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Alone with All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft of Fiction

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In a satisfying story or novel, all of the pieces seem to fit together so effortlessly, so seamlessly, that it's easy to find yourself wondering, "How on earth did the author do this?" The answer is simple: He sat alone at his desk, considered an array of options, and made smart, careful choices. In Alone With All That Could Happen, award-winning author and respected creati In a satisfying story or novel, all of the pieces seem to fit together so effortlessly, so seamlessly, that it's easy to find yourself wondering, "How on earth did the author do this?" The answer is simple: He sat alone at his desk, considered an array of options, and made smart, careful choices. In Alone With All That Could Happen, award-winning author and respected creative writing professor David Jauss addresses overlooked or commonly misunderstood aspects of fiction writing, offering practical information and advice that will help you make smart creative and technical decisions about such topics as: writing prose whose syntax and rhythm create a "soundtrack" for the story it tells choosing the right point of view to create the appropriate degree of "distance" between your characters and the reader writing valid and convincing epiphanies harnessing the power of contradiction in the creative process In one thought-provoking essay after another, Jauss sorts through unique fiction-writing conundrums, including how to create those exquisite intersections between truth and fabrication that make all great works of fiction so much more resonant and powerful than fiction that follows the generic "write what you know" approach that's so often preached.


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In a satisfying story or novel, all of the pieces seem to fit together so effortlessly, so seamlessly, that it's easy to find yourself wondering, "How on earth did the author do this?" The answer is simple: He sat alone at his desk, considered an array of options, and made smart, careful choices. In Alone With All That Could Happen, award-winning author and respected creati In a satisfying story or novel, all of the pieces seem to fit together so effortlessly, so seamlessly, that it's easy to find yourself wondering, "How on earth did the author do this?" The answer is simple: He sat alone at his desk, considered an array of options, and made smart, careful choices. In Alone With All That Could Happen, award-winning author and respected creative writing professor David Jauss addresses overlooked or commonly misunderstood aspects of fiction writing, offering practical information and advice that will help you make smart creative and technical decisions about such topics as: writing prose whose syntax and rhythm create a "soundtrack" for the story it tells choosing the right point of view to create the appropriate degree of "distance" between your characters and the reader writing valid and convincing epiphanies harnessing the power of contradiction in the creative process In one thought-provoking essay after another, Jauss sorts through unique fiction-writing conundrums, including how to create those exquisite intersections between truth and fabrication that make all great works of fiction so much more resonant and powerful than fiction that follows the generic "write what you know" approach that's so often preached.

30 review for Alone with All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft of Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris Blocker

    So you want to be a writer? Don't read this book. Alone With All That Could Happen is a wonderful, well thought out collection of essays on fiction writing, but it is not a “how to” guide or a simple refresher course. It is more akin to a work of philosophy than a primer for the contemporary author. It asks tough questions about the constraints modern writers have put on themselves and explores in depth alternatives to the “conventional wisdom.” As someone who has been writing fiction for half my So you want to be a writer? Don't read this book. Alone With All That Could Happen is a wonderful, well thought out collection of essays on fiction writing, but it is not a “how to” guide or a simple refresher course. It is more akin to a work of philosophy than a primer for the contemporary author. It asks tough questions about the constraints modern writers have put on themselves and explores in depth alternatives to the “conventional wisdom.” As someone who has been writing fiction for half my life, acquired undergraduate and graduate degrees in writing, and spent the last three years crafting my novel, I, at times, felt overwhelmed by Jauss' insight and brilliance on the subject. Had I read this three or four years ago, I think I would've been lost. For the most part, I get it. Or, at the very least, I think I do. A few years from now I may pick this book up again and I'll realize how stupid I was. That's what makes reading books like Alone With All That Could Happen such a wonderful experience—no matter how may times I read it, I feel I could walk away with some new knowledge. Personally, I got the most out of the first few essays. Largely, I attribute this to the fact that they were the most relevant to my writing and my work in progress at the moment. Or perhaps my mind had hit overload by midpoint. Nevertheless, I expect that if I do return to this collection in future years, I'll have much to learn from the essays I took less away from this time. If you're a writer and you've been around the block for more than a few years, check it out. I can almost promise you you'll learn something. But if you're still learning the craft, still discovering yourself as a writer, give it some time—Alone With All... will likely leave you bored, frustrated, and scratching your head, wondering when it all became so complicated. Oddly, what Jauss teaches here is simplification of the craft, but the audience he is addressing needs to be taught that some of what they know to be gospel is really flam. The result is a book of essays dense with ideas and overflowing with examples. Highly recommended for all writers of fiction... eventually.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathi

