Read Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway Susan Weinberg Online


The most widely used and respected book on writing fiction, 'Writing Fiction' guides the writer from first inspiration to final revision. Supported by an abundance exercises....

Title : Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780321117953
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 448 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft Reviews

  • Taka
    2019-03-07 19:46

    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 genre fiction does not teach you how to write good literary fiction." She further draws a comparison between realism and drawing of still life in painting, which analogy I found to be pretty compelling.There are limitations to the book, however. First, there are other books that cover certain topics much more in depth, such as characterization (see Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer), point of view (see Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint), description (Monica Wood's Description), story and structure (James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure and Donald Maass's books), revision (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers), etc. Also, the students are left to find all the topics implemented in the short stories at the end of each chapter, and yet it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint why exactly those stories were selected. Some guidance on how those stories used the techniques discussed could have been beneficial.There are other shortcomings. In certain parts, the author also asks questions to the reader without providing answers, which is a shame because feedback is one of the most important factors in learning. The section on "psychic distance" was not entirely clear, especially the examples she gives to illustrate using abstract nouns and generic details increases a sense of distance while using concrete nouns and specific details increases intimacy.Another misguiding thing about the book is when it covers the "golden" rule of contemporary fiction: show and tell. She pretty much tells you, "Show, don't tell," which is misleading because you should definitely show and tell where appropriate and simple vilification of telling does more damage than good, since telling can be a powerful tool, too, and she doesn't cover when it's good to tell and instead gives the false impression that telling is always bad--a preposterous stance if you stop and think about all those authors who use a hell of a lot of telling (Marquez, Chabon, Murakami) and still manage to be fascinating. She does, however, cover what makes good telling in a wholly different chapter under a different name: summary.Also, she covers some topic and doesn't tell us any rule of thumb for knowing when it's good to use it. For example, she says filtering should be avoided. But a lot of stories--even those included in the book--use filtering at some point. When is it okay to use any technique she cautions us against? Should we always avoid them? But why are the stories she herself selected use them? So some explanation on that aspect of each technique would have been illuminating.All in all, this is a really good book on writing, and I think everyone who is serious about the craft should read it.Good stuff.

  • Dave Cullen
    2019-02-28 15:27

    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 advantage of. Or techniques that I spurned at another time, didn't feel right for me, but I'm in the right place for now.And exceptional book. A true gift for writers. Note: It's really expensive, but thank God for used books. I find that if you go back one edition, it's dramatically cheaper. The 9th edition is out, so I bought the 8th for $30. Still pricey for a paperback book, but this is unique, and a steal at that price. (And I imagine they have to pay very high fees for using all the short stories, and long excerpts.) So I'm not getting all the latest stories, but so what? They have changed dramatically from the last edition I got. And I don't really need new ones anyway.)

  • Steelwhisper
    2019-03-08 17:48

    Unhelpful waffle.

  • Kathleen
    2019-03-09 18:29

    "Almost any reader can identify with almost any character; what no reader can identify with is confusion."

  • Miranda
    2019-03-03 14:49

    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 learned by a conventional curriculumWriting Fiction does not try to contain writing in a concrete definition, but the book makes creative writing possible to study and discuss with others. As craft.Any aspiring or established writer should spend time with this book. It's dense with information and fantastic examples.

  • Steven
    2019-03-06 15:54

    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 writing and what works, supposedly, in making writing better. If your goal is to understand the craft of writing, this is not the book for you. I recommend Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction, Stephen King's On Writing, or The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Non-Fiction for the sake of actual method and practice material. This book is for you only if you're goal is to be a "write by numbers" kind of person. If you need the formula, if you need every single little aspect of writing to be laid bare for you, then read this. If you're purpose is to understand writing, well, you'll get that from this but it's a longer journey to take and can be done better and more succinctly via other paths.If you wish to be a good writer, well, write. That's the best advice anyone can (and will, in every writing guidebook) tell you. After that, read. Then, if you're lucky and have talent, you can be a successful writer. No formulaic approach will make you better than what you inherently are. That's where practice and work come in.

