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The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

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This classic guide, from the renowned novelist and professor, has helped transform generations of aspiring writers into masterful writers—and will continue to do so for many years to come.     John Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher of creative writing as he was for his own works. In this practical, instructive handbook, based on the courses and seminars that he gave, This classic guide, from the renowned novelist and professor, has helped transform generations of aspiring writers into masterful writers—and will continue to do so for many years to come.     John Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher of creative writing as he was for his own works. In this practical, instructive handbook, based on the courses and seminars that he gave, he explains, simply and cogently, the principles and techniques of good writing. Gardner’s lessons, exemplified with detailed excerpts from classic works of literature, sweep across a complete range of topics—from the nature of aesthetics to the shape of a refined sentence. Written with passion, precision, and a deep respect for the art of writing, Gardner’s book serves by turns as a critic, mentor, and friend. Anyone who has ever thought of taking the step from reader to writer should begin here.


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This classic guide, from the renowned novelist and professor, has helped transform generations of aspiring writers into masterful writers—and will continue to do so for many years to come.     John Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher of creative writing as he was for his own works. In this practical, instructive handbook, based on the courses and seminars that he gave, This classic guide, from the renowned novelist and professor, has helped transform generations of aspiring writers into masterful writers—and will continue to do so for many years to come.     John Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher of creative writing as he was for his own works. In this practical, instructive handbook, based on the courses and seminars that he gave, he explains, simply and cogently, the principles and techniques of good writing. Gardner’s lessons, exemplified with detailed excerpts from classic works of literature, sweep across a complete range of topics—from the nature of aesthetics to the shape of a refined sentence. Written with passion, precision, and a deep respect for the art of writing, Gardner’s book serves by turns as a critic, mentor, and friend. Anyone who has ever thought of taking the step from reader to writer should begin here.

30 review for The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    This is one of very, very many books on how to write fiction. Gardner's book strives to offer more than the multitude of alternatives do, however, and, generally, I'd say he succeeds. The first half of the book is devoted to more theoretical discussions of the art of fiction, some of which is very useful and some of which is quite particular to Gardner's own literary tastes. And his tastes definitely color the advice he gives. It is mostly sound advice for those who wish to write fiction in the This is one of very, very many books on how to write fiction. Gardner's book strives to offer more than the multitude of alternatives do, however, and, generally, I'd say he succeeds. The first half of the book is devoted to more theoretical discussions of the art of fiction, some of which is very useful and some of which is quite particular to Gardner's own literary tastes. And his tastes definitely color the advice he gives. It is mostly sound advice for those who wish to write fiction in the tradition of the "greats" (e.g., classical literature and such relatively modern writers as Tolstoy and Melville), but it is provided with a heaping side dish of condescension for everyone else. (Particularly troublesome for me is his repeated dismissal and unwarranted criticism of literature teachers.) Reading Gardner's book requires the ability to let condescension and elitism slide. He frequently comes off as a pompous jerk, but he's a pompous jerk who knows his stuff. Attitude problems aside, after all, Gardner does provide great advice and a clear theoretical approach to writing fiction. For practical purposes, the second half of the book, devoted to a discussion of common mistakes and how to avoid them, is particularly useful. In the first half of the book, Gardner develops the idea that fiction should be as an uninterrupted dream, that technique should bolster the experience of this dream and not interrupt it. So the common errors and techniques he discusses primarily address this issue of creating a fictional world and assisting the reader in the uninhibited and uninterrupted experience of it. He discusses such problems as inappropriate or inconsistent diction, problems within sentences (accidental rhyme, inappropriate rhythm, overloaded sentences), careless shifts in psychic distance, and "faults of soul" (by which he means sentimentality, frigidity, and mannerism--I'm not sure they have to do with the soul, really, but his criticisms of their presence in literature are well-presented). Most practically useful and least often found in other books on writing fiction that I have read are 1) the section on rhythm in writing prose, in which he provides sample sentences analyzed with metrical analysis and briefly discusses poetic terminology I'd forgotten (iambs, dactyls, anapests, etc.) in the interest of helping the writer make artistic decisions on a sentence by sentence level, and 2) a chapter on plotting, in which he discusses various approaches to plotting and how these various approaches may work well or less well with different forms (e.g., short story, novella, novel) or with different plot structures. This chapter is particularly helpful because of his extended examples. He models the way the process would work in much the same way a good teacher models practices and behavior in class. This is immensely helpful, even if I do not agree with all of his ideas about what kinds of stories are worth writing. His advice, in the end, is useful only for realist fiction. If you are interested in metafiction or more experimental techniques, you will need to go elsewhere. Even with my reservations about Gardner's attitude, and even with the limitations he imposes, I would consider using this text to teach, were I ever in a position to teach creative writing. It would certainly not be the only text I would use (I would want to have a less condescending counter to Gardner), but it would likely prove quite useful, if not in full, then at least in part. If nothing else, the long list of exercises at the end of the book is worth pillaging for use in my current freshman writing courses as applied to personal writing and developing a consistent and compelling style.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Samir Rawas Sarayji

