#BookReview ‘How Novels Work’ by John Mullan #amwriting #writetip

The advice often given to inexperienced writers is to read, read, read. But alongside this reading must go the ability to analyse the novelist’s technique, learn, and apply that to your own writing. Professor John Mullan dissects the craft of the novelist in How Novels Work, based on a series of essays originally written for The Guardian newspaper. From structure to voice, he considers the mechanics of putting a novel together with frequent references to familiar novels from Robinson Crusoe to Brick Lane, The Corrections to From Russia With Love. John Mullan

This book is a toolbox of writing techniques, starting with Beginnings – title, epigraph, prologue – right through Narrating, Genre, Voices, Structure and Style to Endings – epilogue, postscript, false endings. It is a dense read, but each chapter is broken into 2-3 page sections making it easier to digest. I found the Devices section particularly interesting, including the use of fictional documents presented as real in a narrative. Signs, advertisements, maps and timetables in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, letters in Possession by AS Byatt and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, emails in The Human Stain by Philip Roth and I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson, newspaper reports in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin.

In the chapter on Detail, Mullan examines the use of weather. ‘I love England in a heat wave,’ says Leon Tallis in Atonement by Ian McEwan. ‘It’s a different country. All the rules change.’ Mullan demonstrates how novelists use weather to add to the drama, not simply as a wallpaper setting. Meals can be a useful tool for demonstrating the chemistry of a group; he chooses a mealtime for the Lambert family in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections to explain how the food, the table setting, is used to tell us more about this family’s dynamics.

At times a dry read, don’t let this put you off. Keep it handy and refer to it often. It will make you want to read novels you’ve never read, and revisit the classics. And if you are stuck with your writing, dip into it and read… you may unlock your creativity.

If you like this, try:-
Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande
On Writing’ by Stephen King
On Writing’ by AL Kennedy 

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