Aspects of the Novel - E M Forster
Successful novelist E M Forster discusses the craft of story writing.
Aspects of the Novel E M Forster (1879-1970)
E M Forster was a successful novelist and later an academic. Three of his novels, A Room with a View (1908), Howard’s End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924) have been made into films. In 1927 he was invited to give a series of lectures which were later published as Aspects of the Novel. To the modern reader Forster’s comments may suffer from their age. When he first shared his thoughts, talking movies were new and many of the twentieth century’s leading novelists and playwrights had still to emerge. More recently, with the appearance during the 1980s and 1990s of detailed manuals on the craft of storytelling, his insights can seem superficial. But his observations are a primer in the essentials of storytelling. He makes a clear distinction between story and plot, and emphasises the relationship between character and incident. And his discussion of fantasy, prophecy and rhythm encourages us that truly great writing goes beyond storytelling.
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A story is a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence — it simply tells us what happened and in what order. It is the time sequence which turns a random collection of episodes into a story. But chronological sequence is a very primitive feature and it can have only one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next. The only skill of a storyteller is their ability to wield the weapon of suspense, making the audience eager to discover the next event in the sequence. This emphasis on chronological sequence is a difference from real life. Our real lives also unfold through time but have the added feature that some experiences have greater value and meaning than others. Value has no role in a story, which is concerned with the life in time rather than the life by values. And because human lives measured by time consist of nothing more than the business of getting old, a story cannot sincerely lead to any conclusion but the grave.
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we cannot reveal ourselves.E M Forster
http://www.. rather they are like real people. except in a rough and ready way. which accumulate grandeur and sonority after we have passed them. American Psycholog.04
A novelist can only begin to explore the value of human experiences by developing the characters of the story. their inner as well as their outer life can be exposed. even when we want to. They come from the immense area of Russia. C.. In daily life we never understand each other. whereas love is greatly over-represented. But people in a novel can be understood completely by the reader. neither complete clairvoyance nor complete confessional exists. great chords begin to sound. what we call intimacy is only makeshift. New $21. roads. and the sense of space until it terrifies us is exhilarating. But Forster emphasises that characters are not real people.com/techniques/media/forster. forests.80
Summer Bridge Activities Julia Ann Hobbs. and we cannot exactly say what struck them. Sometimes characters can seem to be more real than the people around us. After one has read War and Peace for a bit.. New $14. We cannot understand each other. He may not tell us all he knows.. over which episodes and characters have been scattered.
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Publication Manual of the American P. fields. and leaves behind it an effect like music. gardens. Cath.. But in the novel we can know people perfectly..Aspects of the Novel . if the novelist wishes. Characters’ lives are different from real lives. and gives us a definition as to when a character in a book is real: it is real when the novelist knows everything about it. New $18.. but he will give us the feeling that though the character has not
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.. from the sum-total of bridges and frozen rivers. and common activities such as sleeping and eating occupy little space in novels. The simple chronological narrative of War and Peace only manages to achieve some kind of greatness because it has extended over space as well as time. perfect knowledge is an illusion.html
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The basis of a novel is a story — the narration of events in the order they happened — but storytelling alone can never produce a great novel.
Even if events never require these characters to extend themselves. Part of the genius of Dickens is that he does use types and caricatures.Aspects of the Novel . Probably the immense vitality of Dickens causes his characters to vibrate a little. A serious or tragic flat character is apt to be a bore.html
been explained. All the Jane Austen characters are ready for an extended life. and there she is. people whom we recognize the instant they re-enter. They are best when they are comic.E M Forster
http://www. for a life which the scheme of her books seldom requires them to lead. it is explicable. Dickens wrote flat characters superbly well. but a round character may well surprise us with these unsuspected aspects of their nature.’ There is Mrs Micawber — she says she won’t desert Mr Micawber. A round character by contrast has further dimensions to their personality. which are revealed as events demand them. Forster distinguishes between flat characters and round characters. and their memorability appeals to our yearning for permanence.com/techniques/media/forster. The really flat character can be expressed in one sentence such as ‘I will never desert Mr Micawber. and yet achieves effects that are not mechanical and a vision of humanity that is not shallow. and that is why they lead their actual lives so satisfactorily. Looking back to a fictional technique common in eighteenth and nineteenth century novels — that of telling different sections of the story through different characters — Forster believes the effect of changing viewpoint is less important than the power of the writer to bounce the reader into accepting what he says and having a proper mixture of characters. Nearly every one can be summed up in a sentence. and the test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. so that they borrow his life and appear to lead one of their own. and yet there is this wonderful feeling of human depth.storyinsight.
