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Book Details

  • Paperback
  • Bookstore's Wholesale Price: $46.30
  • December 2008
  • ISBN: 978-0-393-92817-4
  • 620 pages
  • Territory Rights: USA and Dependencies, Philippines and Canada.

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  1. Writing

Method and Madness

The Making of a Story: A Guide to Writing Fiction


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Alice LaPlante (Author, San Francisco State University)


A fresh, inspiring guide to writing fiction.

Method and Madness takes its title from Hamlet: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” Comprehensive and accessible, it provides guidelines to all aspects of fiction writing, from generating ideas to getting published. With a wealth of imaginative yet practical exercises and 39 stories—the most in any guide to fiction writing—Method and Madness offers friendly, down-to-earth instruction in the art and craft of fiction.


More readings by a more diverse range of writers

Method and Madness has a wealth of readings—nearly 40 in all. With work from emerging writers like Junot Díaz, Stacey Richter, and ZZ Packer, along with classics from writers like Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, and Tim O’Brien, the book includes readings that every fiction teacher will love.

Imaginative and practical writing exercises

Over 50 exercises encourage students to flex their writing skills and creativity, guided by the clear direction of a master teacher. Examples of student responses follow each exercise.

A chapter on getting published

Concise, step-by-step instructions help new writers begin to navigate the world of literary publishing. LaPlante, an experienced writer herself, shares her tips on everything from targeting literary journals to preparing and sending a manuscript. The chapter also includes detailed references to publishing resources and literary publications.

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Great value for students

 Method and Madness offers comprehensive coverage, down-to-earth advice—at an affordable price.

    List of Readings


    Chapter 1. What Is This Thing Called Creative Writing? / The Basics

    1. Reconciling the Method with the Madness
    2. Some Basic Definitions
    3. Writing That Is Surprising Yet Convincing
    4. Resisting Paraphrase
    5. Sentiment, Not Sentimentality
    6. Our First Job as Writers: To Notice
    7. Avoiding the “Writerly” Voice
      1. 1. “I Don’t Know Why I Remember . . .”
      2. 2. “I Am a Camera . . .”
      1. DENIS JOHNSON Emergency
      2. AMY BLOOM Silver Water

    Chapter 2. The Gift of Not Knowing / Writing as Discovery

    1. What Do You Know?
    2. What You Don’t Know (about What You Know)
    3. On Rendering the Mysteries That Surround Us
    4. Moving from “Triggering” to Real Subject
    5. Surprise Yourself, Interest Others
    6. Obsession as a Creative Virtue
      1. 1. Things I Was Taught / Things I Was Not Taught
      2. 2. I Want to Know Why
      1. JOYCE CAROL OATES Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
      2. SANDRA CISNEROS Woman Hollering Creek

    Chapter 3. Details, Details / The Basic Building Blocks

    1. On Thinking Small
    2. Defining “Image” within a Literary Context
    3. Imagery That Works on Two Levels
    4. On Seeing the General in the Particular
    5. On Crowding Out the Reader
    6. Don’t Lose Any of Your Senses
    7. Use and Abuse of Metaphor
    8. When Should You Use Metaphor?
    9. The "S" Word: Avoiding Conscious Symbols
    10. Imagery as Creative Source
      1. 1. Harper’s Index on a Personal Level
      2. 2. Render a Tree, Capture the Forest
      1. TIM O’BRIEN The Things They Carried
      2. RON HANSEN Nebraska

    Chapter 4. The Short Story / Defining and Shaping

    1. Some Basic Definitions
    2. The Conflict–Crisis–Resolution Model
    3. Linear versus Modular Stories
    4. To Epiphany or Not to Epiphany?
    5. Is Change Necessary? (The Debate Continues)
    6. On Not Becoming Slaves to Theory
      1. 1. False Epiphanies I Have Had
      2. 2. Opportunities Not Taken
      1. FRANCINE PROSE What Makes a Short Story?
      3. JUNOT DÍAZ Fiesta, 1980

    Chapter 5. Why You Need to Show and Tell /Dramatizing and Narrating

    1. Some Basic Definitions
    2. Why “Show, Not Tell” Is Such Common Advice
    3. The Show-and-Tell Balancing Act
    4. Traditional Uses of Narration (Telling)
    5. Why Narration Is Such an Important Tool
    6. How Showing and Telling Complement Each Other
    7. Good Intentions, Bad Advice
    8. The Showing-Telling Continuum
      1. 1. Tell Me a Story
      2. 2. What Everyone Knows / What I Know
      1. ZZ PACKER Brownies
      2. FLANNERY O'CONNOR Everything That Rises Must Converge

    Chapter 6. Who’s Telling This Story? / Point of View

    1. Some Basic Definitions
    2. First Person
    3. Whose Story Is It?
    4. Second Person
    5. Third Person
    6. A Word about Attitude
    7. Distance and Point of View
    8. Shifts in Narrative Distance
    9. Choosing a Point of View
    10. Common Point of View Problems
      1. 1. Changing Point of View: Experiments in Narration
      2. 2. Using Point of View as a Way “In” to Difficult Material
      1. ANTON CHEKHOV The Lady with the Little Dog
      2. DAN CHAON The Bees