    This is Gardner's classic text of 'how to write'. The incredibly arrogant tone and egotistical voice of Gardner drove me nuts at times but I plowed through to the end. The book's in two parts, the first is a collection of four essays on literature - titled 'Notes on Literary-Aesthetic Theory' - of which, the first two were engaging and insightful. The third essay was twice as long as any of the others and gave me the impression of how much Gardner is in love with his own ideas and how infallible This is Gardner's classic text of 'how to write'. The incredibly arrogant tone and egotistical voice of Gardner drove me nuts at times but I plowed through to the end. The book's in two parts, the first is a collection of four essays on literature - titled 'Notes on Literary-Aesthetic Theory' - of which, the first two were engaging and insightful. The third essay was twice as long as any of the others and gave me the impression of how much Gardner is in love with his own ideas and how infallible he believes them to be... nothing for me, thank you. The content of the fourth didn't engage me at all. The second part of the book - Notes on the Fictional Process - contained three chapters on writing 'Common Errors', 'Technique' and 'Plotting'. Of these, only 'Technique' was useful and offered new input compared to most general writing books out there. The discussions on sentence rhythms was well constructed and I'd recommend this to many students of writing. The other chapters were somewhat dull and unnecessarily technical, again elaborating Gardner's self-love of his own voice.

  3. 4 out of 5

    L.h.

    for my creative writing class. 40 pages in, I've found a lot of useful thought, but my reactions scribbled in the margins have tended towards "And Lord Gardner now graces the mere mortals with his beneficent gift of knowledge. How kind." and "Everytime you're a misogynist, God kills a kitten." and "I think every 11th grade English teacher in America would disagree, Johnny." (re: Steinbeck's "failure" of a novel, the unheard of and obviously inferior Grapes of Wrath) REGARDLESS, if you want to write for my creative writing class. 40 pages in, I've found a lot of useful thought, but my reactions scribbled in the margins have tended towards "And Lord Gardner now graces the mere mortals with his beneficent gift of knowledge. How kind." and "Everytime you're a misogynist, God kills a kitten." and "I think every 11th grade English teacher in America would disagree, Johnny." (re: Steinbeck's "failure" of a novel, the unheard of and obviously inferior Grapes of Wrath) REGARDLESS, if you want to write and can deal with Gardner's elitism, sexist prose, and overblown ego, this seems like an excellent resource.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Reads & Reviews

    In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner explains what it takes for a writer to create great fiction; it takes lots of hard work, advice that is more helpful than reading manuals that set unrealistic expectations through vacuous cheer leading. On a practical note, Gardner describes common mistakes and advises the writer on how to avoid them. I was able to understand through Gardner's examples several mistaken tendencies in my writing. Some of his lessons are now standard knowledge, such as show, don't In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner explains what it takes for a writer to create great fiction; it takes lots of hard work, advice that is more helpful than reading manuals that set unrealistic expectations through vacuous cheer leading. On a practical note, Gardner describes common mistakes and advises the writer on how to avoid them. I was able to understand through Gardner's examples several mistaken tendencies in my writing. Some of his lessons are now standard knowledge, such as show, don't tell—but also included are statements that I believe need to be shouted louder, such as avoid sentimentality. I loved Gardner's explanation that a writer creates a fictional world and must assist the reader in the Vivid and Continuous Dream, which means the uninhibited and uninterrupted experience of it. He discusses prose that disrupts the dream, such as accidental and inappropriate rhymes, inconsistent diction, overloaded sentences, and shifts in psychic distance. While Gardner emphasizes natural talent and instinct, he provides practical techniques, examples, and exercises that are certainly useful. I noted terms Gardner used, such as psychic distance ("the distance between the narrative and mind, heart, and body of the pov character.") and profluence ("a requirement best satisfied by a sequence of causally related events, a sequence that can end in only one of two ways: in resolution … or in logical exhaustion."). Understanding new concepts allows them to influence my own writing. Also interesting was the discussion on what voice should be used for Tales, Yarns, and Realistic stories, and the differences between them. Gardner states that the serious writer should mind the effect their work will have on the reader. Even if the novel is grim, it shouldn't leave the reader feeling depressed or hopeless. Since my latest novel is darker than my previous two, I need to find some uplift at the end. Surprisingly, Gardner doesn't like the third person limited POV. He advocated use of the omniscient POV.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gail

