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The Rhetoric of Fiction

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  809 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
The first edition of The Rhetoric of Fiction transformed the criticism of fiction and soon became a classic in the field. One of the most widely used texts in fiction courses, it is a standard reference point in advanced discussions of how fictional form works, how authors make novels accessible, and how readers recreate texts, and its concepts and terms—such as "the impli ...more
Paperback, 457 pages
Published February 15th 1983 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 1960)
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The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne C. BoothAspects of the Novel by E.M. ForsterOn Writing by Stephen KingThe Cambridge Introduction to Narrative by H. Porter AbbottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
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1st out of 17 books — 8 voters
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Community Reviews

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Paul Bryant
Aug 07, 2016 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Shelves: litcrit

I read this some years ago and it was completely impressive, all about tellin' and showin' and modernism wishing to drive out the author's voice and very not reliable narrators and four kinds of realism and Henry James and how tears and laughter are aesthetically frauds, god damn them to hell.

Years later when I thought of this book a little something popped into my head. I saw a scarecrow in a field - peering closer I saw he had my face... and he was grinning glassily and... singing.

I could wh
Sep 19, 2009 Bruce rated it liked it
Not all literary theorists choose to focus on rhetoric, of course, but Wayne Booth is particularly interested in exploring the means by which authors persuade their readers. Booth begins his book by commenting on some of the “rules” that have been promulgated about fiction writing, first discussing the admonition that the author must “show” rather than “tell.” Booth cites many examples of fine fiction that seems to violate this rule, ultimately concluding that the distinction itself is simplisti ...more
May 04, 2009 Gabriel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insofar as the title of Booth's book is The Rhetoric of Fiction, and that "rhetoric" is both the carriage of argument over words and the lack thereof, it is completely appropriate that Booth's book ends with him advancing the argument that his book has been about morality in fiction and acknowledging that most "modern" (his word) fiction is modern precisely in the lack of such morality.

Booth's survey of fictional technique is both deep and broad, and is a fantastic spur to read some (and this is
Mar 21, 2012 Hilary rated it liked it
Shelves: grad-class
Exam reading. Most of you probably don't care to read this. I won't be offended.

This is pretty much THE bible for rhetorical literary criticism, which is, I discovered through the course of my PhD coursework, how I actually think of literature but didn't have the language for until recently. (My dissertation is going to be about applying this framework in secondary English. For those of you who care. Which isn't too many of you.)

However, this particular text, for my purposes, was only super us
Joshua Arnett
Feb 09, 2016 Joshua Arnett rated it liked it
Just when you think Booth isn't going to present any anecdotes about his friend in his youth beating off to the orgy scenes in Brave New World BAM!--there it is--page 389.
C.E. Crowder
Mar 23, 2016 C.E. Crowder rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I picked up and read "Rhetoric" from the perspective of an author-wannabe, so my copy is now scored with underlines and margin notes that will enable me to keep my interpretations and its key points straight when I browse through it later for reference. It goes beyond grammer/syntax advice, beyond plot/character/theme construction, to explore what actually makes a good novel a good novel. I'm not taking away any hard and fast lessons - Mr. Booth largely dispenses with the possibility of such thi ...more
Nov 24, 2010 H added it
Shelves: theory-criticism
A systematic and even-handed study for which I rate him up there with Bakhtin. Convergence of critical analysis and craftsmanship in the modern novel, particularly in and after Henry James. If one were to be so impudent as to simplify this book into any takeaway message, it is that one must take the middle way without generalizations, that we must remember the tautological fact: "If you do such-and-such badly, it will be bad." Not that any method or technique is true or false, but that it must b ...more

Wayne C. Booth este poate cel mai cunoscut dintre membrii Școlii de la Chicago, care prin anii ’60, se opuneau grupării Noua critică și a fermei convingeri a acesteia că opera literară este un obiect estetic autosuficient și autoreferențial, a cărei valoare trebuie căutată mai ales în limbaj și structură și al cărei autor poate fi ignorat. Pentru criticii neo-aristotelieni de la Chicago însă, stilul era doar un aspect, un material de construcție de importanță secundară în ansamblul operei.

Aug 20, 2010 Frankie rated it really liked it
Shelves: lit-criticism
It's a daunting book. Readable certainly and not too pretentious, but daunting in its comprehensive nature. The technical jargon in places doesn't pause to explain its complexities. It helped me to look up words from time to time, beginning with the literal definition of rhetoric. If you can brave the first few chapters, though, your understanding will kick in as the more applicable points "build out" to explain themselves. I found myself faltering at some headings, but by paragraph's end and wi ...more
Aug 30, 2012 Anjani marked it as to-read
Wayne Booth first described the "unreliable narrator":

"An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised.[1] The term was coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction.[2] This narrative mode is one that can be developed by an author for a number of reasons, usually to deceive the reader or audience.[1] Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators, but third-person narrators can also be unreli
Mary Catelli
This is a how-to-write book. Despite the clever disguise as a geeky academic textbook complete with bibliography and footnotes -- and the disguise is so thorough that it actually is a geeky academic textbook complete with bibliography and footnotes.

Anyway, it's about how writers actually do get readers to view the characters and circumstances the way they want them to. How we maintain interest in the story. Whether some demands about novels really don't make sense as shown by the way that many n
Sep 08, 2012 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Admittedly, I am only about 30 pages into the book, and I realize that the original edition was written in 1961, but I find myself balking at the notion of "the author's voice" (I guess I've read too much Barthes) and also at the preponderance of the male pronoun when it comes to discussing the author (too much feminist theory). But when I take all of my poststructuralist leanings away, I find that this book will be eventually very useful for teaching formal approaches to fiction, as its tone, s ...more
Chris Bauer
May 29, 2016 Chris Bauer rated it really liked it
One of the toughest books I've ever read - but worth it.

