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Making Shapely Fiction

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Here is a book about the craft of writing fiction that is thoroughly useful from the first to the last page—whether the reader is a beginner, a seasoned writer, or a teacher of writing. You will see how a work takes form and shape once you grasp the principles of momentum, tension, and immediacy. "Tension," Stern says, "is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy Here is a book about the craft of writing fiction that is thoroughly useful from the first to the last page—whether the reader is a beginner, a seasoned writer, or a teacher of writing. You will see how a work takes form and shape once you grasp the principles of momentum, tension, and immediacy. "Tension," Stern says, "is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy combine, the story begins." Dialogue and action, beginnings and endings, the true meaning of "write what you know," and a memorable listing of don'ts for fiction writers are all covered. A special section features an Alphabet for Writers: entries range from Accuracy to Zigzag, with enlightening comments about such matters as Cliffhangers, Point of View, Irony, and Transitions.


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Here is a book about the craft of writing fiction that is thoroughly useful from the first to the last page—whether the reader is a beginner, a seasoned writer, or a teacher of writing. You will see how a work takes form and shape once you grasp the principles of momentum, tension, and immediacy. "Tension," Stern says, "is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy Here is a book about the craft of writing fiction that is thoroughly useful from the first to the last page—whether the reader is a beginner, a seasoned writer, or a teacher of writing. You will see how a work takes form and shape once you grasp the principles of momentum, tension, and immediacy. "Tension," Stern says, "is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy combine, the story begins." Dialogue and action, beginnings and endings, the true meaning of "write what you know," and a memorable listing of don'ts for fiction writers are all covered. A special section features an Alphabet for Writers: entries range from Accuracy to Zigzag, with enlightening comments about such matters as Cliffhangers, Point of View, Irony, and Transitions.

30 review for Making Shapely Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    I taught this one (and learned from it, too) -- it's real clear and funny and comprehensive and efficiently ordered. The basics, but not done in a way that makes you wanna barf.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kate Willis

    I read selections from this textbook for my creative writing class. There were a few small tips I picked up from it, but it was mostly unhelpful and had some inappropriate content. There are many other writing books I would rather recommend in a heartbeat. ;)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    got a workshop to run soon on writing stories and thought I'd better re-acquaint myself with some techniques.. I've read a few of this type of manual and this one looks one of the best. yes this did prove to be one of the better ones, with useful dos and don'ts, although never prescriptive, and a fine alphabetical list of cross referenced terms.. will add more later, haven't got the book with me at the moment.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Philip Athans

    An interesting and informative basic primer on fiction in general and the short story in particular that's a great place for beginning authors to get acquainted with the language of fiction writing and publishing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Printable Tire

    This was the "required reading" for a writing class I just took. Since part of taking the class was being able to use Brown University's resources, I ingeniously borrowed it from their library (they in turn had to borrow it from SUNY Buffalo). Now it's quite a bit overdue but since I am persona non grata in the library now I am taking my time. The first part of the book, which deals with different "shapes" of fiction (thus explaining the somewhat embarrassing title) is excellent. It's basically a This was the "required reading" for a writing class I just took. Since part of taking the class was being able to use Brown University's resources, I ingeniously borrowed it from their library (they in turn had to borrow it from SUNY Buffalo). Now it's quite a bit overdue but since I am persona non grata in the library now I am taking my time. The first part of the book, which deals with different "shapes" of fiction (thus explaining the somewhat embarrassing title) is excellent. It's basically a collection of plots to inspire writing. The A-Z section, though, is a bit didactic, and lacks the fun and creative tone of the first half (although the examples of good and bad prose are equally entertaining- where are they from? It's probably not such a good idea to have examples of bad prose be so much fun in their badness). This section is also somewhat repetitive: what's the difference, really, between voice and style and a million other sections on basically the same topic? Still, this section has some good advice and insights, and by the end the tone has lightened up a bit and it seems less preachy and patronizing. Altogether this is a very good writing book, as far as writing books go.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robb Lightfoot

