How Fiction Works
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In the tradition of E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel and Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel, How Fiction Works is a scintillating study of the magic of fiction--an analysis of its main elements and a celebration of its lasting power. Here one of the most prominent and stylish critics of our time looks into the machinery of storytelling to ask some fundamental questions: What do we mean when we say we "know" a fictional character? What constitutes a telling detail? When is a metaphor successful? Is Realism realistic? Why do some literary conventions become dated while others stay fresh?
James Wood ranges widely, from Homer to Make Way for Ducklings, from the Bible to John le Carré, and his book is both a study of the techniques of fiction-making and an alternative history of the novel. Playful and profound, How Fiction Works will be enlightening to writers, readers, and anyone else interested in what happens on the page.
“getting a character in.” He says that Conrad himself “was never really satisfied that he had really and sufficiently got his characters in; he was never convinced that he had convinced the reader; this accounting for the great lengths of some of his books.” I like this idea, that some of Conrad’s novels are long because he couldn’t stop fiddling, page after page, with the verisimilitude of his characters—it raises the specter of an infinite novel. At least the apprentice writer, with his bundle
pretty much as brutally as the coffin-maker would—”There were not many patients, and he did not have to wait long, only about three hours”—but continues to see this world after the coffin-maker has died. The Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga (almost exactly contemporaneous with Chekhov) used this kind of village-chorus narration much more systematically than his Russian counterpart. His stories, though written technically in authorial third person, seem to emanate from a community of Sicilian
Wittgenstein’s Nephew (Bernhard), 154 Woolf, Leonard, 61—62 Woolf, Virginia, 120, 121, 152, 184, 185—86, 215, 242—43; Dostoevsky’s influence on, 164—65; metaphor, use of, 209—10; suicide of, 61—62; To the Lighthouse, 178, 209—10 Wordsworth, William, 48—50, 192, 243 Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, The (Saramago), 107, 108—10, 111—12 Yeats, William Butler, 20
WITW salarymen had been on half time ever since Eckleschafft-Böd had forced Mrs. Anger to cut the editorial budget for everything except celebrity news, so in reality it was more like three finished pieces every eight weeks. Here is another example of what I called “unidentified free indirect style.” As in the Chekhov story, the language hovers around the viewpoint of the character (the journalist Atwater), but really emanates from a kind of “village chorus”—it is an amalgam of the kind of
language we might expect this particular community to speak if they were telling the story. 24 In Wallace’s case, the language of his unidentified narration is hideously ugly, and rather painful for more than a page or two. No analogous problem arose for Chekhov and Verga, because they were not faced with the saturation of language by mass media. But in America, things were different: Dreiser in Sister Carrie (published in 1900) and Sinclair Lewis in Babbitt (1923) take care to reproduce