What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers / Edition 3

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Overview

Organized by the elements of fiction and comprised primarily of writing exercises, this text helps students hone and refine their craft with a practical, hands-on approach to writing fiction.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780205616886
  • Publisher: Longman
  • Publication date: 9/10/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 124,150
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (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.

Biography

Anne Bernays is a novelist (including Professor Romeo and Growing Up Rich) and coauthor, with her husband, Justin Kaplan, of Back Then: Two Lives in 1950s New York. Her articles, book reviews and essays have appeared in such major publications as The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and The Nation. A longtime teacher of writing, she is coauthor, with Pamela Painter, of the textbook What If? Ms. Bernays currently teaches at Harvard's Nieman Foundation. She and Mr. Kaplan have six grandchildren. They live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Truro, Cape Cod.

Author biography courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating out takes from our interview with Bernays:

"I've written a memoir, Back Then, which has a lot of dicey stuff in it. And it's a good read! I'm fixated on how things work and how groups of people work with and against each other. I'm also a passionate liberal, and am convinced that this administration is so business-oriented that it's forgotten to serve the people who elected it. I'm a lifelong Democrat and have voted in every election since 1952."

"We have three daughters, five grandsons and one granddaughter. I think about them all the time. They have pet names for me. I don't see them nearly enough."

"Justin and I play word games at breakfast. I'm a demon walker and walk about ten miles – briskly -- a week. We have two dogs, Pansy and Daisy, who seem to occupy more time and emotional space than they ought to."

"Justin and I love to travel. We go on these ‘educational' trips, where Harvard professors tell you what you're going to see or what you have just seen."

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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

<>Contents

Preface

Introduction

PART ONE

Beginnings

1. First Sentences: Beginning in the Middle

2. Second Sentences as Different Paths

3. Ways to Begin a Story, from Robie Macauley

4. Begin a Story with a “Given” First Line, from William Kittredge

5. Free Associating from Random Sentences, from DeWitt Henry

6. Person, Place, and Song, from Ron Carlson

7. Stirring Up a Fiction Stew

8. The Newspaper Muse: Ann Landers and the National Enquirer

9. Taking Risks

PART TWO

Characterization

10. Oh! . . . That Sort of Person

11. What Do You Know About Your Characters?

12. Props

13. What Do Your Characters Want?

14. Making Heroes Flawed, from Douglas Bauer

15. Creating a Character’s Background, Place, Setting, and Milieu, from Robie Macauley

16. Put Your Characters to Work

17. The Morning After

18. He/She: Switching Gender

PART THREE

Perspective, Distance, and Point of View

19. First Person or Third

20. John Gardner on Psychic Distance

21. Shifts in Point of View

22. An Early Memory, Part One: The Child as Narrator

23. An Early Memory, Part Two: The Reminiscent Narrator

24. The Unreliable Narrator

25. Family Stories, Family Myths

PART FOUR

Dialogue

26. Speech Flavor, or Sounding Real, from Thalia Selz

27. Telling Talk: When to Use Dialogue or Summarized Dialogue

28. Who Said That?

29. The Invisible Scene: Interspersing Dialogue with Action

30. A Verbal Dance: Not Quite a Fight

PART FIVE

The Interior Landscape of Your Characters

31. The Interior Landscape of Vision and Obsession

32. What Mayhem or Scene Is Happening Elsewhere?

33. “I Know Just What She’ll Say”

