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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

"The Art of Fiction" by David Lodge

Novelist and literary critic David Lodge offers fifty bite-sized chapter, each dealing with one aspect of the art of writing a novel. Each chapter is introduced by a well-chosen excerpt from Lodge's extensive reading.

The only trouble is that there is so much great advice I felt a little overwhelmed. How dare one presume to write a novel when there is so much to think about? The second problem (because when a writer starts a paragraph with 'the only trouble' you can be sure that there is more than one, them coming not single spies but in battalions to misquote Claudius) is that the examples he gives are drawn from the masters (Jane Austen, James Joyce etc) so that one feels that one feels intimidated by the seemingly effortless brilliance displayed.

Even his analyses suggest that an expert reads books at a deeper level than I can. I hadn't realised that “Orwell himself echoes the story of Adam and Eve in his treatment of the love affair between Winston and Julia, secretly monitored and finally punished by Big Brother”. To give another example, Lodge analyses what he calls 'skaz' which is "A type of first-person narration that has the characteristics of the spoken rather than the written word ... an illusion that can create a powerful effect of authenticity and sincerity” and which he shows involves repetition, exaggeration, short uncomplicated sentences, and sentence fragments, and in which "clauses are strung together as they seem to occur to the speaker, rather than being subordinated to each other in complex structures.” !!!

There are so many wonderful pieces of advice that all I could do was make a tiny, representative (I hope) selection of a few:
  • “The stream-of-consciousness novel is the literary expression of solipsism ... but we could equally well argue that it offers us some relief from that daunting hypothesis by offering us imaginative access to the inner lives of other human beings, even if they are fictions.”
  • “The essential purpose of art is to overcome the deadening effects of habit by representing familiar things in an unfamiliar way.”
  • “What do we mean that ... when we say that a book is ‘original’? Not, usually, that's the writer has invented something without precedent, but that she has made us ‘perceive’ what we already ... ‘know’.”
  • “All description in fiction is highly selective; its basically rhetorical technique is synecdoche, the part standing for the whole.”
  • “Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, the belief that ‘God had planned for practically everybody before they were born a nasty surprise when they died’.”
  • “The crucially important last word-space in the paragraph.”
  • “One of the difficulties in writing truthfully about working-class life in fiction ... is that the novel itself is inherently a middle-class form, and its narrative voice is apt to betray this bias in every turn of phrase.”
  • “A characteristic of comedy in fiction: a combination of surprise ... and conformity to pattern.”
  • “It is only superficially paradoxical that most novels about the future are narrated in the past tense.”
  • “Popular science fiction ... is a curious mixture of invented gadgetry and archetypal narrative motifs very obviously derived from folk tale, fairy tale, and Scripture, recycling the myths of Creation, Fall, Flood and a Divine Saviour, for a secular but still superstitious age.”
  • “There is always a trade-off in the writing of fiction between the achievement of structure, pattern and closure on the one hand, and the imitation of life's randomness, inconsequentiality and openness on the other.”
  • “It has been said that all novels are essentially about the passage from innocence to experience, about discovering the reality that underlies appearances. It is not surprising, therefore, that stylistic and dramatic irony are all-pervasive in this form of literature.”
  • “The explicit treatment of sexual acts is certainly another challenge to the novelist artistry ... how to defamiliarize the inherently limited repertoire of sexual acts”
  • “Classic tales of the uncanny invariably use ‘I’ narrators, and imitate documentary forms of discourse like confessions, letters and depositions to make the events more credible.”

This is a book for every wannabe novelist to keep on the nearest shelf to the writing desk. I will!

It also contains a bibliography so I have another seven books to add to the must-read list.

The Craft of Fiction by Percy Lubbock and Aspects of the Novel by E M Forster are works of literary criticism which also provide a wannabe novelist like myself with guidance as to how to write a novel.

Write Away by Elizabeth George and On Writing by Stephen King are also well worth reading although they are more focused on the craft of story-telling than on analysing literary classics.

May 2019; 230 pages

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