Making Shapely Fiction
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Making Shapely Fiction

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  421 ratings  ·  59 reviews
This book is different from other books on writing.You can start writing serious fiction from the first page -- because, as Jerome Stern makes clear, learning to write spontaneously is the first step to writing well.As you begin to grasp the principle of momentum, tension and immediacy, you'll find your fiction has shape and form. You'll discover how to "write what you kno...more
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 3rd 1992 by Laurel (first published 1991)
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got a workshop to run soon on writing stories and thought I'd better re-acquaint myself with some techniques.. I've read a few of this type of manual and this one looks one of the best.
yes this did prove to be one of the better ones, with useful dos and don'ts, although never prescriptive, and a fine alphabetical list of cross referenced terms.. will add more later, haven't got the book with me at the moment.
This was the "required reading" for a writing class I just took. Since part of taking the class was being able to use Brown University's resources, I ingeniously borrowed it from their library (they in turn had to borrow it from SUNY Buffalo). Now it's quite a bit overdue but since I am persona non grata in the library now I am taking my time.

The first part of the book, which deals with different "shapes" of fiction (thus explaining the somewhat embarrassing title) is excellent. It's basically a...more
An irreverent but thoughtful way to bone up on the basics or just be reminded of what you're doing and why. Well structured to be either read straight through or in the necessary bits and pieces. Highly recommended, even if you think you already know everything about writing.
Julie Dill
Aug 14, 2007 Julie Dill rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any creative writer
This is one of, if not the best writing manual I've ever read. It's thoughtfully written and it's not geared toward someone who hasn't ever written before. It seems to speak to someone who's been writing since birth, but needs unsubtle nudges in the right direction to sculpt the talent into an intricately wrought topiary, pruning out the... ridiculous metaphors like that one. The book came close to making me switch from poetry writing to fiction writing in grad school.

Caution: it makes it nearly...more
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E. C. Haynes
This is THE best book I've read on writing fiction to date. I will refer to it again and again. Just a very clear, easily digestible presentation of essential concepts.
Ploi Pirapokin
In terms of providing story shapes and how they work best, this is a great encyclopedia of examples, and they come in hilarious, palatable doses. I've been introduced to this book because the shapes that Stern provided could be applied to scenes too - so that a story is a combination of well-shaped scenes.

His "Do not write the following stories" is stomach ripping funny. The "Banging Shutter" story, the "Hobos in space story", the "Moral" story which is aptly names "The I cried because I had no...more
Ann Douglas
A very helpful writing guide that explains the finer points of writing fiction. The book is divided into a series of topic-specific chapters, each of which focuses on a topic related to fiction writing. Highly recommended.
Joshua Rivera
Making Shapely Fiction is a great book for writers. Stern’s book helps writers get a better concept how to write better. The book is split into four parts. Part 1 is The Shapes of Fiction in which Stern describes, “These shapes aren’t rule that you follow so much as ways to create them.” They include anything from façade, A Day in the Life, Journey, to Explosion. Part 2 is an interlude to explain to writers that they should write what you know and what not to do when it comes to writing. Part 3...more
Kristen Chavis

Making Shapely Fiction is a book about the craft of writing. It is the dos and don’ts of writing. Stern takes students through the shapes of fiction and explains how each shape works and gives the readers examples. Stern essentially breaks down the craft of writing and explains how each step works.
This book was originally assigned reading for a class I took, however, I find that it is a helpful resource and I actually enjoy reading it. Stern makes learning the shapes easy and his explanations...more
My expectations were high when I picked up Stern's book -- so many writing teachers recommend it. I hate that kind of pressure (both as writer and as reader).

What a relief to discover that I agree with all the praise. Love the organization, which allows nonlinear sampling of techniques and the titular "shapes."

But the best part is that this is clearly not a one-off reading but rather a reference manual to put on the shelf next to Strunk and White, King's On Writing, Snyder's Save the Cat, and...more
It wasn't so much a manual of how to write as it was an encyclopedia of writing terms and conventions, all conveniently laid out in alphabetical order.

Seriously, nothing new is under the sun, and I've known about all of these since high-school, but sometimes it's kinda nice to be reminded of what you might have forgotten in your old, old, old age. You know, kinda like that old saying, "I've forgotten more than you've ever known." It makes me feel a little bit like a curmudgeon and an old fogey....more
Alan Fay
This is a great guide to learn some basics about writing short stories, without cramping your style. What I found truly excellent about the book was the myriad of examples that illustrated each "shape."

The book is divided into three sections: "shapes" of fiction, what NOT to write about, and concise definitions of writing terms. All are excellent.

This book was required writing for the creative writing class I took in high school from the PE coach. This particular PE coach also introduced us to H...more
Robb Lightfoot
Wow. This is the best book I've read in 5 years on the subject of writing. I say this as someone who owns scores of how-to-write books and has been reading them for the past 40 years.

