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The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers [Audio CD]

Ayn Rand , Marguerite Gavin
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 2004 0786188847 978-0786188840 Unabridged
Ayn Rand discusses how a writer combines abstract ideas with concrete action and description to achieve a unity of theme, plot, characterization, and style, the four essential elements of fiction. She explains why “You cannot borrow another man’s soul, and you cannot borrow his style,” and why “Every writer is a moral philosopher.” Here, too, are Rand’s illuminating analyses of passages from writers like Victor Hugo and Thomas Wolfe, as well as fascinating rules for building dramatic plots and characters with depth.
--This text refers to an alternate Audio CD edition.

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In 1958, a year after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand gathered a group of student readers and writers in her living room for a series of 12 four-hour lectures about fiction. The Art of Fiction evolved from that course. Though Rand's Romantic Manifesto was also partly based on the same lecture series, this book omits (for the most part) Rand's discussions of other art forms. Its gist is a case for fiction that is "Romantic" (deriving from a belief in free will) rather than "Naturalistic" (allowing for fate).

It is hard to be ambivalent about Ayn Rand. Rand spoke in absolutes, and either you buy it or you don't. There is plenty of fiber and nutritious material in this book, but the Rand agnostic may find it hard to digest. Rand's ego is enormous and her dismissiveness petty most every step of the way. "In regard to precision of language," says Rand, who uses her work throughout the book to exemplify her points, "I think I myself am the best writer today." But woe to any other author, excluding Victor Hugo, Mickey Spillane, and, with reservations, Dostoyevsky. "To see how not to write," advises Rand, "read [Thomas Wolfe's] descriptive passages." Sinclair Lewis, she says, is a "perceptive but superficial observer." James Joyce? "He is worse than Gertrude Stein. ...He uses words from different languages, makes up some words of his own, and calls that literature."

