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Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  1,899 Ratings  ·  156 Reviews
The most widely used and respected book on writing fiction, 'Writing Fiction' guides the writer from first inspiration to final revision. Supported by an abundance exercises.
Paperback, Sixth Edition, 448 pages
Published July 10th 2002 by Longman Publishing Group (first published January 1st 1987)
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Excellent, with some quibbles--

Used by creative writing programs all over the U.S., this book pretty much covers everything about the craft. The contemporary short stories at the end of each chapter were really good, especially starting from Chapter 4 with "Mule Killers" by Lydia Peelle.

The main focus of the book is literary fiction and is admittedly biased against genre fiction with a convincing reason: "whereas writing literary fiction can teach you how to write good genre fiction, writing gen
Dave Cullen
Jun 09, 2009 Dave Cullen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is THE classic how-to on writing fiction.

I used this both as a student and teacher. The examples are incredible.

Update, Aug 2017:

I just bought the 8th edition of this book, and started rereading several chapters again. (I also went back and reread 10 years ago.) Even an experienced writer can really benefit from a quick refresher on techniques I've left behind. We each fall into our own writing ways, doing the stuff that has worked for us, and it's remarkable how many things I'm NOT taking
Unhelpful waffle.

Aug 22, 2012 Miranda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, favorite
I am beginning my last semester of a Creative Writing BA program in San Francisco, and out of the many writing books I read (Anne Lamott, Stephen King, David Morley, Natalie Goldberg...) this one came close to perfection. It provides students a grounding vocabulary. With this book students can discuss the elements of writing rather than rely on anecdote or discuss talent. As a student myself, I've been frustrated by authors and teachers explaining writing as a boundless art form that cannot be l ...more
Sep 02, 2012 Steven rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I cannot in good conscience give this text anything higher than a two. The advice is solid, I'm not going to argue against that, but there is far too much meat in the writing that comes across less as solid writing advice and more as a formulaic approach to writing.

This text is full of bland approaches to writing and repeats the same things I've read in other books. The exercises are tedious and boring; there is no sense of adventure or experimentation. It's a methodical, bland, autopsy of writ
Heather June Gibbons
Nov 11, 2008 Heather June Gibbons rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: poets trying to teach intro. to cw fiction
I've used this text for two semesters now, but will be retiring it in the Spring in order to try out Making Shapley Fiction + a contemporary short story anthology still TBD. The craft essays at the beginning of each chapter are too in-depth and analytical for beginning fiction writers, I think. As a textbook, this be perfect for students coming in with more experience/skills. I certainly learned a lot, though, and I plan to use some of these terms and explanations of craft elements in relation t ...more
Nicole Pramik
This is, without a doubt, probably the go-to textbook for college-level Creative Writing courses. Many years ago (I refuse to say how long), this was the text my professor used in his class. So the fact it has been in print for years is a testament to the longevity of its advice. Though there are pros and cons to this text, both for writers and professors/instructors.

First the good stuff. Despite being a "textbook," this book doesn't come across as a "hard" read. It's organized nicely with its t
T.H. Hernandez
Mar 06, 2016 T.H. Hernandez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
This is a comprehensive book on craft that starts with the basics and works deeper with solid examples that drive the point home. With detailed chapters on the process of writing, showing vs. telling, and creating three-dimensional characters and settings, this may be the penultimate book for beginning writers. Even intermediate writers will find reminders about all the things we're doing wrong that we knew were wrong, but forgot we were doing. Filled with vivid examples to illustrate every less ...more
Chris Blocker
Clearly this book is written for the beginning English major in undergrad; the author herself even says so. Anyone outside of this demographic probably won't care or will grown bored. I fell into the latter group. While there were many kernals of good advice, it was all information I had heard before. Good reminders, perhaps; beyond that, it offered little more for me.

Overall, this is a good textbook for the undergrad English major. I would suggest being cautious with the author's opinions, howe
Paula Cappa
Mar 21, 2015 Paula Cappa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every writer needs this book. It's like a text book but not at all dull and full of great instruction on how to discover and execute your story on to the page: showing vs. telling, the writing process, character text and subtext, methods of character presentation, fictional place and fictional time and more. I especially like Burroway's chapter on Story Form as an Inverted Check Mark. Here she talks about Freitag's famous pyramid of five actions and moves to how the "story shape" can work as an ...more
Jul 27, 2014 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Wow! A truly comprehensive guide full of exercises and examples to hone an author's skills. The short stories included are brilliant and well worth reading and I know that I will refer to this book again and again. This is my first time through and I plan to re-read it in the near future. I must admit that if I had read this before submitting writing anywhere, I may have been too intimidated to attempt the process, but I am on track to continue to learn by writing and reading.
Nov 12, 2014 Sanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: meh
In essence this is an okay book for those wishing to learn about the primary aspects of creative writing. We used it at uni for a creative writing course, but I found that Janet might have dug a bit deeper and stuck to the basics. For the purpose of her book, this is fine, but for my personal purposes it wasn't in depth enough.
Laura Leaney
Oct 10, 2011 Laura Leaney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very helpful compendium on all the ways a beginning fiction writer can go awry. Helpful examples abound, and included in each section (characterization, point of view, structure, etc.) are excellent stories from top-tier writers. This book is a keeper.
I love Janet Burroway's writing-I want to read all her work. Such a great presence shining through the words. And very motivating. Just what it says-a guide and a very good one. It teaches as much about how to read as how to write. I've read it several times & want to read it again. Soon.
May 09, 2015 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This holds the knowledge I've been longing for as a rookie fiction writer. Highly recommended.
Elizabeth Andrew
Rarely have I encountered a writing text so dense in wisdom, so practical, and so philosophically astute. I love how Burroway segues from specific suggestions to illustrative examples from literature to a unified, comprehensive and comprehendible theory of how fiction works.

