[PDF] How Fiction Works By James Wood


SUMMARY How Fiction Works

How Fiction Works

Nto the machinery of storytelling to ask some fundamental uestions 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 freshJames Wood ranges widely f. This is a book I ve read re read and re re read I go back to it freuently whenever I ve finished one of the titles from its bibliography or just to revisit Wood s various topics Deceptively simple and uickly read If allowed HFW will inform any novel you read It is not comprehensive in its scope it omits topics like plot structure etc and limits itself to Wood s own intersts an issue some reviewers take exception to There was a time when I d read a passage from a novel and wonder whose word IS that Thanks to Wood I realize many of those passages were written in free indirect style Now that I can identify it I see its use freuently and have an appreciation for its utility Whatever else this book is it is NOT a how to manual for new authors Although they would likely benefit from reading it Wood s simple presentation considers an abundance of novels many uite well known or classics and he adds insight to every title mentioned This book is nothing like his books of essays but it is informed by the same sensibility For those who might be theory or criticism averse Divan Of Rudaki of storytelling to ask some fundamental uestions 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 Choice Stories for Children others stay freshJames Wood ranges widely f. This is a book I ve read re read and re re read I go back to it freuently whenever I ve finished Öbür Divan one Summary of Homo Deus of the titles from its bibliography Koldbrann - parte 1: Rebeldes or just to revisit Wood s various topics Deceptively simple and uickly read If allowed HFW will inform any novel you read It is not comprehensive in its scope it The Teams Milking Cow omits topics like plot structure etc and limits itself to Wood s A Wolfs Desire Reluctant Mates own intersts an issue some reviewers take exception to There was a time when I d read a passage from a novel and wonder whose word IS that Thanks to Wood I realize many Via Suez (British): Blue Funnel Line (Merchant Navy Series Book 3) of those passages were written in free indirect style Now that I can identify it I see its use freuently and have an appreciation for its utility Whatever else this book is it is NOT a how to manual for new authors Although they would likely benefit from reading it Wood s simple presentation considers an abundance Zenith of novels many uite well known A Pale Light in the Black or classics and he adds insight to every title mentioned This book is nothing like his books Devil Versus Alpha The Millennium Wolves or criticism averse

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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 i. When I talk about free indirect style I am really talking about point of view and when I talk about point of view I am really talking about the perception of detail and when I talk about detail I m really talking about character and when I talk about character I am really talking about the real which is at the bottom of my inuiries James Wood How Fiction WorksYou might not agree with everything James Wood has to say about a particular author or work of literature but you have to admit there isn t another booklover passionately dedicated to careful reading finely honed criticism and upholding high standards How Fiction Works is case in point very much like an expert mechanic examining the assorted parts of the engine in an Italian or German sports car James Wood rolls up his sleeves and scrutinizes various aspects of what goes into the writing of fiction especially the novel His particular method is to undergird his analysis and reasoning with numerous examples this is a fairly short book but there are over 100 individual literary novels uoted or referenced from Don uixote Jane Eyre Madame Bovary What Maisie Knew Sister Carrie and Ulysses to Invisible Man Lolita Seize the Day Blood Meridian Atonement and Gilead And this is not exactly an easy book to read I myself had to break an intellectual sweat rereading passages again and again to grasp completely Mr Wood s thinking To share some of the many insights a reader will find in its pages below are specific James Wood uotes coupled with my comments In reality we are stuck with third and first person narration The common idea is that there is a contrast between reliable narration third person omniscient and unreliable narrator the unreliable first person narrator who knows less about himself than the reader eventually does On one side Tolstoy say and on the other Humbert Humbert or Italo Sveno s narrator Zeno Cosini or Bertie Wooster The author spends a good number of his opening pages explaining the dynamics of voice that is the manner in which a story is told At one point he notes Actually the first person narration is generally reliable than unreliable and third person omniscient narration is generally partial than omniscient I m reminded of a personal favorite the way Colin Harrison opens his Bodies Electric using a first person narrator who is both completely reliable and painfully honest My name is Jack Whitman and I should never have had the first thing to do with her I shouldn t have indulged myself my loneliness my attraction to her not with what was happening at the Corporation at the time But I m as weak hearted for love and as greedy for power as the next guy maybe so And I was crazy for the sex of course that was part of it These opening four sentences set off like a string of explosions give us a clear indication of what fireworks we can expect as we turn the pages It is useful to watch good writers make mistakes Plenty of excellent ones stumble at free indirect style Free indirect style being a blending of objective third person narration with the thoughts and words of a character James Wood shares the example of how John Updike in his novel Terrorist in order to propel the story puts impossible thoughts in the head of his eighteen year old main character impossible in the sense that an eighteen year old could never have such thoughts and could never express such thoughts in the novelist s sophisticated language Major blunder By the way years ago when Updike s novel S was first published I recall reviewers claiming that the main character in the novel a young woman by the name of Sarah Worth wrote letters as if she had the literary talent of a John Updike Again major blunder Novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring it all begins again with him There really is a time before Flaubert and a time after him Flaubert decisively established what most readers and writers think of as modern realist narration and his influence is almost too familiar to be visible In order to fully dissect how fiction works and why fiction works Mr Wood delves into the history of the novel particularly innovations made within the nineteenth century James Wood details why no novelist ever had a profound influence on the novel than Gustave Flaubert Literature makes us better noticers of life we get to practice on life itself which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature which in turn makes us better readers in life And so on and on You have only to teach literature to realize that most young readers are poor noticers I can speak to the truth of Wood s claim by my own first hand experience after reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn s Cancer Ward in my early 20s I was better prepared to deal with my own father s confinement to a hospital bed for an extended time There is nothing harder than the creation of fictional character I can tell it from the number of apprentice novels I read that begin with descriptions of photographs Ha First rate fiction writers like Richard Russo and El Leonard make the creation of their interesting lifelike characters look so easy It s a kind of magic it ain t easy as anyone who has ever tried their hand at fiction writing realizes very uickly There is something deeply philosophical about Dostoevsky s analysis of human behavior and Nietzsche and Freud were attracted to his work One chapter of Dostoevsky s novella The Eternal Husband is entitled Analysis Proust who said that all of Dostoevsky s novels might have the one title Crime and Punishment studied him with perhaps care than he would admit to One great characteristic of a truly great novelist they expand and deepen what it means to write a novel Certainly the case with Dostoevsky This new approach to character meant a new approach to form When character is stable form is stable and linear the novelist begins at the beginning telling us about his hero s childhood and education moving decisively forward into the hero s marriage and then toward the dramatic crux of the book something is wrong with the marriage But if character is changeable then why begin at the beginning Surely it would be effective to begin in the middle and then move backward and then move forward and then move backward again This is just the kind of form Conrad would use in Lord Jim and The Secret Agent and Ford in The Good Soldier Along with voice novelists must make clear decisions on how their novel will be structured in time I vividly recall Charles Baxter s First Light a novel beginning with the main character a middle age Michigan car salesman by the name of Hugh Welsh confronting a crisis involving his younger sister Dorsey a university physicist Each chapter moves further back in time until we reach the last chapter when Hugh is a four year old boy at the hospital holding his newborn baby sister for the first time Such authorial creativity made for uniue reading Ford Madox Ford in his book Joseph Conrad A Personal Remembrance writes wonderfully about getting a character up and running what he calls getting the character in Ample are the reasons given in Mr Wood s book as to why Ford s words sparkle We have to read musically testing the precision and rhythm of a sentence listening for the almost inaudible rustle of historical association clinging to the hems of modern words attending to patterns repetitions echoes deciding why one metaphor is successful and another is not judging how the perfect placement of the right verb or adjective seals a sentence with mathematical finality Let me share what has helped me develop my own musical ear for reading fiction I make it a point to occasionally read aloud Respecting the musicality of fiction the ear has it all over the eye All the great realists from Austen to Alice Munro are at the same time great formalists But this will be unceasingly difficult for the writer has to act as if the available novelistic methods are continually about to turn into mere convention and so has to try to outwit that inevitable aging The true writer that free servant of life is one who must always be acting as if life were a category beyond anything the novel has yet grasped as if life itself were always on the verge of becoming conventional When it comes to fiction a writer can have all the technical skills in the world but what will really really set them apart is drum roll with capitals IMAGINATION A great realist a great formalist Canadian author Alice Munro