    Kicking off this whole pursuit of mine to read more about the art of writing, I picked a haughty tome to start with. I wish I could gush about Gardner's teaching here the way others on Goodreads have, but his points (all of them valid and good) darn near were lost on me on account of his high-minded rhetoric and tone. (Not to mention the examples he chose to illustrate them with—-I've never been a mythology girl so following Gardner's advice on the art of plotting through his rehashing of the He Kicking off this whole pursuit of mine to read more about the art of writing, I picked a haughty tome to start with. I wish I could gush about Gardner's teaching here the way others on Goodreads have, but his points (all of them valid and good) darn near were lost on me on account of his high-minded rhetoric and tone. (Not to mention the examples he chose to illustrate them with—-I've never been a mythology girl so following Gardner's advice on the art of plotting through his rehashing of the Helen of Troy story was a snoozefest for me). In a way, I was discouraged by "The Art of Fiction" because it made me feel like less of an intellectual. This is what can happen when you read a book like this—-you read the high-brow opinions of others who love it and think, if this was assigned for a class, you would be the person in the back thinking, "What am I missing?") Here's a snippet of a review on Amazon to illustrate what I'm talking about: "I suspect those who accuse Gardner of being arrogant, egotistical, condescending, etc., ad nauseum are likely to be the sort who either have a ideological agenda of their own, or prefer their egalitarianism served with a thoroughgoing relativism." Andddd....it's this kind of grandiose talk that makes me glad I never pursued a PhD. Seriously. So, maybe it's my own fault I couldn't look past the pomposity of it all to respect Gardner the way others tell me I should. Because, while I may have limped through this one, the amount of underlining and bookmarking I did clearly illustrates I learned a few things like: • Writers should create a work of fiction that reads like a dream. Readers need to suspend their disbelief and remain there through the action of a story; if they don't, you've done something (erred in some way) to muck that up. • Beware the trappings of clumsy writing: passive voice, inappropriate use of introductory phrases containing infinite verbs (guilty as charged!), shifts in diction and lack of sentence variety. • "What the honest writer does, when he's finished a rough draft, is go over it and over it, time after time, refusing to let anything stay if it looks awkward, phony or forced. Clumsily inserted details must either be revised into neatly inserted details or be revised out of the fiction. (No "umms" or stammers). • Even worse than clumsy writing, according to Gardner, is faults of soul: sentimentality, frigidity, and mannerism. • It's a common experience in writing classes that when a writer works with some sharply defined problem in technique, focusing on that alone, he produces such good work he surprises himself. (pg. 125) • Fiction is made of structural units: it is not one great rush (pg. 127)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    On the outside, John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers" promises to be an intense and informative read on creating solid and effective fiction geared for new or fairly new writers. Instead, "The Art of Fiction" is half literary theory and assumptions that all readers of this book are college educated people and the other half is equally as pompous diatribe on the fundamentals of writing: rhythm, style, plot and point of view. I am college educated. My degree is in W On the outside, John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers" promises to be an intense and informative read on creating solid and effective fiction geared for new or fairly new writers. Instead, "The Art of Fiction" is half literary theory and assumptions that all readers of this book are college educated people and the other half is equally as pompous diatribe on the fundamentals of writing: rhythm, style, plot and point of view. I am college educated. My degree is in Writing and I studied rhetoric and literary theory. I found Gardner's critiques of various authors' styles and works to be engaging and thought provoking. I could follow his academic style of writing. However, the whole time I read, I couldn't help but think of how this book, touted as "notes on craft for young writers" would turn off and completely discourage young writers who did not attend college. In the back of my mind, I wondered if this was his intention. Maybe Gardner wanted to keep the, in his mind, uneducated from writing by discouraging them with this book. Another thing to consider while reading this text is that it is 26 years old. The creative writing class has drastically changed in two and a half decades. The college writing class experiences he mentions throughout the first half of the book were definitely not the experiences I had as while pursuing my degree. Over all, I did glean some interesting insights about the writing process and it was good to have a refresher on plot and point of view. For that, I will consider the time spent reading this text to be well worth it and incredibly successful. I doubt I would recommend this book to anyone, unless they were willing to work through some thick material and an even thicker tone.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David Wise

    Of the very slim shelf of books on writing that are worth a damn, "The Art of Fiction" is by far the best. Passionate, evangelical, profound, deeply moving and extremely useful, it's meant for advanced writing students. But everyone interested in writing can benefit from reading it -- beginner, advanced and professional. Even book lovers who have no interest in becoming writers will become better readers for having come in contact with Gardner's wisdom. How powerful is this book? After I gave my Of the very slim shelf of books on writing that are worth a damn, "The Art of Fiction" is by far the best. Passionate, evangelical, profound, deeply moving and extremely useful, it's meant for advanced writing students. But everyone interested in writing can benefit from reading it -- beginner, advanced and professional. Even book lovers who have no interest in becoming writers will become better readers for having come in contact with Gardner's wisdom. How powerful is this book? After I gave my father a copy to read, he called me up in tears, saying he felt that he had wasted his life by not becoming a writer! PS: Astoundingly, many younger, college-age reviewers on Amazon.com criticize this book for its tone, which they find pedantic, high-handed, superior, and generally overbearing -- like, you know, he was a college professor or something (he was; he was also Raymond Carver's writing teacher). And they chafe at Gardner's promotion of a thorough grounding in the classics. (Homer? Chaucer? Gimme a break! Not edgy enough!) These, apparently, are the same students who believe they should be given at least a B, simply for showing up and doing the work.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John

    Despite Gardner's claim that this is "the best book of its kind," I didn't find it helpful at all. Most of Gardner's ideas are surprisingly shallow considering how pretentiously (and obnoxiously) he writes. In describing how to write prose fiction, Gardner constantly encourages his readers to emulate Shakespear, Homer, Dante, Mellville and Joyce--despite the fact that Shakespear was a playwright, Homer and Dante wrote epic poems, and Melville and Joyce are virtually unreadable (and torturous) to Despite Gardner's claim that this is "the best book of its kind," I didn't find it helpful at all. Most of Gardner's ideas are surprisingly shallow considering how pretentiously (and obnoxiously) he writes. In describing how to write prose fiction, Gardner constantly encourages his readers to emulate Shakespear, Homer, Dante, Mellville and Joyce--despite the fact that Shakespear was a playwright, Homer and Dante wrote epic poems, and Melville and Joyce are virtually unreadable (and torturous) to the average person. A novel like GRAPES OF WRATH, on the other hand, Gardner considers to be a "failure." If you want to learn to be a popular writer, or to make any money whatsoever at your craft, don't expect to get much out of this book other than a few basic notions of common sense.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lewis Weinstein

    reading again ... always something good to think about as I write and edit the sequel to A FLOOD OF EVIL A Flood of Evil

