Lara Lee's Reviews > Aspects of the Novel

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
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it was amazing

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster is not a how-to-write book. It is a collection of lectures delivered in the 1920's by Forster at King's College in Cambridge. The point of the book is to discuss what makes a good fiction novel work. I was introduced to this book from multiple directions at the same time. The primary place that piqued my curiosity was in Ursula Le Guin's Steering the Craft where she used it as a debate partner. I am thrilled I did read it, and I think there is a good reason why it is considered a classic. Sorry, Ms. Le Guin!

Forster breaks down the novel into its various parts: Story, People, Plot, Fantasy, Prophecy, and Pattern/Rhythm. Most of the sections are obvious on what it covers, but it still has profound insights into story vs. plot, flat characters usefulness as supporting characters, and what makes an excellent round character.

As a fantasy fiction writer, I was curious about his sections on Fantasy and Prophecy. I was amazed to see that this had nothing to do with myth or fairy tales. A novel like Moby Dick would have both fantasy and prophecy according to his definition. He discusses the fact that fantasy always requires that we pay something extra, going beyond the norm and mundane. Prophecy asks for humility and a suspension of the sense of humor because it makes us feel and sense beyond what can be articulated.

His chapter on prophecy seemed especially pertinent to Christian fiction writers. He shows and explains the difference between preaching and feeling the truth through abstraction. As a writer, I can have a character dream and then tell them what it means and how to feel about it. Or, as a writer, I can have my character dream and then have that dream alter them without explaining to the reader why. This second option is what Forester calls prophesy. We can preach a message is our story explicitly in dialogue, or we could follow St. Francis of Assisi's advice to preach always and only use words when necessary. 

I found myself stretched and excited by Forster's insights. I highly recommend this book to everyone, even if you aren't a writer. Learning to read closely is a skill that all can benefit from and to see beyond an action-packed plot can produce great rewards.
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Reading Progress

May 13, 2018 – Shelved
May 13, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
May 20, 2018 – Started Reading
May 29, 2018 –
page 80
June 3, 2018 – Finished Reading

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