Today, as promised, I am kicking off a new feature at the Booth: Craft Book Review. Each month, we will recommend excellent craft books that we think will help you on your journey. For me, the decision of which book to start with was incredibly easy. Writing Fiction may be the one book that most of us, in the last few months, have cited. At Vermont College, this book is read widely and treated (almost) like a bible. I read other craft books, too, but if you can only get one. . . well, read on. This is it.
Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft
By Janet Burroway with Elizabeth Stuckey-French
A bestseller through six editions, the seventh edition of "Writing Fiction" by novelists Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French explores the elements of fiction, providing practical writing techniques and concrete examples. Written in a tone that is personal and non-prescriptive, the text encourages writers to develop proficiency through each step of the writing process, offering an abundance of exercises designed to spur writing and creativity. The text also integrates diverse contemporary short stories in every chapter in the belief that the reading of inspiring fiction goes hand-in-hand with the writing of fresh and exciting stories. Thorough and practical discussions of all the major fictional elements offer students a comprehensive guide to the craft of writing stories. Topics include freewriting, plot, style, characterization, dialogue, time, place, imagery, and point of view. For novice writers looking to develop proficiency.
The first lines of Writing Fiction read, “You want to write. Why is it so hard?”
Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction answers that question. It is the most comprehensive guide to writing fiction there is. It guides the writer from first inspiration—the blank page—all the way through revision. It offers an introduction and discussion of the key elements and issues of writing and supports them with exercises as well as examples from published literature. It is a thorough manual, covering all the nuts and bolts of the craft of writing.
Who should read it:
Anyone who is serious about writing.
Anyone who wants to improve their understanding of the craft of writing
Strengths and Weaknesses:
The book is expensive.
When I first picked up Writing Fiction, the only craft books I had read were focused on inspiring the writer. So at first, I found the prose extremely academic. The solution: I put the book in the bathroom to read it in short intervals. Reading this way--in short spurts--helped me get used to the narrative of the book and since then, no complaints at all. I read a section of this book almost every week. Keep in mind: I still don’t think this is a book you sit down and read in one sitting. This is the book you keep at your desk. It is a reference book, with chapters on the process, in general, form and structure, showing and telling, building character, place and time, point of view, comparison, theme, and revision. I use it when I am in a rut and need to a refresher on any of these elements. I also use this book for every lecture I give. In other words: when I want to know the elements of literary fiction, this is the first book I look to. It is essential. It offers the writer a discussion on every important element in fiction writing.
Buy this book!
Writing Fiction is now available in a seventh edition. But the only differences between the 6th and 7th are some of the examples and the order of the chapters. The change in order reflects feedback Burroway has received. (Plot is now discussed after character, which makes a lot of sense.) Even so, the 6th edition is great and won’t cost as much. Used copies are available at Powell’s. But if you can afford it, call your independent bookseller and get this book in its newest edition. Write in the margins. Read it over and over again. Watch what happens to your writing when you understand the craft.
I highly recommend Writing Fiction to all writers.