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Ron Carlson Writes a Story
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Ron Carlson Writes a Story

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  547 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Ron Carlson has been praised as “a master of the short story” (Booklist). In this book-length essay, 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 offer practical advice for c
Paperback, 112 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Graywolf Press
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 875)
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Ben Loory
probably the best book i've ever read about writing. not just inspiring (which many are), or witty and well-written (which a few are), but helpful-- mainly because it's a book about process (the unfolding) and not craft (niggling with words). by far, for me, the most helpful bit was when he talks about description as a way of creating "inventory," which is to say, description is not a method of saying things about characters, but a way of creating real stuff in the story world that you can then ...more
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,
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.

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
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!
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.
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.
In Ron Carlson’s very insightful book Ron Carlson Writes a Story, writers are able to glean information on how Carlson wrote his short story “The Governor’s Ball.” This helps give both readers and writers a better insight on how the process of writing a short story works for some writers. Though not all writers use this kind of format for all of their stories, the basic ideas can be transferred from story to story. There are always the important features such as detail, setting, and dialogue tha ...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
Mar 26, 2015 Maggie added it
Tolerate not knowing.

"The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room." "The writer is the person who stays in the room. The writer wants to read what she is in the process of creating with such passion and devotion that she will not leave the room. The writer understands that to stand up from the desk is to fail . . . Who is not in the room writing? Everybody. Is it difficult to stay in the room, especially when you are not sure of what you're doing,
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
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
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
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
Oct 29, 2007 Pamela rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers
Short, readable, congenial. Some tidbits of worthwhile practical advice, especially on the risks of getting up from one's desk while writing. And it's always fascinating to hear how a writer has put a story together. Here Carlson tells us just what went into the making his story "The Governor's Ball," although clearly he's compressed and conflated that backstory somewhat. For me, frankly, the Carlson technique isn't the way to go--taking a draft from start to finish in one go merely results in s ...more
Jul 12, 2012 Christine rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers needing a recharge
Recommended to Christine by: my thesis advisor
This slim volume, recommended by my thesis advisor, has been instrumental in getting me writing again. Not only that, it has helped me simplify my story-telling mode and given me new perspectives on "how" to tell a story. In it, Carlson examines one story he wrote in one day ("The Governer's Ball"), and talks about his method, which boils down to: stay in the room and let the physical details of the story solve your problems. Highly recommended to writers needing a recharge.
V.R. Barkowski
Carlson's two most valuable pieces of advice? Stay in the room and keep writing. Everything else, research, coffee, a clean house, can wait. This is a great little primer for any writer pursuing the literary short story. That said, I don't think Ron Carlson Writes a Story would prove helpful for formula fiction scribes. With genre short stories, the writer almost always writes to a conclusion - pretty much the antithesis of Carlson's pantser approach.
This would have to be on the short list for fiction writing, suggested recommendations, especially if you're writing or teaching short stories. It's a short book; in spurts it reads as if every page is a maxim - don't even bother highlighting, you'll turn the whole thing yellow; and the unique feature is that he walks through the process of writing a story. Where he was, how it came to mind, what happened during and after he wrote the first sentence, etc.
I really enjoyed reading the process he went through writing the story. It reinforced the way I approach stories, but also taught me some new ideas. I'm not sure how I felt about the final product. I wish I had read the story first. Reading it after reading the thought process of writing it...well, it was like I had written it and didn't know how to feel about it - which is how I feel about all the stories I write.
Made me want to write more...
I love reading short stories and have wondered what goes into the writing of one. In this book, Ron Carlson, who has written many great short stories (in my opinion), recounts his thought process of writing "The Governor's Ball," which he happened to write in one day. He gives practical advice on character development, moving the story along, and dialogue. He also gives some insight into the interesting idea of discovering your story as you write.
Eliza T. Williamson
Oct 01, 2008 Eliza T. Williamson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Eliza T. by: Natalie Aristy
Shelves: craft-books
I have to give props to Natalie who suggested this book to me when I was really struggling to write. Ron Carlson is wonderful in that he talks like a regular guy, he feels the angst that all writers feel and in writing this book he literally takes you through almost line by line the experience of writing his story "The Governor's Ball" I learned a lot about myself and my impatience thru this book--the need to sit with the work and write till it comes.
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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
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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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