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“Make [your] characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” —Kurt Vonnegut “‘The cat sat on the mat’ is not the beginning of a story, but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.” —John Le Carré Nothing is more inspiring for a beginning writer than lis “Make [your] characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” —Kurt Vonnegut “‘The cat sat on the mat’ is not the beginning of a story, but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.” —John Le Carré Nothing is more inspiring for a beginning writer than listening to masters of the craft talk about the writing life. But if you can’t get Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and Gabriel García Márquez together at the Algonquin, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop gives you the next best thing. Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents a unique guide to the craft of fiction. Along with his own lucid observations and commonsense techniques, he weaves together wisdom, advice, and inspiring commentary from some of our greatest writers. Taking you from the moment of inspiration (keep a notebook with you at all times), to writing a first draft (do it quickly! you can always revise later), to figuring out a plot (plot always serves the story, not vice versa), Koch is a benevolent mentor, glad to dispense sound advice when you need it most. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop belongs on every writer’s shelf, to be picked up and pored over for those moments when the muse needs a little help finding her way.


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“Make [your] characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” —Kurt Vonnegut “‘The cat sat on the mat’ is not the beginning of a story, but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.” —John Le Carré Nothing is more inspiring for a beginning writer than lis “Make [your] characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” —Kurt Vonnegut “‘The cat sat on the mat’ is not the beginning of a story, but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.” —John Le Carré Nothing is more inspiring for a beginning writer than listening to masters of the craft talk about the writing life. But if you can’t get Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and Gabriel García Márquez together at the Algonquin, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop gives you the next best thing. Stephen Koch, former chair of Columbia University’s graduate creative writing program, presents a unique guide to the craft of fiction. Along with his own lucid observations and commonsense techniques, he weaves together wisdom, advice, and inspiring commentary from some of our greatest writers. Taking you from the moment of inspiration (keep a notebook with you at all times), to writing a first draft (do it quickly! you can always revise later), to figuring out a plot (plot always serves the story, not vice versa), Koch is a benevolent mentor, glad to dispense sound advice when you need it most. The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop belongs on every writer’s shelf, to be picked up and pored over for those moments when the muse needs a little help finding her way.

30 review for The Modern Library Writer's Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    N

    Recommended many a time by a professor and friend, I finally got and read this book, and it is all I was told it would be. I can't think of a writing book that was more encouraging, more thoughtful, more energizing than this. Although Koch is extremely well read, he rarely lapses into snooty intellectual verbiage. He uses personal anecdotes and quotes from many writers, ranging from Edith Wharton to Stephen King, to talk about the process of writing. And process is key in this book. This isn't a Recommended many a time by a professor and friend, I finally got and read this book, and it is all I was told it would be. I can't think of a writing book that was more encouraging, more thoughtful, more energizing than this. Although Koch is extremely well read, he rarely lapses into snooty intellectual verbiage. He uses personal anecdotes and quotes from many writers, ranging from Edith Wharton to Stephen King, to talk about the process of writing. And process is key in this book. This isn't a technical reference about how to use semicolons. This isn't a step-by-step prescription either, as much as it clarifies the work of writing. It's more about the mentality of being a writer, the kind of inner events that happen along the way from half-baked idea to polished final draft. It's realistic about how tough drafting can be, but it's always supportive. In the moments it's wordy, I sense the author's sincerity over egotism or monotony. Unlike most books about writing that I've encountered, it made me want to write after reading the first chapter. And I did.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    I like this book but my rating is 4-star because I'm using it as a text for a beginning writing class, and my students had a hard time with and took offense with the second chapter. And I do wish there were less warnings here, so close to the beginning, when students may just be on the first or second date with their writing and don't need a lecture on commitment. I do think it's a fine book for someone a little further into the relationship. Still looking for the book that combines support with I like this book but my rating is 4-star because I'm using it as a text for a beginning writing class, and my students had a hard time with and took offense with the second chapter. And I do wish there were less warnings here, so close to the beginning, when students may just be on the first or second date with their writing and don't need a lecture on commitment. I do think it's a fine book for someone a little further into the relationship. Still looking for the book that combines support with craft to use in my class. Recommendations?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heila

