slow process of growth—growth both in your understanding of what literature has to offer and in your ability to create new work with, your own individual stamp.


Why a New Edition?

I, too, hate them. All those marginal notes lost, favorite works dropped for no good reason, new works to deal with, old syllabi made obsolete. And for what? Surely six editions were more than enough. Isn't a seventh edging on redundancy?

For all that, there are justifications. First, although excellent literature is timeless, students are not. Their needs and expectations change. A work that draws them into the world of literature one decade will strike students in the next educational "generation" as naive or pedestrian. Yes, we who are involved with literature do proselytize. We want to use works that will attract today's students while giving them enough complexity to stretch their abilities.

Second, analysis and examples that seem highly effective in manuscript don't always fare as well as expected when tested in many classrooms. Three Genres has been adopted in all 50 states and in a great variety of institutions. There are good reasons for every change in each edition, but the ultimate test is in a multitude of classrooms. I depend on teacher response.

Third, although the text is new for each succeeding class of students, it becomes more than familiar for those of us who use it regularly. We as teachers need fresh examples, fresh approaches to the art of writing.

The Mechanics of a New Edition

No, it's not just a matter of shuffling chapters. At best, it is a two-year process. The first step is to elicit feedback. Four formal critiques from teachers are commissioned by the publisher. These are anonymous and represent different types of schools in different sections of the country. In addition, I maintain a file of comments I have received. Opinions vary, of course, and sometimes contradict each other.

Decisions have to be made. The diagram of the relationship between similes, metaphors, and symbols, for example (page 67), has just as many enthusiasts as detractors. Do the "seven deadly sins" of fiction intimidate more than they help? It depends on whom you ask. Will Murray Schisgal's satiric play in this edition offend some? Stay tuned. Ultimately, I have to make a series of judgments.

Then there is the matter of permissions. In many cases, even works that are retained have to be renegotiated. Some agents and certain publishers are unrealistic about what is a fair permission fee. A few authors have badly inflated egos. Bargaining is a slow and frustrating process. It takes six months.

Then comes the actual writing. By revising about one-third of the text and replacing one-third of the examples, I try to strike a balance between change and continuity. At best, this process takes another six months.

It then takes another full year from the time the completed manuscript is delivered to the publisher to the date on which the book is available. My wife and I proofread the manuscript, the edited manuscript, and the page proofs in addition to the work of the in-house proofreaders. (Even after these nine professional proofreadings, every new edition contains at least two elusive typos!) This is all a long, time-consuming process, but we hope that it results in a text that meets the needs of both teachers and students.

What's New This Time?

1. A troubleshooting guide: the new Appendix A, provides topics in all three genres that often give trouble. Each genre is listed separately, and the topics with page references are arranged alphabetically. Students can use this guide to review areas they are unsure of, and, equally important, instructors can recommend specific pages for review when writing their comments. These should help students in their revisions and also suggest topics for the next conference.

2. An expanded poetry selection gives a greater variety of poems, including an example and explanatory section on the pantoum.

3. Brief comments and questions on the Poems in Chapter 2 have been added to each poem in order to arouse interest and help students who are reading these poems for the first time.

4. An expanded fiction section includes an additional story, giving a greater range of tonal effects and style.

5. A new chapter on dialogue in fiction shows various approaches as well as uses.

6. A new play by Murray Schisgal (author of Luv and co-author of the award-winning script for Tootsie) is included in the drama section.

7. An expanded Glossary-Index includes definitions of a greater range of literary terms.

The Instructor's Manual will once again be available upon adoption of the text. It contains suggestions for syllabi as well as exercises for individual topics. I urge teachers to contact the publisher for a copy of this helpful resource that has been prepared especially for them.

Full Use of Three Genres

A number of instructors have assigned Three Genres as an optional or supplemental text. This may be helpful with advanced classes, but the text has not been designed for casual browsing. The most effective way to justify its adoption is to assign specific chapters on specific days and ask students to discuss some of the techniques covered in that section. If supplemental anthologies are used, they will help students apply the approaches described here to additional works. This encourages students to use this text actively rather than merely as a resource.

A Companion Text

Literary Nonfiction: The Fourth Genre is my new text, also published by Prentice Hall, designed to meet the phenomenal growth of interest in this type of writing. It can be used as a companion to Three Genres, serving as a natural introduction to poetry, fiction, or drama; or it can be used independently in courses that focus exclusively in creative or literary nonfiction.

Literary Nonfiction carefully distinguishes literary prose from the factual essay and argumentation papers students are used to writing. It guides them through a variety of approaches such as personal experience, a sense of place, and character studies and analyzes structural strategies such as contrasts, incremental evidence, and linkage by image. Unlike other texts in the field, it explains how literary nonfiction can serve as a natural transition to poetry, fiction, or drama. My intent is to place literary nonfiction in the context of all creative writing.

Originally Literary Nonfiction was conceived as a replacement for the drama section of Three genres. Soon, however, it was clear that a separate volume would provide instructors with greater flexibility. Hearing about your experience with either of these texts by letter or e-mail will be of great value and much appreciated.

Special Thanks

I owe sincere thanks to my senior acquisitions editor, Carrie Brandon, who has gone out of her way to establish good working relations with the publisher. I am also indebted to my production editor, Maureen Benicasa.

Thanks also to sharp readers of the Sixth Edition who e-mailed errata. High on the list are Philip Schneider of Washington State University, L. Currivon of Leeward Community College, Hawaii, and Ed Phar (and his 50 students) at DeVry Institute of Technology in Arizona. I'm also grateful to a number of anonymous critics for their thoughtful suggestions: Laurie Kutchins, James Madison University; W. David LeNoir, Western Kentucky University; Howard Kerner; Andrew Furman, Florida Atlantic University; and Elizabeth Bruton, Catawba Valley Community College.

Finally, I owe an immeasurable debt to my wife, Virginia S. Minot, who in the past three decades has proofread 25 typescripts, galleys, and page proofs for the various editions of this text as well as the same for novels and story collections. All this without so much as a sigh of protest—at least within earshot. I am particularly pleased that this year her print collage has been used for the cover of both this edition and that of Literary Nonfiction. Her contributions have been immeasurable.

Stephen Minot

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