Writing Fiction

Janet Burroway / Elizabeth Stuckey-French / Ned Stuckey-French
April 2014
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The most widely used and respected text in its field, Writing Fiction, Ninth Edition guides the novice story writer from first inspiration to final revision.


A bestseller through eight editions, Writing Fiction explores the elements of fiction, providing practical writing techniques and concrete examples. Written in a tone that is personal and non-prescriptive, the text encourages students to develop proficiency through each step of the writing process, offering an abundance of exercises designed to spur writing and creativity.  The text also integrates diverse, contemporary short stories in the belief that the reading of inspiring fiction goes hand-in-hand with the writing of fresh and exciting stories.


·    Accessible, student-friendly writing style is appealing as well as instructive; the writing is direct, informal, and engaging. 

·    A focus on the writing process from initial thought through final draft makes this a practical, easy-to-follow, guide to writing fiction.

·    Thorough and practical discussions of all the major fictional elements offer students a comprehensive guide to the craft of writing stories.  Topics include freewriting, plot, style, characterization, dialogue, time, place, imagery, and point of view.

·    Diverse and compelling short stories conclude chapters to model the fictional elements discussed in the text.

·    Useful, stimulating writing exercises at the end of each chapter spur student writing and creativity.

·    Quotations from established authors offer young writers words of advice, support, and inspiration.

·    Offering maximum flexibility, each chapter is self-contained, so instructors can teach the book in any order.

·    New appendix on Professionalism and Literary Citizenship outlines the steps students might take after graduating college and what they can do next to prepare for a life as a writer.


New to this Edition

·    New Selections. Almost half of the short stories included in the text are new to this edition, including works by established contemporary favorites such as Stacy Richter, Alice Walker, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Sandra Cisneros, and many others. These stories have been chosen primarily from contemporary American fiction, with attention to increased variety in form, mood, and content as well as emphasis on the multicultural representation of authors and experiences.

·    Integrated Coverage of Different Types of Fiction. The former appendix on Kinds of Fiction has been expanded and integrated into Chapter 7 to acknowledge the growing interest in genre fiction, magic realism, and experimental fiction among new writers. The section emphasizes how the boundaries among these fiction types are blurring, and explains how the development of such elements as character, plot, setting, and theme differs from the development of these same elements in literary fiction.

·    Revision. In the chapter on revision we have added an early draft of fiction writer Pia Z. Ehrhardt’s story “Following the Notes,” accompanied by an earlier version of the story and a process note to help students trace the evolution of the published piece.

·    New Appendix on Professionalism and Literary Citizenship. This new guide outlines the steps you might take after graduating college and what you can do next to prepare for your life as a writer. Above all, for the new edition Elizabeth, Ned, and I have kept the exigencies of the creative writing classroom in mind, intending to be catalytic rather than prescriptive, hoping to encourage both students and teachers to feel comfortable with themselves and the writing process.


Above all, for the new edition Elizabeth, Ned, and I have kept the exigencies of the creative writing classroom in mind, intending to be catalytic rather than prescriptive, hoping to encourage both students and teachers to feel comfortable with themselves and the writing process.

Table of Contents

1 Whatever Works: The Writing Process

Get Started

  Journal Keeping



  The Computer

  The Critic: A Caution

  Choosing a Subject

The Dilemma, or Catch-22

The Incongruity

The Connection

The Memory

The Transplant.

