Alice LaPlante

"The Making of a Story"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky DEC 13, 2007)

“So you want to write….  This book is designed to help.  In it, you’ll be walked through all aspects of the creative process, from generating the kind of exciting ideas that spark the beginnings of novels, short stories, and personal essays; to learning and practicing all aspects of the craft; to acquiring revision techniques to use once you have finished the first draft….”

Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story is textbook-length (well over six hundred pages), and should appeal not only to serious writing students, but also to teachers and readers who would like more insight into how writers create.  Creative writing is not for the faint-hearted; that is clear from the outset.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed when staring at a blank page or screen, trying to come up with original ideas and fresh ways to express them.  LaPlante gently and slowly guides her readers through the entire process from getting off the ground to putting the finishing touches on the final draft.

LaPlante’s scope is encyclopedic.  She includes such topics as: making the ordinary extraordinary, employing imagery effectively, writing a good opening, developing plot and characters, choosing a point of view, writing believable dialogue, generating suspense, and revising one’s work.  She also discusses the strengths and limitations of writing workshops.  The author emphasizes that there are no hard and fast rules; rather, she is passing on “conventions” that have worked for many but not all writers. 

How does this work differ from others of its type?  The Making of a Story covers more territory than most writing handbooks.  Part of the book’s length results from the inclusion of quite a few full-length classic stories, such as Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,”  James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” and a non-fiction piece, Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Welcome to Cancerland.”  Each work is followed by thought questions such as “How do the opening paragraphs set the tone for the story?” and “Can you point to some sections of narration that are convincing because of their specificity?”  There are also dozens of exercises sprinkled throughout the book.  For example, the student should pretend that she is a camera and record everything that she sees in a place rich with visual stimulation.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose is another excellent work of this type; in fact, LaPlante quotes Prose and even uses the phrase “Reading as a Writer” repeatedly.  The Making of a Story is well organized into fourteen carefully constructed chapters.  There is a useful table of contents, a glossary of literary terms, a bibliography, a list of stories, and a thorough index.  This guide cannot be absorbed in one sitting.  It should be savored slowly and kept as a ready reference book.  Used judiciously, it can serve as a source of inspiration to help writers bring out the best in themselves.

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About the Author:

Alice LaPlante has been teaching in the Continuing Studies Program for more than fifteen years at Stanford University. She is also on the creative writing faculty at San Francisco State University, and has published short stories in Southwest Review, Epoch, Stanford Magazine, and other literary journals. She is a former Wallace Stegner fellowship and a Jones Lecturer. Her own accolades include a Transatlantic Review fiction prize. She lives in Palo Alto, California. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014