"Although these are tricks that can be taught and learned, they partake of the essential nature of creativity, in which several elements are joined to produce not merely a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, but
Debby DeRosa
Feb 19, 2012 Debby DeRosa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway introduces the beginning writer to the craft of fiction writing. It is divided into nine chapters. Each chapter discusses an aspect of fiction writing, follows with example stories, and ends with exercises for practice. The instructional sections are a little dry and boring, but this is mainly because the level of detail in them. For example, Burroway goes through every single possibility for point of view or explain several metaphors for plot. The example stori ...more
Apr 24, 2011 Kenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Bonnie Friedman, "Message from a Cloud of Flies: On Distraction"
Annie Dillard from The Writing Life
William Carlos Williams "The Use of Force"
Frank O'Connor "Guests of the Nation"
Tim O'Brien from "The Things They Carried"
Joyce Carol Oates "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
John Edgar Wideman "The Tambourine Lady"
Mary Robison "Yours"
Charles D'Ambrosio "The Point"
Tobias Wolff "Hunters in the Snow"
Toni Cade Bambara "My Man Bovanne"
Gabriel Garcia Marquez "A Very Old Man with Eno
Monica Martin
Nov 09, 2014 Monica Martin rated it liked it
Shelves: educational
Sidestepping the very heteronormative and male centric-ness of imagined characters. This book is very similar to Writing Fiction. However it's referencing is ridiculously hard to find, so although there are great quotes i can't be sure i have the right reference for it. Not only that but the exercises aren't well spaced out, so they seem more daunting and less fun.

Chapter 3 - Showing and Telling, actually had some really good tips of conveying emotion and making scenery or flashbacks real.

Nov 02, 2009 Hollie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
I read this book for a writing group I'm in and there's a reason why this is the holy grail when it comes to many advanced high school programs (St. John's in Houston) and university programs. The seventh edition uses two to three short stories in order to drive home the lessons and through such I was introduced to some fantastic works by Cheever, Oates and O'Connor. The book drills down deep into concepts that have also seemed basic, like the use of a simile, for example. Then it goes on to tal ...more
Suzie Quint
Sep 25, 2011 Suzie Quint rated it it was ok
This writing craft book is into its eighth edition, so one would conclude it’s a valuable resource.

I’d like to say it is, but something in the voice of the book grates on me. Is it the phrasing that indicates (in my mind at least) a superior tone? Is it the sense of absolute conviction? Is it the literary/main stream focus of the examples? Is it the wordiness that doesn’t seem like is says much? Is it that so much of the book’s 400 pages is dedicated to short stories rather than discussions abou
Jan 10, 2015 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm reviewing the new 9th edition, which I'll be using for my Advanced Writing Fiction course this semester. I used a version of this text in grad school, and I think it does an excellent job at introducing students to the basic terminology of literary fiction. The chapter on revision is absolutely fabulous and helpful. There is a new publication section as well, which really takes into account the importance of websites, blogs and AWP conference attendance.

The stories, too, are diverse in terms
Eliza T. Williamson
Apr 02, 2008 Eliza T. Williamson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Eliza T. by: Hester K
Shelves: craft-books
Janet Burroway's book on the craft of writing is the most inclusive, all encompassing one I have encountered. She combines easily digestible discussions on specific issues of craft (say point of view) with literary examples from well-known authors and then exercises for writers to try themselves. To say that I have read this book would be misleading---I imagine I will return to it again and again and again.
Kasey Tross
Jan 12, 2016 Kasey Tross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-books
I liked how the author utilized short stories to illustrate different aspects of writing. I was not formerly very familiar with the short story form, and I appreciated how much I learned that will help me in writing my novel.

This book is very well-written, well-organized, and easy to follow. The questions and writing exercises at the end of each chapter were insightful and offered a great opportunity for deeper thought and effective application.
This is for committed writers only. Expensive, and hard to find on library shelves. A highly valuable textbook on the writing process, covering story form, plot, structure, building character, place and setting, and a detailed look at point of view. Each section comes with examples of how things do and do not work. A graduate course all by itself.

Aug 09, 2009 Marcela is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my "I'm not in an MFA program so I'm learning from books" book. It offers a load of information and is well written; it has lots of examples from good writing to illustrate points it makes. I like it and find it helpful as I work on stories.
Linda Robinson
Jun 18, 2010 Linda Robinson marked it as will-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
I have never seen a book with smaller type. I opened it twice because I didn't believe it was that small. Back to the library with this...
Jul 09, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: el232
A great overview of the fiction writing process, chock full of awesomely teachable example stories. I've been teaching out of this book for years.
Dec 17, 2013 Shannon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Helpful and easy to read and understand. There were also some great short stories in it.
Aug 23, 2010 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Picked this up for a fiction writing class.
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Janet Burroway is the author of seven novels including The Buzzards, Raw Silk (runner up for the national Book award), Opening Nights, and Cutting Stone; a volume of poetry, Material Goods; a collection of essays, Embalming Mom; and two children's books, The Truck on the Track and The Giant Jam Sandwich. Her most recent plays, Medea With Child, Sweepstakes, Division of Property, and Parts of Speec ...more
More about Janet Burroway...

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“Most writing is done between the mind and the hand, not between the hand and the page.” 12 likes
“The mystique and the false glamour of the writing profession grow partly out of a mistaken belief that people who can express profound ideas and emotions have ideas and emotions more profound than the rest of us. It isn't so. The ability to express is a special gift with a special craft to support it and is spread fairly equally among the profound, the shallow, and the mediocre.” 4 likes
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