Study Guide for this Site


Purpose: how to best use this website as a learning source for your writing improvement.

This site is presented as a reference resource for writers. But it can be used in a systematic approach for learning to write great fiction.

These are the goals the site will serve best:

  1. Write a better story using imagination, structure, and reader-sensitive prose.
  2. Learn in scene writing techniques to intensify reader involvement in story and character, and avoid excessive descriptive narration, which is easier to write.
  3. Learn to value thinking before writing, and then approach prose with a purpose.
  4. Make revision useful by recreating structure and emotional arcs rather than just cosmetic adjustments to fundamental problems already written.
  5. Develop your style by learning craft and story telling from others but not just copying style components of others.
  6. Master concept of character-driven plots, the essence of a good literary story.
  7. Mature your attitudes and concepts about writing
    as you learn to modify rules and edicts.
  8. Appreciate narration of stories and learn how point of view is a function of narration, not a commandment.

By exploring the site, you should try to appreciate how many different skills are operating together when great stories are written. Your challenge is to get them all perfect then synchronize them to contribute.



The complexities of writing story as an art form are endless. As a result, there is no simplified road map for the writer. It is at once daunting and exciting that writing a story is thousands of conscious and unconscious decisions at all levels. Writers’ attitudes about writing and life must be formed; writers must develop story excellence that pleases the readers they want to please; and writers must develop skills so they control their writing, not their writing controlling them.

Writing literary fiction is not just describing an interesting human from the writer’s experience, or trying to recreate, by description, in the reader, emotions and interest in events that interested and produced emotions in the writer. The literary story is created as an art form for maximum effectiveness as a story. It is a special skill—and talent.

Essays/Interviews for study


Literary Fictional Story Specific to topic
Author’s Attitudes: Fine-Tuning Related to topic
How Stories Go Wrong Of interest to topic
Preparing to Write the Great Literary Story
Stories for Study
Books on Writing
Save LiteraryFiction
Rebecca McClanahan
Charles D’Ambrosio
Rob Spillman
Michael Ray
Peter Ho Davies
Tom Jenks


Writers write one word a time. The quality of the words chosen and how they are incorporated into an effective story element is significantly affected when the author, instead of writing in the immediacy of the focused moment, is continuously aware of what has come before and after and what the overall purpose is for the story. Many writers deny any advantage to writing with purpose, preferring to meander from sentence to sentence, seeking enjoyment in the immediate construction that loosely relates to what has been written but is afforded no direction of firm idea of where the writing is going. Structure is not just outline, or writing in context of beginning middle and end, although these can be important. Overall, structure is a concept of unity and interaction of the parts that will cohere created story-elements into controlled action that is pleasant to read.

A painting analogy. To create a painting so the painting in recognizable and provokes some emotional reaction is a process that is more than positioning paint with brush strokes. Painting, whether realistic or the abstract, is thinking about pigments, reflected light, shadows, values, line, continuity, contrast and surprise. The writer who treats words as random brush strokes will never create an effective canvas of a written story that will please a reader to the maximum possible.

Essays for study


Drama Specific to topic
Information and Literary Story Structure Related to topic
Top Story/Bottom Story Of interest to topic
Strong Voice and Attention to Time
How Humor Works in Literary Fiction
Stories for Study
Lee Martin Interview
How to Critique a Manuscript


Character is everything. And it is not just making the mundane interesting. Not at all. It is creating unique, interesting, significant characters that last in the memory. No author succeeds at great characterization all the time, if ever. But all should try, at every writing effort, with every story.

Character does not replace plot in literary fiction, character is the plot. A literary story catapults along with beginning, middle, and end; plot points, and dramatic conflict and resolution; but what happens relates to character—not to fate, or environment, or accidental clumsiness. Plot is driven by character desire and motivation, and character’s gifts and flaws. It is not easy, but it is rewarding to author and reader.

Essays for study


Character Specific to topic
Conflict Related to topic
Emotional Complexity Of interest to topic
Desire and Motivation
1st person POV
Humor and Fiction
Susan Yeagley/Kevin Nealon
Jim Shepard Interview


The mechanics of craft are enjoyable when used as a process to express story-purpose thoughts to achieve emotional reader-involvement or intellectual enlightenment. But craft is technique that is not an end in itself. Craft allows writers to use prose as a way to express the dynamics of a story. It is not just filling in a crossword puzzle, it is thinking about puzzle, then blocking out the puzzle and placing the clues so ideas in the puzzle can be enjoyed by the solver.

Learning craft of prose composition and effective thought transfer is a lifelong undertaking that is integral to learning great storytelling. Craft is most easily practiced in descriptive story style, yet the most useful craft development for most stories comes from emotional engagement of the reader in story and characters. For emotional involvement, writers must look to craft to create conflict and action in writing; strive for reader understanding of emotion, motivations and desires; and create through action and dialogue–and avoiding sentimentality—unwavering interest in the reader by writing crisp, clear, effective prose, in addition to descriptive, lyrical prose.

Essays for study


Momentum Specific to topic
1st person POV Related to topic
Dialogue Of interest to topic
Humor and Fiction
How Humor Works in Literary Fiction
Susan Yeagley/Kevin Nealon
Stories for Study
Books on Writing


Essays for study


Stories for Study Specific to topic
Books on Writing Related to topic
Choosing a Workshop Of interest to topic
Making Experience Valuable
Top-Ten Rules for Fiction Workshops
Author’s Attitudes: Fine-Tuning
How to Critique a Manuscript
Workshops and Literary Agents

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6 thoughts on “Study Guide for this Site

  • Lori Closter

    Hi, your website looks fabulous! What a valuable, generous service you are offering. One point of confusion about the Workshop, even having pored over it repeatedly: Does a writer jump in through signing up for the RSS feed, or is s/he supposed to start with Assignment 1, or just pick the assignment(s) of most interest, even doing some out of order? Thanks so much, in advance.

  • Robert Michael McKenna

    Your comments on STRUCTURE, Roman numeral two in your guide are inspired. I believe you touched the emotional heart of creative writing by acknowledging that the writer, although aware of the overall story, is in the moment “one word at a time”. The writer is the artistic creator of words, developing a controlled, rich, and enthralling atmosphere, contiguous and developing the artist’s masterpiece.

  • rebecca hanley

    Mr. Coles,

    The two essays I have read are clear and to the point. I am so glad I discovered this site. I am going to go through the entire study guide and use it to analyze stories I’ve written to see where they fall short.

    I also inted to use everything I learn here to write significantly better stories in the future (I hope). Thank you for putting together this site. A tremendous amount of work was involved.

    Do you teach any writing classes?

    • admin

      Many thanks for comments. I am pleased you find the site useful. I lecture on the fiction-writing process; however, I do not teach workshops (but take workshops on a regular basis for my own learning). Best regards. WHC