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Ron Carlson Writes a Story
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Ron Carlson Writes a Story

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  493 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Ron Carlson has been praised as “a master of the short story” (Booklist). In this essay collection, Ron Carlson Writes a Story, he offers a full range of notes and gives rare insight into a veteran writer’s process by inviting the reader to watch over his shoulder as he creates the short story “The Governor’s Ball.”

“This is a story of a story” he begins, and proceeds to of...more
Paperback, 112 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Graywolf Press
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Community Reviews

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Ron Carlson has written a 100 page dissection of his own short story, The Governor’s Ball. I’m an intermediate writer, a fan of Carlson’s, and have worshopped that very story with virtual writing peers. So, this book was definitely a must read, for me.

But Carlson does much more than dissect his story. He touches on a few topics, such as setting, dialogue, the outer vs. the inner story, and other goodies along the way, but the gist of this essay is on the process of writing. Or more specifically,...more
Direct, personal, pithy, and funny, this is Ron Carlson at his best. He reconstructs exactly how he came to write a short story, with digressions into his process, temptations, and always going back to the physical details.
Mary Lynn
Sep 06, 2008 Mary Lynn rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fiction writers
Shelves: writing-books
Interesting book that follows Ron Carlson through the process of writing a first draft of a short story. Good ideas for "staying in the room" and for focusing on the details of the "outer story" until the inner story reveals itself.

I would definitely recommend to fiction writers, especially if you're in a bit of a slump.
Cheryl Klein
I love the roundness of Ron Carlson's language and the slightly askew vantage point from which he writes, so I trust him to talk about craft (never my favorite topic) engagingly and with warmth. On that front, this slim little book doesn't disappoint. Carlson takes us through a draft of his story "The Governor's Ball" from start to finish, emphasizing instinct (almost, but not quite, to the point of fetishizing it) and realism. More postmodern writers might be skeptical of such defaults, but for...more
I am reading a short book by my colleague, fiction writer Ron Carlson. The book is called Ron Carlson Writes a Story, and it’s directed at aspiring fiction writers. Since I don’t write fiction, maybe I should be reading one of Ron’s novels instead. But I press on anyway. I am compelled by the sample story that Ron delivers in crisp, salty little chunks, like so many goldfish crackers on the path through the dark woods of procrastination. But I am also drawn in by the lessons Ron draws out of the...more
There is no shortage of how-to-write-fiction books. I know this because I've bought just about all of them. With few exceptions, these books are tremendously disappointing. They promise big, but deliver little.

The biggest problem with how-to-write-fiction books is that almost all of them focus on story structure. In case you haven't heard, stories must have a beginning, a middle, and...wait for end. This little "no duh" bon mot can be found in just about every writing instruction book.

Sian Griffiths
Great read, great advice. So much insight... though there is a part of me surprised not to see more on revision as a part of process. (It's entirely possible that Carlson, brilliant as he is, needs far less time on that part of the process than I do.) That's a small complaint about a generally wonderful book. I'm going to think of Carlson next time I'm reading and want a coffee.
Caroline Bock
RON CARLSON WRITES A STORY: From The First Glimmer of An Idea to the Final Sentence - dives into the creative process of writing with a special focus on character development, which he believes, as I do, is at the heart of good writing. This contemplative book on writing is for the literary versus the more plot driven, often, (but not always), genre writer. The very short and wonderful book should be added to any writer or would be writer's bookshelf. Several succinct writing workouts are includ...more
Chris Orcutt
This is one of a dozen indispensable writing books I own, and when I first read it, it was as if a blindfold had been removed and I was viewing the process of writing clearly for the first time. Solid, pithy pieces of advice like "Elsewhere *is* your destination" truly clarify the writer's role in the process. You have to be willing to let the story go where it wants to go. The way I put it is, "The story knows what it wants to do."

If you're a burgeoning fiction writer, you *have to* read this b...more
Ron Carlson explains his process of "staying in the room" and finishing writing his short piece of literary fiction, "The Governor's Ball." He talks about how readers and writers engage with stories differently--and that might sound like common sense, but the way he talks through it is helpful to writing process. The two main points he makes are 1) don't stop and 2) stay specific to keep yourself interested as a writer. He discusses these ideas in interesting ways!
To my mind, this is one of the best little craft books out there. You can read it in an hour and then, ostensibly, stay seated at your desk for another couple hours and write an entire story from start to finish. Just hope you don't have to go to the bathroom during that time. Or, god help you, get up for coffee. Because, my friends, Ron Carlson WILL NOT LET YOU!
Darin Ciccotelli
I'm going to assign this to a lot of young fiction writers. I won't pretend like I am a fiction writer, but I really understood his whole idea of trying to "survive" the writing of the story. I'd like to re-read this in the near future, and when I do, I may try to write a piece of fiction at the same time. It would be an interesting experiment.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If nothing else, it reminded me to STAY IN THE ROOM while in the writing process. It also served as an excellent reminder as to why we write and what we must do to make a story successful. It is short and sweet yet thought-provoking and inspiring.
Jun 24, 2012 Mary rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: beginning/intermediate fiction writers
Shelves: read-2012, writing
A short but thorough overview of Ron Carlson's writing process. He dissects his short story "The Governor's Ball" line-by-line (or paragraph-by-paragraph) with honesty and humor, providing practical writing advice along the way. Highly recommended for aspiring writers.
May 23, 2010 Liz rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: loved
Stay in the room. It's good advice.
A short book that basically illuminates the process of Ron Carlson writing a short story called the Governor's Ball.

