For several years I’d heard writers talk about The Art of Fiction, yet I resisted reading it because I thought John Gardner wrote like an academic snob. I was afraid that he would load me down with aesthetic rules and talk about how there hasn’t been a single great novel since 1700. Once I was about five pages into it, however, I was kicking myself for not having read this book sooner.
John Gardner is a brilliant writing teacher and the kernels of his wisdom have been distilled into this slender, yet useful book. This book has writing exercises and notes on genre, plotting, and technique.
I was astonished at how practical and useful The Art of Fiction was. One of the chapters that most helped me was the one on plotting. Before this, I was following Stephen King’s method by writing two thousand words a day with nothing planned ahead of time. Writing that way was a real struggle. I never knew where I was going and my stories suffered from their lack of focus.
In his chapter on plotting, John Gardner has an exercise where he suggests starting at the end of the story with the feeling or scene you want to leave the reader with, and figuring out what scenes need to happen to set up that final climax. A light went off in my head. This single exercise instantly made writing easier for me. And there were many other lessons in his book that were just as useful.
I would definitely suggest The Art of Fiction for any writer starting to get serious about craft.
“Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.”–John Gardner