Writers: A Room of Our Own

by Polly Whitney

Home Forums Aspects of the Novel Introduction to "Aspects of the Novel"

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    Polly Whitney
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    Anything about writing or reading the novel. When I started out as a novelist, I tried many ways of conveying dialogue and learning that dialogue IS action. Dialogue is the respiratory system of long fiction. Making dialogue sound like people talking depends largely on the people – not all characters in novels speak the same variety of English. Dialogue flows from knowing your characters. Their voices should sound different from each other’s. Knowing your characters also drives the plot – just what are your characters likely to do or not do? Do you want to do something radical in your novel, something like including charts or songs or pictures? Sometimes you need to know the economics of what you’re dreaming of doing. Reproducing photos costs money, for example.
    As for graphics in a novel, I’d love to see a map in every long piece of fiction. That’s just me. I’d also like to see the dramatis personae – a list of characters.
    The toughest part of embarking on a novel is sorting out your thematic material. Here, knowing your characters is not so important as knowing yourself. Do you believe in God? Do you let it show?
    Choosing a narrator (or several) is almost certainly how writing a novel gets its start. The tendency of this century’s more ambitious novels has been to use several narrators. Or several points in time. Flashbacks are ubiquitous. Here it might help to know the traditions in literature. In Charles Dickens’s BLEAK HOUSE, for instance, we have two 18th century narrators: the overpoweringly GOOD Esther Summerson and the angry, omniscient third person narrator who sees the mess of industrialism everywhere and distrusts humans and their potential for good. Like Dickens, a writer must choose a narrator in the best position to tell us what is going on. BLEAK HOUSE sits on a fault line, so its author chose two very different narrators to cover the opposite sides of the massive breakage of society.

    • This topic was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Polly Whitney.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Polly Whitney.

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