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The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  5,778 ratings  ·  506 reviews
This classic guide, from the renowned novelist and professor, has helped transform generations of aspiring writers into masterful writers— and will continue to do so for many years to come.  
John Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher of creative writing as he was for his own works. In this practical, instructive handbook, based on the courses and seminars that he gave
Paperback, 240 pages
Published June 4th 1991 by Vintage (first published January 12th 1984)
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Chris This book works for anyone. Age is referenced only in terms of student and rarely mentioned. I chose to view it as those young in their writing. It di…moreThis book works for anyone. Age is referenced only in terms of student and rarely mentioned. I chose to view it as those young in their writing. It did not get in my way whatsoever in terms of learning the content, which I found valuable.(less)

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Nov 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writing teachers and aspiring writers
Shelves: writing
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, 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
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There are important gems here, it's only a pity you have to dig them out of the heap of pretentiousness under which they were buried. ...more
Samir Rawas Sarayji
This is Gardner's classic text of 'how to write'. The incredibly arrogant tone and egotistical voice of Gardner drove me nuts at times but I plowed through to the end.

The book's in two parts, the first is a collection of four essays on literature - titled 'Notes on Literary-Aesthetic Theory' - of which, the first two were engaging and insightful. The third essay was twice as long as any of the others and gave me the impression of how much Gardner is in love with his own ideas and how infallible
for my creative writing class. 40 pages in, I've found a lot of useful thought, but my reactions scribbled in the margins have tended towards

"And Lord Gardner now graces the mere mortals with his beneficent gift of knowledge. How kind."


"Everytime you're a misogynist, God kills a kitten."


"I think every 11th grade English teacher in America would disagree, Johnny." (re: Steinbeck's "failure" of a novel, the unheard of and obviously inferior Grapes of Wrath)

REGARDLESS, if you want to write
May 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: on-writing
Kicking off this whole pursuit of mine to read more about the art of writing, I picked a haughty tome to start with. I wish I could gush about Gardner's teaching here the way others on Goodreads have, but his points (all of them valid and good) darn near were lost on me on account of his high-minded rhetoric and tone. (Not to mention the examples he chose to illustrate them with—-I've never been a mythology girl so following Gardner's advice on the art of plotting through his rehashing of the He ...more
Lisa Reads & Reviews
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it

In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner explains what it takes for a writer to create great fiction; it takes lots of hard work, advice that is more helpful than reading manuals that set unrealistic expectations through vacuous cheer leading. On a practical note, Gardner describes common mistakes and advises the writer on how to avoid them. I was able to understand through Gardner's examples several mistaken tendencies in my writing.

Some of his lessons are now standard knowledge, such as show, don't
On the outside, John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers" promises to be an intense and informative read on creating solid and effective fiction geared for new or fairly new writers. Instead, "The Art of Fiction" is half literary theory and assumptions that all readers of this book are college educated people and the other half is equally as pompous diatribe on the fundamentals of writing: rhythm, style, plot and point of view.

I am college educated. My degree is in W
Jun 26, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Despite Gardner's claim that this is "the best book of its kind," I didn't find it helpful at all. Most of Gardner's ideas are surprisingly shallow considering how pretentiously (and obnoxiously) he writes. In describing how to write prose fiction, Gardner constantly encourages his readers to emulate Shakespear, Homer, Dante, Mellville and Joyce--despite the fact that Shakespear was a playwright, Homer and Dante wrote epic poems, and Melville and Joyce are virtually unreadable (and torturous) to ...more
David Wise
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of the very slim shelf of books on writing that are worth a damn, "The Art of Fiction" is by far the best. Passionate, evangelical, profound, deeply moving and extremely useful, it's meant for advanced writing students. But everyone interested in writing can benefit from reading it -- beginner, advanced and professional. Even book lovers who have no interest in becoming writers will become better readers for having come in contact with Gardner's wisdom.