Still, Rand does have some useful things to say to the fiction writer. Perhaps most important is her emphatic belief in the concrete. "In order to be completely free with words," she intones, "you must know countless concretes under your abstractions." It is only the concrete, she adds, that will lead the reader to your abstractions, your themes. Along related lines, Rand believes firmly that "If a writer feels that he was unable fully to express what he wanted to express, it means that he did not know clearly what he wanted to express"--no more blaming it on writer's block for you! And remember: "A good style is one that conveys the most with the greatest economy of words." This means that "when you draw a character, everything that you say about him acquires significance by the mere fact of being included in your story." The bottom line is that "Art is selectivity." --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Ayn Rand's first novel, We the Living, was published in 1936. With the publication of The Fountainhead in 1943, she achieved spectacular and enduring success. Through her novels and nonfiction writing, which express her unique philosophy, Objectivism, Rand maintains a lasting influence on popular and scholarly thought. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you want to write like Rand... Jan. 31 2002
I actually read The Art of Nonfiction before this one, and it's the better book. Rand's prejudices come more to the fore in this one. Put another way, Nonfiction will help you learn how to write, but Fiction will only help you if you want to learn how to write like Rand. Well, that's something of an exaggeration, but it's at least close to the truth.
Rand's primary focus is on plotting, and particularly on her notion of plotting, which must involve internal conflict dramatized to the greatest possible extent and integrated by a theme. That and related issues take up almost half the book.
The chapter on characterization is an expansion of a treatment of the same subject found in The Romantic Manifesto, just in more detail and with more examples.
Her chapters on style are the book in small: some advice is excellent, other is dubious at best. She has an extensive discussion of how to write about love, with an excerpt from Atlas Shrugged that is fuel for the fire of any critic who thinks her style is mechanical: devoid of emotion, she clinically describes the scene in tedious, fly-on-the-wall detail. This is dramatically contrasted with a brilliant passage from Hugo that is every thing her passage isn't: enthusiastic and suffused with passion. She goes on to present some increasingly dreadful examples, from Thomas Wolfe (lovely but unfocused) to Kathleen Winsor (hack writing) to James Gould Cozzens (worse than hack writing - sneering, in fact, as Rand delights in pointing out).
A follow-up chapter is excellent, addressing such practical issues as when to narrate versus when to dramatize, how to insert explanations, how to handle flashbacks, and so on. There is no doubt that Rand knew what she was doing and is capable of explaining it, so she is at her best with the tricks and details of how to write clearly and appropriately. The rest must be taken with a grain of salt. So I have a mixed recommendation for this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Resource Dec 30 2005
By dprime
This is a wonderful resource, supplying writers with something almost impossible to find today - a real, objective lesson on how to improve one's approach by one of, if not the, greatest writers of all time.
I recommend it to anyone with an interest in fiction (including readers;) however if you haven't read Rand's work, it would probably be better to take a shot at her novels first. If you can appreciate those, you'll be able to appreciate this.
If you aren't familiar with her philosophy or her fiction, you'll probably find her confident/egoist approach somewhat shocking. Don't worry about it. Would you want someone who doesn't think of their self as a great writer to be trying to teach others? She references herself highly only as a means to teach; it is in no way a book about her writing explicitly. If you read it with the approach that you're trying to learn something and not critiquing Rand's personality, philosophical difference shouldn't get in the way.
Get it. You'll really learn something.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ayn Rand reveals more than her art of fiction Nov. 26 2003
"All writers have to rely on inspiration. But you have to know where it comes from, why it happens, and how to make it happen to you."
This is classic Ayn Rand, and it's typical of what you'll read in 'The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers'.
The bestselling Russian-born philosopher and novelist of 'The Fountainhead' and 'Atlas Shrugged' is almost as well known for her introspection as she is for her stories.
This slim book is based on a series of 12, four-hour lectures she conducted in her living room for a small group of friends and fans in 1958.
The book has been faithfully edited by Tore Boeckmann, who has condensed much of Rand's literary philosophy, observations and advice into a readable text that sheds light on the process of writing, both for readers and writers.
Rand's guide examines in great detail the art and craft of fiction, covering everything from the creation and execution of ideas and the key story elements to characterization, select forms of literature and the benefits of narrative versus dramatization.
Important issues, such as writer's block, inspiration, theme and plot are also discussed in great detail, providing a wealth of information for fictioneers to consider.
Throughout the book, Rand draws parallels to her Objectivism philosophy as well as sentence-by-sentence examinations of her own works and those of well known scribes, including Maugham, Wolfe and Tolstoy.
There are some insightful comments she makes about:
• Developing your own voice ~ "You cannot borrow another man's soul, and you cannot borrow his style."
• The writer's role ~ "Every writer is a moral philosopher.
Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Resource July 5 2002
This is a tremendous tool for the aspiring writer. In it, the great Ayn Rand presents her basic vision of the craft of fiction writing. The material is apparently gleaned from a lecture series the author gave at her home in the late fifties. Though dated, the advise is still tremendously useful to anyone who seeks to write better fiction. I read this book after my first novel was accepted for publication. After reading each important instruction from Rand, I found myself reviewing my own work and wishing I had made this information part of my subconscious prior to setting about the writing. I believe that my future work will be much better as a consequence of reading this book. What greater compliment can we pay?
As others have noted, it is hard to read anything from Rand without feeling beat about the head and shoulders with her philosophy and egotism. In reflecting on her life and work, I have great compassion for the tragedies she endured and great admiration for her determination. I wish I could have talked to her and somehow helped her out of her militant atheism. But I seriously doubt if she would have listened to me or changed. In any case, this is wonderful and important material, which I recommend to anyone who desires to write serious fiction.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Rand is the best novelist she knows..
I like some things about this book, and in some ways it is very helpful.

However, there is a pervasive arrogance that is not only distasteful but calls the integrity of... Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2011 by Mark Nenadov
5.0 out of 5 stars objectively an excellent book.
A book that I imagine people who are attached to subjectivism will have major problems with but even I, a religious Jew, was able to make good use of this book. Read more
Published on Aug. 29 2002 by Gordon A. Davidescu
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pathobiology of Fiction
A surprising exclamation of "Thank You!" was my instant gut reaction, undeniably ordered by my subconscious, right after reading her last word of this remarkable book. Read more
Published on April 28 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Every writers and reader's dream guidebook
Being an aspiring writer , "The Art of Fiction" is precisely the book I always dreamt of reading.
Rand's analysis - rational , logical , lucid and concise and yet ,... Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2002 by Aaishik Kar
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly helpful
You have to ignore the megalomania ("In regard to precision of language," says Rand, "I think I myself am the best writer today. Read more
Published on Dec 28 2001 by Joanna Daneman
4.0 out of 5 stars Concrete Writing
The Art of Ficton explores the idea that fiction can be actively created and not passively channeled. Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2001 by C. K. Rock
3.0 out of 5 stars Narcissism personified
No one loves Ayn Rand more than Ayn Rand herself, and this is one of the most blatantly self-serving books ever written. Read more
Published on Oct. 10 2001 by Bob. Broten
5.0 out of 5 stars An elightening approach to writing fiction the Ayn Rand way
This is not your typical "how to" approach to writing fiction. At least, it is not what one would typically expect. There's more depth here to just writing. Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2001 by Samuel Delgado
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Price (and So Much More)
My introduction to great literature was a novel by Ayn Rand called ATLAS SHRUGGED. I had never been particularly interested in fiction before the first reading of that book, but... Read more
Published on July 11 2001 by thewahlmighty
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