For those of you who don’t know, I’m a creative writing major at a liberal arts college. This is my third year, and I’m just now getting around to my fiction writing class, but so far things have been fun.
To get us started, our professor has been giving us exercises out of Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern. This craft book takes you through the basic elements of good fiction writing using short chapters that include examples of the element and a prompt to help you begin.
From the back cover:
“Here is a book about the craft of writing fiction that is thoroughly useful whether for beginners, seasoned writers, or teachers of writing. You will see how a work takes form and shape once you grasp the principles of momentum, tension, and immediacy. ‘Tension,’ Stern says, ‘is the mother of fiction. When tension and immediacy combine, the story begins.’
“Dialogue and action, beginnings and endings, the true meaning of ‘write what you know,’ and memorable listing of don’ts for fiction writers are all covered. A special section features an Alphabet for Writers: entries range from Accuracy to Zigzag, with enlightening comments about such matters as Cliffhangers, Point of View, Irony, and Transitions.”
As someone who is working their way through the book, I can say his prompts are great jumping off points if your inspiration is lagging. The chapters and Alphabet for Writers are helpful if you don’t quite understand a concept.
I recently did the “Juggling” exercise (second chapter). “Juggling” makes you think about the way you take your reader through a character’s physical action, into their thoughts/background, and back into action. The idea is to weave action and internal thoughts seamlessly. Here’s a snippet from my attempt at “Juggling” to give you an idea:
Suzanne swerved around a dump truck. 8:52. If she glided through the next few stop signs and accelerated through a few yellow lights, she could make it to the meeting by the skin of her teeth. She could see it now: rushing into the conference room, breathless, all of her stuff still hanging from her arms. But she could do it. They always spent the first five minutes summarizing what happened at last week’s staff meeting. And she was actually at last week’s meeting, so it wasn’t like she needed to be there for the summary.
She zoomed up a turning lane. The green light twenty feet away turned yellow. She could make this. Pressing down on the accelerator, Suzanne whipped around the turn, centrifugal force throwing her against the driver’s side door.
I recommend Making Shapely Fiction because it’s a fun, useful guide that can spark your creativity and/or help you understand elements of fiction writing that maybe no one formally taught you. Often, writers write on instinct. We follow blindly where the Muse drags us and we thank her for the trip.
Sometimes there’s something happening in our story that’s not quite right but we’re not sure what, because it’s one of those things no high school English teacher taught us. Have no fear. Jerome Stern is going to teach you. And if you need more help, we at Inspiration for Writers are at your service!