A prolific and award-winning writer, Lee Martin has put pen to paper to offer his wisdom, honed during thirty years of teaching the oh-so-elusive art of writing. Telling Stories is intended for anyone interested in thinking more about the elements of storytelling in short stories, novels, and memoirs. Martin clearly delineates helpful and practical techniques for demystifying the writing process and provides tools for perfecting the art of the scene, characterization, detail, point of view, language, and revision—in short, the art of writing. His discussion of the craft in his own life draws from experiences, memories, and stories to provide a more personal perspective on the elements of writing.
Martin provides encouragement by sharing what he’s learned from his journey through frustrations, challenges, and successes. Most important, Telling Stories emphasizes that you are not alone on this journey and that writers must remain focused on what they love: the process of moving words on the page. By focusing on that purpose, Martin contends, the journey will always take you where you’re meant to go.
Lee Martin is a distinguished professor of English and teaches creative writing at Ohio State University. He is the author of several books, including Such a Life (Nebraska, 2012), From Our House (Nebraska, 2009), The Bright Forever (finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction), and Turning Bones (Nebraska, 2003).
"[Martin's] own sentences are like bright sun-polished bones on a beach: sparse outlines nevertheless telling their own devastating story. No doubt aspiring writers will appreciate this honesty, and may find many of the writing prompts here helpful, particularly to unclog a blockage. But it is Martin's own literary journey that is most compelling."—Sara Lonsdale, Times Literary Supplement
"Martin combines writing tips with examples from literature and his own life and teachings. It's a clever, warm-hearted book for writers of fiction or creative nonfiction. It could be used in creative writing classes or kept on the desk for those days one needs a little shot of inspiration."—Debbie Hagan, Brevity
“‘Why shouldn’t good writing be hard? It’s our attempt at salvation,’ Lee Martin says in this exceptional book. Martin, through craft lessons, exercises, and literary examples, helps writers discover salvation one carefully selected word at a time.”—Sue William Silverman, author of Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir
“Lee Martin has long been one of my favorite writers of fiction and memoir, and now he’s one of my favorite writers of advice about the writer’s craft. Everyone who writes, or wants to, should read this wise and inspiring book.”—David Jauss, author of On Writing Fiction
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments Introduction Part 1. Structure: Once upon a Time Writing the Opening of a Short Story Juggling Balls: An Exercise for Opening a Short Story Using Mystery to Open Your Story Trouble? I’ve Seen Trouble Making a Scene The Inevitable Surprise Framing the Story Character and Incident I Didn’t Expect That One Way to Structure a Memoir Organizing the Memoir The Layers of Memoir I Was Wearing Them the Day: Touchstone Moments and Details for the Fiction Writer Yogi Berra and the Art of Flash Nonfiction Mad Libs for Creative Nonfiction Enough about Me, Tell Me What You Think about Me Shrinking a Novel Preparing the Final Scene by Avoiding Conflict Here We Are at the End Taking Care at the End: The Art of Misdirection Part 2. Characterization: There Were Three Little Pigs On a Mother’s Birthday, a Writer Loves the World Tightening the Screws: Putting Pressure on Our Characters Contradictory Characters Odd Couples: The Writer as Matchmaker Characterization in the Personal Essay Creating Richer Characters The Art of the Snark Part 3. Detail: A House of Straw, a House of Sticks, a House of Bricks My Mother Gives Me a Writing Lesson Get the Particulars Right Know Your Place That Kind of Place: An Argument for Nostalgia Nostalgia and the Memoirist A Detail and All It Can Do The Places We Know: What Richard Ford Taught Me Daydreaming Your Memoir The Heart’s Field: Place in Fiction Oh, Those Pesky Facts: What’s a Memoir Writer to Do? Memoir and the Work of Resurrection Using Photos in Memoir Ordinary Details in Memoir Connecting Particulars Context Part 4. Point of View: “Little Pig, Little Pig, Let Me Come In” Your Point of View Choice Creates the Effect of the Story The Inner Story of the Writer’s Thinking Finding a Different Lens Memoir and the Future Living Full: Avoiding Sentimentality in Memoir Into the Fire Part 5. Language: “Not by the Hair of My Chinny Chin Chin” Stylin’ The Value of a Beautiful Sentence The Art of the Twerk: Writing the Miley Cyrus Way Communal and Personal Voices Voice in Creative Nonfiction Personae and Tone in Fiction Paying Attention to Form in Flash Nonfiction The Kite The Thing Said: Ten Thoughts on Writing Dialogue in Memoir Alligators and Marshmallows: A Lesson in Humor Comedy in Fiction Part 6. Revision: And the Third Little Pig Lived Happily Ever After Taking Flight: First Drafts Felt Sense: Focusing on Revision More Revision Activities The Doorway between Memoir and Fiction Proverbs for Revising a Novel Part 7. The Writing Life: The Two Little Pigs Now Felt Sorry for Having Been So Lazy and Built Their Houses with Bricks My Mother’s Gifts to Me My Aunt among the Rocks Five Ways We Keep Ourselves from Writing Five Things All Writers Can Control Reading Like a Writer Writing to Preserve Travel and the Writer Slowing Down Our Quiet Places What Fills Us The Books and the Boys of Summer A Writer Writes: A Lifelong Apprenticeship Defeating Writer’s Block Ten Thoughts on the Writing Life Keep Facing the Blank Page