The Language of Fiction

A Writer’s Stylebook

Brian Shawver

Grand themes and complex plots are just the beginning of a great piece of fiction. Mastering the nuts and bolts of grammar and prose mechanics is also an essential part of becoming a literary artist. This indispensable guide, created just for writers of fiction, will show you how to take your writing to the next level by exploring the finer points of language. Funny, readable, and wise, this book explores the tools of the fiction writer’s trade, from verb tenses to pronouns to commas and beyond. Filled with examples from the best-seller lists of today and yesterday, it will help you consider the hows and whys of language, and how mastery of them can be used to achieve clarity and grace of expression in your own work. Here, you’ll find Encouragement and advice to face the big questions: Past or present tense? Comma or semicolon? Italic or roman? Should your dialogue be phonetically rendered, or follow standard rules of grammar? (And where does that pesky quotation mark go, again?) Warning signs of the betrayal of language, and ways to avoid it: Unwitting rhymes, repetition, redundancy, cliché, and the inevitable failure of vocabulary How-to (and how-not-to) examples: The grammatical “mistakes” of Charles Dickens; ambiguous pronoun usage by Nathaniel Hawthorne; the minefield of paragraph fragments found in one of today’s most successful authors.

Paper: $19.95 | E-book: $21.95
ISBN-13: 9781611683301
Pages: 264 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: December 8, 2012


  • In the 18 chapters of his new style manual for writers, Shawver advocates for functional grammar: technical knowledge not simply for the sake of correctness but for greater artistic consciousness.

    Kansas City Star
  • Many writers erroneously believe that the mechanics of language are subordinate to fiction’s ideas, but Shawver argues precisely the opposite in this direct and clearly written guide to the craft of writing. . . . With a wealth of examples from fiction across genres and time periods, Shawver’s guide will be indispensable for those who are beginning to write or want to improve their prose. . . . Highly recommended.

  • Shawver is an inviting, openhearted writer. His book is in no way a fustian treatise. Instead, it gently and logically sets forth the possibilities available to someone constructing prose and weighs in on how a wordsmith might sort through the options to arrive at a formulation that supports a desired meaning and tone. He doesn’t come out and say it, but his goal is to lead writers on a path to a distinctive style informed by good taste. He proves such an engaging companion on the page that any serious reader should delight in what he has to say-and any aspiring writer would be foolish not to listen.

    Santa Fe New Mexican
  • Shawver is consistently clear, thorough, and humorous, the humor rooted in humble self-effacement and in poking fun at his subject’s driest patches. He comes across as friendly and passionate. As one of my students noted, he does the best anyone can possibly do with material that beginning writers might find dull. As another student said, ‘He sounds like a professor you’d want to take a class with.

    Green Mountains Review
  • The rare stylebook you really want to read, cover to cover, for curiosity and pleasure. Shawver makes the basic rules of usage plain-the better to break them, when the need arises, with vigor and poise.

    Salvatore Scibona
    author of The End, a National B

About the Author

Brian Shawver

Brian Shawver is an alumnus of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is the author of the novels The Cuban Prospect and Aftermath. He currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he teaches at Park University.

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