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Method and Madness: The Making of a Story: A Guide to Writing Fiction Revised Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393928174
ISBN-10: 0393928179
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Alice LaPlante teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and Stanford University, where she is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her fiction has been published in the Southwest Review, Epoch, and Stanford Magazine, and her nonfiction has been published in Discover, BusinessWeek, and the San Jose Mercury News, among other publications. She lives in Palo Alto, California.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 620 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Revised edition (December 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393928179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393928174
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Author LaPlante's textbook Method and Madness--The Making of a Story is a textbook you will not put down. You will be surprised to find new twists and turns on the subject and the various ideas of writing a short story, a novel or a novelette. For example, I was surprised and at first shocked to find out the everlasting dictum of "show and don't tell" have been misinterpreted. This is because high school professors and even college professors who continue to teach their students not to "tell" when writing, but to concentrate on "showing". LaPlante explains the "Show and Tell" idea in a clear understandable and clear way. This concept is explained in Chapter 5 under the subheading of, "Why You Need to Show and Tell--Dramatizing and Narrating". The chapter, as well as the rest of the chapters, is followed by a set of exercises the student and or reader may undertake in order to understand the nuances of the chapter. The exercises are followed by two short story readings. In this chapter, the reader is introduced to the short story titled, "Brownies" by ZZ Packer and "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor. Both short stories complement the "Show and Tell" ideas explained in the given chapter.

The textbook consist of fourteen chapters, an anthology of ten stories and thirty-nine readings. The chapters are as follows:

Chapter 1, What Is This Thing Called Creative Writing--The Basics?
Chapter 2, The Gift of Not Knowing--Writing as Discovery
Chapter 3, Details Details--The Basic Building Blocks
Chapter 4, The Short Story--Defining and Shaping
Chapter 5, Why You Need to Show and Tell--Dramatizing and Narrating
Chapter 6, Who's Telling This Story? Point of View
Chapter 7, How Reliable Is This Narrator?
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Format: Paperback
I had to buy this book for a short story workshop I enrolled in. I wasn't expecting much, having had lots of creative writing textbooks assigned by a lot of teachers, and frankly found them all to be boring and not-very-helpful. This one just blew me away. I thought I "knew it all" -- but LaPlante keeps challenging conventional wisdom. She gives you the deepest, most masterful explanations of craft I've ever encountered -- and then encourages you to make up your mind about how to use these tools. No imposing of narrow-minded rules that you all too often get in workshops. I have to admit, it made me want to go back and tell former colleagues in workshops...wait! I was wrong about that! The readings are great, but what I find especially useful are the examples. LaPlante doesn't ever tell you anything without fully illustrating it with an excerpt -- whether from a published masterpiece or from a student's work. So you're always grounded. Get this book. You'll be as grateful as I am to the teacher who assigned it.
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Format: Paperback
During LePlante's May 21, 2014 appearance on "Writers on Writing", she stated this textbook is EXACTLY the same as her other writing book, _The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing_. Even LaPlante doesn't use the textbook version when she teaches. Save yourself the ridiculous $30 mark-up by buying the trade paperback instead for less than $20.
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This book has tons of great pointers and exercises to help with dialogue, plot, and emotion. It also includes short stories written by the masters (O'Connor, Hemingway, etc) to illustrate the author's points about the certain writing components. Great guide for everyone, and while some may already "know" all this stuff, it's a wonderful reminder.
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Reviewed by C J Singh (Berkeley, California)
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At my suggestion, our writing group recently switched from another book as the main reference to Alice LaPlante's "METHOD AND MADNESS: THE MAKING OF A STORY. Our writing group comprises beginners as well as two MFA writers who have published short fiction in well-known literary magazines. Two months later, the consensus: this book is a model of lucid exposition of fiction-writing art and craft. This exposition is complemented with craft-analyses of 29 masterpiece stories by authors such as Flannery O' Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, and Robert Olen Butler.

Here's an example of LaPlante's lucid exposition. Chapter Five, titled "Why You Need to Show and Tell: Dramatizing and Narrating," opens:

'Show, Don't Tell.' "If you've ever taken a creative writing workshop, shown a story or essay to a writer friend who has taken workshops, or read just about any beginning book on creative writing, you will have bumped into this piece of conventional wisdom. The only problem is it's wrong. Well, wrong is perhaps too strong a word. Let's say it's certainly not always right" (page 147).

In support of her assertion "show, don't tell" advice needs to be modified, LaPlante cites from Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Lolita":
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sins, my soul, Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta' She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did.
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