    INVALUABLE. This book is like a Master Teacher holding your hand as you go along with your own writing -- flailing and struggling or sitting and dreaming, and then scrambling to get the words down. I read it *as* I worked on my own first manuscript, and IT WAS STUNNING THE WAY THAT EACH PART I WORKED ON, THE NEXT CHAPTER OF THIS BOOK ADDRESSED. I can't describe enough his level of scholarship, depth of knowledge, and perfect tone (it's kind but demanding - just like the best educators). The tech INVALUABLE. This book is like a Master Teacher holding your hand as you go along with your own writing -- flailing and struggling or sitting and dreaming, and then scrambling to get the words down. I read it *as* I worked on my own first manuscript, and IT WAS STUNNING THE WAY THAT EACH PART I WORKED ON, THE NEXT CHAPTER OF THIS BOOK ADDRESSED. I can't describe enough his level of scholarship, depth of knowledge, and perfect tone (it's kind but demanding - just like the best educators). The technical advice combined with BRILLIANT quotes from other well-known authors about their process make a unique book -- about writing. I feel SO grateful to have found this and to the author. Before, I have described GREAT educators (most of these are unacknowledged, nameless women to most of society, but beloved teachers to their students) as *ENCOURAGERS*. This is no small thing. To be a great encourager. And there is a depth of professionalism to it as well. This guy has that. Obviously highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This book was fascinating, encouraging, and insightful to me as both an aspiring writer as well as a simple reader. The author's voice is friendly and easy; reading this is like having a relaxed chat with your favorite laid-back English professor. There are many voices in this book, however, as the author has compiled the advice and observations of many well-known and successful writers of great literature. As I read, I kept wanting to leave the book and get started on a writing project. (I did This book was fascinating, encouraging, and insightful to me as both an aspiring writer as well as a simple reader. The author's voice is friendly and easy; reading this is like having a relaxed chat with your favorite laid-back English professor. There are many voices in this book, however, as the author has compiled the advice and observations of many well-known and successful writers of great literature. As I read, I kept wanting to leave the book and get started on a writing project. (I did not, however, do this, because I have too much homework to start on my own project right now, and if I did, I wouldn't have had time to continue reading this book for leisure!) I plan to keep this book and re-read bits and pieces of it frequently, consulting it for encouragement and guidance as I pursue writing. If you have any interest in writing, read this! Or if you have a lot of interest in the writing process of succecssfull authors, read this!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dsinglet

    An educated look at writing techniques successfully used by leading writers. How to start, build, edit and produce a story, novel or memoire. Interesting and informative.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    Echoing what others have said here: I really wish I'd read this years ago. I've never been published and barely even finished a novel, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt, but everything I know to be true about writing--and several things I'd forgotten--was in here. The rest of it, the majority, arrived like epiphanies. "Good god yes I could do THAT!" I couldn't wait to get writing again. I've spent years getting tangled up with plot, structure and style and its all its done is kept my idea f Echoing what others have said here: I really wish I'd read this years ago. I've never been published and barely even finished a novel, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt, but everything I know to be true about writing--and several things I'd forgotten--was in here. The rest of it, the majority, arrived like epiphanies. "Good god yes I could do THAT!" I couldn't wait to get writing again. I've spent years getting tangled up with plot, structure and style and its all its done is kept my idea for a book firmly locked in my head because I felt like it always needed further work. Now Koch deals with these important aspects of writing, but he does so in the context of his underlying principle: that you have to write the story before you can structure it. You don't know your story--how could you?--until it's on the page. The style will come in time. Maybe halfway through the first draft if you're lucky. All of this advice rings true to me, and best of all it brings the focus back to what I fell in love with about writing as a kid. Being imaginative. Plot, structure, characterisation, all of that is covered here and covered well, but before they get a hold, Koch is adamant that there's dreaming to be done. And he brings to bear the voices of many great authors to help him make his case. If you are a writer, read this. I cannot recommend it enough.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tom Britz