I came across this book as required reading in the now defunct UC Davis creative writing program. I could see immediately why they chose it. The first half of the book is outstanding, the second half merely great. The first half discusses a variety of story-forms, structures, that are useful to solve problems or ac...more
Practical and straightforward advice. More on the side of definitions, advantages and disadvantages than "this is what is good". Offers lots of ways to play with the 'rules' of writing. If this were a grammar book, it'd be descriptive instead of prescription. In a lot of ways it's covering the same ground as Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, but far less academic and more useful.
Shannon Drake
There's some good general advice for writers in here, but it's all very basic stuff. If you need to know what "plot" is, for example, this is a good place to find out. I'd use this in a high school writing class, but if you're beyond that level or looking for more advanced advice...ehhh, not so much. The list of resources in the back dates to the late 80s or early 90s, so is of minimal use.
Horrible title aside, this book has quite a bit to offer. It is more a reference book than one to read start to finish. For beginning fiction writers, his "shapes" of fiction offer a way to think about the writing done not-quite-consciously. And in the creative writing classroom, the glossary that composes the latter part of the book offers an common frame of reference.
Stern's book is uniquely structured. The first part, about 'shapes', is interesting; however, I wish he had written more about these topics. The final section of the book is a glossary of terms that is broad and helpful, but, again, the entries could have been longer. Even so, I found plenty of useful information in Making Shapely Fiction.
Heather June Gibbons
I love the way Stern clearly and succinctly articulates these ideas about craft. This book seems to be just the right amount of detail for my beginning students (unlike the Burroway text which seemed to be too much for them). I just wish it were organized in a way that lent itself more easily to sequential lesson plans/units...
I thought this book did a great job with teaching clueless students such as myself shapes of fiction. I thought this book gave worthy advice for people who want to write fiction.
Aug 04, 2012 Zoom rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: aspiring writers
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
This creative writing manual is comprised of three parts. Part I looks at 16 different fiction shapes, Part II is What Not to Do, and Part III is an alphabet for fiction writers.

The book is interesting, readable, succinct and practical, with plenty of short examples to illustrate his points.
All I remember from this book, as I read it sparingly, was that it was another one of those books of advice that follows the basic premise of, here is what I have to say on writing, here are some examples, but in the end it's all about how you feel at the end of the day with your work.
This is one of my current favorites on the craft of writing. It has a bizarre structure, but it works. It's essentially an encyclopedia of writing terms, ordered alphabetically. But the entries are so well written that it works. Great insight on Point of View, Plot, etc.
Sep 10, 2007 M rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Creative Writers
I enjoyed this book quite a bit - it's an excellent discussion of different methods for making fiction lively and interesting.

My students did not find it as approachable as I did, they preferred our other text: Fiction Writer's Workshop by Novakovich.
Eliza T. Williamson
This is set up like a dictionary and has basically every literary term you might wonder about--never wonder about or now know the proper name for. More contextual examples would have been hlepful for me instead of having it alphabetized.
This is an easy book to read. The sections are divided as the alphabet, making it easy to look up a topic you want to learn about. This is mostly a beginner's guide, but any writer will no doubt learn something new here.
Eric Susak
There's a recurring theme that you should not follow any rules; just do what is natural for you. However, gaining awareness of the different writing techniques could improve your ability to fully utilize your skill.
Just started this book. I am taking a fiction writing class.
Tomorrow is the last class and the book is done. It was okay. I prefer the Anne Lamott "Bird by Bird" book that we used in a different writing class.
I mostly skimmed it, but this book does exactly what it says it does. Simple as that. If you're looking for suggestions to make your prose less "typical" or bogged down by mistakes, it's a good read.
One of the best books on writing out there. Useful, to-the-point, and brilliant. I recall much of this book's advice as I craft my own stories (the section about the onion shape is my favorite).
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  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot
  • What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers
  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
  • Plot
  • Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated
  • The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
  • Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction
  • Creating Unforgettable Characters
  • Writing Alone and with Others
  • Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process
  • The Little Red Writing Book: 20 Powerful Principles of Structure, Style, and Readability
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  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • What Would Your Character Do?: Personality Quizzes for Analyzing Your Characters
  • On Becoming a Novelist
Jerome Stern (1938 (?) - 1996) was the head of the Creative Writing program at Florida State University and taught writing workshops and classes on popular culture.

While at FSU he created the "World's Best Short Short Story Contest" and edited the book Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories. His other books include Making Shapely Fiction (1990), Florida Dreams (1993), and Radios...more
More about Jerome Stern...
Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories Radios: Short Takes On Life And Culture Florida Dreams

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