Best Nonfiction Book:
Could the author of A Passage to India, Howard’s End and A Room With a View possibly have anything to teach us about masterful novel writing? I’d say so. I heard several of the quotes below long before reading this book, and little wonder: they’re unique, revealing and succinct.
- “What the story does do in this particular capacity, all it can do, is to transform us from readers into listeners, to whom ‘a’ voice speaks, the voice of the tribal narrator, squatting in the middle of the cave, and saying one thing after another until the audience falls asleep among their offal and bones. The story is primitive, it reaches back to the origins of literature, before reading was discovered, and it appeals to what is primitive in us. That is why we are so unreasonable over the stories we like, and so ready to bully those who like something else.”
- The love of story is primal, and the curiosity that makes people want to finish a story is also base, primal.
- “And now we can get a definition as to when a character in a book is real: it is real when the novelist knows everything about it. He may not choose to tell us all he knows—many of the facts, even of the kind we call obvious, may be hidden. But he will give us the feeling that though the character has not been explained, it is explicable . . .”
- “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. If it does not convince, it is a flat pretending to be round.”
On point of view:
- “The novelist who betrays too much interest in his own method can never be more than interesting; he has given up the creation of character and summoned us to help analyse his own mind, and a heavy drop in the emotional thermometer results.”
- “May the writer take the reader into his confidence about his characters? Answer has already been indicated: better not. It is dangerous, it generally leads to a drop in the temperature, to intellectual and emotional laxity, and worse still to facetiousness, and to a friendly invitation to see how the figures hook up behind. ‘Doesn’t A look nice—she always was my favourite.’ ‘Let’s think of why B does that—perhaps there’s more in him than meets the eye—yes, see—he has a heart of gold—having given you this peep at it I’ll pop it back—I don’t think he’s noticed.’ ‘And C—he always was the mystery man.’ Intimacy is gained but at the expense of illusion and nobility. It is like standing a man a drink so that he may not criticize your opinions.”
- “It is not dangerous for a novelist to draw back from his characters, as Hardy and Conrad do, and to generalize about the conditions under which he thinks life is carried on. It is confidences about the individual people that do harm, and beckon the reader away from the people to an examination of the novelist’s mind. Not much is ever found in it at such a moment, for it is never in the creative state: the mere process of saying, ‘Come along, let’s have a chat,’ has cooled it down.”
- “Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. ‘The king died and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.”
- “If it is in a story we say ‘and then?’ If it is in a plot we ask ‘why?’ That is the fundamental difference.”
For more information, get or see on AmazonE.M. Forster on Wikipedia.