With clarity, verve, and the sure instincts of a good teacher, Madison Smartt Bell offers a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to writing in this much-needed book.Focusing on the big picture as well as the crucial details, Bell examines twelve stories by both established writers (including Peter Taylor, Mary Gaitskill, and Carolyn Chute) and his own former students. A story's use of time, plot, character, and other elements of fiction are analyzed, and readers are challenged to see each story's flaws and strengths. Careful endnotes bring attention to the ways in which various writers use language. Bell urges writers to develop the habit of thinking about form and finding the form that best suits their subject matter and style. His direct and practical advice allows writers to find their own voice and imagination.