This book helped me understand what he thinks as he writes, which was very informative in comparing it to my own process. For Ron Carlson writing is basically a non-stop war against the temptation to stop writing. He is a discovery writer (which means he writes without an outline or knowing where the story will go beforehand). With each sentence he basically uses a lot of concrete...more
Aug 26, 2012 Emily rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Creative writers (non-genre)
Recommended to Emily by: Advanced Creative Writing course book list
Pros - This made me reflect on myself as a writer in ways I never have, especially about my process. Generally I think I agreed with all of his process points, and I was glad to find that as a creative writer, I was already following a lot of his advice, though I think this will help me with some character development to make it not so "genre" in the future. I appreciated it and I'm glad I read it (though I usually say that with everything, ha!). It was cool to see a seasoned writer give some ad...more
A very helpful account of Carlson's writing of one of his (real, published) short stories ("The Governor's Ball"). He largely takes a play-by-play, sentence-by-sentence approach here, and consequently the book is less focused on craft (although there are sections discussing dialogue, scene, etc.) and more on how to proceed into/survive the actual, mind-boggling act of sitting down in a chair, putting aside other pressing life concerns, and typing one sentence and then another and then even a thi...more
This is a wonderful craft book for anyone who struggles with the self-doubt that often paralyzes writers. Carlson is a generous teacher, dissecting his process and including humorous anecdotes about the moments in writing when it would be easy to look away, to flee the often uncomfortable feelings that arise when mining our lives and world for literary fiction. He is especially astute at discussing dialog and how it can work and guide a story, as well as the constant reminder to let the story,...more
Hands down the best example of staying in the room I've ever read. Because I appreciate his form, this book resonates for me in a way that it may not for others. The short form isn't for every writer, or every reader, and as such, many may walk away from his work "wanting more". This was perfectly suited to how he works and the form he writes.
A few nice nuggets of practical wisdom here, but mostly Carlson is companion, giving the real-feel of story-writing; I love how he gives glimpses of feeling, like when he finishes the draft with calm surprise: “I stood still and felt that end-of-story solitude that tells us all again the purpose of our houses, the windows, electricity, doors, running water” (101).

A few exercises here I’d like to try with students, too.

I tired of the tedious nuts-and-bolts craft talk, but his main thrust is helpf...more
Zach Gerberick
"I'm warning myself what not to do and why not to do it. I don't want coffee: I want this story. There is no help but staying there. I want to leave the room. I will not. So I type (RCWS, 81)."

A tremendous book of practical advice, a "story of a story." Carlson walks us through the first draft of his story, "The Governor's Ball," from the initial idea, to the first line, to the third character, and finally the closing lines. He gives invaluable advice on dialogue, inventory, outer story, etc, ad...more
Jess Shulman
A neat little book all about the author's thought process as he writes a story, sharing his reasoning behind almost every line. Very neat idea, and well executed. He intersperses his actual thought process with little writing lessons and insights, which are nicely done, too.

I had hoped that it would show the progression from first draft to final - he can't really have typed it line by line and gotten to the end and been done, can he? Well, maybe he did ... I would've loved to see a "shitty first...more
Megan Jones
What a powerful writing tool! This was the very first book recommended to me by my mentor when I told him I was interested in working on short stories. Carlson takes the reader on his personal writing journey when working on a particular short story. This is extremely enlightening to see the authors particular process from resisting the urge to get up for coffee (and all of the other distractions) to why he leaves certain information to the readers imagination, the importance and difference betw...more
The Awdude
This isn't an all-purpose craft book, nor does it claim to be, and that's what I like about it. Carlson details a specific formula for writing a certain type of minimalist story. He takes one of his stories, "The Governor's Ball," and he breaks the narrative down, paragraph by paragraph, to explain the logic of how he wrote it. In my opinion, this is a more practically useful approach to the craft of writing about craft than, say, Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, because it provides a tem...more
While I appreciated some of the points Carlson brought up, I felt the organization of the book to be discombobulated. I have definitely read better "how to" books.
This book gave me the confidence to start writing my first story, and it turned out pretty good. Just let the words take you wherever they go.
I think that everyone who wants to be a writer should read this book. Ron Carlson takes one of his short stories and completely breaks down his process for writing it - revealing the inner workings of his writing mind and methods. I will admit that I read parts of this for a writing retreat so I did read the short story "The Governor's Ball" before the end of the book (not sure if that was his intent or not). Carlson's advice is concrete and simple and he supplements his advice with writing prom...more
Jaye Viner
A fantastic, conscience, look at one writer writing one story. Beware of the temptation to leave your desk for coffee or to hold conversations with your kitchen appliances.
Zachary Karabashliev
Indispensable for anyone who loves to write.
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Ron Carlson is an American novelist and writer of short stories.

Carlson was born in Logan, Utah, but grew up in Salt Lake City. He earned a masters degree in English from the University of Utah. He then taught at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut where he started his first novel.

He became a professor of English at Arizona State University in 1985, teaching creative writing to undergraduates and...more
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“I'm not trying as a writer to be smart or to understand the inner workings of my narrator, I'm trying to survive the typing of this story.” 4 likes
“The literary story is a story that deals with the complicated human heart with an honest tolerance for the ambiguity in which we live.” 1 likes
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