The Story Behind the Story
W.W. Norton, January, 2004.
Trade paperback, 479 pages.
The process of writing evokes our curiosity. The process by which an accomplished writer progresses from an idea to a polished, thought provoking and enjoyable story is not only fascinating, but helpful to others who would like to follow in these footsteps. We all know that the principles of writing are rather well understood, that certain elements such as voice, characterization and point of view are all part of the end product, but we also understand that there is something else involved as well. In reading The Story Behind the Story, the salient fact appears to be that some stories seem to write themselves. Some of the characters begin as one person and develop into surprising and unanticipated beings. The different authors all appear to work in different ways. Some do not plan at first, but just let the ideas flow, while others begin with an idea and build on it. One author who tells about writing a short story admits that he writes novels in a completely different way from the method he used on the included short story.
After choosing a particular short story, the reader often finds that the story is completely different from what was expected. Kevin McIlvey's "The People Who Own Pianos" is not about people who love music, but about how they seem -- to a person -- of a different class who moves pianos for a living. "That's Right, You're not from Texas" by David Haynes explores the same theme: the feeling of not being included or not understanding certain types of people. Since one of the time-honored duties of the artist is to show us things that we do not readily see, both stories serve their purpose.
The stories come first and the explanation of the inspiration and how the story was written follows. The reader, however, can choose the author's account of how the story came to be and then read the story. Either method will be instructive, as well as enjoyable. The Story Behind the Story is a fascinating collection not only for those who write but also for those who read to understand the story and the underlying process that creates the story. This is an enjoyable collection of short stories and an important tool for both those who write and those who teach others to write.
--Sarah Reaves White
The Story Behind the Story is available for purchase on Amazon.com
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This review was published in the March-April, 2004 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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