So, I finished John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction yesterday, making that three of the books on writing in my stack. It was a good read, but man was it a striking shift after reading Stephen King’s On Writing.
King, I think it is fair to say, has the common touch. He’s sold a boatload of books and is very prolific. His book on writing is similar, in that I think almost anyone would find it accessible – ie, not too technical to follow or understand. Gardner, on the other hand, is a man of letters and his approach reveals extensive understanding of literary theory and fiction that a lot of people might call “high brow.” I think The Art of Fiction would be a great read for literary students, for literate adults, and for anyone who is a serious thinker, interested in writing serious prose. It would, though, be a challenge for a lot of casual readers looking for simple writing tips.
Gardner’s fundamental assertion is the one I mentioned in my previous post, namely that fiction – properly designed and executed – should be a vivid and continuous dream. Of course, that’s easier said than done, so most of the book is about the things that contribute to making that dream vivid and about identifying the mistakes/choices writers make that interrupt and disturb the dream.
One quick “warning” here about King’s book, On Writing. Someone emailed me the other day with a writing question, and that person mentioned she’d ordered some of the books on writing I’ve been discussing. If I didn’t mention it before, I should have, but King uses a good bit of language that probably most of my readers would find offensive. So, if you’re not an adult, or if you know use of language like that would make it impossible for you to enjoy the book & learn what King has to teach, then On Writing probably isn’t for you.
Next up in the pile of books on writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.