Book Review: What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

Have you ever wished you could suspend your life and participate in an intensive writing program? For most of us that's impossible, but authors Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter offer the next best thing in their book What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.

Bernays and Painter are successful novelists and long-time teachers of creative writing. They use exercises to help writers think creatively, come up with new ideas, and improve their craft of fiction. 

The authors have culled more than seventy-five of the most successful writing exercises from hundreds of examples they've come across over the years. Each exercise focuses on a specific element of writing, from dialogue to characterization to subtext, and more, such as:

*The difference between writing like a writer and thinking like a writer. 
*Figuring out where to start and end your story.
*Understanding when to use dialogue, and when to insert indirect discourse.
*How to take actual events and fictionalize them in a compelling way.

The writer is encouraged to skip around the book, not necessarily going through the exercises in order. The authors feel it's better for the writer to pick and choose the aspect they need to work on at the moment. Examples are included from published authors, but it's also helpful that there are examples from students' work.

For writers stuck without ideas, or aware of specific weaknesses in their writing, a book of exercises like this is invaluable.

What was the best writer's exercise you ever tried?


  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you that this is a terrific book, Debbie. I've been recommending it for years and years. Pam Painter is an old friend--she was one of my workshop leaders during my MFA at Vermont College and has one of the best literary minds out there. Hers and Anne Bernays' exercises are more than that--just reading them teaches writers an awful lot.

  2. I'm so glad you think so, Les. I really value your opinion. I can't wait to get into more of the exercises. How wonderful that you were able to study under one of them!




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