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What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,270 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
An essential to any writer's library, What If? is comprised entirely of specific exercises intended to help the reader master the art of writing fiction.The exercises isolate the various elements of fiction - dialogue, plot, characterization, point- of-view, etc. - and present specific problems to solve through writing.Directed toward both beginners and professional write ...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 528 pages
Published December 4th 2003 by Longman (first published 1990)
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This second edition of What if?, a tome of a book, is labeled “College Edition” and would appeal to anyone teaching fiction writing, or to anyone who writes fiction. This book would also appeal to readers: the final two sections – 200 pages of this over-500-page book – contain a dozen short-short stories; and a collection of contemporary short stories by stellar authors such as Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, and Alice Munro.

The book is organized around fourteen topics: Beginnings; Notebooks,
Jun 01, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, read-2015
Different from most writing books, this is - basically - nothing but writing exercises, intended to help with particular parts of writing. I like the layout, organised roughly into categories, and it’s intended to be something to dip into, for inspiration and ideas. I thought I’d work through this one and began, six months ago, by doing some of the exercises. However I didn't feel able to make the time and abandoned it for a while, then recently read the rest of the book, looking at the exercise ...more
Mar 20, 2013 Deborah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stopped-reading
This book is the most condescending, poorly written book on writing that used to grace my shelves.

The authors spoke to their audience like we couldn't write, and their sentences were so wordy that I started removing the excess words. When I did this, I was able to cross out 50% of the words in the sentences and still maintain the original meaning of the sentence. If you are going to write poorly to inexperienced writers, then you certainly shouldn't condescend to them.

I threw this book away. It
Katherine Kaecey McCormick
This is the kind of book that you like more or less depending on where you are in the writing process, what your goal is in consulting the book, and your state of mind at the time.

This book is useful and provides many exercises which help the reader write, get it down, get it out, and get through a block or obstacle that is preventing words from flowing. The exercises are relatively short and manageable. Some feel uncomfortable, silly, or strange - when I react like that to a writing exercise,
Nov 22, 2008 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-books
I have the newest version which I had to order from the states, but I refer to it often. There aren't quite the same exercises as this original, but there are more of them, and the new text includes a good number of short, short stories and short stories, as well.
Richard Jespers
Dec 18, 2014 Richard Jespers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another great creative writing text. Practical yet creative in approach. The “what if” list actually helped me to “unstick” and finish a story I'd been working on for a long time.

Since my first reading, I’ve also used a number of these exercises to revise, and a number of them to polish a MS. For example, highlighting that which represent the five senses using five different colors. It graphically represents how much or how little your writing is concrete, appealing at least some of the time to
Erin George
Oct 05, 2010 Erin George is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Many great writing exercises for writers of fiction. Unique section that gives student examples of writing prompts. Great for teachers of writing.
Sep 27, 2014 Clintweathers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I had delusions of literary adequacy, this was always the first thing I read every day.
The book is collection of etudes, in the same way that Bartok's Mikrokosmos is -- just lessons to be worked through.

Each of them is chewy enough to keep the writer interested, and each of them is short enough to be completed in one morning/evening/lunchtime writing session.

This is one of those books I've purchased and given away multiple copies of -- that's how much I love it.
Aug 29, 2011 Dennis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I liked this book, my two main quibbles are: (1) the selection and arrangement of the collection of short stories, the lengthier ones, that is; and (2) not enough exercises. If you want an exercise on irony, it's not in here. How about one on subtext in dialogue? Zip.

