Mile 23: Aspects of the Novel

Back on Mile 2, I wrote about the author’s guide; Ernest Hemingway on Writing. The book was useful on a variety level, is one I’ve already read twice and plan on reading a third time.

Mile 23 is about E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. It is considered by many critics to be a, if not thee classic book on writing a novel. I found the book interesting, but not nearly as helpful as I had hoped, though still worth reading.

Much of the book was devoted to what would be considered more complex works, perhaps more sophisticated, or closer to “true literature”, than your average Western. There were deep analysis of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Melville, Lawrence and many others. Not a Louis L’Amour or an Elmore Leonard in the bunch. However, I did find one powerful takeaway that I believe will benefit me over time and I want to it with you; understand the difference between one dimensional characters who are part of a story and fully developed characters who are part of a plot.

Forster spoke often (the book is based on a series of lectures he gave) on the importance of story. “We need not ask what happened next, but to whom did it happen; the novelist will be appealing to our intelligence and imagination, not merely to our curiosity.” In simpler terms, if, when reading your book, the reader wants to quickly to turn the page to see what happened, to satisfy their curiosity, you have written a good old-fashioned page turner. Nothing wrong with that, just know going in that that is what you plan on doing. Plenty of action, a little suspense, a pretty girl waiting for the winner. It’s a formula that has worked for thousands of Westerns and will work for thousands more.

However, if they are reading your book because they are invested in your characters, that the reader is now at least equally invested in why something happened and as they are in what happened. That is an entirely different style; more difficult and time consuming, but with richer and more fully developed characters, and it can certainly be well worth the effort.

There is not a right or wrong here. Some people like country music and some prefer jazz. Different levels of complexity, but it’s important for you the writer, and all of us as readers, to pick the one we prefer.

I wish you good writing and if you have a question, or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!


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