    Wow. This is the best book I've read in 5 years on the subject of writing. I say this as someone who owns scores of how-to-write books and has been reading them for the past 40 years. I came across this book as required reading in the now defunct UC Davis creative writing program. I could see immediately why they chose it. The first half of the book is outstanding, the second half merely great. The first half discusses a variety of story-forms, structures, that are useful to solve problems or Wow. This is the best book I've read in 5 years on the subject of writing. I say this as someone who owns scores of how-to-write books and has been reading them for the past 40 years. I came across this book as required reading in the now defunct UC Davis creative writing program. I could see immediately why they chose it. The first half of the book is outstanding, the second half merely great. The first half discusses a variety of story-forms, structures, that are useful to solve problems or achieve a result. I've never seen writing described in this manner, it offered solid tips and techniques. Kudos.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julie Dill

    This is one of, if not the best writing manual I've ever read. It's thoughtfully written and it's not geared toward someone who hasn't ever written before. It seems to speak to someone who's been writing since birth, but needs unsubtle nudges in the right direction to sculpt the talent into an intricately wrought topiary, pruning out the... ridiculous metaphors like that one. The book came close to making me switch from poetry writing to fiction writing in grad school. Caution: it makes it nearly This is one of, if not the best writing manual I've ever read. It's thoughtfully written and it's not geared toward someone who hasn't ever written before. It seems to speak to someone who's been writing since birth, but needs unsubtle nudges in the right direction to sculpt the talent into an intricately wrought topiary, pruning out the... ridiculous metaphors like that one. The book came close to making me switch from poetry writing to fiction writing in grad school. Caution: it makes it nearly impossible to ignore the "novel ideas" drawer in your desk.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    There's some good general advice for writers in here, but it's all very basic stuff. If you need to know what "plot" is, for example, this is a good place to find out. I'd use this in a high school writing class, but if you're beyond that level or looking for more advanced advice...ehhh, not so much. The list of resources in the back dates to the late 80s or early 90s, so is of minimal use.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Liz Shine

    This book is an A to Z list exploring the function and importance of some elements of fiction. It'd be great for beginning writers. I read it as a way to launch into a new writing schedule and summer writing. It held many nice reminders for me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sara Batkie

    An irreverent but thoughtful way to bone up on the basics or just be reminded of what you're doing and why. Well structured to be either read straight through or in the necessary bits and pieces. Highly recommended, even if you think you already know everything about writing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Balbina

    An informative, entertaining and inspiring reference book on writing fiction. Reading it made me impatient to sit down and not only write, but revise anything I've ever written so far. I know I will reread and browse through the book for years to come. Definitely reccommended reading.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ann Douglas

    A very helpful writing guide that explains the finer points of writing fiction. The book is divided into a series of topic-specific chapters, each of which focuses on a topic related to fiction writing. Highly recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    A few interesting points, but mostly felt like a book by someone who set out to write a book, not someone with something to say.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth C. Haynes

    This is THE best book I've read on writing fiction to date. I will refer to it again and again. Just a very clear, easily digestible presentation of essential concepts.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris brown

    Initially this was assigned reading for a class and some of it I found intriguing. Ill have to give it another go later in life when I have enjoy it and not pick at it for class.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Wordsworth

    4.5 stars. What a useful book! As someone with extensive reading experience but a writing background limited to non-literary work, I found the first section of the book particularly enlightening. This was one of about a half-dozen writing guides I checked out at the same time, and this is one of the best. I think this will be an essential reading choice for anyone concerned with structure and form (and it makes a compelling case that you should be). The first part is a very straightforward list of 4.5 stars. What a useful book! As someone with extensive reading experience but a writing background limited to non-literary work, I found the first section of the book particularly enlightening. This was one of about a half-dozen writing guides I checked out at the same time, and this is one of the best. I think this will be an essential reading choice for anyone concerned with structure and form (and it makes a compelling case that you should be). The first part is a very straightforward list of literary "shapes" you can aim to make when crafting a scene, a short story, chapter, or even a novel, moving far beyond Freytag's pyramid (also, "shape" is a metaphor, you can't graph them all), with a short essay on when and how to deploy them effectively. These are given catchy one-word, mnemonic names, but include concepts like an inciting conflict or intrusion, trauma or foreshadowing to engage the reader's emotions, mundane but crisp scene-setting as either a vivid illustration to immerse the reader or an opportunity to establish tension, and subverting the rules and expectations for the format. I'm sure one could come up with more than included here, but this is a great start on the essentials. The bulk of the book is an A-Z glossary of literary terminology and concepts, covering genres and concepts from basic building blocks to technical minutiae. These entries are more than definitions: they discuss approaches to using the concept, as well as examples. This section's utilitarian format has been superseded by internet searches, but it's easy to browse and rich with information. In short, this is the perfect browse for the early stages of a writing project and something handy to come back to for a dose of inspiration. If you are an experienced literary writer you might still pick up a few good ideas from the first section particularly.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Faith

