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Ron Carlson Writes a Story

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  696 Ratings  ·  99 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 1,166)
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Ben Loory
Apr 03, 2015 Ben Loory rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 24, 2008 Denis rated it it was amazing
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,
Nov 02, 2007 Linera rated it it was amazing
Shelves: craft-of-writing
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 really liked it
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
Aug 27, 2012 Cheryl Klein rated it really liked it
Shelves: craft-books
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
Dec 06, 2008 Julia rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 20, 2007 Brian rated it it was amazing
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 Anna Bock
Oct 18, 2013 Caroline Anna Bock rated it really liked it
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
Dec 03, 2011 Chris Orcutt rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 04, 2013 Yona rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
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!
Sep 25, 2016 Jenna rated it really liked it
Shelves: how-to-books
This book about how to write a short story distinguishes itself through its emphasis on "surviving the story": e.g., on how the writer should pack a sentence with credible details not just because of the effect it will have on the reader, but also because of the effect it will have on the writer (i.e., it'll give the writer enough material to keep the story going, so that they're less liable to give up on writing the story before it's done). Carlson calls this process of amassing concrete detail ...more
Sian Griffiths
Oct 19, 2014 Sian Griffiths rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 19, 2014 Liz rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
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
Jan 23, 2012 Darin Ciccotelli rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 28, 2008 Clarence rated it really liked it
Shelves: method
What I learned about writing stories:
--do the first draft all in one day (impossible!)
--don't stop to research anything, ever
--don't have a second cup of coffee
--listen to your story
--don't, under any circumstances, leave the room
--email is death to stories (already obvious)
Thanks Ron Carlson!

Jun 10, 2013 Shanna rated it really liked it
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 it was amazing
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.
Liz Shine
May 23, 2010 Liz Shine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: loved
Stay in the room. It's good advice.
Jul 13, 2016 Dana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: school-books
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
Jun 02, 2014 Tyler rated it it was ok
Shelves: books-on-writing
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
Jul 07, 2010 Erick rated it really liked it
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
Maggie Ferguson
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,
Steven Shinder
Oct 06, 2015 Steven Shinder rated it really liked it
I read this for my Writing 31 class at UC Irvine. It actually has some great story-writing tips. This is, by no means, how everyone should write absolutely, but rather a book with suggestions that may work for some people. Carlson says to not outline a story because it constricts creativity, but I can outline the gist of a story and still surprise myself when I fill in the gaps. So it really depends. Some stuff written in here can be really useful. I am glad that I got to meet Ron Carlson earlie ...more
Sep 01, 2008 Steven rated it really liked it
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
May 05, 2014 Zach Gerberick rated it it was amazing
"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
Aug 02, 2013 Megan Jones rated it it was amazing
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
Andrea Scherer
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 really liked it
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
Lori (ink keys and other things)
Ron Carlson provides writers with extremely practical advice about his writing process. Although, Ron Carlson writes literary fiction (as far as I know), his lessons and advice will serve any writer. Don't be turned off by the subject of his short story" The Governor's Ball." Pay attention to how he's writing, not what he's writing.
Jul 12, 2012 Christine rated it really liked it
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.
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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 about Ron Carlson...

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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.” 8 likes
“The most important thing a writer can do after completing a sentence is to stay in the room. The great temptation is to leave the room to celebrate the completion of the sentence or to go out in the den where the television lies like a dormant monster and rest up for a few days for the next sentence or to go wander the seductive possibilities of the kitchen. But. It's simple. 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 understand that to stand up from the desk is to fail, and to leave the room is so radical and thorough a failure as to not be reversible. 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, where you're going? Yes. It's impossible. Who can do it? The writer.” 5 likes
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