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Writing Fiction A Guide to Narrative Craft

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The most widely used and respected text in its field, Writing Fiction, Ninth Edition guides the novice story writer from first inspiration to final revision.


A bestseller through eight editions, Writing Fiction explores the elements of fiction, providing practical writing techniques and concrete examples. Written in a tone that is personal and non-prescriptive, the text encourages students to develop proficiency through each step of the writing process, offering an abundance of exercises designed to spur writing and creativity.  The text also integrates diverse, contemporary short stories in the belief that the reading of inspiring fiction goes hand-in-hand with the writing of fresh and exciting stories.

Author Biography

JANET BURROWAY is the author of plays, poetry, essays, children’s books, and eight novels including The Buzzards, Raw Silk (runner up for the National Book Award), Opening Nights, Cutting Stone, and Bridge of Sand. Her other publications include a collection of personal essays, Embalming Mom, in addition to a volume of poetry, Material Goods, and three children’s books in verse, The Truck on the Track, The Giant Jam Sandwich, and The Perfect Pig. Her plays Medea with Child (The Reva Shiner Award), Sweepstakes, Division of Property (Arts & Letters Award), and Parts of Speech have received readings and productions in New York, London, San Francisco, Hollywood, Chicago, and various regional theaters. Her textbook Writing Fiction, now in its ninth edition, is the most widely used creative writing text in the United States. Her most recent books are a memoir, Losing Tim, and a collection of essays she has edited, A Story Larger Than My Own: Women Writers Look Back on Their Lives and Careers. She is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita at the Florida State University in Tallahassee and has most recently taught in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Northwestern University.


ELIZABETH STUCKEY-FRENCH, Associate Professor, MFA Iowa Writers Workshop (1992), specializes in fiction. She was a James A. Michener Fellow at the University of Iowa and is the author of a short story collection, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa, and two novels, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and Mermaids on the Moon. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Gettysburg Review,The Southern Review, Five Points, and other literary journals. In 2005, she received an O. Henry Award for the story "Mudlavia," cited by juror Richard Russo as "favorite story."

NED STUCKEY-FRENCH, Assistant Professor, B. A., magna cum laude, Harvard College (1972), M.A., Brown University (1992), Ph. D., University of Iowa (1997). Dr. Stuckey-French specializes in the personal essay and modern American literature and culture, especially magazine culture. His study of magazine culture and class construction entitled The American Essay in the American Century is forthcoming from the University of Missouri Press. He is also editing (with Carl Klaus) a collection of essays on the essay, which includes work from Montaigne to the present, and it will appear from the University of Iowa Press.
His reviews and critical work have appeared in journals such as American Literature, The CEA Critic, Modern Fiction Studies, Fourth Genre, culturefront, and The Iowa Review, and in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, The Walt Whitman Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of the Essay.
He also writes creative nonfiction and is the book review editor for the journal Fourth Genre. His essays, which have appeared in magazines such as In These Times, The Missouri Review, The Pinch, and Walking Magazine, have been listed three times among the notable essays in the Best American Essays series. He is working on a memoir of his ten years as a trade union organizer in a Boston hospital.

Table of Contents

1 Whatever Works: The Writing Process

Get Started

        Journal Keeping



        The Computer

        The Critic: A Caution

        Choosing a Subject

            The Dilemma, or Catch-22

            The Incongruity

            The Connection

            The Memory

            The Transplant.

            The Revenge

Keep Going

A Word About Theme

Reading as Writers

About the Writing Workshop

        How Workshops Work

        The Writer’s Role

Writing Exercises

2 Seeing Is Believing: Showing and Telling

Significant Detail

        Writing About Emotion



        Types Of Metaphor And Simile

        Metaphoric Faults To Avoid

The Active Voice

Prose Rhythm


        We Didn’t

                STUART DYBEK

        Goal 666

                Stacey Richter

        Binocular Vision

                Edith Pearlman

Writing Exercises

3 Building Character: Characterization, Part I

The Direct Methods of Character Presentation


                Summary, Indirect, and Direct Dialogue

                Economy in Dialogue

                Characterizing Dialogue

                Other Uses of Dialogue

                Dialogue as Action

                Text and Subtext

                “No” Dialogue



                Format and Style


        Fiesta, 1980

                Junot Díaz

        Every Tongue Shall Confess

                ZZ PACKER


                Denis Johnson

Writing Exercises

4 The Flesh Made Word: Characterization, Part II

The Direct Methods of Character Presentation




The Indirect Methods of Character Presentation

        Authorial Interpretation

        Interpretation By Another Character

Conflict Between Methods of Presentation

The Universal Paradox





Reinventing Character

Creating a Group or Crowd

        The Character Journal

Character: A Summary

        Bullet in the Brain

                Tobias Wolff

        Tandolfo the Great

                Richard Bausch


                Sandra Cisneros

Writing Exercises

5 Far, Far Away: Fictional Place

Place and Atmosphere

Harmony and Conflict Between Character and Place

Place and Character

Place and Emotion

Symbolic and Suggestive Place

Alien and Familiar Place

An Exercise in Place

        St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

                Karen Russell

        The Flowers

                Alice Walker

        A Visit of Charity

                Eudora Welty

Writing Exercises

6 Long Ago: Fictional Time

Summary and Scene

Revising Summary and Scene


Slow Motion

        You’re Ugly, Too

                Lorrie Moore

        The Fun House

                Sherman Alexie


                Hannah Bottomy Voskuil

Writing Exercises

7 The Tower And The Net: Story Form, Plot, and Structure

Conflict, Crisis, and Resolution

The Arc of the Story

Patterns of Power

Connection and Disconnection

Story Form as an Inverted Check Mark

Story and Plot

The Short Story and the Novel

Types of Fiction


                Joy Williams


                Geoffrey Forsyth

        Everything That Rises Must Converge

                FLANNERY O’CONNOR

Writing Exercises

8 Call Me Ishmael: Point of View

Who Speaks?

        Third Person


                Limited Omniscience

                The Objective Author

        Second Person

        First Person

To Whom?

        The Reader

        Another Character

        The Self

        Interior Monologue

        Stream of Consciousness

In What Form?

At What Distance?

Consistency: A Final Caution

        Victory Lap

                George Saunders

        Who’s Irish?

                GISH JEN

        Reply All

                ROBIN HEMLEY

Writing Exercises

9 Play it Again, Sam: Revision


Worry it and Walk Away

Criticism and the Story Workshop

Asking the Big Question: What Have I Written?

How Fictional Elements Contribute to Theme

Revision Questions

Further Suggestions for Revision

Examples of the Revision Process


                Pia Z. Ehrhardt

        Following the Notes

                Pia Z. Ehrhardt

Writing Exercises


Appendix: What Next? Professionalism and Literary Citizenship


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