This book is not for students who don't care about writing. The Creative Writer Level Three: Building Your Craft is aimed at aspiring young writers who already have a good working knowledge of the foundations of creative fiction and poetry writing. Those who haven't worked through The Creative Writer Level Two and aren't familiar with the concepts explored in it should begin by working through that text before attempting to get through this one.
In past volumes, Fishman explored what a short story is, how to create basic characters, the need for tension to make a plot interesting, poetic rhythm and meter, etc. He elaborates those ideas here, but far more thoroughly and well than students will encounter in basically any other creative writing course. Constant exercises during and at the end of lessons force students to put their newfound knowledge into practice, knowledge conveyed by Fishman's own approachable and entertaining prose.
What this volume has that others don't is an appreciation of the need for developing writers to find and perfect their own unique voice, not merely to copy a formula created by someone else. Fishman masterfully helps students accomplish this not by telling them to develop their own modes of expression, but by guiding them through text and exercises which will naturally result in the discovery and shaping of both talent and voice.
The Creative Writer Level Three: Building Your Craft devotes 18 weeks to short story writing, and 18 weeks to poetry analysis and writing, the two sections together offering one full school year of work. Actual reading sections are relatively short, but the exercises will take plenty of time, especially the challenge exercises at the end of each chapter. At the end of the book, mentor sections relating to each chapter offer mentors/parents/teachers notes for helping students who may be struggling at certain points.
In the short story writing chapters, Fishman encourages students to write concretely, to write concisely, to find various ways of developing characters and plots, etc. At the same time, he doesn't tell them to just abandon outright telling in favor of showing every time, or that concrete writing is always to be favored above abstract writing. Instead, he reminds his readers that their writing should be adaptable depending on what they wish to convey. These chapters conclude with an assignment to produce a 3,000 word story.
Students don't start writing poetry immediately in the second half of the book. Instead, they spend a lot of time analyzing and studying great poetry, particularly the poem "Feared Drowned" by contemporary poet Sharon Olds. This section focuses much more on word usage and sentence construction, because poetry relies almost wholly on imagery to make its point. But students also get to work on nonsense poetry, so it's not all serious and highbrow.
More than anything, this volume will help students become careful writers. Fishman doesn't let them get away with stopping at a first draft, drawing stereotypical characters, abandoning details, or writing for no reason. While he never explicitly states that stories or poems without a point are worthless, he implies it constantly by reminding students that only those who have something to convey will be able to craft compelling fiction.
Students will learn to pay attention to dialect, research for realism and accuracy, listen closely to sounds in poetry, and much, much more. By having students conduct endless exercises before they actually write a short story or a poem, Fishman ensures they're ready for the task once it presents itself. This is a very challenging text, but it never expects students to attempt anything they haven't already been prepared for.
This third volume in The Creative Writer series shows that the first two volumes weren't flukes, nor were they purposeless, instead laying a foundation for higher-level work. Fishman is engaging both as a writer and an instructor, but he won't impose his own style or voice on kids; he'll draw out their own style and voice without them even realizing it. And yet, they'll know how to write better—Fishman demonstrates everything he teaches thoroughly, never assuming students will absorb it on their own. Highly recommended.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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