Of the over 100 highly notable works Wood references I’ve only "read" four. And despite excerpts and references to plots and characters I’m unfamiliar with, it still kept me interested. I found that Wood fires me up and makes me want to go grab the classics off the shelf. It helped knowing the four that I did (Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Conrad, and a bit of Flaubert) just so I could feel like less of a slouch. Even still, Wood tastefully and often humorously peppers his book on writing with his own well-turned phrases. Readers will see he surely loves writing as much as he does reading.
I can't stop reading books on writing, there is something about them that seems to go so much more into depth about the people in writing and that gives each book more substance. Readers beware though, for (as musicians know well) once you think analytically about the conventions used to write, it's hard to stop, even when you want to just enjoy your favorite author's latest release.
One overreaching idea within his book is to show how fiction changed from Shakespeare to the modern thriller. One factor that has changed between the two is the way in which internal dialogue went from being directed to an audience, to directing it to the reader. The soliloquy from Shakespearean times was often directed to God(s) or the audience, whereas now, the reader takes the position of God, the character someone we look into.
So many ideas crammed into this little book provides hours of contemplative thought on what we’ve read and what we will read. How Fiction Works inspires the reader to think about writing themselves, and question how they’ve written.How does a phrase, sentence, convey important meaning? What does one even start with when describing a scene? I’ve come to feel like I did when I first confronted playing music professionally(eg. well); it’s really difficult.
We will find that most mysteries that enter the store here are full of dialogue in quotation marks. Much of the character’s dialogue is referenced as “he/she said” but, that is not the only way to do things. There is a much more subtle way to do it. A much more convincing way to bring the reader into the writer’s characters and it lies not so much in verbosity but in deception of a sort.
Wood’s following example conveys the idea:
He looked over at his wife. “She looks so unhappy,” he thought, “almost sick.” He wondered what to say.
The first example is direct, or quoted speech, combined with the character’s reported or indirect speech. The old-fashioned notion of a character’s thought as a speech made to himself, a kind of internal address.
He looked over at his wife. She looked so unhappy, he thought, almost sick. He wondered what to say.
This is reported or indirect speech, the internal speech of the husband reported by the author, and flagged as such. It is the most recognizable, the most habitual, of all the codes of standard realist narrative.
He looked at his wife. Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, almost sick. What the hell should he say?
This is free indirect speech or style: the husband’s internal speech or thought has been freed of its authorial flagging; no “he said to himself” or “he wondered’ or “he thought”
The narrative seems to float away from the novelist and take on the properties of the character, who now seems to “own” the words. The writer is free to inflect the reported thought, to bend it around the character’s own words. We are close to stream of consciousness, and that is the direction free indirect style takes in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries."
-James Wood How Fiction Works
Aside from the two general ideas I’ve touched on here there are many, many more in How Fiction Works. Wood has done for me what I can’t seem to do for myself; inspire an approach to classical works by equipping the reader with knowledge enough to see them for what they were meant to be…and maybe even finish them.
You can listen to Wood speaking on his new book at:
You can also buy it from The Poisoned Pen by clicking on the following this link.