October 4, 2009

How Fiction Works

This is the title of a book By James Wood, critic, academic, writer for The New Yorker etc etc. It’s the best book about reading and writing I’ve read for a long time. He talks about “free, indirect style” which allows for the voice of the author, not always obviously, to be there alongside the characters.
A long quote from How Fiction Works

"The novelist is always working with at least three languages. There is the author’s own language, style, perceptual equipment, and so on; there is the character’s presumed language, style, perceptual equipment, and so on; and there is what we would call language of the world—the language that fiction inherits before it gets to turn it into novelistic style, the language of daily speech, of newspapers, of offices, of advertising, of the blogosphere and text messaging. In this sense, the novelist is a triple writer, and the contemporary writer now feels especially the pressure of this tripleness, thanks to the omnivorous presence of the third horse of this troika, the language of the world, which has invaded our subjectivity, our intimacy, the intimacy that James thought should be the proper quarry of the novel, and which he called (in a troika of his own) “the palpable present-intimate."

The writer Paul Freidinger from http://longpinelimited.blogspot.com/2009/04/writer-paul-freidinger-on-james-wood.html April 15 2009 comments in regard to the Wood book:

"I’m suggesting a reader examine whether a writer can resurrect our daily language and give a character an authentic voice, or whether he becomes a victim of the superficial, to the degree of being unable to make us care enough about that character to complete his story. The rest of Wood’s book takes one deeper into the formation of a novel and what is essential to its success. He offers equally sound advice as he takes the reader through the essential elements of the novel. Give it a chance, read the book. It might make you a better reader. It might even cause you to reconsider your own writing."

James Wood credits Flaubert with changing the way western novels are written, so I re-read Madame Bovary What a pain I found Emma to be. However, giving attention to Wood's ideas, I was more aware of the presence of an authorial view. (Does this matter? I don't know, but I find it interesting.) One example, from page 341 of my edition, translated into English by Gerard Hopkins, "Where had she learned the arts of a power to corrupt which was so profound, yet so well disguised, that it appeared to be somehow disembodied?"

How Fiction Works is a short, dense book, written, quaintly, in numbered paragraphs and is in the Wellington Public Library. (Dewey number: 809.3 WOO)

In my next post, I'll be back to talking about marketing.

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