  10. 4 out of 5

    sarah gilbert

    It may be wonderful praise, may be a cautionary tale, that I began this book as a lark undertaken in the midst of two classes on memoir (nonfiction is, I've always believed, my life's work) and serious work rewriting my food memoir's first chapter, and before I'd half-finished Gardner's book, I began a novel. As inspiration, this is either all of it or a great chill; every sentence in this book is written with the clear undertone, "writing a novel is hard, hard work." That the work is worthwhile It may be wonderful praise, may be a cautionary tale, that I began this book as a lark undertaken in the midst of two classes on memoir (nonfiction is, I've always believed, my life's work) and serious work rewriting my food memoir's first chapter, and before I'd half-finished Gardner's book, I began a novel. As inspiration, this is either all of it or a great chill; every sentence in this book is written with the clear undertone, "writing a novel is hard, hard work." That the work is worthwhile is never, certainly, a question; that the work is for everyone is dismissed with an artful textual eye-role from the first. "Not everyone is capable of writing junk fiction: It requires an authentic junk mind," he writes in one of his jaw-dropping parentheticals. One wants, upon reading these first few pages, to have an authentic gem of a mind. One is constantly assessing whether her mind, indeed, is worth treasuring, in every page. Beyond the inspirational sentences and the deeply funny critiques of whole segments of the writing population (and, upon special occasion, a particular writer or work), this book is unusual and ideal in its teaching. I feel that I have a very firm grasp now on the energeic novel, the proper and alternative forms of a denouement, the many different sorts of writing styles (a tale, a yarn, etc.), the use of symbols and emblems and the difference between them, a dozen approaches at re-crafting a sentence, a more careful idea about how to make plot work (and an entire idea about how to design a plot), concepts and words that I didn't know but have seen elegantly in action: profluence, dispositio, architectonic novel. In short, I was not just given the kernel of a novel through Gardner's exercises, but I was taught sentence by sentence how to take all my expensive education and my far dearer experience and turn it upon the tools of novel-writing. Can you learn the craft of writing by reading a book? Not-just, but almost. Off I go, to write.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra

    "Nobody's perfect, they generously observe. But the true artist is impatient with such talk. Circus knife-throwers know that it is indeed possible to be perfect, and one had better be. Perfection means hitting exactly what you are aiming at and not touching by a hair what you are not." Gardner is mercilessly, obsessively scrupulous, almost to the level of snobbishness, in his concern that fiction should be 'moral'--that is, that every little gesture, every syllable, should ring true to human exp "Nobody's perfect, they generously observe. But the true artist is impatient with such talk. Circus knife-throwers know that it is indeed possible to be perfect, and one had better be. Perfection means hitting exactly what you are aiming at and not touching by a hair what you are not." Gardner is mercilessly, obsessively scrupulous, almost to the level of snobbishness, in his concern that fiction should be 'moral'--that is, that every little gesture, every syllable, should ring true to human experience. He is also teaching me a hundred times more about what it means to be a really good author than all the "just-follow-your-dreams-and-be-yourself" mush one is fed incessantly these days. I am devouring this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Crispitina30

    Lo marco ya como terminado porque lo acabé el lunes (el último día que me daban de plazo), aunque me faltaron las últimas diez páginas. No obstante, algún día haré una relectura porque es un libro MUY TÉCNICO con mucha teoría que merece ser desglosada. No le doy más puntuación porque el autor me ha parecido bastante elitista, machista y subjetivo con algunas cosas.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Natasha Oliver

    John Gardner let's you know in his preface that he is writing this book for the serious writer (who he defines as the literary writer), so my fellow sci fi and fantasy writers (genre), we are not his target audience. However, that does not mean we can not learn from him. I do not recommend this to the writer who is beginning their journey. By beginning, I mean who has never written a novel-length manuscript (unpublished of course) or at least a novella. I think Gardner presents too much detail an John Gardner let's you know in his preface that he is writing this book for the serious writer (who he defines as the literary writer), so my fellow sci fi and fantasy writers (genre), we are not his target audience. However, that does not mean we can not learn from him. I do not recommend this to the writer who is beginning their journey. By beginning, I mean who has never written a novel-length manuscript (unpublished of course) or at least a novella. I think Gardner presents too much detail and too much content, and at this point in your journey you will probably be overwhelmed. I simply refer to the other reviewer comments who provide suitable alternatives for an introductory to fiction writing. I have rated this book as highly as I did because if you can wade through the loquacious prose, the elongated tangential didactics,--which by page 50 gets to be annoying--the obvious pedagogical diction and the references to Faulkner, Melville, Gaas, and plenty other writers whom I've not read (out of cognizant choice--though they are clearly renown for a reason) there is so much to learn from his book. (This paragraph was meant as an example--and I'm being generous.) Take heart, he does reference more "popular" fiction: Spider Man, early comic books, and Sam Delaney (although briefly), so it's not a complete rebuff of fiction that sells. Why I rec'd this book: 1) Because after writing a few manuscripts, I was able to see through Gardner's examples some of the mistakes that I make in my writing--this enough is worth the price of the book in my opinion. 2) Also, because I have reinterpreted his "serious" writer to mean someone who is dedicated to improving their writing skills. Simply put. If you are serious, then you are willing--albeit begrudgingly--to come out of your comfort zone and learn even from those who have a tendency to look down their nose at you (at least it's not in your face). Examples of what I've learned: 1) Tales vs. Yarn vs. Realistic (and what voices are more commonly linked to each type of fictional story). 2) The importance of rhythm. 3) That a character's internal obstacles must be as compelling as his external ones (might seem like a no-brainer, but I guess not for me). 4) The vocab list that you get from reading his writing. Lastly, while yes you can get most of the above from some of the other books on writing, you won't get the seriousness (dare I say abrasive truths) of what it means to be a writer and then what it takes to write well. This is not meant to be "inspiring" (so you won't be uplifted and told repeatedly throughout that "yes, you can write that novel"); it is meant to be eye-opening.

