The Art of Fiction Snooze

John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction is pretentious and not one of my favorite writing books at all. I’ve heard about this book for sometime and figured I would give it a try. So I picked it up from the library, hoping to learn something new and enjoy the book. I usually don’t bash books on the blog, but I cannot recommend this one outright.

Gardner’s style of writing in the book bored me to tears; it reminded me of those professors that put the class to sleep in college. I was an eager college student who wanted to learn in every class, but there were those teachers that don’t have the knack to keep students’ attention. John Gardner, I fear, is one of those people…or at least that is how he came across in this book.

What I can say that is good about it is that it helped me discern the type of story I have been working on and how to frame it better. I discovered this information in the section where he discusses tales vs. epic vs. yarn. I’m glad that I read that section of the book because it was helpful, though that was near the beginning.

Much of this book is written in a way that puts down the reader who is less familiar with Gardner’s “favorites” who are mentioned often, like Thackeray. I almost felt like I had learned nothing in my undergrad English major, though I know the contrary to be true.

In the copy of this book I got from the library, I found a small pen-written “Amen” in one section that highlighted what many students feel about literature classes in high school. Often students find classes overly focused on the classic writers, like Coleridge, when “Howard the Duck” is more entertaining. Gardner uses this discussion to draw a line between popular fiction and what he calls “art.” I wonder if he meant to be condescending in this passage. I got the impression that popular fiction is the crap on his heel as he walks down a pristine garden path.

However, there are some great nuggets of information in this book. He recommends that authors/writers allow their characters to have free will and not impose their own desires or direction upon characters. This same advice is reiterated throughout the book in regard to style. Gardner also points out some common mistakes made by amateur writers. I won’t list those here, but they were helpful in many ways. Sometimes, I slip as well.