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St. Martin's Press
Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course / Edition 1

Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course / Edition 1

by Jerry Cleaver


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312287160
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 02/13/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.58(w) x 8.58(h) x 1.12(d)

About the Author

Jerry Cleaver is a writer, teacher, and writing coach who created The Writer's Loft, Chicago's most successful independent writers' workshop for the last twenty years. He has given special story seminars for Writers' Digest and created the "Write Your Novel Now" Internet course. Published in various magazines and a ghostwriter for several books, Cleaver lives in Chicago, Illinois with his wife.

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Rules of the Page

Creativity obeys an unusual and contrary set of laws. If you violate them, you will expend enormous amounts of energy and get nowhere — just as you would if you pressed the gas and the brake to the floor of your car at the same time. Many writers give up, feeling they're incapable, when the only problem is that they're unwittingly violating these natural laws. To put it simply, they're trying to do the impossible. Trying to do the impossible is the major cause of frustration, discouragement, and failure for writers.

All of this trouble stems from misconceptions about how the process is supposed to work. It's the result of trying to impose normal, everyday, noncreative standards upon a process that isn't normal. That's right. Creating isn't normal reality.


You will make a mess. Creating stories is never a neat, orderly, or predictable process. Mess is inevitable. You make a mess. You clean it up. You lose your way. You find it again. Your writing veers away from the story. You rein it in, or you follow it to see where it takes you. You do this many times until you get where you want to go. So, accept the mess as inevitable and good, let it happen, work with it, and you will get there a lot faster.

You must write badly first. Trying to get it perfect right away will only get you blocked, because the bad comes first. No one does it on the first draft. Writers write many drafts to get it right. Hemingway, in typical macho style, said, "The first draft is always shit." If Hemingway's first draft was shit, why should you expect more? Once again, bad is good. Believe it or not, you'll do better if you lower your expectations. By not expecting so much, you'll give yourself the space, the slop you need, to work. So, don't hold back. Gag the critic in you, and dare to write badly. It's the only way.

Mistakes lead to discovery. This is a game of mistakes. Art begins in error. Mistakes and uncertainty are good. They create new combinations and possibilities. Penicillin, the lightbulb, the Slinky were all the result of mistakes. Creative people have a lot more good ideas than other people do, and they have a lot more bad ideas. They have a lot more ideas because they let everything out. They know the good and the bad go hand in hand and thatletting yourself be bad is the best way to become good.

Here's an old writing anecdote that expresses this well: The beginning writer writes his first draft, reads it, and says, "This is awful. I'm screwed." The experienced writer writes his first draft, reads it, and says, "This is awful. I'm on my way!"


Writing badly may not be fun (although it can be once you stop worrying about it), but the great thing about writing is everything can be fixed. And fixing makes exciting things happen. Writing is rewriting. Everything can work, because you can add, subtract, make changes and adjustments until your story comes alive. There's always a way. The way is technique — story craft.

In all of this, a relaxed, unhurried attitude will get you there faster. But that's hard to achieve when it's so important to you, which brings us to the next point.


What I'm saying is, The less you care, the better you write. But how can you make yourself not care about something you're pouring your heart into? Well, it can be done. Practice is always the first step — writing and writing and writing until you let go of the tension and relax, until you no longer have the strength to be uptight. When you just dash it off to get it over with is when the best things happen.

Another thing to keep in mind is, Everything that happens is OK. No matter what problem you have (confusion, worry, self-doubt, panic, emptiness, paralysis), it's OK. It's no reflection on you or your ability. It's all a natural part of the process — what every writer must face. You're not the only writer who's ever had these problems. You'll feel you're the only one, but I can tell you that you won't be inventing any new writing miseries. They've all been experienced before — and dealt with successfully. So, try not to blame yourself or punish yourself. And keep the following examples in mind.

The famous French writer Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary) struggled for three days, threw a monumental tantrum, rolled on the floor, chewed the rug, and bashed his head against the wall to get eight sentences on the page. Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray) said, "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon taking it out." All writers are susceptible to such misery. So, when you get into this kind of a jam, remind yourself that you're in good company. Then get your mind back on the craft and technique you're going to learn, and you'll get out of your funk.


Progress is never even. In everything you do, some days you're a whiz, and other days you're a dud. Writing is no different. It's like everything else in life. So, when you have a bad day, don't despair. Just keep plugging away, because how you handle your slumps is what makes you or breaks you. And it's not all bleak because it will get good again — always.You will bounce back. I guarantee it. Not only will you rise out of your slump, but you will reach your best level of writing, and you will exceed it — if you keep at it. Then you will dip down — and rise again. You will always lose it, and you will always get it back — and then some. Think of writing as a relationship with another person. It's at least as thrilling — and at least as miserable. You don't get one (thrill) without the other (misery). But in writing, the thrills make up for the misery.

