Sonya's Reviews > How Fiction Works

How Fiction Works by James    Wood
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's review
Jan 10, 2009

it was amazing
Read in January, 2009

I'd say this is the best book on the art of fiction to date--and I've got Gardner, Lamott, Burroway, Lodge, Gotham Writers, and O'Connor under my belt. Wood approaches craft elements with such simplicity and yet such nuanced complexity--this dual effect is brilliant. He of course cites examples all throughout, and they are razor sharp, much more so than what I've often encountered in other writing craft books, where you strain to grasp concretely the point that's being made, and strain even further to imagine how you will get this point across to your students. The writing itself is lucid to the point of lovely.

I read this initially to see if it's appropriate for an undergraduate fiction class text; I've decided it isn't, it's much more useful for the practicing writer who's been writing and reading for some time, would be excellent for graduate students. With section titles like "Characterological Relativity," you can see why. But it's incredibly useful for the fiction teacher--I plan to use many of his examples and extract a number of quotations.

Specifically, it's also a good read for fiction writers who've "graduated" from all the rules about adverbs, show don't tell, flat and round characters, and are ready to look at the anatomy of sophisticated writing, the writing that defies all these rules. An example from the section on character: "I would be quite ready to abolish the idea of 'roundness' in characterization, because it tyrannizes us--readers, novelists, critics--with an impossible ideal...Spacial metaphors, of depth, shallowness, roundness, flatness, are inadequate. A better division--though not perfect either--is between transparencies (relatively simple characters) and opacities (relative degrees of mysteriousness)." The section on point-of-view also busts open the strict categories of "limited" and "omniscient" in a brilliant way--reminding us that consistency is indeed the hobgoblin of small minds.

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