I picked up Writing For Story for a writing class I took many moons ago. I wondered, what does a book about narrative non-fiction have to say to a writer of fiction? This book sat upon my book shelf next to a stack of other books about writing. It moved across the country with me, and it continued to collect dust. Each time I noticed it I would think, what could I learn from a book about narrative non-fiction? Recently, I was researching plot and structuring story when Writing For Story kept popping up again and again on lists of books with in-depth analysis of the subjects. Really, a book about narrative non-fiction?
Damn, did I get this one wrong.
Jon Franklin has made a career of applying the techniques of fiction to non-fiction. A very successful career, winning the Pulitzer Prize twice. He looked at what made fiction work at a very nuts and bolts level, and that is what he shares here. It is not so much a book about narrative non-fiction, as it is a guide to how fiction works.
Throughout the book, Franklin shares what he has found about what makes a compelling story. How to structure a compelling story, what the pieces are, and how to use them. This book dives deep into craft, there is not a lot of mysticizing the writing process, in fact the last chapter is a semi-autobiographical debunking of myths about creative writing and writers. His look at craft is very refreshing, not prescriptive nor so abstract that they are unhelpful, he just lays out how he sees story working and how to write great stories.
The best part of the book is how Franklin lays it all out, he gives you the process he uses for plotting out a story. After than he gives you the process he uses for taking that plot and actually writing the work. He even tells you how he writes it himself, focusing on the most important parts of the story first. And then he even gets into editing and polishing a piece. There are not many books that look at story and plot from a craft point of view, and few that dig into the whole process.
tl;dr Review: This is a deep craft book from someone who has made a career of analyzing fiction and applying those techniques to non-fiction. He not only discusses his analysis, but details his process for outlining, plotting, and writing a piece.