Speaking of misery: Some writers take years to write a novel. Joseph Heller took 10 years to write Catch-22. Tom Wolfe took 10 years to write A Man in Full. That's one end of the spectrum. At the other end is Nabokov, who wrote Lolita in three months. James Hilton wrote Goodbye, Mr. Chips in four days. Now, Goodbye, Mr. Chips was a slim little novel, but at the rate Hilton took to write it, Heller would have finished Catch-22 in a month or two.

So, what accounts for the difference between the 10-year novel and the four-day, four-month, or 1-year novel? Well, I can tell you that Heller and Wolfe were not banging away eight hours a day, five days a week, on their novels for 10 years. No — they were struggling, straining, spinning their wheels, doing all kinds of things other than writing. The difference between them and the writers who do it in days, weeks, or months is not how much time they spend writing, but how much time they waste trying to write.

Wasting time and energy is what you're going to learn to avoid. The point is: it's easier than we make it. But it's hard to make it easy — unless you know how.

Of all the advice writers give out, there is only one thing they all agree on. They all say: Stick to it. Don't quit. Don't give up. Keep writing no matter how awful it feels. Do your daily writing. Remember, it's no different from the rest of your life, with its ups and the downs.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. Not quitting is vital. The other equally important factor is guidance. Sadly, 99 percent of all writers never publish. It's not that they quit or don't try or don't write their hearts out or don't do what the writing books and courses tell them. They don't make it because they have no guidance or poor guidance. Sadder still, they could publish — if only they learned their craft. Craft is the key, but you can't learn it on your own. You can teach yourself golf, tennis, or basketball — up to a point. On your own, you can learn enough to get around eighteen holes, hit a ball over the net, or make a basket, but how many successful athletes learn on their own without lessons or coaching? How many teams play without a coach? None. Professional athletes are on teams getting coaching and lessons for years before they make it.

For writing, guidance and coaching are just as important. As in any discipline (sports, music, dance, painting), you need to practice until it's a part of you, until it's reflex, until you perform without thinking. Again, my personal estimate is, the right guidance will get you there at least ten times faster. Guiding you and giving you the tools to guide yourself are the goals. This course is designed to make a short trip out of what can otherwise be an endless journey.

What you'll learn is technique— how to do it. Technique is neutral. You can use it to write any kind of story you choose (science fiction, romance, adventure, fable, fantasy, mystery, crime, literary). With proper technique, whatever you write can be shaped into a complete story. The complete story is what all great story writers write (Shakespeare, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald). A complete story is the most fulfilling, because it has the shape of our most meaningful experience. Whether it's comedy or tragedy, it gives us what we need from experience. What we need from experience and stories, along with how to put together a story that fulfills that need, is what the next three chapters are about.



What is a story, and how does it work? That's where we're headed. If you're in a hurry to get there, to get the tools so you can jump in and get started immediately (this is Immediate Fiction, after all), then skip ahead to chapter 3. Come back when you have time. But if you want a fuller sense of why we have stories and what they do for us before you start, then stick around. The deeper your understanding, the better you'll write.

Stories happen not only in movies and books and on TV. Stories are playing out in us and through us continually. And they didn't arise because someone sat down one day and said, "OK, everybody, we're going to have stories. This is how we're going to do it." No, stories were here at the beginning. They were here when the caveman started scratching pictures on the walls of his cave. They evolved right along with us. More than anything else, they're an expression of who we are and how we work. They're our way of keeping in touch, of finding meaning and understanding. That goes for all genres — tragedy, adventure, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, comedy.


A story is not just a thing, but a process — a process that connects us to each other. If someone you work with sat down across from you and said, "I brushed my teeth this morning," you'd look at him waiting for more, for the connection. "So?" you'd say. "What's the point?" Even if he embellished his story with, "I got this great new curved bristle brush and mint-flavored, baking soda and peroxide toothpaste. I really got in there. My mouth has never been so clean," you still wouldn't be related or connected — unless you were wondering, "Why's he telling me this? Is he losing it?" You wouldn't be relating, because his story didn't get to you. Stories are about what gets to us. A good story is like falling in love. You don't think, "How do I really feel about this person? Do I love her or him or not?" No, you're bowled over, swept away, knocked out. Good stories involve the same process. It's chemistry. It goes straight to the heart. You respond whether you want to or not. Stories are the most personal and fundamental form of communication we have.