    Chapter 7. How Reliable Is This Narrator? / How Point of View Affects Our Understanding

    1. How We Judge the Integrity of Stories
    2. First Person Point of View and Reliability
    3. Third Person Point of View and Reliability
      1. 1. The Way I See It
      2. 2. See What I See, Hear What I Hear
      1. ROBERT OLEN BUTLER A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
      2. GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

    Chapter 8. He Said, She Said / Crafting Effective Dialogue

    1. What Dialogue Is Good For
    2. What Dialogue Is Not
    3. A Word about Attribution
    4. Five Important Things to Remember about Dialogue
    5. On Subtext
    6. A Word about Dialect
    7. Using Placeholders
      1. 1. Nonverbal Communication
      2. 2. Them’s Fighting Words
      1. ERNEST HEMINGWAY Hills Like White Elephants
      2. TONI CADE BAMBARA My Man Bovanne

    Chapter 9. What Happens Next? / Figuring the Plot

    1. Story versus Plot: Some Basic Definitions
    2. A Word about Causality
    3. Render How—Don't Try to Answer Why
    4. On Metafiction
    5. Character-Based Plotting
    6. On Conflict
    7. Analyzing Plot Points
    8. Avoiding Scènes à Faire: Recognizing Clichéd Plot Twists
      1. 1. What’s Behind the Door of Room 101?
      2. 2. “By the Time You Read This . . .”
      1. JAMES BALDWIN Sonny’s Blues
      2. MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM White Angel

    Chapter 10. Recognizable People / Crafting Characters

    1. Flat versus Round Characters
    2. Eschewing the General in Favor of the Particular
    3. Consistent Characters?
    4. Ways of Defining Character
    5. Character and Plot
    6. Wants and Needs
    7. Characters in Relationships
      1. 1. Emptying Pockets
      2. 2. Sins of Commission, Sins of Omission
      3. 3. Seven or Eight Things I Know about Him / Her
      1. AKHIL SHARMA Surrounded by Sleep
      2. BHARATI MUKHERJEE The Management of Grief

    Chapter 11. Raising the Curtain / Beginning Your Story

    1. Your Contract with the Reader
    2. Characteristics of a Good Opening
    3. Unbalancing Acts
    4. Starting in the Middle
    5. Beginning with Action
    6. Beginning with Inaction
    7. On the Nature of Suspense
      1. 1. Give It Your Best Shot
      2. 2. Start in the Middle
      3. 3. Make Them Squirm
      1. MADISON SMARTT BELL Customs of the Country
      2. MARY YUKARI WATERS Aftermath

    Chapter 12. What’s This Story Really About? / True Emotions, Sensory Events

    1. Many Different Answers to the Same Question
    2. Writing about What Matters
    3. Transference: Borrowing from Freud
    4. “We Are Made of Dust”
    5. The Road to Universality
    6. But It’s the Truth!
    7. Making Things Carry More Emotional Weight than They Logically Should
      1. 1. Getting an Image to Spill Its Secrets
      2. 2. What I Lost
      1. FREDERICK BUSCH Ralph the Duck
      2. STACEY RICHTER My Date with Satan

    Chapter 13. Learning to Fail Better / On Revision

    1. Advice for Writers from Writers
    2. Perfection Is Our Enemy
    3. The Workshop Method
    4. Undue Influence: A Cautionary Tale
    5. The Developmental Stages of a Creative Work
    6. “Hot Spots” and Other Noteworthy Aspects of an Early Draft
    7. An Exercise-Based Approach to Deep Revision
    8. A Word about Constraints
      1. 1. Analytical / Mechanical Exercises
      2. 2. Creative Exercises
      3. 3. Research-Based Exercises
      4. 4. Chance-Based Exercises
      5. 5. Revision Example
        1. JAN ELLISON The Company of Men
      1. ANNE LAMOTT Shitty First Drafts
      2. RAYMOND CARVER The Bath
      3. RAYMOND CARVER A Small, Good Thing

    Chapter 14. Getting Published / A Guide to Starting Out

    1. The Lowdown on Literary Magazines
    2. Preparing Your Manuscript
    3. Choosing Your Target Publications—and Following Directions Carefully
    4. Sending It Off
    5. Simultaneous Submissions
    6. Patience, Patience
    7. All Rejections Are Not Equal
    8. Success!
    9. Publishing: A Case History

    Anthology of Stories

    1. DONALD BARTHELME Me and Miss Mandible
    2. RICK BASS Wild Horses
    3. ANGELA CARTER The Company of Wolves
    4. BARBARA GOWDY Disneyland
    5. AMY HEMPEL In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried
    6. JAMES ALAN MCPHERSON A Loaf of Bread
    7. RICK MOODY Boys
    8. ALICE MUNRO Save the Reaper
    9. PETER ORNER The Raft
    10. TOBIAS WOLFF Bullet in the Brain