Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner


Notes On Craft For Young Writers

by John Gardner

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1983
ISBN: 0679734031
Publisher: Knopf

Like On Becoming a Novelist (p. 428), these lecture/instructions on writing--completed before novelist/teacher Gardner's death last year--involve an often-dense mixture of theory, philosophy, and practical technical matters. Again, Gardner emphasizes that good fiction is a "vivid and continuous dream." He advocates commitment, truth, precise details, and the "principle of profluence" (what moves the narrative along, holds it together)--with brief discussions of subject, plot, character, setting, theme, and style. (The Helen of Troy story is used as a flexible example.) He suggests a genre approach to the beginning writer: not "write what you know," but "write the kind of story you know and like best." He runs through a variety of writing mistakes, things which distract from the "dream": clumsy prose, needless explanation, sentimentality, mannerism, and frigidity (which "occurs in fiction whenever the author reveals. . . that he is less concerned about his characters than he ought to be"). There's brief discussion of a few purely technical matters--vocabulary, sentence structure, poetic rhythm--and more elaborate discussion of plotting: illustration of three different general methods. And, along with a few pages of exercises, there are not-always-coherent comments on contemporary writing trends (metafiction, absurdism, etc.) and reaffirmations of Gardner's "moral" approach to fiction. (In passing, for instance, he decrees that the "nobler" a character's goal, "the more interesting the story"--a dubious formulation.) Repetitious and disorganized, heavier on rhetoric than step-by-step guidance--but sure to interest creative-writing teachers and, to a lesser extent, beginning writers.