Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers” as Want to Read:
What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  1,083 ratings  ·  55 reviews
What If? is the first handbook for writers based on the idea that specific exercises are one of the most useful and provocative methods for mastering the art of writing fiction. With more than twenty-five years of experience teaching creative writing between them, Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter offer more than seventy-five exercises for both beginners and more experienced ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 20th 1991 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1990)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What If?, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about What If?

MFA in a Box by John RemberOn Writing by Stephen KingHow to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. FreyThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.What If? by Anne Bernays
Non-Gimmicky Writing Books
3rd out of 24 books — 21 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingBird by Bird by Anne LamottThe Artist's Way by Julia CameronLetters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria RilkeWriting Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
Best Books on Creative Life
94th out of 258 books — 379 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,661)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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,
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
Rabia Bashir
Jam packed full of writing exercises - a great resource to keep handy when writing or experiencing 'blockage'!
Feb 23, 2014 Hella added it
Shelves: creative-writing
prachtige oefeningen, en veel voorbeelden van uitwerkingen door studenten
This was a reminder read. I enjoy creating stories and books such as this give me lots of "what if" ideas.
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
Erin Nudi
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
Brilliant and inspiring.
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.
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 4 of 5 stars
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.
Nov 26, 2008 jacky marked it as to-read
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.
Used this when I taught creative writing courses. Much more approachable for beginners than Gardner.
Andd Becker
Numerous writing exercises teach the student how to write exercises. What is the usefulness? Is the skill transferable?
Can't the student learn to write by reading about how to write? Must the student do the assignments? Wouldn't the same amount of time spent on freewriting serve the purpose?
Charlene Smith
Very useful book, so much junk is written as How To Write books, and as a writer I cast most of them aside. But this was very useful, I would read only a few pages and then stop and with my mind aglow dash to the computer and begin writing... very useful for new or experienced writers.
There is one short story included in here that I absolutely LOVE: 'No One's a Mystery' by Elizabeth Tallent. It's only two pages but there is something really perfect about them. I still come back to this story every now and then just to re-read it.
Oct 16, 2007 Wendy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all teachers of creative writing
All prose writers -- and perhaps poets too -- will find good food for thought here. I've used the exercises in this book for creative writing workshop with writers aged 15 to 75, young men in jail, university students, Mexican journalists, and many others.
H.J. Swinford
A great textbook for the Intro to Creative Writing class I was in. Gives some great tips for getting the creative juices flowing and some good points and examples. Keeping a journal with the reading of this book turned out to be really helpful.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 88 89 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • The Writer's Guide to Character Traits: Includes Profiles of Human Behaviors and Personality Types
  • The Weekend Novelist
  • Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life
  • The Write-Brain Workbook
  • A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
  • The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing
  • The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction
  • Making Shapely Fiction
  • Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within
  • Fiction Writer's Workshop
  • Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore
  • What Would Your Character Do?: Personality Quizzes for Analyzing Your Characters
  • The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes
  • Plot
  • Page After Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing (No Matter What!)
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
The Man on the Third Floor Trophy House Back Then: Two Literary Lives in 1950s New York Growing Up Rich Professor Romeo

Share This Book