    Wonderful advice for fiction writers. I read this book, after wanting to for several years, keeping it in mind for a future fiction syllabus I'm going to prepare and to get tips for my own writing. Oodles of inspiration and insider insights here. The resources section in the back could use a refreshing (it was originally published in the early 1990s, before the online revolution in publishing) and there aren't exercises/prompts, but neither of these slight drawbacks affect the quality of Wonderful advice for fiction writers. I read this book, after wanting to for several years, keeping it in mind for a future fiction syllabus I'm going to prepare and to get tips for my own writing. Oodles of inspiration and insider insights here. The resources section in the back could use a refreshing (it was originally published in the early 1990s, before the online revolution in publishing) and there aren't exercises/prompts, but neither of these slight drawbacks affect the quality of insights or fiction craft tips at all. I especially love the "Workshops" and "Red Herring" sections. I'd also like to say that this book is a sold 4.5/5 for me, but Goodreads doesn't give halves, so I'm writing my half-point here. ;) This book has humor, lots of examples, and some sound craft tips. The organization is different from many other texts, especially the alphabetical section, which some readers/writers might find tedious after a while but which others will find refreshing. To each their own. This is a strong contender for a text for one of my fiction courses and a craft book I'll keep handy on my shelf.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Robin

    This book is an amazing tour de force that any writer or editor should read, for education as well as edification. What I found most impressive about Stern's approach is his vast references to foundational authors and works that define fiction. I have read many books on the craft of writing and often am disappointed by a dearth of such examples -- either there are too few or the author seems to have latched onto a few ideas on how fiction should work derivative of a few of their favorite books; This book is an amazing tour de force that any writer or editor should read, for education as well as edification. What I found most impressive about Stern's approach is his vast references to foundational authors and works that define fiction. I have read many books on the craft of writing and often am disappointed by a dearth of such examples -- either there are too few or the author seems to have latched onto a few ideas on how fiction should work derivative of a few of their favorite books; or, there are many obscure references. in the growing fiction market where more than 1,000,000 books are being published per year, a book such as this, which draws on the roots and foundations of fiction is a good resource to ground writers as they grow upward and spread their branches on the cutting edge.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    This is more of a glossary of writing/literary terms but it's not dictionary-esque in explanation. Each vignette goes into the term with examples and insights on how it's been used well and advice on how to use said device. For instance, there's a term "zig zag" that goes into back and forth plotting and there's more typical terms like "point of view," "pacing" "mis en scene" It's a crazy-quick read. Nice and tight and insightful! Highly recommend for writers who want to procrastinate writing This is more of a glossary of writing/literary terms but it's not dictionary-esque in explanation. Each vignette goes into the term with examples and insights on how it's been used well and advice on how to use said device. For instance, there's a term "zig zag" that goes into back and forth plotting and there's more typical terms like "point of view," "pacing" "mis en scene" It's a crazy-quick read. Nice and tight and insightful! Highly recommend for writers who want to procrastinate writing but feel productive and "research" ;) WINK WINK.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Meginnes

    I'm using this text in the creative writing course I teach. It provides both structures for short fiction that can be developed as prompts, and good craft readings to help students digest the crux of a writing concept in a way that is convincing and concise. The sections on workshops, trusting your material, premise, narrators and POV, local color and setting, dialogue, description, and what not to do are especially insightful.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Al Kratz

