Although Prose favors a particular sort of literature (e.g., character-oriented, atmospheric, modernist) at the expense of other varieties (e.g., postAlthough Prose favors a particular sort of literature (e.g., character-oriented, atmospheric, modernist) at the expense of other varieties (e.g., postmodern, narrative- or concept-driven, genre fiction, political fiction), and although her approach sidelines more political approaches to reading/teaching literature, her book is still a useful tool. In it, Prose convincingly and thoroughly presents an important part of the world of reading and writing and teaching and provides a solid foundation of close reading from which to go ahead and practice other ways of reading....more
This is one of very, very many books on how to write fiction. Gardner's book strives to offer more than the multitude of alternatives do, however, andThis is one of very, very many books on how to write fiction. Gardner's book strives to offer more than the multitude of alternatives do, however, and, generally, I'd say he succeeds.
The first half of the book is devoted to more theoretical discussions of the art of fiction, some of which is very useful and some of which is quite particular to Gardner's own literary tastes. And his tastes definitely color the advice he gives. It is mostly sound advice for those who wish to write fiction in the tradition of the "greats" (e.g., classical literature and such relatively modern writers as Tolstoy and Melville), but it is provided with a heaping side dish of condescension for everyone else. (Particularly troublesome for me is his repeated dismissal and unwarranted criticism of literature teachers.)
Reading Gardner's book requires the ability to let condescension and elitism slide. He frequently comes off as a pompous jerk, but he's a pompous jerk who knows his stuff. Attitude problems aside, after all, Gardner does provide great advice and a clear theoretical approach to writing fiction.
For practical purposes, the second half of the book, devoted to a discussion of common mistakes and how to avoid them, is particularly useful. In the first half of the book, Gardner develops the idea that fiction should be as an uninterrupted dream, that technique should bolster the experience of this dream and not interrupt it. So the common errors and techniques he discusses primarily address this issue of creating a fictional world and assisting the reader in the uninhibited and uninterrupted experience of it. He discusses such problems as inappropriate or inconsistent diction, problems within sentences (accidental rhyme, inappropriate rhythm, overloaded sentences), careless shifts in psychic distance, and "faults of soul" (by which he means sentimentality, frigidity, and mannerism--I'm not sure they have to do with the soul, really, but his criticisms of their presence in literature are well-presented). Most practically useful and least often found in other books on writing fiction that I have read are 1) the section on rhythm in writing prose, in which he provides sample sentences analyzed with metrical analysis and briefly discusses poetic terminology I'd forgotten (iambs, dactyls, anapests, etc.) in the interest of helping the writer make artistic decisions on a sentence by sentence level, and 2) a chapter on plotting, in which he discusses various approaches to plotting and how these various approaches may work well or less well with different forms (e.g., short story, novella, novel) or with different plot structures. This chapter is particularly helpful because of his extended examples. He models the way the process would work in much the same way a good teacher models practices and behavior in class. This is immensely helpful, even if I do not agree with all of his ideas about what kinds of stories are worth writing. His advice, in the end, is useful only for realist fiction. If you are interested in metafiction or more experimental techniques, you will need to go elsewhere.
Even with my reservations about Gardner's attitude, and even with the limitations he imposes, I would consider using this text to teach, were I ever in a position to teach creative writing. It would certainly not be the only text I would use (I would want to have a less condescending counter to Gardner), but it would likely prove quite useful, if not in full, then at least in part. If nothing else, the long list of exercises at the end of the book is worth pillaging for use in my current freshman writing courses as applied to personal writing and developing a consistent and compelling style....more