    This is without a doubt one of the best books on all phases of writing. From finding what your story is through the inevitable final drafts. I highly recommend this one!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    I wish I'd had this book years ago. I'm a decent writer in terms of the mechanics of writing, and my mind is often crowded with bits of ideas for stories, but I had absolutely no clue about how to capture and grow those bits and eventually turn them into something. (I've started a bunch of short stories and even a novel, but all my projects eventually ran off the rails because I wasn't sure how to proceed.) I feel much better prepared to work with my ideas now, and also much more motivated and e I wish I'd had this book years ago. I'm a decent writer in terms of the mechanics of writing, and my mind is often crowded with bits of ideas for stories, but I had absolutely no clue about how to capture and grow those bits and eventually turn them into something. (I've started a bunch of short stories and even a novel, but all my projects eventually ran off the rails because I wasn't sure how to proceed.) I feel much better prepared to work with my ideas now, and also much more motivated and enthusiastic. This book talks about the process of nurturing a story through to completion and the tasks and problems involved. I really appreciated the quotes from various writers, especially the ones that illustrated different approaches to the same task or problem. This allowed me to find the things that sounded promising to me now, while realizing that there is often not a single answer that works for everyone all the time. I think for years I more or less believed that you had a story in your head and then you wrote it down, and I felt stymied by the fact that all I had in my head were bits and pieces. For me, probably the most valuable thing I learned is that that's almost always backward. You don't have the story until you've written it, so the early part of the writing process is about finding your story. You're not transcribing a completed work onto paper in the beginning; you're groping your way to the story. Some people may find this obvious, but it was welcome and helpful news to me. The book covers the entire process down to the final edits, so I expect to refer back to it as I move forward with various writing projects. I probably should have said "the most valuable thing I learned so far." I highlighted a lot, but I suspect I'd highlight different things on a second reading after a few years. The recommended reading list at the end is great; it gives not just titles but notes about each one. I finished this book feeling excited and eager to write, and, more importantly, feeling like I had a much better idea what to do the next time I sit down with a notebook and pen.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Though I've not ventured far into the forest of fiction writing, Stephen Koch's guide to writing it has prepared me to do so. And though nonfiction writing is where I spend most of my time, Koch reveals the closeness of the two when he says, "It lurks near the secret heart of many a project. There is an unwritten novel silently brooding over most works of nonfiction, just as there is a true story lurking in the shadows of almost every novel or short story. The two hover near each other. To embar Though I've not ventured far into the forest of fiction writing, Stephen Koch's guide to writing it has prepared me to do so. And though nonfiction writing is where I spend most of my time, Koch reveals the closeness of the two when he says, "It lurks near the secret heart of many a project. There is an unwritten novel silently brooding over most works of nonfiction, just as there is a true story lurking in the shadows of almost every novel or short story. The two hover near each other. To embark on one is to sense the other. This is because of their common source in the merger of imagination and fact. Reach into it and you will touch something alive, something central to the art of storytelling" (p.136). So, regardless of the arena of writing in which you find yourself, expect improvement after reading Koch's guide. Koch relies heavily on quotes from notable authors (Hemingway, James, King, Highsmith, etc.), which lends credibility to his advice. His writing is clear and concise, not coincidentally two traits he pushes for throughout the book to ensure good writing. The sections about structure, style and voice, and revision/re-writing were particularly strong. Koch gives us permission, as it were, to dispel the fear and trepidation we have as writers by giving us encouragement and confidence that we are not alone in our journey toward improvement. Sometimes we'll get lost and need to re-examine the structure of our work. Perhaps we're worried that our voice will only be a hodge-podge of the authors we admire. Maybe the revision of our work is Everest. Koch helps us understand the normalcy of these worries, and others, and gives us good advice about what to do with them. Overall, Koch's offering is an indispensable resource for any writer. Additionally, I've already used the index numerous times; an appreciated extra for such a relatively slim volume. This guide may have a long title, but it remains a quick and powerful read that will be pulled from your bookshelf often.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hennion