Although the short stories aren't bad, I prefer them to be grouped together. A good example is the anthology Points of View by James Moffett. It is solely about POV and Moffett arranged the stories from straight internal mo
James Van Pelt
Aug 18, 2015 James Van Pelt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For both the teacher and the writer, this is an excellent book to inspire creative writing. I particularly like the format of describing the exercise and then showing how some authors responded to it. Highly recommended.
Oct 15, 2014 Theresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've recommended this book a number of times for other creative writing teachers and they use it in their teaching. Tons of writing exercises organized by topic, e.g., character, scene, plot, revision, etc. Excellent!
Jun 19, 2015 Purnima rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book to be read, but to be exercised. Yet, I couldn't resist the temptation to read this book from cover to cover. It is a book to be visited every single day of life - or at least, till you have it in you to write, write anything!
Chad Lamb
I had to read parts of this for a Creative Writing class I took in college. One of the most fun classes I ever took. This book had some good stuff in it.
Courtney Johnson
I had to read parts of this book for my fiction class. It had some interesting exercises in it, but others were just confusing.
Rabia Bashir
Apr 14, 2014 Rabia Bashir rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jam packed full of writing exercises - a great resource to keep handy when writing or experiencing 'blockage'!
prachtige oefeningen, en veel voorbeelden van uitwerkingen door studenten
Sherry D'ambrosio
Dec 08, 2015 Sherry D'ambrosio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable. I used some of her prompts for my comp students.
Sep 30, 2014 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a reminder read. I enjoy creating stories and books such as this give me lots of "what if" ideas.
Jun 15, 2009 Nena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful writing exercise book! There are several exercises that I already do in my writing, and I either skip them or tweak them a bit, but it is still helpful because now I know why those tips work or are necessary in writing. I try to do one exercise a day, but I find myself excited by the writing prompts and I end up doing two or three, or even stopping so I can work on a story the exercise has just inspired. I'm getting so much writing done these days! I will keep using this unti ...more
Judy Dawn
Nice thought provoker.
Erin Nudi
Oct 10, 2013 Erin Nudi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great, wonderful, book! Tons of easy, relevant exercises, categorized in an easy-to-read manner, complete with student examples. And don't skip out on the short stories at the end of the book!

For anyone interested in workshopping, I am posting (almost) all of these exercises on my blog here:

I'd love to get someone participating with me.

Self-promotion aside, do pick up this fantastic book that is applicable to both novel writers and those who do short stor
HappiMess Media
Aug 15, 2014 HappiMess Media rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant and inspiring.
Jul 18, 2014 Jamie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nov 18, 2008 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't tried any of the exercises in this book yet, but they look intriguing. Very practical oriented, not nuts and bolts technical, philosophical, or advice on how to live as a writer. Just a series of exercises (tons) to work on different fiction writing skills. Thorough. They've got some nice stories tossed in at the end, though they just kind of say "these are good stories" without providing any commentary as to why they were selected or what aspects are particularly well handled.
Apr 29, 2014 Robin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: at-home, school
This was an okay book. My idea in reading it was that I would do each of the writing exercises as I read them, but most of them I felt would not help me achieve my current goals. I did get some great ideas though and I wouldn't discourage any writer from trying this book out. But I would recommend skimming through the book to find exercises that will help you work through your current kinks, and not to work through the book cover to cover.
Sep 03, 2007 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: aspiring writers of any sort
This book has some fantastic characterization and plot exercises. My friend Colin recommended it to me after his summer class on writing, and it happened to be in my curriculum the next semester. While I haven't sat down and done all these yet, I certainly think it presents an amazing way to build full...not just characters, but people...and see stories from all ends. If you want to write, pick it up.
Mar 10, 2016 jacky marked it as to-read-education  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
I'm looking for books that have writing exercises. I think that some of my students could really use a few books of these in the room to turn to when they are stuck. If the books were available, I then wouldn't have to force the whole class through an exercise, but rather teach the kids to go to one of these sources when stuck. Now I just need to find the sources. This is a possibility.
This is my favorite of the writing exercises genre, not a genre I love. I like this book best read from cover to cover rather than as a tool per se. That way, you get a sense of the authors' philosophy of writing, why to write, what makes authentic writing, what the point is of the whole venture. In the end I found myself agreeing with them often.
Nov 11, 2015 Shelley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good resource for those that teach writing. The exercises are straightforward and organized by familiar elements of fiction. As a practiced writer, I'm not sure how much I would use myself, but it's worth having on the bookshelf as a quick go-to if you need to pull together a class/workshop quickly.
Dec 07, 2014 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Used this when I taught creative writing courses. Much more approachable for beginners than Gardner.
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