What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

Overview

What If? is the first handbook for writers based on the idea that specific exercises are one of the most useful and provocative methods for mastering the art of writing fiction. With more than twenty-five years of experience teaching creative writing between them, Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter offer more than seventy-five exercises for both beginners and more experienced writers. These exercises are designed to develop and refine two basic skills: writing like a writer and, just as important, thinking like a ...

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Overview

What If? is the first handbook for writers based on the idea that specific exercises are one of the most useful and provocative methods for mastering the art of writing fiction. With more than twenty-five years of experience teaching creative writing between them, Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter offer more than seventy-five exercises for both beginners and more experienced writers. These exercises are designed to develop and refine two basic skills: writing like a writer and, just as important, thinking like a writer. They deal with such topics as discovering where to start and end a story; learning when to use dialogue and when to use indirect discourse; transforming real events into fiction; and finding language that both sings and communicates precisely. What If? will be an essential addition to every writer's library, a welcome and much-used companion, a book that gracefully borrows a whisper from the muse.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062720061
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/28/1991
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 327,502
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Bernays

Anne Bernays, a novelist and writing teacher, is the author of eight novels, including Professor Romeo and Growing Up Rich, as well as two works of nonfiction, including The Language of Names written with Justin Kaplan and What If? written with Pamela Painter. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous major publications, among them The Nation, the New York Times, Town & Country, and Sports Illustrated. She lives in Cambridge and Truro, Massachusetts with her husband, Justin Kaplan. They have three daughters and six grandchildren.

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    1. Hometown:
      Cambridge, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 14, 1930
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Wellesley College, 1948-1950; B A., Barnard College, 1952

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

First sentences are doors to worlds. -Ursula K. Le Guin

New writers oftne find beginnings difficult—whether they're starting a story or a novel—because they take the word "beginning" too literally. They cast around for the "beginning" of a story—forgetting that beginnings rarely have the necessary ingredients for trouble, for conflict, or for complication. Your story can begin with dialogue, narrative summary, description, whatever, but it must begin in medias res, in the middle of things. You must resist the temptation to give the reader too lengthy an explanation as to how things got to this point. Remember, you are trying to hook the reader's attention, to pull the reader into your story so that he won't wonder, What's on television tonight?

Another stumbling block to beginning a story is that new writers think they have to know where their story is going and how it will end—before they begin. Not true. Flannery O'Connor says, "If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen; and you don't have to know what before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don't know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don't, probably nobody else will."

The following exercises are designed to encourage you to think about real characters who are involved in situations that are already under way—situations that are starting to unravel because of, or in spite of, the desires and actions of their beleaguered characters. Don't worry about middles or endings yet. Just give yourself over to settingstories in motion—you will soon know which stories capture your imagination and seem unstoppable, which stories demand to be finished. Till that time, begin and begin and begin.

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Table of Contents

1. Beginnings.


2. Notebooks, Journals, and Memory.


3. Characterization.


4. Perspective, Distance, and Point of View.


5. Dialogue.


6. Interior Landscapes.


7. Plot.


8. The Elements of Style.


9. A Writer's Tools.


10. Invention and Transformation.


11. Revision: Rewriting Is Writing.


12. Games.


13. Learning from the Greats.


14. Sudden, Flash, and Microfiction: The Short Story.

20/20, by Linda Brewer.

Excuses I Have Already Used by Antonia Clark.

Mackerel Night by Laurence Davies.

The Custodian by Brian Hinshaw.

Girl by Jamaica Kincaid.

Confirmation Names by Mariette Lippo.

It Would've Been Hot by Melissa McCracken.

My Mother's Gifts by Judith Claire Mitchell.

The New Year by Pamela Painter.

Wants by Grace Paley.

No One's a Mystery by Elizabeth Tallent.

Vision out of the Corner of One Eye by Luisa Valenzeula.


15. A Collection of Short Fiction.

Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood.

Christmas Eve at Johnson's Drugs N Goods by Toni Cade Bambara.

Gryphon by Charles Baxter.

Some of Our Work with Monsters by Ron Carlson.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver.

Sister by Deborah Joy Corey.

White Angel by Michael Cunningham.

How to Talk to a Hunter by Pam Houston.

Live Life King Sized by Hester Kaplan.

The Niece by Margot Livesey.

Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason.

Sheep by Thomas McNeely.

Five Points by Alice Munro.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor.

Wolinsky's Resort by Edward Schwarzschild.

The Appaloosa House by Sharon Sheehe Stark.

Under the Roof by Kate Wheeler.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    good for teaching beginning writers

    I used this text in one of my beginning writing courses this semester and the students found it very helpful. It's not really for more experienced writers although some of the exercises are quite good. There's nothing overwhelmingly original here but if you're looking for a good text for teaching writing, this is much better than most.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    A must for any writer or teacher of writing

    As a writing teacher, I found this book to be the best source that I have found yet for focusing and tuning student talents. There are so many exercises that can be used immediately in the classroom. I can't say enough about the improvement that I saw in my student's writing after introducing them to the prompts in this book. I would highly recommend this to any writing teacher or writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2002

    More of the same in many other books

    The claim here is that these authors have devised a system that is uniquely their own. Not so. This is just a rehash of the same old thing that is in so many other books. It is more of a textbook than anything else. And not a very good one at that. Don't waste your time. Try some of the book suggestions I've listed instead.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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