Books Reviews

Chance Particulars

Chance Particulars by Sara Mansfield Taber


The goal of the writer is to live with the keenness of the foreigner. To experience, wide-eyed, the sensations aroused and the events offered up by a peculiar surround and then to evoke them so brightly on the page that the reader, too, experiences the foreigner’s frisson. A time-honored way this is accomplished is through the keeping of a field notebook–through the faithful recording of the this and that of life; the atmospheres and incidents; the bells, the beer, the bread.
Based on what accomplished nonfiction writer Sara Mansfield Taber learned in her many years of field notebook keeping, Chance Particulars is a unique and handy primer for writers who want to use their experiences to tell a lively, satisfying story. Often, writers try to turn their notes into a memoir, essay, travel piece, or story, only to find that they haven’t recorded enough of the concrete, sensory details necessary to create evocative description. To help writers overcome this problem, Taber has composed a true “field notebook for field notebook keepers.” Enhanced by beautiful illustrations, this charming and comprehensive guide is a practical manual for anyone who wishes to learn or hone the crafts of writing, ethnography, or journalism.
Writers of all levels, genres, and ages, as well as teachers of writing, will appreciate this useful tool for learning how to record the details that build vibrant prose. With this book in hand, you will be able to recreate times and places, conjure up intricate character portraits, and paint pictures of particular landscapes, cultures, and locales.


‘Chance Particulars’ examines how journaling and record-keeping enrich writing. It shows how you can mine information from experiences if you note their particulars down.  

The book talks about how to be present, engage fully, and observe well so that you can share your experiences better. Taber tells you to focus on details while using all your senses. She asks you to document your observations descriptively.

If nothing else, you will have enough material to fall back upon when you sit in front of a blank page or the outline of an essay or story trying to fill it.

Although I read a digital version, I feel that I should read or buy a physical copy of this book to make full use of the prompts and the space for practice.

This is not a book that you read and complete. It is more of a guide that you may refer to repeatedly if you are serious about writing.

I loved the excerpts and quotations from other books that Taber has used to illustrate her ideas. They provide you with proof of how language informs, connects, inspires, and brings us joy.

Overall, a well-organized book, with great illustrations by the author’s daughter, Maud Taber-Thomas.

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