The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing



Author: Alice LaPlante


In an age where we all have immediate access to information, one would think that self-education would be easier now than ever. While there is some truth to this, one downside is that the internet is now full of countless instructive and informative articles with conflicting messages. For striving fiction writers this can lead to questions as to which way is the “right” way.

We’ve heard before that there is no right or wrong way to tell a story. Every writer is a unique and special snowflake, and there is no set formula for writing fiction that will work for everyone.

While this is true, I think that Alice LaPlante’s comprehensive guide is one of the best starting points for any aspiring author looking to push their work to the next level.

The Making of a Story is a rigorous guide through the world of literature. In it, LaPlante clearly outlines and defines the elements of stories (characterization, plot, dialogue, narration, point of view, and the importance of details) and discusses to great lengths how each one fits into both the larger structure of a novel, as well as short stories and creative nonfiction.

At the end of each chapter, LaPlante clips in excerpts of writing from some of the most highly regarded authors in literature as a way to show how they used an element particularly well. These include stories by Ernest Hemingway, Denis Johnson, Tim O’Brian, Joyce Carol Oates, and many others. It wasn’t the first time I had read many of these, as they were commonly seen in the creative writing classes I took in college, but reading them through LaPlante’s lens, a new light was shed on them. I felt like for one of the first times I was beginning to see the strings that held the story in place.

Along with including great examples of both fiction and nonfiction writing, LaPlante goes one step further to include writing exercises to challenge the reader and help hammer in the point of each chapter. The exercises are both refreshing and fun, and (at least for me), help to tap back into the joy of writing.

So if you find yourself wanting to really dig into the meat of what makes a story the way it is, I couldn’t suggest a better book. And if the world is getting you down and you’re thinking maybe you should go get an MFA instead, read this first. It may just teach you everything you’ve been looking for.