    On my overburdened shelf of how-to's, there are a few permanent members, some of which I read at least once a year. Among them are Stephen King's "On Writing," John Gardner's trio "Art of Fiction/Novel/Moral Fiction," and The Modern Library Writer's Workshop by Stephen Koch. Right from the beginning, I should admit I have a *slight* bias; I am a graduate of Columbia University and was naturally drawn to Koch for his venerable career there. All pleasantries dismissed, I am also pleased to say that On my overburdened shelf of how-to's, there are a few permanent members, some of which I read at least once a year. Among them are Stephen King's "On Writing," John Gardner's trio "Art of Fiction/Novel/Moral Fiction," and The Modern Library Writer's Workshop by Stephen Koch. Right from the beginning, I should admit I have a *slight* bias; I am a graduate of Columbia University and was naturally drawn to Koch for his venerable career there. All pleasantries dismissed, I am also pleased to say that Koch is NOTHING like the creative writing department/professors I encountered there, and by that, I mean that Koch's teaching methodology, theory, and generous advice were entirely unique to him and not material I encountered during my education there (one would hope that all writing teachers differ, I suppose). Part-encouragement, entirely on point, Koch cuts to the heart of the matter by instigating that the prospective writer write as soon as they are ready, able; he goes so far as to say right now! after reading the very first paragraph. To read this book is to fall into what feels a wonderful conversation. Koch uses (not relies) upon useful quotes from writers across all time periods, genres, and fields. He compares and contrasts the written word with related mediums, delves into its uniqueness, and never once cheapens or otherwise denigrates other media as so many writer-teachers are wont to do. Compulsively readable, logically assembled, and entirely encouraging, this how-to has something for everyone.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Barocchi

    This book was awesome. Fascinating. I only wish that I had read it before. I don't think the author realised that many of the pieces of advice in this book applied not only to reading and writing, but to life itself. In some paragraphs, you can replaces 'writing' with 'doing something' and get life advice for free. A lot of the content is just stuff that you intuitively knew but didn't understand why. While other parts, most of the parts (the most encouraging ones), teach you that many of the "w This book was awesome. Fascinating. I only wish that I had read it before. I don't think the author realised that many of the pieces of advice in this book applied not only to reading and writing, but to life itself. In some paragraphs, you can replaces 'writing' with 'doing something' and get life advice for free. A lot of the content is just stuff that you intuitively knew but didn't understand why. While other parts, most of the parts (the most encouraging ones), teach you that many of the "writer problems" aren't problems at all, but tools you can use in your favor. Of course, I had to read it with a highlighter in hand so I could mark the most important parts, but I found myself many times highlighting entire paragraphs, or even pages. It's a delicious read that makes you a better writer, and in the process an even better reader. This book can be discouraging and a little harsh, however, if you're not **completely** into writing . By the way, I read this book in English though most of my writing is in Spanish, and that fact didn't diminish the book's usefulness.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Creative A

    I have been reading a lot of how-to writing books lately, and I have to say this one just stood out. It's the kind of book that you highlight and scribble notes in. His advice was clear, smart, and profound, and he doesn't just try to make you learn a particular method - he teaches you how to develop your own method. Also, when he talks about the rules, it doesn't feel like the same information that everyone else repeats. He quotes thoughts from other authors and then discusses the benefits/draw I have been reading a lot of how-to writing books lately, and I have to say this one just stood out. It's the kind of book that you highlight and scribble notes in. His advice was clear, smart, and profound, and he doesn't just try to make you learn a particular method - he teaches you how to develop your own method. Also, when he talks about the rules, it doesn't feel like the same information that everyone else repeats. He quotes thoughts from other authors and then discusses the benefits/drawbacks of following a particular rule. And oh! Koch doesn't tell you it will be hard. He skips right over it and goes on to the encouragement. Once or twice - particularly in the middle chapters - Koch wanders away from his previous style and begins musing about literary subjects, instead of teaching you something you can use. But otherwise I found this book highly inspirational, very useful, and a great resource.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Scott Lee

