Tuesday, May 22

Fiction Writer's Handbook

Fiction Writer's Handbook, the Burnetts, Php75 Booksale bin.

The Fiction Writer's Handbook (Book #11) was written by the editors of Story, Whit and Hallie Burnett. Story's editors were very proud of the talents they discovered, which included Norman Mailer, who wrote the preface, and the very young J.D. Salinger, who wrote a kind of salute to Whit Burnett, who happened to be his writing teacher at Columbia. You can read his essay here.

Whit Burnett intended to write his handbook for fiction writers, but he died before he could finish it, although he did leave behind some notes. So his widow and co-editor at Story stepped up and did the job for all of us. If you're looking for a book to guide you step by step into writing short stories, this may not be the book for you. If there's one thing I'm sure of about the writers of this book, it's that they're very proud of their magazine and the talents and stories they produced. Works which appeared in the magazine were quoted often, and not all of the works or the authors are recognizable to today's reader.

The tone tends to be a bit self-aggrandizing and dated. But what's interesting though is that it somehow makes true its promise--that this is a fiction handbook, and true enough, all its forms like the short story, novel and novella are taken into consideration. It doesn't discriminate against the novella as a half-breed, too long for a traditional short story and too short for the novel. The writers remind us that the best fiction writers, including Henry James, wrote some of their best works in that form.

Chapters tend to be short and reading this book wouldn't make a fiction writer out of you. The book has 224+ pages, it was manageable enough to read and I finished the book in two weekends. I got the first edition with a green cover, not like the reissue pictured above. Found my copy in a Booksale bin for Php75, so not bad at all. Made me miss Stephen King though.

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