The Making of a Story

If you write fiction or creative nonfiction, or if you enjoy reading short stories and want to know more about how to understand the literature you read, you would probably get a lot out of Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing.

I found that the book covered issues and techniques I’ve read about before in other books about writing, but I appreciated that every section included short stories illustrative of the points made in that section.

For someone who supposedly doesn’t like short stories, I’ve been reading an awful lot of them lately, and I have to say they are growing on me.

In any case, the book is well suited to reading in short bursts, in between reading other things.  This is good considering that it is 642 pages long.  I read it over the course of several months, and then went back and took notes on my tabs, which always helps me to solidify what I’ve read.

The most helpful portion for me occurred towards the end of the book, in the chapter on writing drafts.  As you may recall if you’ve been reading here long (and I do mean long, like since July 2010) I finished a draft of a novel, and since then I have messed about with other drafts, changing things, starting over a zillion times, leaving it alone for long stretches but still thinking about it, and felt like maybe I should drop it.  Reading the chapter on drafts gave me hope about the project, because LaPlante subscribes to the idea that drafts are healthy and normal and necessary in good writing.  At the end of the chapter, she includes three drafts of a short story by Jan Ellison.  The first version is a very short take, about 1000 words, just the germ of the story.  It contains the initial idea, and I liked it.  Then you read a later draft, which the author had expanded, taken a few different directions, and ended differently.  Finally, LaPlante includes Ellison’s final story “The Company of Men,” which was published in the New England Review.  It’s really good, and contains only a few things from the first draft, but gets at the real root of those things.  I really enjoyed reading the versions and seeing how revisions don’t mean failure, but rather growth.

I’d recommend The Making of a Story to writers, and to readers who enjoy understanding the process behind good writing.


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