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Publisher's Summary

What makes a story a story? What is style? What's the connection between realism and real life? These are some of the questions James Wood answers in How Fiction Works, the first book-length essay by the preeminent critic of his generation.

Ranging widely from Homer to David Foster Wallace, from What Maisie Knew to Make Way for Ducklings, Wood takes the listener through the basic elements of the art, step by step. He sums up two decades of insight with wit and concision, resulting in nothing less than a philosophy of the novel, which has won critical acclaim nationwide, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times Book Review.

©2008 Andrew Grant; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Deservedly famous for [his] intellectual dazzle, literary acuteness and moral seriousness....Wood writes like a dream." (New York Times Book Review)
"[Wood proves] that superior criticism not only unifies and interprets a literary culture but has the power to imagine it into being." (Cynthia Ozick)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.8 out of 5.0
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  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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  • 4.3 out of 5.0
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  • Overall
  • Don
  • Panorama City,, CA, United States
  • 05-04-09

Educational!

Written in short chapters, this book is a sensible diagnosis of narrative construction with good examples. What is not is a simplistic how-to book. It forces one to work a bit to understand. I especially like the chapters on "free indirect style," which I found useful as a concept that can be applied to not only writing but also filmmaking. Give it a chance!

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Roy
  • Beaumont, TX, United States
  • 02-09-11

Closely Reasoned

I try to approach books that will fill gaps in my knowledge. “How Fiction Works” by James Wood fit that bill. It is short, but full of insights into fiction. I have no background in literary criticism, but was able to follow Wood’s arguments for the most part. Wood throughout the volume stresses how fiction writers need to be observers. The chapters demonstrated that insight throughout and reveals how various authors have presented their subjects as a result. The book is well worth the time, but come expecting to apply yourself to the subject for the duration. Otherwise, I was disappointed in the asides that Wood made toward religion. It was out of place in this volume because this book was about fiction and how it works. Frankly, statements referring to Jesus as “that cheerless psychologist” and to religion as “That vast musical moth eaten brocade” were simply out of place. Wood’s uses other passages from the Old Testament to good advantage and they were informative. My beef isn’t with religion or quoting religious texts. I just found Wood’s cracks about religion not germane to the topic at hand and a distraction. Otherwise, the reading of James Adams is good though his accent was difficult for me to follow in places.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • C
  • Chestnuthill, MA, United States
  • 01-28-10

Not sure that this is appropriate for audible

I enjoyed the book very much. It got me thinking about the mechanics of the books that I read. However, there are 2 things to keep in mind before purchasing it: 1) It would have been nice if I could have referred back and read over previous sentences, but this is impossible with a spoken book 2) If you are not well read you will miss a lot of the references.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

If you are an aspiring writer...

If you are an aspiring novelist (like me) the chances are, this book will make you (as it has made me) feel utterly inadequate, and develop an urge to rework your writing. Which I think can be a good thing so long as you keep your confidence about the uniqueness of your talent, I learned much from this book, and am looking forward to complete my draft of novel before doing stylish revision and reworking.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Pretty Scholarly

I bought this book because I'm interested in the art of writing and it was a worthwhile listen. I could see it being used in an academic setting rather than for a casual read. Hey, but I like a challenge every once in a while. It will expose you to great writers and how they practiced their craft. And better still, elements of fiction practiced by each.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Both for readers and writers

Not every reader, even serious ones, is going to want to understand technique and the debates inside literary criticism, but this is a decent introduction to these problems. For the aspiring serious writer, though, this books seems mandatory.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Not what I expected

I'm not sure what I thought the book was about, but I'm sure I can't understand it.
It was a little like being taught to diagram a sentence instead of how to write one,,, and doing it with an upper crust British accent ,,,with words and references from another era,,,, wearing ear muffs and a blindfold.

8 of 16 people found this review helpful