Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Manual for New Writers

For about three decades Ron Carlson has been writing fiction. He has several successful novels to his credit, although he's known primarily for his witty and engaging short stories, which have appeared in just about every magazine in America. He also happens to be the best teacher of fiction writing I have ever encountered.

What makes Carlson such a terrific teacher? In a word: generosity. He has the capacity to locate the heart of a student's story. And he has the skill to help the student build the story to its potential. All without interfering with the student's own, distinct voice. Take it from me, that is extremely rare. No wonder a list of his students reads like a who's who of the most exciting up-and-coming American writers.

Now Carlson's approach to writing short fiction (and drawing short fiction from others) has been published in a terrific little volume that I recommend to anyone who is trying to develop his work beyond the first phase. Ron Carlson Writes A Story is unique among writing manuals. In bright, pithy chapters of varying length, the book follows the evolution of one of Carlson's stories from idea to final sentence.

Tracing the sideways logic of storytelling, the book offers invaluable insights into personal artistic process and decision making. This is a must-read for the writer who has completed a few stories and wants to grow. It's also the next best thing to studying with Carlson.

So, if you can't get to a class in Irvine, buy this book. It will fill you with joy and spare you the agony of a workshop with a lesser talent. Guaranteed.

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