★★★★★ : Deepening Fiction: A Practical Guide for Intermediate and Advanced Writers (Paperback) by Sarah Stone and Ron Nyren, reviewed by C. J. Singh on amazon.com, copy posted July 23, 2006 (32 of 32 people found the review helpful.) – See all reviews
Deepening Fiction assumes the reader has already studied an introductory text on the fiction-writing craft such as Mark Baechtel’s Shaping the Story or Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. (I recently posted my reviews of the Bachtael and the Burroway books on Amazon.)
Although Deepening Fiction is designed primarily as a textbook for advanced courses, I found it entirely accessible for self-teaching. It could very well serve as the focus book of a study group as it poses intelligently worded discussion questions on each of the twenty-two stories in its anthology section. Among these stories, sixteen are by contemporary writers.
In the preface, the authors observe: “More experienced writers are ready to understand just how much writing is revision, how much we develop the shape and meaning of the story over multiple drafts. Our goal is to help writers connect craft to the particular work they are wrestling with. … The long middle stretch of the writing apprenticeship–between initial learning of the basic concepts and the production of meaningful, memorable works free of inconsistencies and clichés–can be a hard one. … It’s one thing to learn the difference between scene and summary and quite another to figure out what parts of a particular story to render as scene, what as summary, and how these choices influence the story’s meaning.”
Scene, summary, flashbacks, backstory, and transitions are the topics constituting chapter 5, which presents illuminating story analyses of Lan Samantha Chang’s The Eve of the Spirit Festival and Yasunari Kawabata’s The Rooster and the Dancing Girl.
Chapter 1 reviews issues in complexifying characters, with illustrations from Tobias Wolff’s Powder and ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.
Chapters 2 and 3 take on complexifying point of view beyond first, second, third, with story analyses of Margot Livesey’s The Niece, Jorge Luis Borges’s Inferno, I, 32, and Anton Chekov’s Gooseberries. As an example of stories that require first-person narrators, Alice Munro’s The Turkey Season is analyzed. Orientation, by Daniel Orozco, a frequently anthologized story to exemplify second-person point of view (as done in Burroway’s textbook) is persuasively analyzed instead as a monologue. Second-person narration is illustrated by Adam Johnson’s Trauma Plate. The authors note that this is the only short story “we know of, in fact, uses first, second, and third person.” Johnson contributes several substantial paragraphs explaining his point-of-view choices in revising successive drafts of the story.
Chapter 4 discusses alternative plot structures by analyzing John L. Heureux’s Father, Melissa Pritchard’s Photograph of Luisa, and Julio Cortazar’s Graffiti.
Other chapters include discussions of style and dialogue by analyses of Charles Baxter’s The Cures for Love and Grace Paley’s A Conversation With My Father.
The chapter on revision discusses the beginnings and endings of three stories each, all included in the anthology. It concludes with a summary “Common Pitfalls in Beginning ad Endings.” (For detailed discussion of revision, I recommend David Kaplan’s REVISION: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, which includes three of the author’s own stories in several stages of redrafting.)
This book teaches the fiction-craft skills of an MFA-level course, delivering the promise of its subtitle: A Practical Guide for Intermediate and Advanced Writers.