34. Mixed Motives and Maybes

35. The Need to Know: The Solace of Imagination

36. The Inside/Outside Story

37. Five Years from Now…..

38. Dream Work

39. The Power of “Seemed” and “Probably”

PART SIX

Plot

40. The Skeleton

41. From Situation to Plot

42. Peter Rabbit and Adam and Eve: The Elements of Plot, from Thomas Fox Averill

43. What If? How to Develop and Finish Stories

44. There’s a Party and You’re Invited, from Margot Livesey

45. So, What Happened?

46. Flash Forward: or Little Did I Know

47. Plot Potential

48. Back Story as Narrative Summary: Who’s Coming to Stay the Night

49. The End Foretold

PART SEVEN

The Elements of Style

50. A Style of Your Own, from Rod Kessler

51. Taboos: Weak Adverbs and Adjectives

52. Word Packages Are Not Gifts

53. Practice Writing Good, Clean Prose, from Christopher Keane

PART EIGHT

A Writer’s Toolbox

54. Handling the Problems of Time and Pace, from Robie Macauley

55. The Pet Story: Exposition, from Ron Carlson

56. Bringing Abstract Ideas to Life

57. Transportation: Getting There isn’t Half the Fun—It’s Boring

58. Naming the Diner, Naming the Diet, Naming the Dog

59. Transitions: Or White Space Does Not a Transition Make

60. How to Keep a Narrative Moving Forward

61. Noises Off: The Beauty of Extraneous Sound, from Laurence Davies

62. Separating Author, Narrator, and Character, from Frederick Reiken

63. Time Travel

64. Stairs: Setting and Place

65. Titles and Keys

PART NINE

Invention and a Bit of Inspiration

66. Illustrations, from Margot Livesey

67. Bully

68. Far away Places

69. Story Swap: From Jordan Dann and the Aspen Writers’ Foundation

70. Humor: an Intact Frog

71. Sunday: Discovering Emotional Triggers

72. Kill the Dog

73. Five Different Versions: And Not One Is a Lie

74. What You Carry

75. Psycho: Creating Terror

76. One in the Hand

77. Notes and Letters

78. The Chain Story

PART TEN

Revision: Rewriting Is Writing

79. Opening Up Your Story

80. Gifts to Yourself

81. Show and Tell: There’s a Reason It’s Called Storytelling, from Carol-Lynn Marrazzo

82. A Little Gardening, A Little Surgery

83. Magnifying Conflict, from David Ray

84. What’s at Stake? from Ken Rivard

85. It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

86. The Double Ending: Two Points in Time

87. In-Class Revision

PART ELEVEN

Sudden, Flash, Micro, Nano: Writing the Short Short Story

88. Sudden Fiction, from James Thomas

89. Write a Story Using a Small Unit of Time

90. Solving for X, from Ron Carlson

91. The Journey of the Long Sentence

92. He said/She said: But About What!

93. Rules of the Game

94. Ten to One, from Hester Kaplan

95. Make a List

96. Questions. Some Answers

97. How to . . . . . .

98. Nanofictions

PART TWELVE

Learning from the Greats

99. Finding Inspiration in Other Sources—Poetry, Nonfiction, etc.

100. The Sky’s the Limit: Homage to Kafka and García Márquez, from Christopher Noël

101. Learning from the Greats

102. Borrowing Characters

103. What Keeps You Reading?

104. The Literary Scene Circa 1893, 1929, 1948, or?, from George Garrett

PART THIRTEEN

Notebooks, Journals, and Memory

105. Who Are You? Somebody!

106. People From the Past: Characters of the Future

107. An Image Notebook, from Melanie Rae Thon

108. Journal Keeping for Writers, from William Melvin Kelley

109. Creative Wrong Memory

110. Let Us Write Letters

PART FOURTEEN

A Collection of Short Short Stories

LINDA BREWER 20/20

ANTONIA CLARK Excuses I Have Already Used

BRIAN HINSHAW The Custodian

MARIETTE LIPPO Confirmation Names

MELISSA MCCRACKEN It Would’ve Been Hot

JUDITH CLAIRE MITCHELL My Mother’s Gifts

PAMELA PAINTER The New Year

GRACE PALEY Wants

BRUCE HOLLAND ROGERS How Could a Mother

ELIZABETH TALLENT No One’s a Mystery

LUISA VALENZUELA Vision Out of the Corner of One Eye

PART FIFTEEN

A Collection of Short Stories

CHARLES BAXTER Gryphon

RON CARLSON Some of Our Work with Monsters

RAYMOND CARVER Cathedral

SANDRA CISNEROS Eleven

MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM White Angel

DAGOBERTO GILB The Pillows

PAM HOUSTON How to Talk to a Hunter

HESTER KAPLAN WOULD YOU KNOW IT WASN’T LOVE?

BOBBIE ANN MASON Shiloh

THOMAS MCNEELY Sheep

ALICE MUNRO Five Points

ZZ Packer Brownies

RICHARD RUSSO The Whore’s Child

JENNIFER SHAFF Leave of Absence

KATE WHEELER Under the Roof

Selected Bibliography

About the Contributors of Exercises

Credits

Index

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