  • Nicole Pramik
    2019-03-05 15:51

    This is, without a doubt, probably the go-to textbook for college-level Creative Writing courses. Many years ago (I refuse to say how long), this was the text my professor used in his class. So the fact it has been in print for years is a testament to the longevity of its advice. Though there are pros and cons to this text, both for writers and professors/instructors.First the good stuff. Despite being a "textbook," this book doesn't come across as a "hard" read. It's organized nicely with its topics divided into modestly-sized portions so it's easy to locate and read what you need. Likewise, the sample readings and exercises/prompts can be beneficial to those writing short fiction. (The same principles can certainly apply to writing novels but I sense most Creative Writing classes focus more on short stories for the sake of time.) Basically, if you read this book, you really don't need any other fiction writing text as they all essentially, though with some deviation, cover the same material, and fiction writing isn't an area/field that constantly changes. How to craft good dialogue, for instance, isn't going to change too much in terms of what makes good dialogue and what makes poor dialogue. Those methods are pretty much set without anything new to add. So if you own Writing Fiction then consider your fiction writing library essentially complete.That being said, this book does have some weak points that are worth mentioning. Once more, its focus seems to be on short fiction, primarily short stories (not micro-fiction, flash fiction, novelettes, or novellas). The same basic principles here would apply to longer or shorter fictional works, but the fact these forms aren't addressed in much detail does cause this book to be less than entirely comprehensive.Likewise, Writing Fiction does retain a certain subtle pretentious air that literary (or general) fiction is all that writers need to be exposed to and learn to write. I know from first-hand experience that college Creative Writing courses tend to discourage genre fiction, which comprises a far larger percentage of the overall fiction market. There is this underlying attitude - and this text does nothing to dispel this - that genre fiction (e.g. science fiction, fantasy, western, romance, etc.) is somehow sub-par and associated with the "masses." Basically, it's the old high culture versus low culture debate, and Writing Fiction doesn't strive to make strides to encourage amends. So if you happen to write genre fiction (as do I), then you will not find anything here helpful in terms of writing and world-building within your genre nor will you see any attempts at peace being made between the high culture/low culture camps.Overall, I do think Writing Fiction is a good resource whether you are teaching a Creative Writing class or workshop or if you're a writer, regardless of genre. This book does have its bumps, particularly in not acknowledging genre fiction, but if you're looking for a general resource to help you get started with the nuts and bolts of writing, or if you just need a refresher, then this is a worthwhile pick.

  • T.H. Hernandez
    2019-03-15 17:30

    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 lesson, the book even has a few things for more seasoned writers.New writers often have the hardest time grasping the concept of showing vs. telling, and this section in Writing Fiction is one of the best yet I've read, teaching the difference between the two with well-written examples perfectly re-written to ensure the lesson is learned. The section on characterization is exceptionally thorough, delving into great detail on what makes good characters and what makes great characters. All stories need good characters, but the best stories have great characters.With about one-third examples and writing exercises and two-thirds instruction, I firmly believe this is the first book every aspiring fiction writer should pick up and study.Bottom LineWriting Fiction is expensive, but worth every penny. This is the textbook every aspiring novelist needs to read.

  • Heather June Gibbons
    2019-02-28 13:30

    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 to each other in future lectures. The contemporary short stories in here are absolutely wonderful, in particular "Tandolfo the Great" by Richard Bausch, "Every Tongue Shall Confess" by ZZ Packer, "Gryphon" by Charles Baxter, "Winky" by George Saunders, and "Orientation" by Daniel Orozco. And the essay "Shitty First Drafts" by Anne Lamont, which I first discovered here, will remain a mainstay in my curriculum. Seems to really break the ice at the beginning of the semester and introduce creative writing students to the ardorous process of draft/revision, no matter what the genre, in a humorous way.Oh, and the writing exercises are excellent. I used a lot of these, both the individual and collaborative, with great success.

