"As writers," says Robert Olmstead in his introduction to Elements of the Writing Craft
, "we have our destination in mind: novel, short story, essay, memoir." In order to reach that destination, we must first pass along any number of byways, choosing how to tell our stories, bring our characters and settings to life, present time and point of view, and employ voice and language. Olmstead uses excerpts from the works of John McPhee, Jamaica Kincaid, Michael Ondaatje, Wallace Stegner, Flannery O'Connor, and some 150 or so other masters of the language to investigate as many aspects of the writing craft. Each excerpt is followed by an analysis of the ways in which the writing accomplishes its task, be it creating a character who is crazy, making quick shifts in time, or telling your story from a child's perspective. The analysis, in turn, is followed by a series of writing exercises that enable you to play around with that element of writing. "The best writers have already written the best [works]," challenges Olmstead. "Until you write one better."