    This is my second time through Koch's wonderful book (I read it once before, part of a workshop on creative nonfiction actually) and it is, if anything, better than I remembered. What's so very nice about Koch's book is that he avoids direct prescription by discussion of possibilities, an exploration of options. And here is someone who clearly practices what he (and many other wonderful writers, with whom he (as writer) and the reader converse at great length on all sorts of subjects in this won This is my second time through Koch's wonderful book (I read it once before, part of a workshop on creative nonfiction actually) and it is, if anything, better than I remembered. What's so very nice about Koch's book is that he avoids direct prescription by discussion of possibilities, an exploration of options. And here is someone who clearly practices what he (and many other wonderful writers, with whom he (as writer) and the reader converse at great length on all sorts of subjects in this wonderful book. Authoritative without pedantry, this book represents the ultimate in success for "how-to" books. If you don't want to write fiction, don't care about how to do it, this is still a book worth reading because of the skill, openness, and clarity with which Koch writes, and because of the insights into so many things besides writing that pile up on the journey.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Allen

    Early chapters are heavy on author quotes which are inspirational, if seldom practically applicable. They're worth getting them directly from the source, in the context of the authors' experience, rather than from an aggregator. When those quotes thin out, the pretentious droning and taking 10 pages to expound on a concept that warrants a paragraph are given free rein, consigning this to the category of "one of THOSE writing books"--nothing new, and nothing that hasn't been said better elsewhere Early chapters are heavy on author quotes which are inspirational, if seldom practically applicable. They're worth getting them directly from the source, in the context of the authors' experience, rather than from an aggregator. When those quotes thin out, the pretentious droning and taking 10 pages to expound on a concept that warrants a paragraph are given free rein, consigning this to the category of "one of THOSE writing books"--nothing new, and nothing that hasn't been said better elsewhere.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Graeme Roberts

    Essential reading, and frequent rereading, for every writer. Although the book concentrates on narrative, the line between fiction and nonfiction is blurry at best, and so much of his advice applies equally to both. To think of any writer taking on a novel, or even a short story, without learning from Koch first seems very sad. He could save them from so many mistaken assumptions, make the experience far less lonely, and perhaps rescue those who give up in despair.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    The best book of this genre I've ever read. The best book of this genre I've ever read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    very encouraging and practical. i'm buying this so i can have my own copy. very encouraging and practical. i'm buying this so i can have my own copy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Miggy

    One of the best books on writing I've ever read. It is breathtakingly inspiring and accessible. One of the best books on writing I've ever read. It is breathtakingly inspiring and accessible.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Maryana Pinchuk

    The perfect, practical guide to getting down to the weird business of writing – and not feeling so abjectly lonely and/or crazy while doing so.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Fisher

    I read a lot of writing "craft" books, and most disappoint. This one's a keeper. Read it and learn. I read a lot of writing "craft" books, and most disappoint. This one's a keeper. Read it and learn.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nikki (Lazy Book Lovers)

