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John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young WritersThe Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This old standard has been on my bookshelves for many a year — since I was in graduate school, when we studied by gaslight. Recently I had occasion to reread it, when I was trying to advise a client about a novel he’s writing in (he hopes) high literary style.

The Art of Fiction is, as you might guess from the emphasis on the word “art,” for those who aspire to write literary fiction. In my opinion, despite Gardner’s protestations to the contrary, much of the book’s instruction can apply to genre fiction, too — good writing is good writing, no matter what the height of the brow.

Echoing his earlier collection of literary criticism, On Moral Fiction, Gardner reiterates the idea that fiction should seek to elucidate universal human values. He urges the importance of skill in building smooth and effective sentences; understanding of aesthetic theory as it applies to fiction writing; and mastery of plot, style, rhetoric, description, mood, characterization, and genre. Some of us may need to slink past Gardner’s frank advocacy of elitism, but despite that potential annoyance, the book is packed with valuable advice for anyone who wants to write prose that rises above the level of casual blogging. On this most recent reading, I found much in it to pass along to my aspiring novelist.

Victoria Hay, Ph.D.
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