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Making Shapely Fiction [Paperback]

Jerome Stern
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 1, 1991 039332124X 978-0393321241

A deft analysis and appreciation of fiction—what makes it work and what can make it fail.

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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Making Shapely Fiction + The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: 50 North American Stories Since 1970 (Touchstone Books)
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Editorial Reviews


“Useful on the most practical level.... [Stern] plunges his readers into the middle of things.” (New York Times)

“Offers a raft of examples that explain the techniques used by novelists from Flaubert to Updike—an eminently helpful and engaging writer's guide.” (Booklist)

“A complete original. The warm, witty, wise voice draws you in, and you leave the book wanting to write—and knowing how.” (Jesse Lee Kercheval, director, Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, University of Wisconsin)

“Jerome Stern has done us all a favor with this canny little book. If you are interested in writing, ;?read it now?. This is an expert writer and teacher sending his notes from the trenches. Never has caution been so exhilarating, advice so wry. I will use this book.” (Ron Carlson, author of The Hotel Eden)

“Clarifies the mumbo-jumbo. For serious students of fiction, Jerome Stern is the Alpha crow. Follow him and shave the miles off your flying time.” (Bob Shacochis, author of Swimming in the Volcano)

From the Publisher

This book is different from other books on writing. You can start writing serious fiction from the first page -- because, as Jerome Stern makes clear, learning to write spontaneously is the first step to writing well. As you begin to grasp the principle of momentum, tension and immediacy, you'll find your fiction has shape and form. You'll discover how to "write what you know," and avoid the traps and pitfalls awaiting fledgeling authors. A cross-referenced Alphabet for Writers includes incisive entries for such writerly concerns as Anti-Heroes, Dialogue, Sex, and Style. Whether you're a beginning, a seasoned professional, or a teacher of the craft, you already know there are no rules in writing ficton . . .but Jerome Stern will inspire you to find your personal path. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (November 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039332124X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321241
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't help but write good stories using this book. February 13, 2000
Format:Mass Market Paperback
After reviewing a bunch of how-to-write-short-fiction texts, Isettled on Making Shapely Fiction. Ironic, because as a student atFlorida State University, where Jerry Stern taught, I stayed away from his creative writing classes - people said he was a pit bull. Twenty years later I find myself using this slim, artful text in an advanced writing class, and the students and I are all amazed at the quality of material we're generating from the first. This book doesn't merely promote plot, character and setting: each assignment sets up a scenario that creates tension while warning writers away from tired techniques and stereotype. I recommend it to everyone.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Creative Writing Text I've Used August 18, 2007
In my experience most creative writing texts are incredibly "fluffY" - very little real information and more concerned with the volume of prompts than with the value of the prompts. This book is quite the opposite; it contains 16 prompts (called "shapes"), a brief section on writing no-nos, an excellent list of other publications useful to the writer of fiction, and a wonderful, selective glossary of fiction writing terminology.

The "shapes" are really explanations of storytelling archetypes of form. Included are The Journey, The Gathering and The Visitation which are rather self-explanatory. Other shapes are less immediately recognizable, but all frequently used storytelling devices. Stern offers brief examples of each shape to help the reader understand and get started. He also references the glossary terms pertinent to each shape.

The glossary itself is as useful, if not moreso, than the shapes themselves. It defines concepts as simple as plot and as esoteric as objective correlative. In almost every definition, Stern makes reference to at least one work of fiction exemplifying the concept and these are a genuine aid to the reader or student in understanding what makes great fiction great.

