Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was excellent, not least because it's very well laid out, with a clear flow from point to point and chapter to chapter. (As you would hope from a book on beginnings, middles and ends.)
All too many craft books, I'm finding, don't have much to teach anyone who isn't a beginner. This is an exception. Even though some of the ground it covers is inevitably ground I've seen covered before, it does it so clearly and thoroughly that it provides fresh insight.
For example, the section on endings gave me an "aha!" moment about one of my own stories. The editor I'd submitted to liked it apart from the ending, and requested a rewrite. I realised, reading Nancy Kress's explanation, why the rewritten ending had worked where the original had not: it directly addressed the conflict which started in the first paragraph and was developed through the middle of the story.
This was the main point I gained from the book: the beginning, middle and end form a unity. However, there's also useful material on characterisation, motivation, promises, climaxes, and a structured approach to revision.
The author helpfully points out some differences between short stories and novels along the way. She also makes clear something that had been vague to me: how non-plotted or "literary" stories are supposed to work, and how to signal that you're writing one of those, and not a plotted story. I believe I'll now approach the non-plotted stories I read with more appreciation for what the author is doing.
This is the second book I've read in the Elements of Fiction Writing series (the first being the highly useful
Scene and Structure
), but I'll be searching out the others, given the excellent quality of both the ones I've read so far.
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