Janet Burroway’s “Writing Fiction”

A Gift to Writers Throughout Their Careers

Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction has been on my bookshelf for (estimating) 20+ years. I picked up a used copy back when I made my first pass at fiction writing not realizing I’d plucked a diamond from a trash pile. My writing coach, Rich Marcello, suggested I give it a read.

The title sounded familiar when Rich suggested it. I’d added the book to my collection and hadn’t touched it since I put it on my shelf. This is one of those “When the student is ready, the teacher will be there” things. I wouldn’t have appreciated Writing Fiction 20+ years ago. Rich suggested Writing Fiction about a year ago and I’ve just completed my first read.

I’m a fairly fast reader.

I will be doing second, third and probably through fifth readings (if I live long enough).

There’s that much to learn (for me) in this book.

Also, the image on this post is for the 3rd edition and many people consider it the best (I think there are nine editions at this point). It’s an excellent read, lots of great information – I’ve dogeared 1/3 – 1/2 of the book – and I suggest it for anyone at any point in their writing career.

Evidently the newer editions are closer to textbooks than self-studies. I would prefer taking a class in order to engage with the instructor, ask questions, get clarifications, et cetera. Some sections (small, a few paragraphs to a page) required several readings before I understood what Burroway was suggesting/explaining/demonstrating. There’s examples galore (a good thing) and I learn better by interaction over examples (I like to know yay/nay if I got something and if not, I didn’t because…?), hence my wanting to use this book in a classrooom.

I don’t suggest you get copies of Writing Fiction and pass them around your local writers’ group for discussion. Someone has to be the convincingly authoritative voice when doing the exercises (there’s lots of them) and a group of writers (at least in my experience) isn’t going to do it. Everyone will have an opinion, opinions are nice, I’m more a black/white kind of guy.

AJ BudrysAmusingly, one of my personal heros, AJ Budrys, gave me some definite non-black/white advice once (anybody noting “definite non-black/white”?); I asked him what “speculative fiction” is and he replied, “Speculative fiction is what I’m pointing at when I say it.”

I can deal with that. One, it came from AJ and two, it came from AJ. AJ was also a stickler for word choice, voice, tone, character, atmosphere, et cetera, and all those things, while they are the author’s choice in the end, do have some definite black/white aspects, and Burroway’s Writing Fiction can help with that.

Again and to be clear; strongly suggested. Excellent reading and wonderful resource. Buy a copy, read it, keep reading it, keep in on your bookshelf and go back to it often.

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