  14. 5 out of 5

    John

    This book on fiction writing is commonly recommended. I was less impressed by it than I had expected and hoped to be. Be forewarned: the prose is verbose, dull, rambling, and frequently wanders off into digressions. I found it hard to maintain interest. High points: Gardner's concept of 'psychic distance' as part of POV; the concept of 'frigidity' (when the writer accidentally lets slip that he really doesn't care about a character) and 'profluence', the reader's sense that the story is progressi This book on fiction writing is commonly recommended. I was less impressed by it than I had expected and hoped to be. Be forewarned: the prose is verbose, dull, rambling, and frequently wanders off into digressions. I found it hard to maintain interest. High points: Gardner's concept of 'psychic distance' as part of POV; the concept of 'frigidity' (when the writer accidentally lets slip that he really doesn't care about a character) and 'profluence', the reader's sense that the story is progressing. There are some interesting tips on sentence construction. Otherwise, Gardner repeats common wisdom about fiction writing which is encountered everywhere: authenticating detail is critical; show, don't tell; beware of sentimentality; beware of mixing 'high' and 'low' styles (i.e., bathos, although Gardner doesn't use that word), and so on. Problems: The discussion of plotting isn't very helpful, nor are the discussions of suspense and writing style. Unlike virtually all modern fiction writers, Gardner doesn't like the third person limited POV, and prefers omniscient. This is a highly idiosyncratic position, which will not be helpful to beginning writers. Gardner relentlessly talks about the morality of writing. He seems to have specific metaphysical -- though not traditionally religious -- ideas about the universe, and believes fiction should support these ideas, that there is something wrong with fiction that doesn't, and something morally wrong in the writer who writes that sort of fiction. In summation: This book has some interesting and unique material in amongst a lot of less useful material and a lot of rambling, dull prose. Update, 11/2012. I'm upping my rating to four stars. As time passes, things that Gardner said in this book keep popping into my mind, and seeming wiser and more important than they did when I first read the book. It's a better book than I thought it was.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachael Sherwood

    I typically walk away from books about writing with a few new tips or tricks and maybe a new idea. This book is very different. As the title reflects, it explores fiction as both craft and art. At first I worried that Gardner was kind of pretentious--his style is certainly very academic. But he managed to fuse together solid writing advice with interesting theory in a way that challenged me to think about how I approach writing (without making me feel like I had to write like ~*the classics*~). I typically walk away from books about writing with a few new tips or tricks and maybe a new idea. This book is very different. As the title reflects, it explores fiction as both craft and art. At first I worried that Gardner was kind of pretentious--his style is certainly very academic. But he managed to fuse together solid writing advice with interesting theory in a way that challenged me to think about how I approach writing (without making me feel like I had to write like ~*the classics*~). He uses classic lit for his examples, and sometimes I was annoyed by his assumption that his reader would be familiar. I'm fairly well read in the classics, but I haven't read everything dude. I've seen people say that this book is only for those who write literary fiction, but I disagree and I think Gardner would too. Regardless of your genre, if you are interested in advancing your writing as craft and art, this is a good read. I've been working on the exercises at the end of the book and some of them are hard!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ryandake

    quite probably the best book i've ever read on writing. the finest part of it is that it skips all the simple stuff at the baseline level: characterization, metaphor, dialogue. not that gardner doesn't have a few things to say about each, but he clearly has assumed that his reader has educated herself on the basics. so this is in some ways not really for absolute novice writers. it assumes at least some education (or habit) in analyzing a text critically. so gardner is free to take off from the mid quite probably the best book i've ever read on writing. the finest part of it is that it skips all the simple stuff at the baseline level: characterization, metaphor, dialogue. not that gardner doesn't have a few things to say about each, but he clearly has assumed that his reader has educated herself on the basics. so this is in some ways not really for absolute novice writers. it assumes at least some education (or habit) in analyzing a text critically. so gardner is free to take off from the middle of the mountain rather than the foothills, and he does so, marvellously. this book contains, hands-down, the most interesting reading i've ever done on the subject of plot and pacing, two areas that are particularly lacking in most works of this type. if you want to write, read it. if you write now but want to write better, read it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nic

