Saturday, December 19, 2009

Can't get enough of James Wood's HOW FICTION WORKS.

I like a book on writing that makes me feel more free
about writing, that inspires me to write the way I want
to write, that names things that I do but didn't even know
there was a name for, that makes writing simpler & clearer
(by describing its complexity), that, mainly, reminds me
& invites me to enjoy myself writing.

Even when he is saying what has been said, Wood does it
with a freshness and vitality that make it seem as if it's
being said for the first time.

Some teasers, because I recommend the whole book:

On third person, the omniscient narrator, and "free indirect style":

"So-called omniscience is almost impossible.
As soon as someone tells a story about a character,
narrative seems to want to bend itself around that
character, to merge with that character, to take on
his or her way of thinking and speaking. An author's
omniscience soon becomes a kind of secret sharing;
this is called 'free indirect style,' a term writers
have lots of different nicknames for--'close third person,'
or 'going into character.'"

On the sentence: "Ted watched the orchestra through stupid tears":

"What is so useful about free indirect style is that . . .
a word like 'stupid' somehow belongs both to the author
and the character; we are not entirely sure who 'owns'
the word. Might 'stupid' reflect a slight asperity or
distance on the part of the author? Or does the word belong
wholly to the character, with the author, in a rush of sympathy,
having 'handed' it . . . to the tearful fellow?"

"Thanks to free indirect style, we see things
through the character's eyes and language but also
through the author's eyes and language. We inhabit
omniscience and partiality at once. A gap opens
between author and character, and the bridge--which is
free indirect style itself--between them simultaneously
closes that gap and draws attention to its distance.

"There is a final refinement in free indirect style . . .
when the gap between an author's voice and a character's
voice seems to collapse altogether; when a character's voice
does indeed seem rebelliously to have taken over the narration

'The town was small, worse than a village, and in it lived almost
none but old people, who died so rarely it was even annoying.'

"What an amazing opening! It is the first sentence of Chekhov's
story 'Rothschild's Fiddle.' The next sentences are:

'And in the hospital and jail there was very little demand for coffins.
In short, business was bad.'

"The rest of the paragraph introduces us to an extremely mean coffin-
maker, and we realize that the story has opened in the middle of free
indirect style. We are in the midst of the coffin-maker's mind,
for whom longevity is an economic nuisance.

"Chekhov begins his use of (free indirect style) before
his character has even been identified.

"Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the story
is written from a point of view closer to a village chorus
than to one man. The village chorus sees life pretty much
as brutally as the coffin-maker would . . . , but continues
to see this world after the coffin-maker has died."


I love that he sets up the coffin-maker as the indirect narrator, then
goes, on the other hand, maybe it's the village chorus!

But don't we have to nail this down??!!

No. As long as it's consistent, and if it's not consistent, as long
as it's consistently inconsistent. In other words, whatever you can
get away with. Every accepted narrative technique was once an innovation
that set off howls of protest from the conventional mob. I'm not much
of a technical experimenter myself in writing, but it is liberating
to know that whatever quirks I might introduce into my writing, I am
quite free to do it, as long as I know what I'm doing, which I can only
know by going ahead and learning how to do it, right.

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