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The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  5,047 ratings  ·  413 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,
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Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 4th 1991 by Vintage (first published 1984)
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Joseph Riden Writing is like, the fifth career for me. Even so, I learned a lot from this book and I'm grateful that he got all this down so well and passed it on.…moreWriting is like, the fifth career for me. Even so, I learned a lot from this book and I'm grateful that he got all this down so well and passed it on. I only wish I could have studied under him back in the day. I also love his other book for "young" writers, On Becoming a Novelist. (less)

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really liked it 4.00  · 
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Christy
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
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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
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L.h.
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."

and

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

and

"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
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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
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Gail
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
Grace
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
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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
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John
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
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
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
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Cassandra
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
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Crispitina30
Lo marco ya como terminado porque lo acabé el lunes (el último día que me daban de plazo), aunque me faltaron las últimas diez páginas. No obstante, algún día haré una relectura porque es un libro MUY TÉCNICO con mucha teoría que merece ser desglosada. No le doy más puntuación porque el autor me ha parecido bastante elitista, machista y subjetivo con algunas cosas.
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
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John
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
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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
Ryandake
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
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Nic
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
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.

G
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Joseph
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
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David
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
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Nina
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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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
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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
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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."

Bingo.

I adore this snarky, arr
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Garrett Cook
Jul 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: The dedicated, the mad
Recommended to Garrett Cook by: Professors and teachers
Considered ideal for young writers, but its exercises are masochistic and often sheer folly. Gardner himself wrote "tedium is the worst pain" and trying to slog through Art of Fiction exercises would leave old Grendel raging at any number of additional Meadhalls. The text itself is good and you can find sound advice in it, but there are much better writing books out there. It might have paved the way, but so did 8 tracks.
Francesca Marciano
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What to say? Compulsory reading for anybody attempting to write. Gardner still rocks.
Rod Raglin
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Duties, responsibilities and the author's obligation to tell the truth  
One of the most interesting things about this book is how attitudes have changed in regards to what it means to be an author.
 
The Art of Fiction - Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner, was published in 1984, long before the advent of online platforms that make self-publishing free and easy to any and everyone.
 
This is not your "How to Write a Novel for Dummies" and Gardner definitely would not have supported "eve
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Sunniva Dee
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
An academic approach to writing. Very helpful and solid.
Definitely wordy, with information that could be distilled into a much shorter, much more to-the-point book, but I found little gems in this one that I haven't found in any others.

Keep in mind that it came out in 1981, so some judgement calls by the author don't take into consideration recent development when it comes to 1) YA, 2) 1st limited POV, and 3) the internet.
Dave
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing-creative
Other books on writing are geared to early beginners or spend a lot of time on style (word choice , sentences, pargraphs). The art of fiction speaks to a more advanced amateur. Gardner makes unique observations about writing and give wise advice.

Some main takeaways - fiction is like a dream, you have to keep it going by adding in real details. Fiction is composed in structural units, its not one big breath, its more like a series of excercise. Most of the characters, dialogue and action is obli
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Casee Marie
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it
"What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulations or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values."

John Gardner was perhaps as well known (if not more so) for his instruction on writing as for his own fictional works, and his Art of Fiction: Notes on the Craft for Young Writers compiles the fullness of his teachings on what makes a great writer great. There is, on the whole, a lot to take away f
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Gardner Misjudges Steinbeck 2 25 Feb 04, 2013 11:35AM  
things that i've read in the book 10 16 Dec 17, 2012 07:16AM  
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft, and Form
  • Making Shapely Fiction
  • From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
  • Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction
  • Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
  • The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction
  • On Writing
  • Aspects of the Novel
  • Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft
  • Creating Fiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs
  • Plot
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
  • How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Telling Lies for Fun & Profit
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling
270 followers
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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“The primary subject of fiction is and has always been human emotion, values, and beliefs.” 26 likes
“Fiction does not spring into the world fully grown, like Athena. It is the process of writing and rewriting that makes a fiction original, if not profound.” 18 likes
More quotes…