    Since the 1980s, when I got "serious" about writing creatively, I've been hearing John Gardner praised to the skies. I suspect he was one of the first writers to really elevate teaching to an art, beating the plethora of "how to write" books that now flood the shelves. And while it's de riguer to speak ill of the dead, I am finding this text both condescending and needlessly dense. Many of his ideas are right on, but I have heard them more accessibly expressed in the past thirty years than they Since the 1980s, when I got "serious" about writing creatively, I've been hearing John Gardner praised to the skies. I suspect he was one of the first writers to really elevate teaching to an art, beating the plethora of "how to write" books that now flood the shelves. And while it's de riguer to speak ill of the dead, I am finding this text both condescending and needlessly dense. Many of his ideas are right on, but I have heard them more accessibly expressed in the past thirty years than they are here. Sorry, John.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Edmund

    When I first picked up Gardner's thesis I found it a little odd. A piece from earlier decades, the style is somewhat rambling and pretentious, yet holds a of of soul and is unburdened by the mercantile and overpolished nature of a more modern "on writing" book. Despite the claim of being for a young writer, the piece is overall a good read. Gardner captures the nature of writing rules in a way that does some justice to the importance of them but provides advice for how to avoid being too rigid. G When I first picked up Gardner's thesis I found it a little odd. A piece from earlier decades, the style is somewhat rambling and pretentious, yet holds a of of soul and is unburdened by the mercantile and overpolished nature of a more modern "on writing" book. Despite the claim of being for a young writer, the piece is overall a good read. Gardner captures the nature of writing rules in a way that does some justice to the importance of them but provides advice for how to avoid being too rigid. Gardner also has the most interesting take on Short Stories vs Novellas vs Novels that I've read yet (basically that novels are intended to be messy, whereas shorter fiction needs to be tight). Other than perhaps a too long focus on meta-fiction (something which has probably seeped so much into modern fiction that its almost misleading and confusing) and the occasional not actually offensive but obviously not approps commentary that shows the book is from a different time, Gardner's notes on craft was a useful read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    I've had a lot of writer's tell me about Gardner's book, but I never got around to reading it until now. I'm glad I did. It's a gem. While an esteemed teacher of writing, as well as a well respected writer in his own right,Gardner freely admits there are no absolutes in creating fiction. All things are at least theoretically possible. I like his honesty and the relatively modest task he sets out for those who choose to teach creative writing. Not surprising, is his assertion that a key to good w I've had a lot of writer's tell me about Gardner's book, but I never got around to reading it until now. I'm glad I did. It's a gem. While an esteemed teacher of writing, as well as a well respected writer in his own right,Gardner freely admits there are no absolutes in creating fiction. All things are at least theoretically possible. I like his honesty and the relatively modest task he sets out for those who choose to teach creative writing. Not surprising, is his assertion that a key to good writing is practice; becoming so at home with those techniques that have worked in the past, that one can move confidently into the challenge of creating something out of nothing, knowing that if he fails it will be due to a lack on insight or inspiration.That's where the gift comes into play! Somewhat more surprising is his belief that great writers benefit greatly by having a university education. according to Gardner,even those who have made light of the college experience(Hemingway, for example) have been tutored in one way or another. Hemingway certainly had his Gertrude Stein. Equally surprising is his belief one should not follow the age old admonition to "write what you know about";rather,should write in the genre he likes best. For what it's worth , I think he is correct on both accounts. Central to his thesis is the idea of fiction "as dream." If a reader is to "suspend disbelief"(regardless of how far out the story may be)the writer must take care to use as much detail as is necessary to make the dream state possible. Since it is not my purpose to go over the entire manuscript, let me end by adding the following: John Gardner has written a marvelous book that can be of value to even the most talented among us.While at times the work may drag and seem unnecssarily scholarly(He's very much into Classic Greek Literature etc.) he writes clearly and gracefully and with the knowledge of one who has taken his students as seriously as his own writing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    David

    John Gardner's The Art of Fiction has come under some harsh criticism from some reviewers on GoodReads and perhaps that's because they take issue with the tone of the book which is decidedly 'opinionated' and professorial. In fact, this is what books on writing should be...generally instruction books should take this tone...otherwise what function would they serve? To begin with, there are some who dislike the 'high-brow' nature of Gardner's attitude to fiction. He writes of Junk Fiction and por John Gardner's The Art of Fiction has come under some harsh criticism from some reviewers on GoodReads and perhaps that's because they take issue with the tone of the book which is decidedly 'opinionated' and professorial. In fact, this is what books on writing should be...generally instruction books should take this tone...otherwise what function would they serve? To begin with, there are some who dislike the 'high-brow' nature of Gardner's attitude to fiction. He writes of Junk Fiction and pornographer students. Obviously, an aesthetic and moral standard is being set here and a choice of good and bad is being demanded. There is nothing wrong with this, nor is there anything wrong with attempting to teach budding writers to pursue a career in the arena of literary fiction as opposed to genre/junk/formulaic fiction. Much of the hostility comes from the Indie writers...certainly not all of them, but a good portion of these that are in the business of producing degraded, junk fiction...with sloppy, one dimensional characters, flaccid plotting, formulaic stories which do naught but follow the pack [vampires, zombies, post-apocalyptic, romance, fantasy, etc.], and insufficient motivation. What the author is arguing for is subtlety and complexity. If you are a genre writer this may come as a shock; may even be offensive, as is the idea that you should not be a writing until you've mastered grammar and the complexities of punctuation...grammar checkers are simply not cutting it. This is one more reason all Indie writers need editorial help. Although, it could be argued Gardner's positioning is on occasion extreme it might also be argued this is necessary when dealing with young and inexperienced writers. The craft of writing requires discipline and commitment, if the inexperienced writer does not possess these they will not get far in their career, not should they. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    Dear Mr. Gardner, You don't know me, but I know you - particularly another work of yours, Grendel. I was intrigued by your sense of humor and your unerring ear for words. However, I figured this would be our first and last meeting. Consider me surprised, then, when my parents gave your little gray book to me for Christmas. "Thought it might be interesting," they said, which is accurate; I plan to go into creative writing, and a little guidance would be helpful. Most advice I've gotten would have m Dear Mr. Gardner, You don't know me, but I know you - particularly another work of yours, Grendel. I was intrigued by your sense of humor and your unerring ear for words. However, I figured this would be our first and last meeting. Consider me surprised, then, when my parents gave your little gray book to me for Christmas. "Thought it might be interesting," they said, which is accurate; I plan to go into creative writing, and a little guidance would be helpful. Most advice I've gotten would have me studying John Grisham or switching majors. Imagine, then, my delight in discovering that not only were you a fantastic writer, you had the theory to boot. What IS fiction? Well, now I can hold forth on that very topic. How should one approach plotting? You've got me again. Exercises to strengthen technique? Oh, Mr. Gardner, you had me at hello. Basically, come back from the dead and mentor me? Love, Nina

