Elizabeth Bowen's notes on writing a novel

Originally posted by Peachalulu

  1. peachalulu
    http://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/fall-2006/classics/notes-writing-novel-elizabeth-bowen


    Peachalulu wrote

    "If you can get your hands on this essay it's worth a read. I'll highlight some passages which really stood out to me.

    What about the idea that plot should be ingenious, complicated - a display of ingenuity remarkable enough to command attention? If more than such a display, what? Tension, or mystification towards tension, are good for emphasis. For their own sakes, bad. Plot must further the novel towards its object. What object? The non-poetic statement of a poetic truth.

    Have not all poetic truths been already stated? The essence of a poetic truth is that no statement of it be final.


    Love that line - non-poetic statement of a poetic truth.

    The term "creation of a character" ( or characters ) is misleading. Characters preexist. The are found. They reveal themselves slowly to the novelists's perception - as might fellow-travellers seated opposite one in a very dimly lit railway carriage. ... The ideal way of presenting character is to invite perception.
    ...The character is there ( in the novel ) for sake of the action he or she is to contribute to the plot. Yes. But also, he or she exists outside the action being contributed to the plot.


    That last line is powerful. It's realizing that despite what your character does - they may not have gone that route. Alternatives are always there - which she touches on later in her essay explaining that flat characters are characters with no alternatives. Think of the Hunger Games - the writer could've just had Katniss' name drawn but that doesn't allow the mc to have a choice - by having her sister's name drawn Katniss now has several choices.

    Bowen also describes weak novelists as those giving categoric "description."

    Why? Because this is static. Physical personality belongs to action: cannot be separated from it. Pictures must be in movement. Eyes, hands, stature, etc., must appear, and only appear, in play. Reaction to physical personality is part of the action...

    Very good/relevant tip.

    Irrelevance, in any part, is a cloud and a drag on, a weakener of, the novel. It dilutes meaning. Relevance crystallizes meaning. The novelist's - any writer's - object is, to whittle down his meaning to the exactest and finest possible point. What, of course, is fatal is when he does not know what he does mean: he has no point to sharpen.

    That last line is a scary thought.