Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: June 2011--How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II

It's been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. (Happy Belated Memorial Day, everyone!) I've been immersed in reading, both for my book group and for my infant blog, Middle Grade Mafioso.

And, of course, I have had my eye out for a new craft book. Here, courtesy of James N. Frey, it is. (I must add that this James Frey is not the one who hoodwinked Oprah a few years back, with a "memoir" that turned out to be fiction. I wonder if James N. Frey got some mileage out of that fracas.)

Being me, I have to do everything backwards and begin with How to Write a Damn Good Novel II. Why II, you may wonder. Because I couldn't get my hands on #1 (too many library holds) before I got myself sucked into #2. This guy is, pardon my French, a damn good writer.

Chapter One is titled The Fictive Dream and How to Induce It. Frey lays it all out here and, if you are starting out on a writer's journey, I urge you to read this chapter. Transporting your reader into this fictive dream is what you, as a writer, need to accomplish. You will find all the answers here:

The dream is accomplished by the creation of vivid detail. As a former acolyte in the groves of academia I love this broadside from Frey:

The reading of fiction, then, is the experience of a dream working at the subconscious level. This is the reason most sensible people hate the academic study of literature. Academics attempt to make rational and logical something that is intended to make you dream. Reading Moby Dick and analyzing the imagery is to read it in a waking state. The author wants you to be absorbed into the story world, to go on a voyage on the Pequod halfway around the globe in search of a whale, not to be bogged down figuring how he did it, or to be looking for the hidden meaning of the symbolism as if it were a game of hide-and-seek played by the author and the reader.
(Put that in your pipe, Mr. Derrida, and smoke it!)

Frey goes on to talk of the necessity of creating sympathy for a character (giving examples from Stephen King to Kafka); identifying with a character ("identification occurs when the reader is not only in sympathy with the character's plight, but also supports his or her goals and aspirations and has a strong desire that the character achieve them"); moving to empathy with a character ("feeling what the character is feeling"): and finally being transported, through the use of inner conflict, to the point of complete absorption with the characters and their world.

As Frey says as the end of this chapter: "To keep your reader transported, dreaming the fictive dream deeply, it's a good idea to heighten suspense, which, happily, is the subject of Chapter Two.

And I might add, Week 2. See you then!


  1. I like James Frey's attitude towards dissecting novels (and poems, too, presumably)
    It's important for children to learn to read between the lines and make inferences but too much analysis kills the story and sometimes stunts a budding pleasure in reading.

  2. Something else for my Kindle. :) I feel the same way about movies as books. Critics always bog it down; I'd rather be transported!

  3. That guy must be mistaken for the other Frey all. The. Time. And considering that the other Frey is almost universally hated in the writing world for his latest shenanigans, that probably isn't a good thing. BUT, this sounds great, and I love these summaries, because they get me thinking. Thanks!

  4. Anything that references Kafka AND King has to be pretty good.

  5. "The reading of fiction, then, is the experience of a dream working at the subconscious level. This is the reason most sensible people hate the academic study of literature."
    This is why I was not an English major.
    I was, however, sucked in to being a Russian lang. and lit. major, because I loved reading good books! (and an English minor). But I always HATED analyzing the stories--just let me read them! Please!
    Needless to say, I was not an A student.
    I can't decide if I should wait to hear more about this book on your next post or just go out and get it.
    Thanks for the introduction!

  6. I still am not getting your blog updates on my site Michael, so I'm glad you hop by to remind me you're out there. (I looked at both your blogs and I am listed there under members-sigh...)

    I think I need to read this, and I appreciate you pointing it out to us.


If comments be the food of love, comment on. Give me excess of them... (With apologies to The Bard)