  22. 5 out of 5

    Drew Lackovic

    I had this as a required text in my Senior Creative Writing class in college. No one, not even the Prof cared for this book (apparently it was one of those "this book is required" mandates from the powers that be). The problem I had with this book, is the problem I have with John Gardner in general--He was the type of person who believes the world should be one way, and you should follow his law. However, he can break that law whenever he wants. The book struck me as a pile of double standards, an I had this as a required text in my Senior Creative Writing class in college. No one, not even the Prof cared for this book (apparently it was one of those "this book is required" mandates from the powers that be). The problem I had with this book, is the problem I have with John Gardner in general--He was the type of person who believes the world should be one way, and you should follow his law. However, he can break that law whenever he wants. The book struck me as a pile of double standards, and a lot of negative comments directed towards young writers. Had I been a young writer at the time, I may have decided not to be a writer based on the shitty attitude Gardner takes in the book. Granted, the information he gives is largely pretty decent as long as you can put up with his condescending attitude.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Maltman

    I almost stopped reading at the beginning, because of his liberal use of the word trash, applied to a lot of genre fiction and contemporary art and culture. But I had a gut feeling to persevere, and I'm glad I did. There are indeed some very useful and important points on craft to be found in this book, as well as good exercises at the end. And yes, he's a lot more nuanced in his views, and actually pushes literary-focused authors to try and make their works enjoyable and interesting on more tha I almost stopped reading at the beginning, because of his liberal use of the word trash, applied to a lot of genre fiction and contemporary art and culture. But I had a gut feeling to persevere, and I'm glad I did. There are indeed some very useful and important points on craft to be found in this book, as well as good exercises at the end. And yes, he's a lot more nuanced in his views, and actually pushes literary-focused authors to try and make their works enjoyable and interesting on more than just an intellectual level, so by the end even an aspiring genre fiction writer will respect his point of view.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Stirrat

    "Good description is symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where, little by little as his fiction progresses, he can work with them and finally understand them. To put this another way, the organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader's mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writers mind." Bingo. I adore this snarky, arr "Good description is symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where, little by little as his fiction progresses, he can work with them and finally understand them. To put this another way, the organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader's mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writers mind." Bingo. I adore this snarky, arrogant, contrarian, who is so often correct and who weaves in brilliant examples, and when he is not, the process of fighting with him clarifies my thoughts on storytelling.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Garrett Cook

    Considered ideal for young writers, but its exercises are masochistic and often sheer folly. Gardner himself wrote "tedium is the worst pain" and trying to slog through Art of Fiction exercises would leave old Grendel raging at any number of additional Meadhalls. The text itself is good and you can find sound advice in it, but there are much better writing books out there. It might have paved the way, but so did 8 tracks.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Francesca Marciano

    What to say? Compulsory reading for anybody attempting to write. Gardner still rocks.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rod Raglin

    Duties, responsibilities and the author's obligation to tell the truth   One of the most interesting things about this book is how attitudes have changed in regards to what it means to be an author.   The Art of Fiction - Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner, was published in 1984, long before the advent of online platforms that make self-publishing free and easy to any and everyone.   This is not your "How to Write a Novel for Dummies" and Gardner definitely would not have supported "eve Duties, responsibilities and the author's obligation to tell the truth   One of the most interesting things about this book is how attitudes have changed in regards to what it means to be an author.   The Art of Fiction - Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner, was published in 1984, long before the advent of online platforms that make self-publishing free and easy to any and everyone.   This is not your "How to Write a Novel for Dummies" and Gardner definitely would not have supported "everyone's right to publish" as proclaimed by many indie authors and the entire self-publishing industry.   Gardner felt that aspiring to be an author was almost akin to a "higher calling" and required rigorous study and practice. As well as hard work and sacrifice such a career choice came with duties and responsibilities.   The most important of which is telling the truth, and not just getting facts right, but making sure your fiction is believable and not perceived by the reader as a lie. Foremost it must "affirm moral truths about human existence".   Good fiction according to Gardner "creates a vivid and continuous dream" for the reader.   Though the book contains good suggestions on craft they're not presented point by point but rather embedded within the text. That means enduring a lot of with Gardner's rather academic, elitist attitude.   Is it worth it? Definitely - if you're serious about becoming an accomplished author.  

