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Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft, and Form

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393320213
ISBN-10: 0393320219
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Editorial Reviews

Review

An excellent study, first of its kind. -- Josh Allen, Queens College

An original approach; useful; excellent and lucid introduction. -- Wendy Coural, Cabrillo College

Bell does the best job I have come across so far of explaining what the traditional linear structure of a story is and why a story should have it. -- Jeff Minerd, co-editor, Writer's Carousel

Here are terrific examples of line-by-line reading of terrific stories. Bell offers the student reader terrific examples of line by line readings of terrific stories. I'm impressed -- Elizabeth Evans, University of Arizona

It's the first book I've seen that gets to the heart of the matter and won't let go....Useful to classroom writers and writing students of every stripe. -- Alan Davis, editor, American Fiction

Madison Bell has chosen fine stories by writers whose work is not shopworn by having gone from one anthology to another for years....His extremely detailed and often brilliant commentary can often take more pages than the story itself....This is the best book of its kind that I have seen since Lionel Trilling's The Experience of Literature. -- Clarence Brown, Trenton Times

Madison Smartt Bell's Narrative Design is one of those books you might need to take with you to your writerly desert isle. It offers all of the essential instructions for writing fiction, as well as providing wonderful examples of the end product, and then supplying brilliant analysis of them. His is a thorough, fascinating, forgiving, good-hearted, unique, and - most impressively - useful book. -- Antonya Nelson, author of Living to Tell Them and Nobody's Girl

Offers concrete advice for organizing fiction. -- Laurie Champion, Sul Ross State University

This is the book I've wanted someone to offer for twenty years. Structure is by far the most effective tool to teach beginning fiction writers. -- Sam Blate, Montgomery College

This is the most insightful, outright useful, most inventive guide to writing that I've seen. -- Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist

About the Author

Madison Smartt Bell is the author of twelve novels, his most recent being The Stone That the Builder Refused. He teaches at Goucher College and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393320219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393320213
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By NaughtiLiterati VINE VOICE on April 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
I saw that pitiful lil stankin azz review and HAD to say something because this book deserves way more than two stars. For anyone SERIOUS about writing and actually *wants* to be in a class, this is the only book that I can think of that will actually deconstruct a story line by line and break down its significance into sections that make you discover how they work and WHY they work so well. The notes are so detailed that you will be shown things that you would have never figured out on your own, and it will teach you to read ALL work like that. You learn on a sentence level, a structural level and a thematic level and how to combine those crucial elements together, yet make it look effortless (if you're lucky).

I was sold with the very first story by Mary Gaitskill, who I positively adore. Then a Peter Taylor story? AND Ernest Gaines? Forget it! Bell combines greats with unknowns and offers up a true MFA level lesson on craft, with some amazing stories. I haven't seen a book like it and am SO glad that it exists. This is a must-have, which I say about a lot of the books I review, but if you think about all the writing books out there, there are only a few you really need and this is one of them. I don't write reviews for books I am indifferent about - I don't even READ them. So if you know what's good for you and your writing, you will get this jont! LOL
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Bell has a great analytical mind. I am not sure where he gets his theory from, (the book does not give citations) But I find his comments thoughtful and on point. Some interesting stories, none of which I would have read otherwise, (probably for the best) This book opened my eyes to the difference between linear and modular narrative.
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This book deserves five stars as a primer on understanding the structure of what is usually described as literary fiction. The author, himself a novelist, competently deconstructs about 20 short stories, divided into traditional structured stories and more mosaic-structured ones--sort of the literary equivalent of the TV show "The Wire." But since this is literature, and the stories are in general aimed at a small literate audience the experimentation and structure can have greater latitude. I also like the fact that MSB has chosen stories written by acknowledged writers as well as work by his former students, which has the perhaps unintended consequence of demonstrating that a 'well-known' name doesn't mean a more creatively honed narrative.

If you want to take a step up from the typical college short story anthology (which are basically worthless without guidance in my humble opinion, having taught college English for 15 years), this is a good choice. On the other hand, it doesn't obsessively get into codes and ephemera of meaning as a book like Barthes S/Zee, or if you've read the British edition, S/Zed. If you've only read O.Henry stories, this might be too much of a leap. I read fiction to improve my own and to develop my craft and sensibility (in addition to appreciating the art (as John Updike said, a writer over 40 that reads fiction is primarily reading it to broaden her/his own skill set). And I'm happy to note the commentary rarely uses the term "pleasure" when it judges the value of fiction. I guess I'm getting off track here, but I think 'pleasure' should be expunged from all critiques of fiction.
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This book gave me a close-up and personal look into the art of narration. The analyses offered insight and understanding about the writer's techniques and the effects they have on the reader. For me, it brought a wholeness to my understanding of a particular story, just what I needed at this stage of my learning .
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This is a line-by-line tutorial in how to "read like a writer;" if you're seriously trying to write, go through it word by word.
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