    As a writer, this was very helpful.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I always found writing non-fiction to be easy: (1) Decide your topic (2) Figure out several points you want to make about the topic (3) Write an introduction explaining why you think the topic is interesting (4) Give your points on the topic, possibly with supporting evidence (5) Conclude and summarize. With little modification, this is the structure used in reports, emails, essays, and the vast majority of other writing. Indeed this review follows the same format! But fiction always baffled me. -Where I always found writing non-fiction to be easy: (1) Decide your topic (2) Figure out several points you want to make about the topic (3) Write an introduction explaining why you think the topic is interesting (4) Give your points on the topic, possibly with supporting evidence (5) Conclude and summarize. With little modification, this is the structure used in reports, emails, essays, and the vast majority of other writing. Indeed this review follows the same format! But fiction always baffled me. -Where do fiction writers get their ideas from? -What makes a good story exactly? -How do writers figure out their complicated plots? -What about all the symbolism we study in literature classes, where does that come from? I just couldn't wrap my head around it. To better understand these questions I've ended up reading many different fiction writing books over the years. This is one of the best. It clearly and concisely summarizes a lot of points that are made in the other books I've read. I couldn't possibly encapsulate everything, so I'll just highlight a few points that stood out to me: (1) "A story is not invented but discovered." Writers often start without knowing what their story is, but in the process of writing they find it out. (2) Writers always have to be ruthless about guarding their writing time. Even very successful writers find it hard to write and have to fight. (3) Write even when you don't feel like it. Self-explanatory. (4) Don't be afraid that you will lack originality if you are influenced by other writers. (5) Write your first draft quickly, don't correct while revising, it will slow you down too much. Obviously, there's much much more, and all the above points are treated in depth. In general, I think anyone who seriously aspires to write fiction should read this. So, do I "get" fiction now? Not completely, but better than before!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Fritze