    David Jauss is a wonderful author and a master teacher. This collection of essays, which were originally presented as lectures at Vermont College of Fine Arts, is both thought-provoking and useful. For myself, the second essay, which addresses point of view, came at just the right moment as I muck my way through the work in progress that keeps slipping between my fingers. Way more than a craft book, this intelligent collection will prod writers to push against the prescriptive rules that so much David Jauss is a wonderful author and a master teacher. This collection of essays, which were originally presented as lectures at Vermont College of Fine Arts, is both thought-provoking and useful. For myself, the second essay, which addresses point of view, came at just the right moment as I muck my way through the work in progress that keeps slipping between my fingers. Way more than a craft book, this intelligent collection will prod writers to push against the prescriptive rules that so much advice on writing falls into.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alonzo

    I just finished this; there is much to absorb, but for starters Jauss, as is hinted at in the subtitle, comes at writing from a different angle. At least one I haven't seen. There are several chapters dealing with many aspects of writing, but none of it is prescriptive: I loved that. Not that I dislike prescriptive books on writing. They have their place. But, sometimes, you have to be reminded why you're doing this (beyond the "I just have to write" thing). Jauss shows some ways to make the con I just finished this; there is much to absorb, but for starters Jauss, as is hinted at in the subtitle, comes at writing from a different angle. At least one I haven't seen. There are several chapters dealing with many aspects of writing, but none of it is prescriptive: I loved that. Not that I dislike prescriptive books on writing. They have their place. But, sometimes, you have to be reminded why you're doing this (beyond the "I just have to write" thing). Jauss shows some ways to make the connection between craft (which is necessary) and art (which is vital). Without art, fiction feels plastic: and I'm not talking about the good kind, i.e. flexibility. I'm talking about it feeling fake, lifeless. Art without craft makes for some tough, and let's be honest, boring reading on occasion. So, we need both, and Jauss helps. It was refreshing to read a book about writing that isn't trying to make you sit down and write a set number of words everyday, or to write for a set number of hours. Jauss brings out different aspects that many beginning writers probably never even get around to thinking about. And I know some published writers haven't gotten around to them, either. One of my favorite parts was the last chapter: in it Jauss argues that writers, in order to really be creative, must learn to think differently: they must learn to hold contradictions in their mind; they must learn to negate themselves in certain situations in order to spark the creativity. That may sound weird, but I don't want to give away too much. If you are a writer, or are even interested in literature, this is an excellent read. I'm going to read it again....

  4. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    David Jauss's book is a true treasure for writers. This is absolutely one of the best books I've read on writing fiction. The book is informed by 30+ years of teaching, writing and editing, and as such, it provides a window into all that is good about contemporary fiction--and much that is assumed, and can use improvement. At one point, Jauss mentions that in his years of teaching/editing, he has read upwards of 40,000 short stories submitted to a literary journal or for a creative writing class David Jauss's book is a true treasure for writers. This is absolutely one of the best books I've read on writing fiction. The book is informed by 30+ years of teaching, writing and editing, and as such, it provides a window into all that is good about contemporary fiction--and much that is assumed, and can use improvement. At one point, Jauss mentions that in his years of teaching/editing, he has read upwards of 40,000 short stories submitted to a literary journal or for a creative writing class. That is literally a staggering number to contemplate. This man is seriously dedicated. This book is a life's work--Jauss has thought deeply about writing and writers for years, and it shows. I absolutely loved it. I'm grateful that David put his incredible thoughts and experiences together in this remarkably well-crafted book to benefit the individual lives of writers and the writing of contemporary fiction as a whole. Thanks David.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    Jauss fulfills the title and challenges conventional thinking toward fiction writing. He applies logic and patience to the jumbled hairball of contradictory information that students of writing are inundated with. The majority of books on writing tend to forget about craft and focus more on inspiration. Inspiration is all well and good, but the more books on writing I read, the more I conclude that the inspirational writers really don't know how to teach craft. Jauss uses examples from the crème Jauss fulfills the title and challenges conventional thinking toward fiction writing. He applies logic and patience to the jumbled hairball of contradictory information that students of writing are inundated with. The majority of books on writing tend to forget about craft and focus more on inspiration. Inspiration is all well and good, but the more books on writing I read, the more I conclude that the inspirational writers really don't know how to teach craft. Jauss uses examples from the crème de la crème of short stories and novels, that have transfigured modern literature, to show step-by-step how the author achieved their intended effect. If you're unfamiliar with an author or story that Jauss is referencing, make a list and read those stories ASAP. I've spent the couple years focusing on creative writing and these stories are referenced in nearly ever class and workshop I attend. Being intimately familiar with these stories will put you in the best position to glean the insight instructors offer when studying them. The writings Jauss' cites are canonical stories in terms of writing craft and you need to familiarize yourself with them. Jauss' instructional prose is accessible and easy to read. I never found my mind wandering from the page, which is a high compliment to any instructional book. His years of teaching show. I often felt as if I were attending an engaging lecture as I read along. I know I'll be keeping this book, with its silly dust jacket, as a go-to reference that will be re-read many times. It's one of those rare books that has the capacity to remain relevant because as you grow you will find new depths to mine on each re-read. Highly Recommended! Would also recommend: Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Wow. This is a great book for writers. These essays are based on lectures from Vermont College's MFA program. My personal favorites: Jauss-POV; Rossini-Revisionary; Glover-Structure; Alberts-Show/tell; Ven Winckel-Titles; Silverman-non-fiction genres. But all the essays are incredible. This is one of my best writing books. It sits on my bookshelf next to Burroway. Wow. This is a great book for writers. These essays are based on lectures from Vermont College's MFA program. My personal favorites: Jauss-POV; Rossini-Revisionary; Glover-Structure; Alberts-Show/tell; Ven Winckel-Titles; Silverman-non-fiction genres. But all the essays are incredible. This is one of my best writing books. It sits on my bookshelf next to Burroway.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    The essay on point of view alone is worth the price of admission.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Austen