  • Chris Blocker
    2019-03-14 19:35

    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, however. There are few things I despise more in English craft books than "This is the way to do this and it is the only way" which Burroway alludes to from time to time. Which is ironic considering that the first chapter is entitled "Whatever It Takes" and is the same chapter in which the author tells the reader to "keep a journal," freewrite, and so forth. While these may be good practices to try out, they're not for every writer.

  • Paula Cappa
    2019-03-13 19:42

    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 inverted check mark. She asks '"where should your narrative begin?" Her distinctions between 'story' and 'plot' are very precise. Need help with story conflict, crisis, and resolution? This is the book that will crystallize it for you. I just loved this book as my own little writing workshop. One that you can reread once a year to sharpen up those skills.

  • Ann
    2019-02-24 13:40

    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.

  • Sanne
    2019-03-02 12:27

    In essence this is an okay book for those wishing to learn about the primary aspects of creative writing. We used it at uni for a creative writing course, but I found that Janet might have dug a bit deeper and stuck to the basics. For the purpose of her book, this is fine, but for my personal purposes it wasn't in depth enough.

  • James
    2019-03-24 15:37

    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.

  • Laura Leaney
    2019-03-01 20:47

    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.

  • Marcela
    2019-03-07 13:25

    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.

  • Ellie
    2019-03-15 20:43

    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.

  • Brian
    2019-02-27 19:29

    This holds the knowledge I've been longing for as a rookie fiction writer. Highly recommended.

  • Elizabeth Andrew
    2019-02-23 18:46

    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 a whole that is something altogether other. At the conception of an embryo or a short story, there occurs a conjunction of two unlike things, whether cells or ideas, that have never been joined before. Around this conjunction other cells, other ideas accumulate in a deliberate pattern. That pattern is the unique personality of the creature, and if the pattern does not cohere, it miscarries or is stillborn." 312Because I almost exclusively teach creative nonfiction, and because I write both fiction and creative nonfiction, I found myself looking through Burroway's observations about fiction to the fundamentals of good story-telling, and through craft to observations about our fundamental nature as created beings and as creators. Just an excellent text!

  • Debby DeRosa
    2019-02-23 12:29

    Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway introduces the beginning writer to the craft of fiction writing. It is divided into nine chapters. Each chapter discusses an aspect of fiction writing, follows with example stories, and ends with exercises for practice. The instructional sections are a little dry and boring, but this is mainly because the level of detail in them. For example, Burroway goes through every single possibility for point of view or explain several metaphors for plot. The example stories in each chapter offer a great reward for getting through the instructional sections. They are well-written, diverse, and creative. They remind me why I want to write, and I think you could consider buying this book just for these collection of stories. The exercises will help you understand the concepts of the chapter, and some of them are pretty challenging. They will make you think. I imagine a teacher in a class would only pick one or two as assignments for each chapter because it would take a long time to get through all of them. Overall, the book is a good resource for any writer, but it is probably best used in a classroom.

  • Kenny
    2019-03-04 20:41

    Stories:Bonnie Friedman, "Message from a Cloud of Flies: On Distraction"Annie Dillard from The Writing LifeWilliam 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 Enormous Wings"Denis Johnson "Car Crash While Hitchhiking"Joy Williams "The Excursion" Jamaica Kincaid "Girl"Sandra Cisneros "Hips"Charles Baxter "Gryphon"Margaret Atwood "Rape Fantasies"Vladimir Nabokov "Signs and Symbols" Octavia Butler "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"David Leavitt "The Crane Child"Grace Paley "A Man Told Me the Story of His Life"Nadine Gordimer "Town and Country Lovers" Frederick Busch "Ralph the Duck" Stephen Dunning "Wanting to Fly"Raymond Carver "The Bath"Raymond Carver "A Small, Good Thing"

