Cover

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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction

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pp. xiii-xx

Every semester in my beginning fiction writing class, after a discussion of craft, a student will ask, “Do you really think about all these things before you sit down to write?” Their fear is that attention to craft...

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Writing

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pp. 1-7

What’s your process like? When do you write? Do you have a routine? Do you write in the morning or at night? Do you write every day? Do you write longhand or type? How much do you write each day? How many hours a day do you write?...

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The Ideal Reader

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pp. 8-13

I have never sat down to write a story or novel and thought, “Okay, so who’s my audience going to be?” When asked by others who my audience is, I’ll sometimes say, “Writers don’t choose their audience; their audience chooses them,” which sounds good and which, to a certain...

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Subject Matter

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pp. 14-30

In his terrific book Making Shapely Fiction, the late Jerome Stern has a section titled “A Cautionary Interlude,” in which he lists different kinds of plots that writers should avoid writing. It’s a smart list that illuminates a host of common problems, and I have read that list aloud...

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Beginnings

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pp. 31-39

The fiction-writing courses I teach should probably be called “The Art of Manipulation” since what the student is graded on at the end of the semester is, in large part, her skill as a manipulator. It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that. There are countless aspects of craft...

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Titles

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pp. 40-45

What makes a good book title? I used to think that using concrete words instead of abstract words was the ticket, and that the reader should be able to walk away with an image in her head, but now I’m not so sure. Concrete words?...

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The Narrator’s Likeability

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pp. 46-52

Think about your own experience of meeting someone for the first time: You usually have a gut response, sometimes before the person speaks. And once the person speaks, you unconsciously move forward or take a step back because you’re forming lightning fast opinions...

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Minor Characters

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pp. 53-62

The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference is the oldest writing conference in the country. Suggested by Robert Frost and founded in 1926, the conference is an institution in American letters, an eleven-day orgy of, among other things, poetry and fiction workshops and readings. The readings by both novice...

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Immediacy

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pp. 63-98

You start reading a book, and without realizing it, you’ve blocked out everything around you: noises, the room you’re in, the people around you. It’s classic sensory deprivation, similar to what you experience during a good movie in a dark theater when your attention is fully...

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Pop Culture

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pp. 99-101

I’m a hypocrite. I warn my students against using pop culture references in their fiction, citing for them stories from the early twentieth century that are unreadable now because we don’t recognize the pop culture references in them. Even recent stories will include meaningful winks...

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Humor

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pp. 102-111

I’ll admit it: my tastes are low-brow. I’m an academic only because I happen to teach at a university. At an on-campus interview several years ago, I was asked about the humor that runs through my fiction and who my influences were. While I stared blankly ahead, a few of the professors interviewing me offered...

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Neighborhoods

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pp. 112-117

When I first began writing fiction, my stories’ settings were often amorphous, sometimes nonexistent, or they were rural, probably since I had spent several years living in southern Illinois, where, as an undergraduate, I had decided to become a writer. But it took years for me...

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The Imitative Fallacy

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pp. 118-126

The imitative fallacy is when a writer attempts to mirror the narrator’s state of mind through some aspect of craft (prose, structure, plot, etc.). The drunker the narrator, the less coherent the prose becomes. The “crazier” the narrator, the less lucid the story’s structure becomes...

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Subtext

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pp. 127-131

If I were to sit down and calculate how long it sometimes takes me to write a short story from conception to final draft, I would probably quit writing altogether. And yet I begin each project optimistically, naively thinking that I understand what the story is about, when in fact...

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Gestation

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pp. 132-140

I used to think that there was a logical way to write and revise a story. Why wouldn’t there be? You sit down and hammer out a story, and then you take it through several drafts. Eventually, the story comes together or it doesn’t. If it does, it’s finished. If it doesn’t, you discard it . . . or you send...

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Humility

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pp. 141-148

When you think about the craft of writing, you probably don’t think about humility, but I would place humility at the top of that list. Humility is vital in order for a writer not to be myopic about her own work. What is humility? As defined by dictionary.com, humility...

Further Reading

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pp. 149-158

Index

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pp. 159-167