I couldn't recommend this book more highly. In a recent creative writing class of 20+ people it got universally high marks, and it's the first book I turn to when my own enthusiasm or inspiration are on the wane. A great bargain!
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The quintessential guide for new and seasoned writers !! December 30, 1998
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I "happened upon" this book in the library, quickly scanned its pages and decided to check it out. I'm thinking: Hey! What do I have to lose ?!? Two days later I am here, at, to buy it ... this book is THE START for anyone who is serious about writing fiction. Mr. Stern is obviously a seasoned writer and teacher and he offers his wisdom in a straightforward manner. This is not a book written by someone looking to "get rich quick." The shelves are full of those. This book ranks up there with "The Elements of Style" by Strunk & White (Serious writers know what I'm refering to). I highly recommend it. Two thumbs up, as the two guys in Chicago say.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful but Spotty February 2, 2004
The first part of this book feels at times more like criticism of story types than a writing manual. It details how stories have historically been structured and what advantages and disadvantages there are in each shape. Trying to grasp the Onion or the Visitation makes a good academic exercise, but it doesn't really get into the application of the relevant concepts.
The second and third parts are where this book gets useful. The second part is made up of essays on the craft--one on what it means to write what you know (a more inclusive idea than you may have realized) and one on what tragic pitfalls to avoid. Beware, young writer, for many others have fallen in these pits before you, and many more will follow.
The third part is a thorough glossary of writing terms, defined so a layman or a young author can grasp them without struggle. This is probably the most useful part of the book. When your editor, writing workshop, or trusted reviewer starts trying to define the strengths of weaknesses of your writing, you can consult this glossary to find out exactly what is being said. And when you're called upon to lend a hand to your fellow writers, this glossary will be your arsenal of concepts to communicate your meaning.
Advanced or experienced writers may not find much in this book that they haven't encountered already. However, young writers who haven't published their first full book will be able to mine this for ideas, communication, and a way to move forward in their writing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get This - Trust Me. May 31, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
Okay, maybe you don't trust me, but how about giving me the benefit of the doubt? Amazon has a great return policy, but you'll never use it with this book. Every fiction writer should own this gem, read it thoroughly, and keep it within reach at all times. Heather Sellers (author of Page by Page; Chapter by Chapter - and PhD in creative writing!) says that everything you need to know about writing stories is between the covers of this one book. I agree. The author so keenly identifies and then defines "story types" -- you'll forever look at story writing in a different light. Really - it's difficult, after reading his concise treatment of a certain story type, not to grab a notebook and start scribbling, simply to prove to yourself that what you just read can indeed lead to a story, just like that.

The more familiar you become with these story types, the more easily you'll recognize which type any given story you might read is. Now: this is NOT a formula book! No, no, no. Anything but. It's an inspired look at the art and craft of story creation. Read the "Bear at the Door" story description, then write one. It's so great finally to be able to know basically what you're doing before you begin. Not *exactly*, maybe - but you know it's going to work.

We are not talking about the same-old "story paradigms" here - Quest, Revenge, Puzzle, etc. - No! These are primarily for short stories, I suppose; although novels could certainly arise from them, too.

Okay - I'll stop; it's impossible to explain. It's unique. Get this if you're a serious fiction writer. Maybe, then, you can explain it better. : )
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for anyone who wants to be a writer
This is a highly recommended book - I've had it for 8+ years now, and just ordered another one since I lost my old one.... too bad, it was full of notes!
Published 1 month ago by Truth Peace Love
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent approach to thinking about fiction especially for new...
This book cuts to the heart of how fiction is structured without getting bogged down in example after example. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Adam Michaud
5.0 out of 5 stars essential
Essential text for anyone with aspirations to write well.
Structured in such a way to may dipping in later easy. Great reference work.
Published 3 months ago by Angelo auciello
5.0 out of 5 stars Others have said it better
There are plenty of books on writing and I can think of a couple better books off the top of my head. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Tenacious Apathy
5.0 out of 5 stars This should be on your writing shelf
This is a great resource for writers and has a easy to maneuver reference section that covers everything from beginning to end while guiding you to making good writing choices.
Published 7 months ago by Nikki
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book on Writing Fiction
The facade, juggling, specimen, day in the life, journey, bear at the door and blue moon, are but a few story arcs that any avid reader will recognize, but probably hasn't... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Pegasoi
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written text on writing
Well written text of writing. I cannot say anything that has not been said about this book by many many others. Great book I will keep in my book shelf for reference.
Published 7 months ago by Lee Knowles
5.0 out of 5 stars The most fun way to learn the craft of writing
Far from the typically dogmatic academic approach to writing, Jerome Stern takes a practical, no-nonsense approach to the subject. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Keith Munro
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This book has excellent advice for writers. It is broken down into pieces and sub-parts of fiction. Every writer needs this book.
Published 13 months ago by A. Lee
3.0 out of 5 stars A glorified dictonary
This book has a place in your library you if you need a quick reference for terms, definitions, and genera that writers use.
Published 16 months ago by Trow
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