  • Monica
    2019-02-26 17:28

    Sidestepping the very heteronormative and male centric-ness of imagined characters. This book is very similar to Writing Fiction. However it's referencing is ridiculously hard to find, so although there are great quotes i can't be sure i have the right reference for it. Not only that but the exercises aren't well spaced out, so they seem more daunting and less fun.Chapter 3 - Showing and Telling, actually had some really good tips of conveying emotion and making scenery or flashbacks real.Chapter 11 - Revision. It basically told you to be a great writer you have to put work in and be more then just creative. I liked that. It was direct. Some of us writers need that.I did enjoy this book, but it wasn't as good as Writing Fiction by Linda Anderson and Derek Neale(

  • Hollie
    2019-02-27 12:37

    I read this book for a writing group I'm in and there's a reason why this is the holy grail when it comes to many advanced high school programs (St. John's in Houston) and university programs. The seventh edition uses two to three short stories in order to drive home the lessons and through such I was introduced to some fantastic works by Cheever, Oates and O'Connor. The book drills down deep into concepts that have also seemed basic, like the use of a simile, for example. Then it goes on to talk about how important the choice is related to the item or comparison in a simile. It's not just something to be chosen at random but should resonate with the related character or part of the story and context. For anyone looking to tighten up their fiction writing (and who isn't?) this is a must read. The final chapter on revision is especially helpful.

  • Suzie Quint
    2019-03-23 13:31

    This writing craft book is into its eighth edition, so one would conclude it’s a valuable resource.I’d like to say it is, but something in the voice of the book grates on me. Is it the phrasing that indicates (in my mind at least) a superior tone? Is it the sense of absolute conviction? Is it the literary/main stream focus of the examples? Is it the wordiness that doesn’t seem like is says much? Is it that so much of the book’s 400 pages is dedicated to short stories rather than discussions about writing well? Is it that I see contradictions between sections? I’m not sure. Probably, it’s all of these things together (plus others) that make me . . . resistant . . . to the book’s message.Full review is at

  • Rebecca
    2019-03-25 15:41

    I'm reviewing the new 9th edition, which I'll be using for my Advanced Writing Fiction course this semester. I used a version of this text in grad school, and I think it does an excellent job at introducing students to the basic terminology of literary fiction. The chapter on revision is absolutely fabulous and helpful. There is a new publication section as well, which really takes into account the importance of websites, blogs and AWP conference attendance.The stories, too, are diverse in terms of length, author background, form and style. One of my only critiques is the confluence of author and narrator in the point-of-view section. Also, while the concept of "free indirect discourse" is explained, it is not named as such.

  • Eliza T. Williamson
    2019-03-10 12:35

    Janet Burroway's book on the craft of writing is the most inclusive, all encompassing one I have encountered. She combines easily digestible discussions on specific issues of craft (say point of view) with literary examples from well-known authors and then exercises for writers to try themselves. To say that I have read this book would be misleading---I imagine I will return to it again and again and again.

  • Kasey Tross
    2019-03-01 17:51

    I liked how the author utilized short stories to illustrate different aspects of writing. I was not formerly very familiar with the short story form, and I appreciated how much I learned that will help me in writing my novel. This book is very well-written, well-organized, and easy to follow. The questions and writing exercises at the end of each chapter were insightful and offered a great opportunity for deeper thought and effective application.

  • Megan
    2019-03-06 19:32

    First assigned to me in undergrad, this is also highly recommended by one of my MFA professors. The short stories featured in here as examples are some of the most memorable I've read. The lessons themselves I don't remember much of, but are quite comprehensive. This is one book I will be coming back to for years to come.

  • Linda Robinson
    2019-03-21 18:25

    I have never seen a book with smaller type. I opened it twice because I didn't believe it was that small. Back to the library with this...

  • Shannon
    2019-03-01 17:36

    Helpful and easy to read and understand. There were also some great short stories in it.