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Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  3,007 ratings  ·  245 reviews
The most widely used and respected text in its field, Writing Fiction, 7e guides the novice story writer from first inspiration to final revision. A bestseller through six editions, Writing Fiction by novelists Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French explores the elements of fiction, providing practical writing techniques and concrete examples. Written in a tone that i ...more
Paperback, Seventh Edition, 433 pages
Published March 13th 2006 by Longman (first published January 1st 1987)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  3,007 ratings  ·  245 reviews

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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 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Almost any reader can identify with almost any character; what no reader can identify with is confusion." ...more
Sep 02, 2012 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
Aug 22, 2012 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
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
This text joins Sol Stein's Stein on Writing and Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft among my absolute favorite craft texts. Clear, readable, with superb and diverse examples (something Stein doesn't do as well), this book is full of inspiring insights and analysis, punctuated by terrific exercises and -- this might be my favorite part -- reprinted complete short stories, a whopping three per chapter, selected to illustrate the concepts discussed in the chapter. It's a terrific craft book and a s ...more
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. ...more
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school, non-fiction
If your goal is to improve your fictional writing know that this volume is filled with great advice and beautiful examples to help you learn the ways. In addition to in depth explanations of how to work with setting, characters, time, space plot and point of view; it offers many intriguing writing exercises and fun prompts. It's an excellent source of advice to any writer aspiring to be published, or even just if your creative writing is limited to your own entertainment. It offers methods to sh ...more
Stef Smulders
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars
Excellent treatment of the elements of fiction, with clear examples, like characterisation, show don’t tell, point of view. If you do not understand it after reading this book, you will never get it.
Jareth Navratil
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderfully informative book on the craft of storytelling. I learned so many helpful habits that I plan on applying to my own writing immediately.
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
Feb 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-class
2.5 stars really....

This book is good for a class setting, if the professor is providing supplemental material. This comes as a very step-by-step manual, but doesn’t really touch on all the bases. It also doesn’t leave much room for authorial decisions.

I’m sure there are better guides out there, so I won’t be too quick to recommend this one.
Laura Leaney
Oct 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Khira Allen
Sep 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-writing
This is a lovely book that touches on both technical and philosophical aspects of writing. There are many examples and quotes from other writers, which supplement the discussion of the fundamentals such as structuring, character development, plot and story.

This is my favourite quote from the book, which really resonated with me: 'It might seem dismaying that you should see what your story is about only after you have written it. But try it; you'll like it. Nothing is more exhilarating than the
E. Ritt
Jul 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very useful. Very nice prompts.
I read very slowly digesting little but good ideas and working through the prompts.
T.H. Hernandez
Mar 06, 2016 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
Heather Gibbons
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 24, 2011 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
Feb 24, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the advice was good, especially in regards to characters. The section on plot was abysmal, though, and her assumption that writers can't tell stories (because we all apparently only want to convey ideas, just like she does) explained why the section was so bad. Clearly this author isn't good at making stories because she can't manage to create a cohesive chapter about how to do it. What tripe.

Character, revision, the opening chapter of this book... Those were fine. There were some good
Paula Cappa
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Nov 29, 2008 added it
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 is currently reading it
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. ...more
May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This holds the knowledge I've been longing for as a rookie fiction writer. Highly recommended. ...more
My creative writing program assigned this as the only "essential textbook," although it is no longer available new and no one is there to hold us accountable for reading it. I took my sister's copy, asked if it was okay if I marked it up a bit as I went, and there are a lot of places underlined in pencil, sometimes more than once. It's a very practical look at scenes, at dialogue, things you might think of unconsciously or believe fall into place 'naturally,' but it takes a step back and asks th ...more
Benjamin Rubenstein
Though it's impossible to say how useful this book will be to me, I'm going to try and glean every nanoparticle of value from it. To do that, I plan on creating a writing-and-rewriting checklist based on the insight from "Writing Fiction." I think this will be a behemoth of a project, yet I currently embrace this as if I'm pursuing a second master's degree in creative writing...this one self-guided. ...more
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-writers, writing
Indispensable resource. I'll be referring to this often. ...more
Katie Young
Jun 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-books
This is one of the most basic writing books I've ever picked up, but it's supposed to be. It exists to introduce people to fiction, not to teach people who have studied literature for eighteen years how to write fiction. (For example, I know things that range from how to punctuate dialogue to what stream of consciousness is. My peers might not.) I may even use it to teach one day. However, my inconquerable hubris combined with the basic approach prevented me from getting very much out of it. The ...more
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Fantastic. This book translates the intuition of writing into the thoughtfulness of craft. Great advice broken down into logical sections, and the stories included are dynamite.
Elizabeth Andrew
Apr 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-writing
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
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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

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