In college, I studied primarily science and history with only a few courses in English, thanks to good AP scores from high school. But in the past two decades, since I've become interested in writing, I regret not taking more courses on literature. I've been on a binge of reading nonfiction titles on the mechanics, theory and history of literature. "The Rhetoric of Fiction" was the most recent.

With professorial expertise and objectivity, B
Mar 12, 2013 Veronica rated it it was amazing
If you want to know how to read a novel, read this book.

I never thought there was anything substantial to "reader response theory," but Booth's criticism is a perfect balance of measuring the concrete techniques used by an author with the subejective responses they produce. This book will give you the tools you need to have a richer and deeper reading of any novel.
Apr 23, 2011 Lorraine rated it it was amazing
As usual, Booth is both perceptive and perplexing. I think much of what he says of authorship can't be denied. On the other hand, I DON'T think he is right about many things, V Woolf for once. It seems that he always sees so clearly and craves detachment
Bill FromPA
May 19, 2016 Bill FromPA rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-crit
I have rather mixed feelings about literary criticism. These writers are far more credentialed and experienced than I am in reading and understanding literature, yet I end up more often than not thinking that they're doing it wrong. It would seem pretty obvious from the weight of expertise that I must be the one who's misguided, but somehow I seldom end up being convinced to change my mind. So it was with Wayne C. Booth and The Rhetoric of Fiction, as described below.

Part I: Artistic Purity and
Michael Shilling
Jun 11, 2011 Michael Shilling rated it really liked it
Raises lots of deeply fascinating and complicated questions about narrative shaping. Reading a book like this proves that there is no such thing as "realism" in literature.
Steve Owen
Sep 24, 2014 Steve Owen rated it it was amazing
Seems so fundamental to understanding the intellectual, moral, and emotional aspects of distance, I'm surprised it's not taught more often at the undergraduate level.
Dec 26, 2009 Greg rated it really liked it
A classic in literary criticism; anyone interested in ways of reading literature should read this through.
Jim Bisso
Aug 04, 2010 Jim Bisso rated it really liked it
A great meta-novel book.
Over fifty years since its first publication The Rhetoric of Fiction remains not simply a core text for readers and critics, but is essential reading for all writers.

The Kindle edition, as well, has been well constructed and now is preferable to the print edition.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Florin Pitea
Jul 03, 2014 Florin Pitea rated it it was amazing
An excellent theoretical work concerning points of view in fiction and literary techniques. Recommended especially to aspiring writers.
Nicole Elizabeth
Dec 23, 2014 Nicole Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary-theory
This is an absolute must-read for anyone that undertakes a serious study of literature!
Colleen Baker
Jul 23, 2010 Colleen Baker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A scholarly examination of the art of fiction, focusing on the debate between "showing" and "telling," and on the way "point of view" has changed through the years. My favorite part comes at the end, when Booth argues so brilliantly for the existence of moral values in art, and specifically in fiction, to the chagrin of the modern nihilists and a-moralists.
Mark Heyne
Jun 08, 2012 Mark Heyne rated it really liked it
Shelves: lingofiles
I used this book then i was studying Literature in 1970-73 so if it is still rated than it has proved its usefulness. he other book i rate in this field is 'The Well-Wrought Urn' by Cleanthe Brookes.
Garth Mramor
Aug 16, 2013 Garth Mramor rated it it was amazing
This is the Necronomicon of Literature. Basically goes through all the various techniques that make up modern literature with a great supply of examples. Really really great and very useful.
Apr 23, 2012 AC marked it as i-get-the-picture
The copy I've found has pencilled in the margins of p. 165: "This only helps in critical analysis. I don't believe it helps in writing". Seems like a fair assessment of the whole.
Dec 04, 2009 Pamela rated it it was amazing
If you are interested in the time-honored showing-versus-telling debate, this is the the Compleat analysis. Academic, yes, but congenially written, and useful to any fiction writer.
Halfway done and I have enjoyed the book, but the remainder focuses on two books I have not read, Tristam Shandy and Emma. I'll pick this up again after reading those.
Jeb Harrison
Jul 03, 2014 Jeb Harrison rated it liked it
This is a tedious academic tome on historic fiction and it's "rhetorical" nature. The first half of the book is exposition, the second half is examples.
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Goodreads Librari...: Retorika proze 2 15 Aug 27, 2013 02:04PM  
  • The World Within the Word
  • Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method
  • For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction
  • Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film
  • Anatomy of Criticism
  • Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative
  • The Writer on Her Work
  • The Oranging of America and Other Stories
  • Advertisements for Myself
  • The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition
  • Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
  • Kaspar and Other Plays
  • Aspects of the Novel
  • The Collected Stories of Peter Taylor
  • A Rhetoric of Motives
  • Nog
  • The Blood Oranges
  • The Theory of the Novel

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“There is pleasure from learning the simple truth, and there is a pleasure from learning that the truth is not simple.” 9 likes
“the author’s judgment is always present, always evident to anyone who knows how to look for it. Whether its particular forms are harmful or serviceable is always a complex question, a question that cannot be settled by any easy reference to abstract rules. As we begin now to deal with this question, we must never forget that though the author can to some extent choose his disguises, he can never choose to disappear.” 0 likes
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