    One of my favorite craft books and one I will return to often. Covers a variety of topics and works like an encyclopedia. Some of them are more basic than others but the descriptions of all of them get you thinking and are helpful in relooking at current works in progress in ways that might have been hiding from the conscious mind.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Cole

    Loved the way this book is organized. It is a great guide, and it can also be used as a dictionary of literary terms, with in-depth explanations and examples from well-known authors. Insightful notes and down-to-the-point theory make this book easy to follow, helpful, and fast to search for the exact term you're looking for. It's perfect for writers in a hurry.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I reread this, since I'm using this for my Introduction to Fiction workshop, and it holds up after all these years. It's clear, concise, and practical. It also has the bonus of being clear that none of its precepts are set in stone, which is always refreshing when looking at craft books. Excellent for beginning to intermediate writers.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vic Cavalli

    I have learned a lot from Stern. This is the best book I've read on the various ways longer fictional works can be conceived and structured. I use it in my English 307: Writing the Literary Novel course, and students love it. I highly recommend it for both teachers and students of creative writing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amber Dulaney

    An interesting read on the writing. I recommend it to those who want to turn writing into a career. The language and format make it a great read from beginning to end and a beneficial reference book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    One of the best books on the craft of writing I've ever read. Stern is direct and straightforward. He writes with humor and uses excellent examples to underline his points. The second half of the book is an "A to Z" list of all the different aspects of fiction (ex: plot, point of view, etc). I would highly recommend this book to any fiction writers or MFA students!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Brantley

    A fantastic book that will change the way writers look at fiction. I made a ton of notes from this and it will be a keeper-reference. Would love to use this as a textbook.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kassie

    I always have a craft book (or two) in my currently reading pile. This was was pretty good. It's nice to have it a list of terms in alphabetical order.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kenzie Barnett

    Fairly good, was a great resource in the creative fiction workshop class it was required in. Had some fairly interesting stuff and worked well with the teacher to explain the material.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Angeli

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Oh my God, it has been a while since I've written a decent review on Goodreads. Well, it's not like there are people who missed me here. Lol. I could only hope. If you guys had been wondering, I've been basking myself in the world of fanfiction. You seriously have no idea how much fanfiction I've read. I can't even review them here because they're all "books" that have no ISBNs or idk. I should just probably stop talking about this. Haha. On with the review: As I've written above, I've been Oh my God, it has been a while since I've written a decent review on Goodreads. Well, it's not like there are people who missed me here. Lol. I could only hope. If you guys had been wondering, I've been basking myself in the world of fanfiction. You seriously have no idea how much fanfiction I've read. I can't even review them here because they're all "books" that have no ISBNs or idk. I should just probably stop talking about this. Haha. On with the review: As I've written above, I've been reading fanfiction for quite a long time since I've last read a real hardcover/paperback. Which brings me to reviewing this book. The good news is I've been writing recently and when there's good news there's also the bad news, the thing is I haven't been able to finish any of them. So I kind of stumbled upon this book. I was in Tumblr, there was this quote from this book that said, "Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouses, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs. When people communicate, they communicate with their faces, their bodies, their timing, and the objects around them. Make this a full conversation. Not just the words part." When I read that, I just knew I had to have it. I HAD TO READ IT. This book has been of help to me, somehow, into writing shapely fiction. It is a book that will help you write your book, should I rephrase that statement, make you produce a work of art. It's not like that. It will tell you not how to write but show you how you should write. I don't know, I must not be making any sense. I don't usually make sense in my reviews anyway. I just love this book. It made me read a self-help book again since Write Here, Write Now by AA Patawaran. Yeah, it's been that long since I laid my eyes on a self-help book. Tho I tried my best to read other words apart from fiction (YA, adult, fantasy), I just couldn't. Hence, the abundance of my YA readings. But I'm starting to think I'd go back to reading real books. Because apparently and lately, I've been going crazy about this Kpop group, and the only thing that's keeping me sane right now are the books that have been waiting on my shelves (how funny, they're just usually on our cabinet, or the stairs--my books are all over the place) to be read or noticed by me. I pray that I get over this stupid obsession with a boy I've been writing about since I've known him. Crazy I tell you, crazy.

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