I just finished with my Spring Quarter writing classes and Alice LaPlante's Method and Madness, was the primary text for one of my classes. I don't normally review text books, but as I thought this was so phenomenal, I wanted to share my thoughts.
Although LaPlante's Method and Madness, covers all of the basics of creating a story, it's not necessarily a beginners manual. I've been taking writing classes for years and I still found plenty in LaPlante's book that stimulated my creativity and made me grow as a writer. In fact, the last few months have been the most productive that I've ever had and between my writing workshops and using LaPlante's book, I've taken my writing to the next level. I'm ready to send stories out to publishers. It's exciting.
What makes LaPlante's book such a great resource? Primary, I think it's the clarity in which she explains the mechanics of story writing, coupled with her choices of examples. Her input made me reassess and fine-tune my writing. I started to write from the idea of creating a synergy between writer/characters/reader, rather than having my stories exist in a vacuum. I realize as I'm writing this review, I sound like some sort of writing snob. I'm not and maybe my Fiction won't get published, however I know that there was personal improvement with use of LaPlante's book and I want to pass that on!
LaPlante divides her chapters into three sections. The first is the lecture component, which is filled with small examples. She follows with writing exercises, some of which I tried during the last few months, but many I didn't have time to do while taking classes. LaPlante's exercises are going to be a resource that I can pull on as needed. Each chapter finished with a couple of published short-stories to support the lecture.
I'd like to make a suggestion with the short stories, read them aloud. With the shorts in LaPlante, plus others that came with my classes, I've probably read about fifty short stories in the last quarter. Reading them aloud can be a pain, but it allowed me to get the cadence and pacing of the story. Also, I'm a very fast reader and I tend to skim, reading aloud forced me to slow down and really absorb every word and more deeply understand the mechanics. Some of the stories in LaPlante are tried and true classics, like Hemmingway's Hills Like White Elephants, but LaPlante also picked more modern pieces, many of whom I had not encountered previously. It's a great mix. I feel like reading such a variety of shorts may be the biggest contributing factor to my personal growth as a writer.
One of the most useful examples that LaPlante uses is in her chapter Learning to Fail Better. In this chapter, she uses two different published versions of the same Raymond Carver story to show growth in revisions. If you read nothing else in this book, make sure to read this chapter. The Carver stories are such a keen example of how a story can grown between drafts and also illustrates my favorite aspect of writing, discovering possibilities in your story. The two stories are the same, but with a few shifts and added scenes, the entire meaning is changed. I was blown away. READ IT!
Method and Madness is a comprehensive manual for both the beginning and experienced fiction writer. I'm positive that it will be an invaluable resource for me for many years to come.