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Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  105 ratings  ·  19 reviews
National Book Award winner John Casey is a masterful novelist who is also an inspiring and beloved teacher. In Beyond the First Draft he offers essential and original insights into the art of writing—and rewriting—fiction.
Through anecdotes about other writers’ methods and habits (as well as his own) and close readings of literature from Aristotle to Zola, the essays in thi
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 10th 2015 by W. W. Norton Company (first published August 18th 2014)
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As a former student of John Casey's, I offered a testimonial/blurb for this terrific book, and here is what I said:

John Casey is a classroom raconteur: erudite, passionate, fierce, and funny. How fortunate, then, that those who haven't had the opportunity to be his student can now be mentored by him via this collection of emotionally generous and vivid essays on the art of fiction. I tore through the selections, adding my marginal scribbles of surprise and delight. The volume is a treasure, and
May 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Awesome anecdotal advice on how to write. Opening is great. He basically says no one can be taught to write, but they can be taught to rewrite.
Dec 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some good takeaways here for the intermediate wrtiter, but mostly things you've heard before. I like the idea of learning another art to focus on your writing. Also gaining sympathy for your protangasit by having him/her try to do something.
Alexander Bancroft
Jul 22, 2020 rated it liked it
A book that I had to put a second effort into finishing, but I think that this is a good book to dive in and out of for quotes and thought, rather than reading end to end.

Some of my favourite quotes thoughts:

"A tale occurs when someone leaves home, goes over the hills far and away, and comes back to tell the folks what amazing things are out there. A short story occurs when someone stays home and ponders local life until she can produce what is amazing about the things going on in her own cultu
Tony Blenman
Mar 09, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is quite academic, very good for someone whose major was English Literature, but would not be useful to the beginning writer of fiction. It struck me as a review of the many classic novels the John Casey has perused. I did find some nuggets in the book though such as, "a novel is a long piece of prose that has something wrong with it." Basically, the process of re-writing is paramount. In addition, Casey makes one aware of content challenges, and the free will of characters.
Carleigh Foutch
May 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
The art of fiction is too not read this book. (Is that too harsh? Oh well.) This is another one I’ve had on my shelf for a while, but I couldn’t even get halfway through this one. I found myself coming to the end of Casey’s essays wondering what I was supposed to have learned about writing having read it.

Different writers need different advice, but this one just wasn’t for me.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Mostly anecdotes that would be a lot more impactful if you were either a student of Casey’s or familiar with his work — the first chapter on rules to write by (and which ones you should follow) and the last chapter on mentors were pleasant, though.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, reference, teaching
The first few chapters were relevant to the craft of writing but the last four chapters felt more like they were good ideas for chapters but not really fleshed out enough. They spoiled some of the stronger stuff from the beginning of the book.
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
This would be an excellent book for the English major. For the everyday folk, not recommended.
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Not a great book for anyone looking for practical writing advice. The section abut dogma vs anti-dogma was the most helpful.
May 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was so high-brow I felt like my eyes were bleeding. I was hoping to be inspired but after skimming for twenty minutes and not really grasping a word, I surrendered.
Dylan Perry
I don't know if I was in the wrong mood for this book, but I got almost nothing out of this.
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you read only one essay from this book, read "Meanwhile Back At The Ranch". It's an extraordinary examination of polyphony in prose, and it got me to say, "Oooh, that's interesting", aloud, to myself, several times. The rest of the book is quite good as well, though it does strike a very academic tenor. I like that, myself, but perhaps not as much as I like the conversational quality of, say, BIRD BY BIRD, or the personal quality of King's ON WRITING. But there is a place for this book, for s ...more
Jun 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author John Casey's "Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction" is a collection of 14 essays about writing. Casey, who teaches at the University of Virginia and a National Book Award winner in 1989 for "Spartina," delves into the various aspects of writing fiction and a few other topics. I particularly enjoyed his essays on "What's Funny," "Childhood Reading," and "Mentors in General, Peter Taylor in Particular." The collection is a reflection of what he has seen, listened, and learned during h ...more
Sarah Sternby
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good book. It's informative, easy to read, and humorous. I'd suggest it most strongly to those interested in writing fiction or just interested in John Casey and how he has become successful with his writing.
Sep 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very smart collection of essays on the craft of writing that showcase John Casey's erudition and wry humor.
Daniel Casey
informal, utile, & engaging, Casey's 'how-to' proves an excellent resource for writers, would-be writers, and readers ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book on writing by a writer. I've long admired his fiction and non-fiction. A worthy book to add to the canon.
Oct 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction
A little too academic for me at this time, but had some good points.
Hannah Vanderpool
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John Casey is the author of six works of fiction, including Spartina, winner of the National Book Award, and, most recently, Compass Rose, as well as nonfiction and translations. Educated at Harvard College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is a professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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