Now, if the same guy came in, breathless, and said, "I just got mugged in the elevator," he'd get to you instantly. You'd be totally related and certainly wouldn't be asking, "What's the point?" And on his end, he would be eloquent, dramatic, compelling. No one would say, "Too wordy," or "No passion," or "Lacks detail." He'd tell his story, and he'd know how to tell it, because it's who he is.

The difference between the two examples is story — THE STORY PROCESS. There's a story reason, a craft reason, why one left you cold and the other got to you.

Your coworker has his stories, and you have yours. We all have our stories. That's what's nice about this art. In order to survive in life, you must have skills — lire skills. And LIFE SKILLS ARE STORY SKILLS. They both come from the same place. As I said earlier, that's the big difference between this art and others such as music or painting. You don't have to know how to play the piano or paint a portrait in order to survive on the street, but you damn well better be aware of what's going on around you and how you feel about it and what to do to protect yourself. It's not just on the street. You have to have the same kind of social skills and awareness to get along in any personal relationship. So, with stories YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED ALREADY.

Now, that's good, but it's also bad. Good because with determination anyone can master this craft, since most of it is mastering yourself and using what you already have. Bad because it's so familiar. You've been there, so you may feel you know more than you do. In the midst of a compelling story, you may often feel so connected that you think, Ah. This is how it works. You feel so strongly that you think there's nothing to it, that writing a story is just like life. Like life, yes. But not life itself.

Creating stories is a special craft — a special way of capturing reality on the page. It feels real, but it isn't. You can't just break off a piece of reality and stick it on the page. It won't work. It won't work because fiction is concentrated, heightened, intensified reality. It's the essence of reality. All reality doesn't contain such essence or truth, but all fiction must. You, the author, must create it. So even though you already have everything you need, you have to learn how to use it. That's craft. That's technique. That's what you get from this course. That's where we're going, after the theory.


We don't just happen to have stories. We need them. The story process involves the kinds of experiences we must talk about, experiences we can't wait to tell someone, experiences we can't stand not to talk about.

If a man comes home from work, flops into a chair, and says to his wife, "I almost didn't make it home tonight," he's had the kind of experience he needs to talk about and his wife now needs to hear. "Some idiot," he says, "cut me off on the expressway. When I blew my horn, he gave me the finger, so I gave it back to him." "No!" she says. "Yeah, and the crazy bastard pulled alongside and fired three shots into our engine." Now, can you imagine having had such an experience and keeping it to yourself? Or being the wife and not wanting to know what happened? No. Stories are how we live, how we relate — how we need to live and relate. The story process.

This need isn't limited to our own experiences. It reaches beyond us to the experiences of others several times removed — experiences we haven't witnessed, experiences that will not affect us in any way. Often, experiences that we only hear about, and that we're dying to pass along to someone else.

Suppose the same guy comes home from work and says to his wife, "Wait till you hear what this guy at work told me his buddy pulled on his wife."

Now, that's not his experience or the experience of the guy who told him, but the experience of another person he's never met. Yet he can't wait to tell his wife about what this other guy pulled on his wife. And, again, she wants to hear — and I'll bet you do too.

"He told his wife he was going on a business trip, withdrew twenty thousand dollars, and went to Vegas. He ran it up to eighty thousand dollars — then, guess what." "No!" she says. "Yep. Lost every penny."

Now a common, but curious, thing happens. They're into this other guy's story, relating and connecting, but that's not enough. They want more, to go farther, to go the limit. That's what stories are about — getting the maximum, that concentrated, intensified dose of reality. So he says, "What would you do if I did that?" And how does she respond? She might say, "Wait a minute. That's not our experience. We can't go into that," which might make sense in some way. But no, this is story. This is how we live. She doesn't miss a beat. "Castration followed by divorce," she says.


(The story convection)

We live by stories — our own and those of others, real and imagined. It's how we relate and stay connected on the most personal and intimate level. We need stories, the story process, to maintain our balance and our identity. We don't think of it this way because we don't have to. We just do it. Story, the story process, is the active ingredient in all meaningful social interaction. Believe it or not, it's one of our deepest social needs.


