After fantasy, it is only fair that we ask the question, namely, how does fiction work? Pradeep Sebastian reviews James Wood’s How fiction works and recommends it strongly too:
This is the first truly illuminating book on the craft of a writer I have read. Writers making a start and writers well into their craft will learn nearly everything there is to learn about writing good fiction from Wood’s deep responses to the writers he so clearly knows and loves. Apart from Wood’s own brilliant commentary and remarks, there are phrases, sentences, and entire paragraphs here from the novels that he knows intimately that define imaginative sympathy, style, detail, endings, and dialogue in the most vivid and glorious ways. Wood feels academic criticism and literary theory have not answered these questions well, and his book poses these “theoretical questions but answers them practically…asks a critic’s questions and offers a writer’s answers.”
Along the way, of course, Sebastian, in his usual style, also gives a list of other books of the same genre which are also a must-read:
The book belongs to a critical subgenre quickly developing — a handful of books attempting a philosophy of the novel. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel (which Wood feels is imprecise now) Alfred Kazin’s The Bright Book of Life (Kazin’s definition of the novel, borrowed from Lawrence, as the “one bright book of life” is still to be beaten) and Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel come quickly to mind. Recent additions to this genre of a literary user’s manual are Ruth Padel’s Fifty Two Ways to Read a Poem, John Sutherland’s The Novel: A User’s Guide, John Mullan’s How Novels Work and Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel.
Take a look!