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Rom Homer to Make Way for Ducklings from the Bible to John le Carré and his book is both a study of the techniues 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 pag. 021116 this is gently deceptive as a title this is not how fiction works but how a sort of fiction works which happens to be his sort and likely to be the sort that interests someone who would read a book like this on the one acknowledged classics admired contemporary widely sourced on the other neither breathtakingly popular which might garner readers for possibly non literary reasons such as this movie or that event or person nor obscurely involved in literary exploration of exactly what he says is needed to make fiction work such as character narrator voice and so onit is brief it is concise it is clear it has a good bibliography and i discover by the number of said books read that yes i am someone who would read a book like this

  • Paperback
  • 265
  • How Fiction Works
  • James Wood
  • English
  • 27 August 2018
  • 9780312428471

About the Author: James Wood

James Douglas Graham Wood is an English literary critic essayist and novelist He is currently Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University a part time position and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazineWood advocates an aesthetic approach to literature rather than ideologically driven trends in academic literary criticismWood is noted for coining the genre t



10 thoughts on “How Fiction Works

  1. says:

    “When I talk about free indirect style I am really talking about point of view and when I talk about point of view I am really talking about the perception of detail and when I talk about detail I'm really talking about character and when I

  2. says:

    Critics often get a bad reputation and likely deservingly so I often reflect on a uote by Macedonio Fernández that a critic knows nothing of wh

  3. says:

    For 75 pages this was all clang clang clang goes the trolley ding ding ding goes the bell but then it turned a sharp corner and I th

  4. says:

    What I love about books like this is that they are filled with gobbets I rewatched The History Boys also referenced at one point not too long ag

  5. says:

    This is a book I've read re read and re re read I go back to it freuently whenever I've finished one of the titles from its bibliograp

  6. says:

    I kind of hate reading books of this sort as they leave me with a heightened awareness of style character rhythm etc that makes it difficult to read average or sub par fiction Of course the benefit of reading books like this is that I do cultivate a discriminatory taste so that I read only the best trashy novelsI haven'

  7. says:

    A verymost entertaining and informative book about books and how writers make them from words placed in different orders Split into handy chapters but written as one lengthy essay with numerical subheadings Wood teaches us things from Flaubert James Joyce Foster Wallace and other masters and mistresses about how to identify bad writing from good and how free indirect style is a thing of beauty when done right Only trouble is his p

  8. says:

    021116 this is gently deceptive as a title this is not how 'fiction' works but how a 'sort' of fiction works which happens to be his 'sort' and likely to be the 'sort' that interests someone who would read a book like thi

  9. says:

    I thought this book would be written with a writerly slant but no More with a readerly slant turns out Still as a writer wading into novel writing you can pick up a thing or two Up to you I imagine Wood thinking He's about educating readersThe good thing? This is mostly approached in layman's terms It does not come across as high falutin' ivory tower show off talk that is when authors have an audience of fellow professors in mind The other

  10. says:

    Between the years 1910 and 1915 R A Torrey and A C Dixon compiled a series of books of essays entitled The Fundamentals With this series Torrey and Dixon set out to give the true Christian absolutely everything that she needed to know in orde

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