Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She won for The Age of Innocence in 1920; it was her twelfth novel. First published in 1925, her advice is still current today and will interest readers as well as writers of fiction.
Part literary analysis, part writing recommendations, this is not an indexed guide on how to write but more Wharton’s thoughts on writing fiction. At the beginning she reviews the development of ‘modern fiction’ that she says began when the action of the novel was ‘transferred from the street to the soul’; moving through the trend for providing a ‘slice of life’ via the French realists to the early twentieth century ‘stream of consciousness’. The early chapter is a little dry but the meat of this book is in three chapters: ‘Telling a Short Story’, ‘Constructing a Novel’, and ‘Character and Situation in the Novel’.
Wharton’s main points have lasted the test of time. Dialogue should be used sparingly. Originality is about vision, not about technique. Minor characters should all serve a purpose, or be cut. All novelists will to a degree write the autobiographical, Wharton says, but to be a truly creative novelist one must see the story as a whole and not as revolving solely around one central character [ie the novelist himself]. There is sound advice about the length of a novel, which she says needs to be determined by the subject. “The novelist should not concern himself beforehand with the abstract question of length, he should not decide in advance whether he is going to write a long or a short novel; but in the act of composition he must never cease to bear in mind that one should always be able to say of a novel: ‘It might have been longer,’ never: ‘It need not have been so long.’
This is a slim book that made me consider my own writing. It also left me determined to finally tackle the classics I have never read, including War and Peace and Père Goriot.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE WRITING OF FICTION by Edith Wharton #bookreview #amwriting https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3II via @SandraDanby