    This is the second time I've read through this, both times underlining and exclamation-pointing all the way through. It's just so helpful! This book is especially helpful because it is so different from all the other craft books. It's more about getting yourself through the arduous process of writing a novel (or other project) than on the nitty-gritty we so often call "Craft". While he discusses the interplay between character and plot, there are no character worksheets, no plot diagrams. It basi This is the second time I've read through this, both times underlining and exclamation-pointing all the way through. It's just so helpful! This book is especially helpful because it is so different from all the other craft books. It's more about getting yourself through the arduous process of writing a novel (or other project) than on the nitty-gritty we so often call "Craft". While he discusses the interplay between character and plot, there are no character worksheets, no plot diagrams. It basically boils down to story is a character's reaction to circumstances. You can start with one being stronger than the other, but in the end, it's the interplay of characters and the things that happen to them, that makes a story. The sections on beginnings, middles, and ends discuss the purposes of these sections, but also help the author keep going. Especially helpful are the latter parts of this book that discuss drafts - how many? What is the purpose of each? What should your goals be? When do you rewrite and when do you polish? When should you get feedback? I especially like his belief that you don't have to be formulaic, you can let the story be the way it is. He talks about the balance between intuition and intellect while writing. Even though I don't write biography/memoir, I found those chapters helpful too. Don't skip them! Highly recommended. Highly recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Putting the Work in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. Two things led me this book. First, when I read ‘Tree of Smoke' by Denis Johnson, I didn’t understand why such a critically acclaimed and award winning novel could be so bad. Second, I want to improve my writing skills. After researching some the better books on writing such as ‘Bird By Bird' by Anne Lamont, ‘On Writing' by Stephen King, and some works by John Gardner, this book won the day. Steven Koch headed up the creative writing progra Putting the Work in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop. Two things led me this book. First, when I read ‘Tree of Smoke' by Denis Johnson, I didn’t understand why such a critically acclaimed and award winning novel could be so bad. Second, I want to improve my writing skills. After researching some the better books on writing such as ‘Bird By Bird' by Anne Lamont, ‘On Writing' by Stephen King, and some works by John Gardner, this book won the day. Steven Koch headed up the creative writing program at Columbia University for a number of years and this book lays out some good high level advice for the aspiring fiction writer. Koch’s voice is conversational, slightly professorial. He skillfully mixes quotations and insights from famous writers on writing: from Stephen King to Vladimir Nabokov. In fact, the mix of authors led me to check out a few new books. This book is a good resource if you are getting started, but it’s not a step by step guide, although it’s reassuring and motivational. In a couple parts, Koch makes a point about how hard writing is and that you will have to face rejection — I appreciate his honesty. Knowing that it is difficult is helpful. Much of the value here is simply knowing that you are not alone. All writers face similar struggles and Koch offers some ways they have gotten around through it. Excellent Design The paperback version is two hundred pages divided into eight chapters. The first chapter starts with the beginning and introduces several recurring themes: 1) Your story is your character and your character is your story. You have to provide motivation and conflict — what do your characters want and what stops them from getting it? 2) You have to write. Start with a first draft — get black on white. Write every day, read good writing every day. 3) Borrowing from other writers to find your style — copy long passages verbatim. Study them. The second chapter lays down some guidelines and expectation. There are four things you need to do as a writer: imagine, remember, observe, and write. A close fifth is read, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time write”, bluntly states Stephen King. Writing is hard work and it’s not for everyone. Work gets under way with finding your story. What is your story? How do you know it? The only way to know your story is to tell it. You have to feel it and figure it out. It’s the story that precedes plot not the other way around. Koch offers the simple difference between story and plot: summarize Hamlet — that’s the story. Walk through all the twist and turns that happen to Hamlet — that’s the plot. The third leg to your stool is structure — that is the broad way your narrative is told. Do you begin at the beginning or do start in the middle and flashback? Getting A Cup of Coffee Can Lead To An Excellent Adventure Your characters are your story and you develop them through action. What do they want and how do they do it? It’s the action that revels your character. It’s conflict that is key to access. ‘Cat sat on the mat is not a story, cat sat on dog’s mat’ — that’s a story. Even if all they want is a cup a coffee — embrace the dramatic and improbable. No one wants to read about another boring day at the office — make it the most outrageous day. In later revisions you’ll rework the story to make it somewhat more probable, but understand that story telling requires a of bit suspension of belief. Koch gives advice about finding your style — your own unique way of looking at things. Memoir and autobiographies also receive attention. A lot of beginning writing is autobiographical and all writing to some extent is a reflection of your own self. If you do write a memoir it’s important to keep in mind characterization — the person you were then is not the person you were now. Helpful advice on drafting and revising: understand that writers approach the first draft differently fast, slow, or hybrid– but it’s typically for the author’s eyes only — “closed door draft”. After you get the story down — the first revision is for structure. After you have a story, nothing else matters until you get the structure down. Next you develop for understanding — in your first draft there were interesting parts you glossed over and uninteresting parts that were necessary to get the story out, but can be discarded. Then you revise for plot and revise for clarity — the reader has to understand you or your don’t have anything. The last chapter is tilted finishing. Only when get to final drafts should you bring in some other people for advice. A good suggestion here is to ask them to summarize the story back to you — that will tell you where your story is strong and weak. Here is where you polish. Two other good points of advice — rewrite from memory and cut the next draft by 10%. Finally, the postscript has a nice review of many of the major texts on writing. After reading the book, the author has gained my trust and I’ll use his reviews for further reading. But before I read another book on writing, I will do some of my own writing and read some great writing. Read and Write Writing is something that everyone does, but few do it well. Doing it the form of a novel is even more difficult. Romantic visions of writing a novel are just that. Writing is a lot of work. There also isn’t a formula. At many points Koch gives both sides of the coin — like fast first drafts or slow first drafts or something in between — the bottom line is that you need to figure out what works for you. You can only do that by writing. This echoes every good piece of advice on writing — just write. Write. Read. Revise. Write some more. I probably won’t start a novel tomorrow and this is far from the authoritative resource on the subject. It’s a good first start and entertaining read. If nothing else it will improve my reading by providing a better lens for viewing. I still think ‘Tree of Smoke' is terrible, but know that I couldn’t write something better — unless I put in a lot of work.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marc Cooper

    By far the best book on writing a story/novel I've read. It not a beginner's book, though. You need some mileage behind you to extract significant value from it, else you'll end up with too much information to process which will bog you down. My least best chapter was Inventing Your Style. This felt a bit arm-wavy, though it provides plenty of examples and stresses the importance of style. The chapter redeems itself with a short section on readability at its end. "What really makes for readability By far the best book on writing a story/novel I've read. It not a beginner's book, though. You need some mileage behind you to extract significant value from it, else you'll end up with too much information to process which will bog you down. My least best chapter was Inventing Your Style. This felt a bit arm-wavy, though it provides plenty of examples and stresses the importance of style. The chapter redeems itself with a short section on readability at its end. "What really makes for readability is not clarity but attitude." The most valuable chapter I found to be Working and Reworking; a lecture on early drafts and the techniques of revision. It's also the most prescriptive part of the book, and, for anyone who has wrangled a first draft into submission (or failed to!), the most instructive. Koch's knowledge and experience is evident on each page, as is his steady, encouraging, relaxed voice. The book is a masterclass that every writer will benefit from reading.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel B-G

