March 02, 2014

How Fiction Works

51jXQz5S_OL.jpgHow Fiction Works

James Wood

Picador, 2009

Mr. Woods’ book is used in the Writing Program at Columbia and its principles are frequently

referred to in the deliberations of the Columbia Fiction Foundry.

Introduction to Free Indirect Style review posted by Ralph White

 There are a lot of books out there about how not to write badly but there are very few

about how to write well. James Wood's How Fiction Works is one of the best. The first

chapter, titled Narrating, contains critically important information for the fiction writer. The

essence of the lesson, and it is hard to do it justice in a few sentences, is that excellent

contemporary fiction differs from its predecessors in that it the author's presence is entirely

absent. The reader becomes the character, inhabiting the character's consciousness. The

reader, employing all of the character's senses, becomes the designated perceiver. And the

reader is free to interpret these perceptions independently. This style of writing goes by

several names but Wood likes "free indirect style."


The second chapter tracks the birth and development of free indirect style in modern

literature, citing Flaubert as its originator and James as its master. These two chapters,

circa 60 pages, comprise the essence of the lesson, with the rest of the book essentially

a PhD thesis on the birth of modernity in literary fiction. Interesting to be sure, but not

remotely as informative as the first 60 pages, especially for beginners.

Showing 1 reaction

  • Raymond Stokes
    commented 2016-12-20 06:48:41 -0500
    The first 60 pages are indeed helpful, as I can judge from the review. What about the last part of the book? Is it worth while using for the Literature course at college? I would simply add it to the list on as a must have for every student who writes a paper on Literature and Modern Writing Theories.