Excerpted from "Immediate Fiction"
by .
Copyright © 2002 Jerry Cleaver.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
1 - Rules of the Page,
2 - Theory,
3 - Story,
4 - Fine-Tuning,
5 - Use or Abuse,
6 - The Active Ingredient,
7 - Showing,
8 - The Second Time Around,
9 - Method,
10 - Under the Sun,
11 - Point of View,
12 - The Ticking Clock,
13 - Dead Weight,
14 - The Long and the Short of It,
15 - Hitting the Wall,
16 - Stage and Screen,
17 - To Market to Market,
About the Author,
Copyright Page,

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Immediate Fiction: A Complete Writing Course 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you're a writer, you must have this book. It will save you valuable time trying to learn technique on your own. I used it, and have finished my first novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a perfectionist who refuses to write one word on paper until I feel I have a true, competent understanding of the process, I picked up yet one more book, 'Immediate Fiction.' This is a book written in laymen's terms without the author speaking down to me. I found myself slapping my forehead, thinking how much time, energy and frustration I could have foregone had I found this book earlier on in my writing career. Thanks, Jerry!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book that I would recommend to all prospective writers, both fiction and nonfiction. The author presents his material in a straightforward and entertaining manner. Cleaver¿s message can be distilled into the following steps: a character wants something, faces obstacles to achieving this want, takes action to overcome these obstacles, and eventually resolves the situation and achieves his or her want. According to Cleaver, a storyteller who can present a story in terms of want+action+resolution, combined with emotion and showing techniques, is sure to get published. This book helped me the most by describing how many writers become stifled in their creativity because they are confusing when to let the writing flow, and when to edit. In a first draft, Cleaver claims the writer should be in flow mode. Edit mode comes only after the first draft is on paper. Using his suggestions, I wrote my first children¿s book: Abby and the Bicycle Caper, currently available on BN, and am nearly finished with the first draft of my second book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been taking Jerry's classes on and off for over 4 years now and it is simply the best. The man is clearly gifted and has a proven formula that any aspiring writer can relate to. I love it!! This book is the bible.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first book on writing that I should have gotten. In fact I should have gotten this book before going to college for creative writing. To be a better writer is to write a lot, but to save yourself years of mistakes is to READ THIS BOOK. Cleaver left out all of the flowering and only added the useful stuff. I started reading this book like I did all of the other writing manuals, with a careful eye in catching something new, and with a highlighter ready to mark it up. But what happened was after the first chapter, I found that I was marking large blocks on almost every page. "Forget the highlighter, just leave the darn thing on the shelf next to the bible, the Thesaurus, Strunk & White and the dictionary."
Guest More than 1 year ago
The great thing about this book is it tells you how to write fiction. I have been doing this for a while but it was only after I read Imediate Fiction that I learned what I am doing. No more fiddling around. Imediate Fiction talks about what a plot is, action and oppostition to that action. The book also tells you what to do when rewrting. How do you know when you have finished rewriting
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have taken this course at Jerry Cleaver's loft in Chicago and found it to be the most specific and useful workshop I have ever taken...I am an 'intermediate' level writer and needed something that offered structure and more depth than the usual creative writing class. I have taken writing classes at Newberry Library in Chicago and at the University of Iowa's Summer Festival among others and although I learned a great deal from them nothing compares to Jerry's approach. Give this book a try; I can't imagine any writer at any level not learning something from this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book cuts right to the heart of it. I've read a lot of how to books on writing, but this is the only one that makes it crystal clear. I believe I can write my novel now. If I can't, it will be my fault.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been writing all my life and I find Jerry Cleaver's Immediate Fiction the only book I would put next to Dorothea Brande's classic Becoming a Writer. Jerry helps you distinguish who is really telling the story -the author or the character. His advice of applying - want, obstacle, action - to each page of the story takes the drudgery out of putting the words on the page. Jerry gives writers ideas about finding time to write, getting more organized to write, and completing projects. I cannot recommend Jerry's book enough.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I appreciated this book far more than any other book I have yet to read about the mysterious art of fiction writing, and I have read aplenty. This author's advice and instruction are extremely practical. He explains in no uncertain terms how to do everything from motivate yourself to get started, to bringing your novel to completion, and all things in between. If you are serious about becoming a writer, you need to get this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I feel like I have been all around the world in search of a good book on writing. And now I have found a great one! I have been writing badly (although prolifically) for more than a decade. I have been working with many, many misconceptions. I feel like this book has straightened me out by not being vague, and by outlining a very specific strategy designed to make the reader genuinely productive. Oh, I making little sense I am afraid. Do you get that same feeling? Just read the book. Mr. Cleaver writes far better than I, (but he has given me new hope).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Finally -- someone who understands what makes a story work, and can explain it clearly! I've read dozens of writing books and taken graduate level classes from some very famous writers, and this book has more practical advice than all of them put together. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It will make your writing life and anything you write better.