How Fiction Works

How Fiction Works by James Wood

In this blog, I will give you a brief introduction to James Wood’s How Fiction Works. It is a crucial resource book for anyone who aspires to write a novel. I read the Tenth Anniversary Edition with a new preface. He divided the book into the following sections: Narrating; Flaubert and Modern Narrative; Flaubert and the Rise of the Flaneur; Detail; Character; A Brief History of Consciousness; Form; Sympathy and Complexity; Language; Dialogue; and Truth, Convention, Realism.

James Wood devotes his preface to a discussion about style and content. He summarizes the ideas of literary critics such as Roland Barthes and Viktor Shklovsky and juxtaposes them with the ideas of famous novelists such as Gustav Flaubert, Virginia Woolfe, Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot, Elena Ferrante, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

In his chapter on narration, Wood describes the differences between the use of first, second, and third person in fiction. He discusses the reliability quotient of each. He also treats the topic of whether the reader sees the actions and the scenes from the characters’ viewpoint or through the author’s eyes. I was particularly intrigued by his view that “the author wants to have his or her own words, wants to be the master of a personal style; … narrative bends toward its characters and their habits of speech.”

Wood states that Gustav Flaubert created modern realist narrative by deliberately confusing habitual detail with dynamic detail, that is, some details are unique, and others are recurrent, but they flow together as though they are all happening at the same time.

Wood also discusses how Flaubert introduced the character known as the flaneur—a male character who walks around and notices what is going on and what is not going on.

In his chapter on “Detail,” Wood points out that life itself is full of detail. Details surround us. In literature, the author must use detail to direct the reader’s attention. Interestingly, he again points out that how detail manifests can be from the authorial voice side or from the character’s viewpoint.

My main takeaway from Wood’s How Fiction Works is that I must address my authorial voice and style and clearly delineate my voice and style from that of my characters. This book may become my “bible” as I continue to work on my fiction. I encourage my readers to buy a copy and study it thoroughly.

My Writing Goals for 2023

Continue to work on my poetry.

I sent my poetry manuscript to a line editor.

Submit poetry to contests/awards:

I submitted four poems to a poetry contest.

Finish, request feedback, and send my first novel out for review:

My critique group workshopped around two thousand words of my novel. We added a new member to our group, so I received a different kind of feedback during this session. I also had to critique a new novelistic style of writing.

Continue to work on my other novels:

I collected photos from the era of this novel that I can use for reference on vehicles, clothing, and settings. 

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers AllianceI communicated with our newsletter editor and our webmaster.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I read the newsletter and am considering submitting to an in-house contest.

Women Writing the WestOur critique group has added a fourth member after almost one year of meetings.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers I read the newsletter.

This year I plan to monetize my blog:

This month, I made no progress toward monetizing my blog. 

Document my writing progress through my blog and post it on the seventh day of each month, one blog per month 2023:
This is my second blog of 2023. I post regularly on the seventh day of each month. This past month has been excruciatingly difficult for me. My husband, Bill Border who was an illustrator and painter, had an infection that resulted in congestive heart failure. He passed away on Groundhog’s Day. My husband loved the tradition of Punxsutawney Phil, who did wake up to see his shadow on February second, predicting six more weeks of winter. But Bill did not wake up to see Punxsutawney Phil, he passed in his sleep. My writing has been a solace and a refuge for me during this time.

Today in History:

February 7, 1940: Walt Disney released the film “Pinocchio.”

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