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The Stuff of Fiction

Advice on Craft

Douglas Bauer

Publication Year: 2006

In this book, prizewinning novelist and popular creative writing instructor Douglas Bauer (The Book of Famous Iowans) shares the secrets of his trade. Talent, as Bauer acknowledges, is the most crucial element for a writer and cannot be taught. But without a regular habit of work, and a perseverance of effort, no amount of talent can come forward and be recognized. His lively and candid essays on subjects critical to the fiction writer’s success demystify the essential elements of fiction writing, how they work, and work together. Bauer’s focus is on the building blocks of successful fiction: dialogue (the intimate relationship between characters talking and the eavesdropping reader), characters (the virtues of creating fictional characters that are both splendidly flawed and sympathetic), and dramatic events (ways to create moments that produce an emotional and psychological impact). There are also chapters on crafting effective openings and memorable closings of stories and on the vital presence of sentiment in fiction versus the ruinous effect of sentimentality. By assuming the point of view of someone at the task, engaged with the work, inside the effort to bring an invented world to life, The Stuff of Fiction speaks to writers of all ages in a pleasurable yet practical voice. Douglas Bauer is the author of three novels, Dexterity, The Very Air, and The Book of Famous Iowans, and one book of nonfiction, Prairie City, Iowa. He is also a core faculty member with the MFA Program at Bennington College and has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Massachusetts Artists Foundation grant, and two Harvard Danforth Excellence in Teaching Citations.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title, Copyright and Dedication Pages

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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-4

Simply put, this book hopes to be of practical use to writers, and to do so by assuming the point of view of someone at the task, engaged with the work, inside the effort to bring an invented world to life. ...

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pp. 5-19

The Grimms’ fairy tale “Faithful John” opens thus.
An old king fell sick; and when he found his end drawing near, he said, “Let Faithful John come to me.” Now Faithful John was the servant that he was fondest of, and was so called because he had been true to his master all his life long. ...

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pp. 21-38

Any close inspection of the way sentences work invites a kind of hothouse attention, one that can be both precious in its priorities and potentially paralyzing. This is to say that there’s nothing potentially more damaging to the ›ow of composition than getting preoccupied with the makeup of our sentences. ...

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pp. 39-61

The best lesson I ever received on the nature and function of dialogue came as the result of a magazine assignment. I was asked—this was more than twenty years ago—to write a profile of a fascinating man named John Maher. ...

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Putting It in Context

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pp. 63-82

Students are often admirably quick to recognize that the draft they have just finished writing is not yet a story: that the narrative is flat, that it is too thinly developed, that it is a sketch and not a portrait, that it is like notes toward a story. ...

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Implicit Narrative

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pp. 83-101

I have lately been seeing symptoms of an insidious virus attacking the work of new writers. What is worse, many of its carriers do not seem to notice what’s happening to their sentences. What’s worse than that, most of those who do see the damage appear to welcome and even to have sought it. ...

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pp. 103-122

In E. M. Forster’s classic book Aspects of the Novel, first mentioned here in the discussion of narrative context, he devotes two chapters to the creation of fictional characters where, among other things, he offers his useful distinction between those who are ›at and those who are round. ...

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High Events

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pp. 123-143

Years ago, one of the best students I have ever worked with gave me a draft of a novel he’d written, which he hoped to revise during the term. I hadn’t seen any of this work. He’d been admitted to the workshop on the strength of a long story that showed he had a sophisticated fictional imagination. ...

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Sentiment versus Sentimentality

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pp. 145-165

I take it for granted that every serious writer recognizes the reprehensibility of sentimental prose. I am making this assumption primarily because I have never heard a student voice anything other than concern or dismay or even more extreme despair when I have pointed out to him some aspect of his work that was sentimental. ...

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pp. 167-182

It only makes sense, if you think about it, that writers might struggle as they face the question of how to end, because the challenge, in essence, is to find the words and the tone with which to say good-bye. ...

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pp. 183-186

In his 1961 Hopwood lecture at the University of Michigan, the late Saul Bellow said, “We have barely begun to comprehend what a human being is. . . . The novel . . . requires new ideas about humankind. ...

Works Cited or Discussed [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 187-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026272
E-ISBN-10: 0472026275
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472031535
Print-ISBN-10: 0472031538

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: Enlarged and Revised Edition