    For such a short book, this took me a surprisingly long time to read. I think in part it was down to a meandering mind, one that took the contents out for a cognitive spin frequently and without permission. Partly that may be down to tiredness, though I think part of it may have been tone. Nevertheless, there is a lot of valuable advice in here, and more importantly a lot of contradictory advice. Why is that important? Because Koch either synthesises it into something cohesive or explains the di For such a short book, this took me a surprisingly long time to read. I think in part it was down to a meandering mind, one that took the contents out for a cognitive spin frequently and without permission. Partly that may be down to tiredness, though I think part of it may have been tone. Nevertheless, there is a lot of valuable advice in here, and more importantly a lot of contradictory advice. Why is that important? Because Koch either synthesises it into something cohesive or explains the difference in personality that underpins each and what the strengths and weaknesses of each are. So mostly amazing, but a little hard to concentrate on at times.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Stephen Koch is the warm voice of encouragement writers often need when they're in the loneliest stretches of developing an idea, birthing a character, plotting a page turner or writing their draft. I felt humbled and encouraged, and took a lot comfort in reading this book. It's not a "how to," it's more of a "keep going." Whatever you're doing that gets words onto the page, keep doing it. (And as Koch advises, keep doing it as quickly as possible. Revision is where it really counts!) Stephen Koch is the warm voice of encouragement writers often need when they're in the loneliest stretches of developing an idea, birthing a character, plotting a page turner or writing their draft. I felt humbled and encouraged, and took a lot comfort in reading this book. It's not a "how to," it's more of a "keep going." Whatever you're doing that gets words onto the page, keep doing it. (And as Koch advises, keep doing it as quickly as possible. Revision is where it really counts!)

  28. 4 out of 5

    Balaram Briant

    The single best book on writing I have ever come across. Koch is a compiler, bringing together quotes from all the world's greatest writers. We're taught to write by Hemingway, Flaubert, Mann, Vonnegut, Marquez, Irving, Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, even Stephen King pitches in. Their lessons are invaluable, and Koch synthesizes their perspectives, lending insight into the principles that underlie the great writing. The single best book on writing I have ever come across. Koch is a compiler, bringing together quotes from all the world's greatest writers. We're taught to write by Hemingway, Flaubert, Mann, Vonnegut, Marquez, Irving, Flannery O'Connor, Toni Morrison, even Stephen King pitches in. Their lessons are invaluable, and Koch synthesizes their perspectives, lending insight into the principles that underlie the great writing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Courtney (courtney & books)

    2.5 Stars This was a pretty middle of the road writing guide. I think my biggest issue was that it was just so wordy and dense at time, even when it was talking about simple things I already knew, that I just found myself glazing over. I don’t recommend this guid over any other, but it’s not a bad book on craft either. I especially liked the usage of quotes from different authors and how they approached writing.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Todd Hogan

    It's rare to come across such a small book on writing with so many good tips and ideas. Many times it reinforces what you as a writer may already know. Other times, it shakes up your crusty ideas. For example, the author believes that conflict determines genre. Thank goodness! How often have you struggled over trying to categorize your writing by genre, when the correct question is what type of conflict is involved. I read it for the ideas on revision and final drafts and was not disappointed. It's rare to come across such a small book on writing with so many good tips and ideas. Many times it reinforces what you as a writer may already know. Other times, it shakes up your crusty ideas. For example, the author believes that conflict determines genre. Thank goodness! How often have you struggled over trying to categorize your writing by genre, when the correct question is what type of conflict is involved. I read it for the ideas on revision and final drafts and was not disappointed.

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