    I read an armful of writing craft books over the holidays and this was by far my fave. If you want to read about literature, and to improve your writing of it, and you're weary of compilations of tips or advice that makes the creative process feel factory-produced, then try this book. It may inspire you and help free your mind, get you to rethink elements like point of view and rhythm, take your work more seriously and work harder at it. If you are working toward a collection of short fiction, be I read an armful of writing craft books over the holidays and this was by far my fave. If you want to read about literature, and to improve your writing of it, and you're weary of compilations of tips or advice that makes the creative process feel factory-produced, then try this book. It may inspire you and help free your mind, get you to rethink elements like point of view and rhythm, take your work more seriously and work harder at it. If you are working toward a collection of short fiction, be sure to check it out. The advice about building a unified collection was something I'd never thought about before.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I mainly bought this book to read one essay: "Some Epiphanies about Epiphanies," which was interesting and treated ephiphanies from a few stories I've read, including Joyce and O'Connor. His argument would be an interesting discussion to apply to YA/MG books.... He's also got a couple other essays I'm interested in reading, eventually: "What we talk about when we talk about flow," (Jauss is a fan of Raymond Carver, it seems), "From long shots to X-Rays: Distance and Point of view in fiction", and I mainly bought this book to read one essay: "Some Epiphanies about Epiphanies," which was interesting and treated ephiphanies from a few stories I've read, including Joyce and O'Connor. His argument would be an interesting discussion to apply to YA/MG books.... He's also got a couple other essays I'm interested in reading, eventually: "What we talk about when we talk about flow," (Jauss is a fan of Raymond Carver, it seems), "From long shots to X-Rays: Distance and Point of view in fiction", and "Remembrance of things present: Present Tense in Contemporary Fiction."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    These brilliant essays will sink in, in layers, I think. There’s so much here to think about that I’d like to read one every so often in the hopes that they’ll sink in. I loved the last essay, in particular, about Janusian thinking as it relates to literature: the advantage and maybe necessity in thinking in contradictions.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kali VanBaale

    Another book on the craft of fiction writing I can't recommend enough. Jauss takes much of what writers are generically taught early on and turns it upside down. The chapters on point of view and tense are so fresh, thorough, understandable, and thought-provoking that I will recommend them to every budding writer to cross my path from here on out. Another book on the craft of fiction writing I can't recommend enough. Jauss takes much of what writers are generically taught early on and turns it upside down. The chapters on point of view and tense are so fresh, thorough, understandable, and thought-provoking that I will recommend them to every budding writer to cross my path from here on out.

  12. 4 out of 5

    rory

    If I could only have one book with me while diving into the jungle of decisions that is the writing of a new story, this one would serve me very well. "Lever of Transcendence": Yes. If I could only have one book with me while diving into the jungle of decisions that is the writing of a new story, this one would serve me very well. "Lever of Transcendence": Yes.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ada

    This book has valuable insights if you are a fiction writer, and you're trying to be the best you can be. It was especially helpful in showing when and how to break the rules. This book has valuable insights if you are a fiction writer, and you're trying to be the best you can be. It was especially helpful in showing when and how to break the rules.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    I'm only marking this book as "read" because it is a book I pick up and read a bit here and there..on going...so far so good. I'm only marking this book as "read" because it is a book I pick up and read a bit here and there..on going...so far so good.

