Writing Fiction: A Narrative Guide to Craft - A review

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, 7th EditionBy Janet Burroway
Longman Publishers

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.

So there’s my disclaimer. The truth is that a book that speaks to you, that clarifies things in your mind, may not speak to me, so you might get more value out of it than someone else will.

And the book does have value.

For instance, the Chapter Seeing is Believing talks about how to show. Included in this chapter is a section on “Filtering.”  To illustrate what filtering is, the following two examples are offered.

With Filtering:
Mrs. Blair made her way to the chair by the window and sank gratefully into it. She looked out the window and there, across the street, she saw the ivory BMW parked in front of the fire plug once more. It seemed to her, though, that something was wrong with it. She noticed that it was listing slightly toward the back and side, and then saw that the back rim was resting almost on the asphalt.

Without Filtering
Mrs. Blair made her way to the chair by the window and sank gratefully into it. Across the street the ivory BMW was parked in front of the fire plug again. Something was wrong with it, though. It was listing toward the back and side, the back rim was resting almost on the asphalt.

What she calls “filtering” I call POV tags, but I agree with her that the second example is stronger. As valid as her point is, what annoys me here is the heavy handedness of the first example. Yes, I’ve seen neophyte writers present much worse, and the heavy handedness gets her point across most ably. But it still annoys me. The cleaned-up example also violates advice she gives in another section later in the book when she talks about passive voice. If she were being consistent, the sentence that starts “It was listing . . .” would start “It listed . . .” eliminating the helper verb.

So yes, the book has value . . . if her style speaks to you. If you write literary or mainstream, you may find value in the stories offered for examination.

Is it verbose? I think so. For my money, it’s 400 pages that could have been half that. It contains far too many complete short stories (included as educational aids) than I can imagine it needs. Okay, so I don’t have patience for long examples, and the plethora of them makes it feel too much like a text book to me. Your mileage may vary. You may absolutely adore this sort of thing. If you do, go for it. But don't say I didn't warn you.

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