on February 13, 2000
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.
on 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!
on December 30, 1998
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 Amazon.com, 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.
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.
on May 31, 2011
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. : )
on November 29, 2013
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 categorized or given much thought too. I used juggling to write an award winning short story (nothing major). This book is a must for any fiction writer.
on February 8, 2008
I first used this book in a creative writing class in college. At the time, I thought,"Yeah, well and good, but what has it got to do with real writing?"
It has a lot to do with it, actually. I've used favorite techniques that I learned in this book in several published pieces, as well as in the book that I'm currently marketing. The sections are short, the exercises relevant, and the layout is graduated from simple to complex. I turn to this book when I'm stuck about how to present a given scene with the most punch, and it has never failed to help me think a situation through.
There are better books on writing out there, to be sure, but this compact book is a very good place to start, and I use it quite often.
on December 31, 2015
I first read this book in college and had kept my old copy for years. When I needed it recently, I realized it had disappeared. How excited I was to discover it on Amazon! It's the best story development text I've ever read, with easy to understand principles. I recommend it for any budding writer.
on September 1, 2011
I've bought many books on writing over the years, but this one has material that is unique. The first 50 pages are unlike anything I've seen, and they offer some concrete techniques on how to approach writing in a very different and do-able way. The rest of the book is good, but more in line with what you'd see in conventional books.
on January 11, 2013
This is a craftsman's book. It wastes no time with empty promises of success or inspiring rags-to-riches tales about other authors; it assumes you've come to write, rather than be seduced, and it lays out the challenges right off the bat.
This is not an easy book. This isn't the kind of book you can curl up with on a rainy day and share a cup of tea. It's small, terse, and non-threatening in appearance, but chances are, while reading it, you will at some point feel the ego-crushing realization that you are a bad writer for having not already known all of this. It demands that you grab a pen and get to work, rather than mooning about and being wishy-washy.
It's not a business book. It won't tell you how to sell your stories, what format to use, or how to get an agent. But it will teach you to write well enough that all those issues resolve themselves.
If you think you're a great writer, you need this book because it will improve your storytelling, your subtlety, and your confidence.
If you're a beginning writer, you need this book because it explains - in a very intuitive way - how every story fits into a "shape" or a series of shapes which serve as a basic framework for the unfolding action.
If you're looking to improve your skills and you weren't sure where to turn, this is it, buddy. This is a kick in the pants for any serious writer, and I'd recommend it to everyone interested in writing better.