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sunniva Dee

    An academic approach to writing. Very helpful and solid. Definitely wordy, with information that could be distilled into a much shorter, much more to-the-point book, but I found little gems in this one that I haven't found in any others. Keep in mind that it came out in 1981, so some judgement calls by the author don't take into consideration recent development when it comes to 1) YA, 2) 1st limited POV, and 3) the internet.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Other books on writing are geared to early beginners or spend a lot of time on style (word choice , sentences, pargraphs). The art of fiction speaks to a more advanced amateur. Gardner makes unique observations about writing and give wise advice. Some main takeaways - fiction is like a dream, you have to keep it going by adding in real details. Fiction is composed in structural units, its not one big breath, its more like a series of excercise. Most of the characters, dialogue and action is obli Other books on writing are geared to early beginners or spend a lot of time on style (word choice , sentences, pargraphs). The art of fiction speaks to a more advanced amateur. Gardner makes unique observations about writing and give wise advice. Some main takeaways - fiction is like a dream, you have to keep it going by adding in real details. Fiction is composed in structural units, its not one big breath, its more like a series of excercise. Most of the characters, dialogue and action is obligatory based on other events in the novel. Professional writers always play for keeps - nothing is an exercise unless it doesn't work. Keep mining. You can get away with almost anything with character and action.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Casee Marie

    "What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulations or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values." John Gardner was perhaps as well known (if not more so) for his instruction on writing as for his own fictional works, and his Art of Fiction: Notes on the Craft for Young Writers compiles the fullness of his teachings on what makes a great writer great. There is, on the whole, a lot to take away f "What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulations or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values." John Gardner was perhaps as well known (if not more so) for his instruction on writing as for his own fictional works, and his Art of Fiction: Notes on the Craft for Young Writers compiles the fullness of his teachings on what makes a great writer great. There is, on the whole, a lot to take away from Gardner’s book, but there’s also a lot to work through. The attitude of Gardner’s narrative often tends toward the stereotypical elitism of the highly-educated “serious writer” (to use his term, at other times referred to as a “true writer”), and as a result readers might be at risk of missing some of Gardner’s most crucial lessons under the weight of all his posturing. His musings on the significance of a writer’s formal education to his skill range from referencing the self-educated man as an “imbecile” (intended with its original meaning, though made no less harsh by the continuation of his thought that such a man may write a great novel if he’s lucky) to somewhat backhanded compliments like, “The best writers do not always (or even often) come from the well-educated upper middle class – art’s cauldron is only on rare occasions gold or silver.” (Another aside: though at times his narrative may strike some readers as sexist, he does admit – in one line which I forgot to note verbatim – that many of the greatest novels were penned by women. Huzzah!) Still, though some of his opinions may be dated, his advice certainly isn’t. Here Gardner digs profoundly deep into the foundation of writing; for obvious reasons his discussion focuses predominantly on the science of the art, but he does at times give leave to its inevitable changeability (as he says, “no laws are absolute in fiction”). The translation of Gardner’s generational perceptions can be perhaps a little rocky (there are no romance writers here, only “pornographers”), but the bones of his advice can be aptly applied to any genre, any generation, and certainly any style. Whether or not the bones are worth digging for is obviously each unique writer’s opinion. Here are some of my favorite takeaways from The Art of Fiction: On narrative... “Vividness urges that almost every occurrence of such phrases as ‘she noticed’ be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen.” The writer... “It is the novelist’s reward for thinking carefully about reality, brooding on every image, every action, every word, both those things he planned from the beginning and those that crept in in the service of convincingness.” On style... “About style, the less said the better. Nothing leads to fraudulence more swiftly than the conscious pursuit of stylistic uniqueness. But on the other hand nothing is more natural to the young and ambitious writer than that he try to find a voice and territory of his own, proving himself different from all other writers.” The long and short of it... “The most useful hint is perhaps this: Read the story over and over, at least a hundred times – literally – watching for subtle meanings, connections, accidental repetitions, psychological significance. Leave nothing – no slightest detail – unexamined, and when you discover implications in some image or event, oonch those implications toward the surface. [...] As for the warnings, two are of most importance: On one hand, don’t overdo the denouement, so ferociously pushing meaning that the reader is distracted from the fictional dream, giving the narrative a too conscious, contrived, or ‘workshop’ effect; and don’t on the other hand, write so subtly or timidly – from fear of sentimentality or obviousness – that no one, not even the angels aflutter in the rafters, can hear the resonance.” There are a lot of interesting points in Gardner’s book, particularly following along with him as he crafts a story idea and explores the right and (potentially) wrong moves, how the story would change with different intents, and the myriad ways it could be done well. He also provides exercises at the back of the book – both group exercises intended for classes and writings groups, and individual exercises for the endeavoring writer to tackle alone. (I’ll possibly write about those in the future since I haven’t pursued them yet.) On the whole, for writers looking to better their craft through strongly academic, objective study, The Art of Fiction offers a very thorough perspective. (Originally published February 21, 2014 on LiteraryInklings.com)

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