How powerful is this book? After I gave my
sarah gilbert
It may be wonderful praise, may be a cautionary tale, that I began this book as a lark undertaken in the midst of two classes on memoir (nonfiction is, I've always believed, my life's work) and serious work rewriting my food memoir's first chapter, and before I'd half-finished Gardner's book, I began a novel.

As inspiration, this is either all of it or a great chill; every sentence in this book is written with the clear undertone, "writing a novel is hard, hard work." That the work is worthwhile
K.M. Weiland
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Full of good theoretical knowledge and sound technical advice.
Lewis Weinstein
Dec 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
reading again ... always something good to think about as I write and edit the sequel to A FLOOD OF EVIL A Flood of Evil ...more
Aug 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book on fiction writing is commonly recommended. I was less impressed by it than I had expected and hoped to be. Be forewarned: the prose is verbose, dull, rambling, and frequently wanders off into digressions. I found it hard to maintain interest.

High points: Gardner's concept of 'psychic distance' as part of POV; the concept of 'frigidity' (when the writer accidentally lets slip that he really doesn't care about a character) and 'profluence', the reader's sense that the story is progressi
Jan 30, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-crit-theory
Great author, great book. However, I’ll confess to never writing anything after reading it.
Jun 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is clearly written by someone smarter than me, but I couldn't really get too into the book because of the more complex and lecture-style content that is presented. The writing is eloquent, but it just doesn't really like to get directly to the point most of the time which frustrated my reading of it. The advice itself sounds good, the style of the writing/content just isn't my preferred type. Get to the point! I don't need 2 pages to explain one idea when two sentences will do. That's ...more
Natasha Oliver
Mar 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
John Gardner let's you know in his preface that he is writing this book for the serious writer (who he defines as the literary writer), so my fellow sci fi and fantasy writers (genre), we are not his target audience. However, that does not mean we can not learn from him.

I do not recommend this to the writer who is beginning their journey. By beginning, I mean who has never written a novel-length manuscript (unpublished of course) or at least a novella. I think Gardner presents too much detail an
Rachael Sherwood
Mar 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
I typically walk away from books about writing with a few new tips or tricks and maybe a new idea. This book is very different. As the title reflects, it explores fiction as both craft and art. At first I worried that Gardner was kind of pretentious--his style is certainly very academic. But he managed to fuse together solid writing advice with interesting theory in a way that challenged me to think about how I approach writing (without making me feel like I had to write like ~*the classics*~). ...more
Apr 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
"Nobody's perfect, they generously observe. But the true artist is impatient with such talk. Circus knife-throwers know that it is indeed possible to be perfect, and one had better be. Perfection means hitting exactly what you are aiming at and not touching by a hair what you are not."
Gardner is mercilessly, obsessively scrupulous, almost to the level of snobbishness, in his concern that fiction should be 'moral'--that is, that every little gesture, every syllable, should ring true to human exp
Jamie Maltman
Sep 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
I almost stopped reading at the beginning, because of his liberal use of the word trash, applied to a lot of genre fiction and contemporary art and culture. But I had a gut feeling to persevere, and I'm glad I did. There are indeed some very useful and important points on craft to be found in this book, as well as good exercises at the end.

And yes, he's a lot more nuanced in his views, and actually pushes literary-focused authors to try and make their works enjoyable and interesting on more tha
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
Since the 1980s, when I got "serious" about writing creatively, I've been hearing John Gardner praised to the skies. I suspect he was one of the first writers to really elevate teaching to an art, beating the plethora of "how to write" books that now flood the shelves. And while it's de riguer to speak ill of the dead, I am finding this text both condescending and needlessly dense. Many of his ideas are right on, but I have heard them more accessibly expressed in the past thirty years than they ...more
Celeste Ng
May 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fiction writers
Shelves: books-on-writing
Gardner does his best to lay down some rules of fiction writing, which is a task that begs people to argue with you. But as books of this type go, this is one of the best. Think of his advice as just that--advice, not hard and fast rules that must be obeyed. His style may seem a bit didactic, but the examples where he picks apart passages are illuminating for beginning writers and helpful reminders for experienced ones.
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Gardner's The Art of Fiction has come under some harsh criticism from some reviewers on GoodReads and perhaps that's because they take issue with the tone of the book which is decidedly 'opinionated' and professorial. In fact, this is what books on writing should be...generally instruction books should take this tone...otherwise what function would they serve?

