Deepening Fiction: A Practical Guide for Intermediate and Advanced Writers, 1st edition

  • Sarah Stone
  • Ron Nyren


This intermediate/advanced guide to writing fiction emphasizes the revision process and uses craft discussions, exercises, and diverse examples to show the artistic implications of writing choices. This book addresses the major elements of fiction. Numerous examples, questions, and exercises throughout the book help readers reflect upon and explore writing possibilities. The mini-anthology includes a variety of interesting, illustrative, and diverse stories—North American and international, contemporary and classic, realistic and experimental.

Table of contents


I. Intermediate and Advanced Approaches to Fiction-Writing.

1. Developing and Complicating Characters.

Generating characters.

    Inhabiting characters.

    Representing characters.

    Character history/background/connections.

Story analysis and questions: “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.”

Connecting character to story.

    Motivation and action.

    Active and passive main characters.

Relating characters to each other.

Story analysis and questions: “The Forest.”

Complicating characters.

    Sympathetic and unsympathetic characters.

    Rethinking “heroes,“ “victims,“ and “villains.”

Restraint in writing emotion.

Story analysis and questions: “Powder.”

Revision: Bringing characters into focus.

Character exercises.

2. Third-Person POVs and Degrees of Omniscience.

The centrality of POV.

    Real-world POV decisions.

    Complicating POV: beyond first, second, and third.

Aspects of third-person POV.

Story analysis and questions: “The Niece.”

Variations of common POV choices.

    Objective narrators.

    Close third-person POV (third person limited).

    Discerning third-person POV (third person flexible).

    Degrees of omniscience.

Story analysis and questions: “Inferno I, 32.”

Effectively breaking POV rules.

Story analysis and questions: “Gooseberries.”

Revision: Making subtle POV shifts.

POV exercises.

3. The Uses of First and Second Person.

Stories that require first-person narrators.

Aspects of first-person POV.

Motives for telling the story.

    Understanding the past.

    Applying perspective.

Story analysis and questions: “The Turkey Season.”

The versatility of second person.

    Disguised first person.

    Direct address and second-person narrators.

Story analysis and questions: “Trauma Plate.”

Revision: Making major POV changes.

POV exercises.

4. Plot, Narrative Drive, and Alternative Story Structures.

Reclaiming the pleasures of plot.

    Classical plot structures.

    Plots and subplots.

Story analysis and questions: “Father.”

Narrative drive and meaning.

    Forward and backward movement.

    Actual and emotional plots.

Story analysis and questions: “Photograph of Luisa.”

Advancing plot through dialogue and exposition.

Plot in literary and genre writing.

Alternate and experimental structures.

    Non-linear story structures.

    Image as structure.

Story analysis and questions: “Graffiti.”

Revision: How structure emerges through multiple revisions.

Plot and structure exercises.

5. Time in Fiction: Scene, Summary, Flashbacks, Backstory, and Transitions.

Setting the story's time span.

Scene and summary in draft and revision.

    Action, description, and dialogue.

    Compelling summaries.

    Summary within scenes.

Story analysis and questions: “The Eve of the Spirit Festival.”

Moving through time.

    White space and transitional phrases.

    Flashbacks and backstory.

Story analysis and questions: “The Rooster and the Dancing Girl.”

Revision: Experimenting with time.

Time exercises.

6. Discovering the Story's Subject: Material and Subject Matter.

Ways for writers to identify their own material.

    Repetition and variation in a writer's material.

    The difference between a subject and a “theme.”

    Psychological and situational subject matters.

Story analysis and questions: “A Wagner Matinee.”

Taking risks with subject matter.

    Ordinary subject matter: beyond the trivial.

    Dramatic subject matter: power vs. sentiment.

    Transgressive subject matter: crossing boundaries.

    Nonrealistic subject matter: the literary fantastic.

Story analysis and questions: “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.”

Revision: Discovering the story's true subject.

Subject matter exercises.

7. Macrosetting, Microsetting, and Detail.

Re-seeing familiar settings.

Macrosetting, microsetting, and detail.

Essential and arbitrary settings.

    Maximalist settings.

    Minimalist settings.

Story analysis and questions: “The Fence Party.”

The possibilities of detail.

    Point of view and detail.

    Symbolic detail.

Story analysis and questions: “Pilgrims.”

Revision: Inhabiting places.

Setting exercises.

8. Society, Culture, and Context: Research and the Imagination.

Creating context.

    Using research to enlarge subject matter.

    Work and leisure.

Story analysis and questions: “Orientation.”

Art, science, and other fields of inquiry.

Story analysis and questions: “Di Grasso: A Story of Odessa.”

    History, biography, other cultures.

    Religion and politics.

Story analysis and questions: “Civil Peace.”

Revision: Contextualizing the story.

Society exercises.

9. Style and Dialogue.

The writer's style.

    Word choice.

    Tone and vision.

    Figurative language.

    Sentence and paragraph work.

Story analysis and questions: “The Cures for Love.”

Dialogue and subtext.

    Dialogue rhythms and styles.

    Dialogue tags and accompanying actions.

Story analysis and questions: “A Conversation with My Father.”

Revision: Line-editing.

Style and dialogue exercises.

10. Revision: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings.

The writing room.

    Giving and receiving criticism: the workshop.

    Ways of reentering a story.

Deep revision.


    The creative beginning and the literal beginning.

    Setting up the story.

Story analysis and questions: Three beginnings.



    Inevitable surprises.

Story analysis and questions: Three endings.

Common pitfalls in beginnings and endings.

Revision exercises.

II. Mini-Anthology of Stories.

Chinua Achebe, “Civil Peace.”

Isaac Babel, “Di Grasso: A Tale of Odessa.”

Andrea Barrett, “The Forest.”

Charles Baxter, “The Cures for Love.”

Jorge Luis Borges, “Inferno I, 32.”

Willa Cather, “A Wagner Matinee.”

Lan Samantha Chang, “The Eve of the Spirit Festival.”

Anton Chekhov, “Gooseberries.”

Julio Cortàzar, “Graffiti.”

Adam Johnson, “Trauma Plate.”

Denis Johnson, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.”

Yasunari Kawabata, “The Rooster and the Dancing Girl.”

John L'Heureux, “Father.”

Margot Livesey, “The Niece“.

Alice Munro, “The Turkey Season.”

Daniel Orozco, “Orientation.”

Julie Orringer, “Pilgrims.”

ZZ Packer, “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.”

Grace Paley, “A Conversation With My Father.”

Melissa Pritchard, “Photograph of Luisa.”

Elizabeth Tallent, “The Fence Party.”

Tobias Wolff, “Powder.”


Talent and Habit.

Writer's Block.

Rejection, Publication, and Endurance.


A Writer's Glossary.

Suggestions for Further Reading .

Anthology Bios.

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Published by Pearson (October 5th 2004) - Copyright © 2005