The Revenge

Keep Going

A Word About Theme

Reading as Writers

About the Writing Workshop

  How Workshops Work

  The Writer’s Role

Writing Exercises

2 Seeing Is Believing: Showing and Telling

Significant Detail

  Writing About Emotion



  Types Of Metaphor And Simile

  Metaphoric Faults To Avoid

The Active Voice

Prose Rhythm


  We Didn’t


  Goal 666

 Stacey Richter

  Binocular Vision

 Edith Pearlman

Writing Exercises

3 Building Character: Characterization, Part I

The Direct Methods of Character Presentation


 Summary, Indirect, and Direct Dialogue

 Economy in Dialogue

 Characterizing Dialogue

 Other Uses of Dialogue

 Dialogue as Action

 Text and Subtext

 “No” Dialogue



 Format and Style


  Fiesta, 1980

 Junot Díaz

  Every Tongue Shall Confess



 Denis Johnson

Writing Exercises

4 The Flesh Made Word: Characterization, Part II

The Direct Methods of Character Presentation




The Indirect Methods of Character Presentation

  Authorial Interpretation

  Interpretation By Another Character

Conflict Between Methods of Presentation

The Universal Paradox





Reinventing Character

Creating a Group or Crowd

  The Character Journal

Character: A Summary

  Bullet in the Brain

 Tobias Wolff

  Tandolfo the Great

 Richard Bausch


 Sandra Cisneros

Writing Exercises

5 Far, Far Away: Fictional Place

Place and Atmosphere

Harmony and Conflict Between Character and Place

Place and Character

Place and Emotion

Symbolic and Suggestive Place

Alien and Familiar Place

An Exercise in Place

  St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

 Karen Russell

  The Flowers

 Alice Walker

  A Visit of Charity

 Eudora Welty

Writing Exercises

6 Long Ago: Fictional Time

Summary and Scene

Revising Summary and Scene


Slow Motion

  You’re Ugly, Too

 Lorrie Moore

  The Fun House

 Sherman Alexie


 Hannah Bottomy Voskuil

Writing Exercises

7 The Tower And The Net: Story Form, Plot, and Structure

Conflict, Crisis, and Resolution

The Arc of the Story

Patterns of Power

Connection and Disconnection

Story Form as an Inverted Check Mark

Story and Plot

The Short Story and the Novel

Types of Fiction


 Joy Williams


 Geoffrey Forsyth

  Everything That Rises Must Converge


Writing Exercises

8 Call Me Ishmael: Point of View

Who Speaks?

  Third Person


 Limited Omniscience

 The Objective Author

  Second Person

  First Person

To Whom?

  The Reader

  Another Character

  The Self

  Interior Monologue

  Stream of Consciousness

In What Form?

At What Distance?

Consistency: A Final Caution

  Victory Lap

 George Saunders

        No One's a Mystery

 Elizabeth Tallent

  Reply All

 Robin Hemley

Writing Exercises

9 Play it Again, Sam: Revision


Worry it and Walk Away

Criticism and the Story Workshop

Asking the Big Question: What Have I Written?

How Fictional Elements Contribute to Theme

Revision Questions

Further Suggestions for Revision

Examples of the Revision Process


 Pia Z. Ehrhardt

  Following the Notes

 Pia Z. Ehrhardt

Writing Exercises


Appendix: What Next? Professionalism and Literary Citizenship



JANET BURROWAY is the author of plays, poetry, essays, children’s books, and eight novels including The Buzzards, Raw Silk (runner up for the National Book Award), Opening Nights, Cutting Stone, and Bridge of Sand. Her other publications include a collection of personal essays, Embalming Mom, in addition to a volume of poetry, Material Goods, and three children’s books in verse, The Truck on the Track, The Giant Jam Sandwich, and The Perfect Pig. Her plays Medea with Child (The Reva Shiner Award), Sweepstakes, Division of Property (Arts & Letters Award), and Parts of Speech have received readings and productions in New York, London, San Francisco, Hollywood, Chicago, and various regional theaters. Her textbook Writing Fiction, now in its ninth edition, is the most widely used creative writing text in the United States. Her most recent books are a memoir, Losing Tim, and a collection of essays she has edited, A Story Larger Than My Own: Women Writers Look Back on Their Lives and Careers. She is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita at the Florida State University in Tallahassee and has most recently taught in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Northwestern University.


ELIZABETH STUCKEY-FRENCH, Associate Professor, MFA Iowa Writers Workshop (1992), specializes in fiction. She was a James A. Michener Fellow at the University of Iowa and is the author of a short story collection, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa, and two novels, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and Mermaids on the Moon. Her stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Gettysburg Review,The Southern Review, Five Points, and other literary journals. In 2005, she received an O. Henry Award for the story "Mudlavia," cited by juror Richard Russo as "favorite story."

NED STUCKEY-FRENCH, Assistant Professor, B. A., magna cum laude, Harvard College (1972), M.A., Brown University (1992), Ph. D., University of Iowa (1997). Dr. Stuckey-French specializes in the personal essay and modern American literature and culture, especially magazine culture. His study of magazine culture and class construction entitled The American Essay in the American Century is forthcoming from the University of Missouri Press. He is also editing (with Carl Klaus) a collection of essays on the essay, which includes work from Montaigne to the present, and it will appear from the University of Iowa Press.
His reviews and critical work have appeared in journals such as American Literature, The CEA Critic, Modern Fiction Studies, Fourth Genre, culturefront, and The Iowa Review, and in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, The Walt Whitman Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of the Essay.
He also writes creative nonfiction and is the book review editor for the journal Fourth Genre. His essays, which have appeared in magazines such as In These Times, The Missouri Review, The Pinch, and Walking Magazine, have been listed three times among the notable essays in the Best American Essays series. He is working on a memoir of his ten years as a trade union organizer in a Boston hospital.