To begin with, there are some who dislike the 'high-brow' nature of Gardner's attitude to fiction. He writes of Junk Fiction and por
Drew Lackovic
Jan 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
I had this as a required text in my Senior Creative Writing class in college. No one, not even the Prof cared for this book (apparently it was one of those "this book is required" mandates from the powers that be).

The problem I had with this book, is the problem I have with John Gardner in general--He was the type of person who believes the world should be one way, and you should follow his law. However, he can break that law whenever he wants.

The book struck me as a pile of double standards, an
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-good-shit
quite probably the best book i've ever read on writing.

the finest part of it is that it skips all the simple stuff at the baseline level: characterization, metaphor, dialogue. not that gardner doesn't have a few things to say about each, but he clearly has assumed that his reader has educated herself on the basics.

so this is in some ways not really for absolute novice writers. it assumes at least some education (or habit) in analyzing a text critically.

so gardner is free to take off from the mid
Courtney Stirrat
"Good description is symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where, little by little as his fiction progresses, he can work with them and finally understand them. To put this another way, the organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader's mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writers mind."


I adore this snarky, arr
Thomas Edmund
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When I first picked up Gardner's thesis I found it a little odd. A piece from earlier decades, the style is somewhat rambling and pretentious, yet holds a of of soul and is unburdened by the mercantile and overpolished nature of a more modern "on writing" book. Despite the claim of being for a young writer, the piece is overall a good read. Gardner captures the nature of writing rules in a way that does some justice to the importance of them but provides advice for how to avoid being too rigid.

Victoria Ray
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is quite difficult book (not for everybody, I'd say)...mostly because of the style and tone. I appreciated the mention of classics (as examples) and all advices in the book. Especially prompts and wonderful exercises at the end. ...more
Aug 13, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Serena by: Omphale23
John Gardner's The Art of Fiction is pretentious and not one of my favorite writing books at all. I've heard about this book for sometime and figured I would give it a try. So I picked it up from the library, hoping to learn something new and enjoy the book. I usually don't bash books on the blog, but I cannot recommend this one outright.

Gardner's style of writing in the book bored me to tears; it reminded me of those professors that put the class to sleep in college. I was an eager college stud
Jan 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I've had a lot of writer's tell me about Gardner's book, but I never got around to reading it until now. I'm glad I did. It's a gem.
While an esteemed teacher of writing, as well as a well respected writer in his own right,Gardner freely admits there are no absolutes in creating fiction. All things are at least theoretically possible. I like his honesty and the relatively modest task he sets out for those who choose to teach creative writing.

Not surprising, is his assertion that a key to good w
Mar 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009-books
Dear Mr. Gardner,

You don't know me, but I know you - particularly another work of yours, Grendel. I was intrigued by your sense of humor and your unerring ear for words. However, I figured this would be our first and last meeting.

Consider me surprised, then, when my parents gave your little gray book to me for Christmas. "Thought it might be interesting," they said, which is accurate; I plan to go into creative writing, and a little guidance would be helpful. Most advice I've gotten would have m
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Gardner Misjudges Steinbeck 2 28 Feb 04, 2013 11:35AM  
things that i've read in the book 10 17 Dec 17, 2012 07:16AM  

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John Champlin Gardner was a well-known and controversial American novelist and university professor, best known for his novel Grendel, a retelling of the Beowulf myth.

Gardner was born in Batavia, New York. His father was a lay preacher and dairy farmer, and his mother taught English at a local school. Both parents were fond of Shakespeare and often recited literature together. As a child, Gardner

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