the contextual life

thoughts without borders

books for writers :: the art of fiction

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whether you write fiction or non-fiction most of us at some point have been told, “show, don’t tell”. hyper-awareness of this prescriptive rule can derail a writer’s voice . . . here’s another way to think about it:

art of fiction / david lodge / 1992


Fictional discourse constantly alternates between showing us what happened and telling us what happened. The purest form of showing is the quoted speech of characters, in which language exactly mirrors the event (because the event is linguistic). The purest form of telling is the authorial summary, in which the conciseness and abstraction of the narrator’s language effaces the particularity and individuality of the characters and their actions. A novel written entirely in the mode of summary would, for this reason, be almost unreadable. But summary has its uses: it can, for instance, accelerate the tempo of a narrative, hurrying us through events which would be uninteresting, or too interesting — therefore distracting, if lingered over. It is easy to examine the work of Henry Fielding, because he was writing before the technique of free and direct style, in which authorial speech and characters’ speech are fused together, had been discovered. In his novels the boundary between these two kinds of discourse is clear and unambiguous.

the art of fiction, david lodge

[dig deeper] ::

henry fielding was an english writer who lived in the first half of the 1700s. he’s best known for his satirical novel, the history of tom jones, a foundling, the story of an abandoned infant who grows up in the home of the landowner where he was left. as the affection between him and the neighbors’ daughter unfolds, it becomes the classic star-crossed tale. fielding threw some sexual promiscuity and prostitution into the mix, something new for its time, and was considered trashy because of it.

david lodge is a british author whose books have been adapted to television and shortlisted for the man booker prize.


Written by Gabrielle

January 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

Posted in books

Tagged with , , ,

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