  15. 4 out of 5

    LINDA

    A great book to read if you are interested in writing techniques!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ayah A.

    I would give this book five stars if not for one flaw, a single flaw that my sensibilities can't overlook if only because this is otherwise a paragon of literary acheivement: when quoting from a Carver story in which the protagonist is having sex "against her will," the author of this book refers to it as "making love." I'm familiar with the quoted story and there's nothing I'm missing here. Simply a sad error. It is quite ostracizing to encounter that from a literary authority, and I don't know I would give this book five stars if not for one flaw, a single flaw that my sensibilities can't overlook if only because this is otherwise a paragon of literary acheivement: when quoting from a Carver story in which the protagonist is having sex "against her will," the author of this book refers to it as "making love." I'm familiar with the quoted story and there's nothing I'm missing here. Simply a sad error. It is quite ostracizing to encounter that from a literary authority, and I don't know how the copyeditor didn't catch it. I also have an older edition and it may have been fixed. In any case, it's a social discrepancy in an otherwise excellent book, it's precisely because of the excellence of Jauss's essays that I can't let something like that slide. If you're at all interested in writing fiction, this is a must read. In clear language, he deconstructs some of the more nuanced techniques in making fiction. I will likely read it again. Boggles my mind that after several years of formal education in writing, this book was never on a reading list. I'm glad that I found it!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    This is not a beginner’s writing book for certain, but I’d disagree with the reviewer who said that it’s not a “how to” (note: only that statement, not the bulk of their review which I feel is spot on). The lessons, however, are focused, not on getting started things like plot and character, but on your actual writing: structure, words, syntax and how you join ideas together. It is a how to for people who want to thoughtfully amp up the quality of their writing. My reading of “Alone” coincided w This is not a beginner’s writing book for certain, but I’d disagree with the reviewer who said that it’s not a “how to” (note: only that statement, not the bulk of their review which I feel is spot on). The lessons, however, are focused, not on getting started things like plot and character, but on your actual writing: structure, words, syntax and how you join ideas together. It is a how to for people who want to thoughtfully amp up the quality of their writing. My reading of “Alone” coincided with participating in the Writers Digest February 2021 flash fiction challenge, which gave me the opportunity to play around many of the concepts as I was reading it in a quick and easy way, and it has certainly challenged my thought process around some of the traditional (perhaps even cliché) teachings on writing. I’ve read a lot of books on writing and from the stand point of actually thinking about my writing, this is one of the best.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chantal

    Wow, what an incredible book for writers! Alone With All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About the Craft of Fiction Writing by David Jauss is a collection of seven essays (many of which were previously published in The Writer’s Chronicle) which amount to nothing less than a master’s class (or seven) in writing. Including in-depth instruction in and analysis of such subjects as present tense; distance and point of view; flow; contradiction and creativity; and building a unified Wow, what an incredible book for writers! Alone With All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About the Craft of Fiction Writing by David Jauss is a collection of seven essays (many of which were previously published in The Writer’s Chronicle) which amount to nothing less than a master’s class (or seven) in writing. Including in-depth instruction in and analysis of such subjects as present tense; distance and point of view; flow; contradiction and creativity; and building a unified story collection, this book gets five big fat genius stars from me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Out of the twenty or so books I've read on writing, this has been by far the most impactful. This is a book that I will reread every couple years. Out of the twenty or so books I've read on writing, this has been by far the most impactful. This is a book that I will reread every couple years.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Ferguson

    Super smart collection of craft essays. If nothing else, buy for the chapter on POV.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna Josephson

    incredibly helpful craft book. Looking for more like this.

  22. 4 out of 5

    C. Janelle

    Comprised of essays about various elements of fiction, this book makes me want to get my MFA in Vermont. The one about point of view pretty much blew my mind and will affect not only how I write fiction but how I read it, too. The library says it wants its copy back today, but I'll be getting this one again so I can finish it (and then start it again). Comprised of essays about various elements of fiction, this book makes me want to get my MFA in Vermont. The one about point of view pretty much blew my mind and will affect not only how I write fiction but how I read it, too. The library says it wants its copy back today, but I'll be getting this one again so I can finish it (and then start it again).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Aleksandr Voinov

    Interesting thoughts on a number of topics. I liked the examination of present tense versus past tense.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cassie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anton Dela

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tonii

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim Ball

  29. 5 out of 5

    V.P. Novak

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Peppe

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