- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reissue edition (November 20, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062720066
- ISBN-13: 978-0062720061
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers Reissue Edition
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About the Author
Anne Bernays, a novelist and writing teacher, is the author of eight novels, including Professor Romeo and Growing Up Rich, as well as two works of nonfiction, including The Language of Names written with Justin Kaplan and What If? written with Pamela Painter. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous major publications, among them The Nation, the New York Times, Town & Country, and Sports Illustrated. She lives in Cambridge and Truro, Massachusetts with her husband, Justin Kaplan. They have three daughters and six grandchildren.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
First sentences are doors to worlds. -Ursula K. Le Guin
New writers oftne find beginnings difficult--whether they're starting a story or a novel--because they take the word "beginning" too literally. They cast around for the "beginning" of a story--forgetting that beginnings rarely have the necessary ingredients for trouble, for conflict, or for complication. Your story can begin with dialogue, narrative summary, description, whatever, but it must begin in medias res, in the middle of things. You must resist the temptation to give the reader too lengthy an explanation as to how things got to this point. Remember, you are trying to hook the reader's attention, to pull the reader into your story so that he won't wonder, What's on television tonight?
Another stumbling block to beginning a story is that new writers think they have to know where their story is going and how it will end--before they begin. Not true. Flannery O'Connor says, "If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen; and you don't have to know what before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don't know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don't, probably nobody else will."
The following exercises are designed to encourage you to think about real characters who are involved in situations that are already under way--situations that are starting to unravel because of, or in spite of, the desires and actions of their beleaguered characters. Don't worry about middles or endings yet. Just give yourself over to setting stories in motion--you will soon know which stories capture your imagination and seem unstoppable, which stories demand to be finished. Till that time, begin and begin and begin.
Top Customer Reviews
The book is split up into fifteen different sections (two of these are devoted to the short stories and short-shorts), each with several exercises. Each section discusses a particular part of story writing including, beginnings, plot, POV, characterization, dialogue, styles and rewrites. I found the majority of the exercises useful, and nearly all of the lessons and discussions worthwhile. There where even a few "Ah-ha!" exercises that instantly solved, or gave me ideas on how to tackle, a problem that I'd been dealing with.
This book can be used in two ways. The first is to use it to strengthen your weaknesses. If you feel that your writing is lacking in a certain area, you can focus entirely on the lessons and exercises to improve that area. The second way to use this book is to read it straight through for the lessons and advise while using the exercises to further your writing. Either way, I believe that any writer will find "What If?" a useful tool.
The earlier, brown version is not the greatest, but the "Revised and Expanded" 1995 edition (blue cover) is fabulous. We were supposed to get a new 2000 edition in January, but now I heard that Prentice-Hall has decided not to do the new edition. So "What If?" is now out of print. NO!