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The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers Paperback – June 4, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0679734031 ISBN-10: 0679734031 Edition: Reissue

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The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers + On Becoming a Novelist + Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (June 4, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679734031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679734031
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"It will fascinate anyone interested in how fiction gets put together.  For the young writer it will become a necessary handbook, a stern judge, an encouraging friend... In the first half of the book, Gardner investigated just what fiction is.  In the second half, he treats specific technical matters. The Art of Fiction is filled with lecture counsel, wise encouragement." -John L'Heureux, The New York Times Book Review

"A densely packed book of advice to all writers, not just young ones... It is serious, provocative, and funny, and I recommend it to anyone who cares about literature."- Margaret Manning, The Boston Globe

"He lays out virtually everything a person might want to know [about] how to say it, with good and bad examples and judgments falling like autumn leaves in a November storm." -William McPherson, The Washington Post

"The next best thing to graduate workshop in fiction writing. Drawing on examples from Homer to Kafka to Joyce Carol Oates, Gardner unravels the mysteries of plot, sentence structure, diction, and point of view." - Book-of-the-Month Club News

From the Inside Flap

"John Gardner was famous for his generosity to young writers, and (this book) is his . . . gift to them. The Art of Fiction will fascinate anyone interested in how fiction gets put together. For the young writer, it will become a necessary handbook, a stern judge, an encouraging friend."--The New York Times Book Review.

Customer Reviews

How then does Gardner explain Shakespeare, who had very little formal education?
louis smith
If one is thinking of writing fiction seriously and wants to know about the craft, he must read this book.
Anis Khan
If this book makes writing sound like a hard thing to do, that is because WRITING IS A HARD THING TO DO.
JR Pinto

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

129 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
I recently re-read this classic book on writing fiction, and found it as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Because Gardner strives for "higher art", his musings and instructions for the beginner go much deeper than ordinary how-to books. His lengthy chapter titled "Interest and Truth" gets to the heart of what fiction needs to be, whether one is writing literary fiction or a crime novel. His "Common Errors" chapter, although relatively short and sounding as basic as one can get, offers some of the best advice on how to improve one's writing, from suggestions to creating dynamic sentences to how to imbue narrative with emotion. "Technique" covers topics such as paying attention to rhythm and word choice and building narrative suspense. Although I yawned during the chapter on plot - Gardner's diagrams and attempts at describing structure were too mechanical for my tastes, I'm sure some readers will read it voraciously. Likewise, his thorough compilation of writing exercises will have some reaching eagerly for their keyboards. I found that the sections that had interested me on my first reading years ago were not the same ones that intrigued me this time, suggesting that this book can grow with the writer.
The biggest flaw in this book, and one which might drive some readers away, is Gardner's personal biases. His intense interest in myth and classics drove his fiction, and it weighs heavily in the examples he provides. Also, he favors examples from his contemporaries - Barthleme, Coover, Barth - who might not interest younger writers who read a different set of cutting edge authors. Still, you need not be familiar with Gardner's examples to understand his points, as he himself makes few assumptions about the reader/student.
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210 of 231 people found the following review helpful By JR Pinto on December 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
I bought this book about ten years ago; it was the text book in an undergrad Creative Writing class. It wasn't until last year that I really read it. I have just finished reading it again for the second time.
I think that all of Gardner's advice for beginning writers is valid. I was shocked at the negative reviews that some other readers have posted. They find fault with Gardner because he makes reference to classic works of literature. First off, one does not have to have read EVERY book that Gardner makes reference to in order to understand his point.
What shocks me is that people seem genuinely offended that Gardner thinks that aspiring writers should read! EVERY creative writing teacher expects his students to read as much good literature as possible. Why is this? Because IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE A GOOD WRITER UNLESS ONE IS WELL READ. You don't believe me - just ask Stephen King. If you are offended that Gardner expects you to be familiar with names like Hemmingway and Faulkner, you should be ashamed of yourself.
The elitism argument isn't even supported by the text. Sure he talks about Homer and Shakespeare, but he also comments that great writing can also be found in Spider-Man comic books and other unlikely sources. (I am comforted because the negative reviews themselves are not very well-written.)
These are dangerous times we live in. People no longer want to hear that they can't just pick up a pen and be the next Fitzgerald. And who's to say that Fitzgerald is any better than James Paterson, say? It's all relative, is it not?
It is not.
This is a book for the serious writer - for ANY writer who wishes to write better. In order to do that, one must do the work.
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful By R. Tiedemann on July 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
I wish this book didn't specify young writers in its subtitle because that's likely to turn away older writers if they haven't heard about Gardner and his books. That would be quite a loss but for Gardner and the readers.
As a published author of many book reviews as well as magazine articles and newspaper pieces, I was at a loss as to where to turn when I needed advice on writing fiction. My solution was to take a course and this book was the required reading. Otherwise I would have overlooked it since I would in no way classify myself as young.
It's simply one of the best books available, especially for those who want to write literary fiction and who care about the quality of his/her writing. Character building, plotting, vocabulary, sentence structure, style and the idea of fiction as a dream are studied in depth here. It is a book to be studied and re-studied, read and re-read, for as the reader practices writing fiction and gains more experience, there's more to be found.
At the back of the book there are exercises. These are best done in a group so that you can get the benefits of others' critiques. The concepts here are deep and often open to more than one interpretation -- those come out in a group setting.
Read carefully. Be sure you understand the subtleties of what he's saying. If you give this one a shallow reading, you're likely to misinterpret. If you do, you'll loose a lot.
I'd put this at the top of my favorites books in a list of books for writers along with Jack Bickham's, Dwight Swain's and Gary Provost's books on the craft.
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More About the Author

John Gardner (1933-1982) was born in Batavia, New York. His critically acclaimed books include the novels Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues, and October Light, for which he received the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as several works of nonfiction and criticism such as On Becoming a Novelist. He was also a professor of medieval literature and a pioneering creative writing teacher whose students included Raymond Carver and Charles Johnson.

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