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. they nevertheless have the capacity. These characters are easily recognised when first introduced and easily remembered afterwards. she doesn’t. A flat character never surprises us with their behaviour. It is a conjuring trick.
The balance between them is sometimes difficult to achieve though.
Fantasy and Prophecy
The general tone of novels is so literal that when the fantastic is introduced it produces a special effect. Forster includes parodies and adaptations of earlier works as forms of fantasy which allow
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. ‘The king died and then the queen died. because characters. the emphasis falling on causality. to be real.’ is a story. The stuff of daily life will be tugged and strained in various directions.com/techniques/media/forster. while the other part goes marching on. part of the mind must be left behind. ‘The king died. but it may do this by no more than simply hinting through a magical quality in events. This relationship between cause and effect also connects the characters with the plot. Fantasy implies the supernatural. but the sense of causality overshadows it.html
We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. People and events are closely connected. and then the queen died of grief. The time sequence is preserved.Aspects of the Novel . and having occurred it alters that character.storyinsight. Incident springs out of character. the earth will be given little tilts mischievous or pensive. Consider the death of the queen. Mystery is essential to a plot. brooding. or else are so swept away by the course of Fate that our sense of their reality is weakened. to remember incidents and create connecting threads between them. This allows the novelist to delay explanations and introduce human mystery to the narrative.E M Forster
http://www. The characters have to suspend their natures at every turn. Sometimes a plot triumphs too completely. ought to run smoothly.’ is a plot. If it is in a story we say ‘and then?’ If it is in a plot we ask ‘why?’ A plot demands intelligence and memory on the part of the reader. A plot is also a narrative of events. and cannot be appreciated without intelligence. but a plot ought to cause surprise.
This is different from symbolism.com/techniques/media/forster. but who do not see the world in terms of individual men and women — who do not. Prophecy is an accent in the novelist’s voice.storyinsight. Parody or adaptation have enormous advantages to certain novelists. or the circular shape of a character moving from one new acquaintance to the next until they finally return to their starting point. it causes us to see the book as a whole. word — it draws most of its nourishment from the plot. such as the hour-glass shape of one character’s social fall crossing over with another’s social climb. but they also have greater resonances. but it reaches back. scene. in other words. in which characters and events represent concrete meanings. His theme is the universe. and though it may be nourished by anything in the novel — any character. particularly to those who may have a great deal to say and abundant literary genius. instead of allowing the plot to grow organically. take easily to creating characters. It is the ordinary world of fiction. imprecise meanings which connect us with the history of humankind.
Pattern and Rhythm
A novel has a pattern when it has a geometric shape. Rather prophecy is about mysterious. To most readers of fiction the sensation from a pattern is not intense
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. Whereas the story appeals to our curiosity and the plot to our intelligence. The characters and events still have a specific meaning within the story. or something universal. But forcing the characters to fit an external pattern. Melville — after the initial roughness of his realism — reaches straight back into the universal.html
another writer’s imagination to take flight. to a blackness and sadness so transcending our own that they are undistinguishable from glory.E M Forster
http://www. the pattern appeals to our aesthetic sense. infinity attends them. Pattern is an aesthetic aspect of the novel. it is not an allegory.Aspects of the Novel . causes a novel to lose the immense richness of material which life provides. In Dostoyevsky the characters and situations always stand for more than themselves. It is not a veil.
enough to justify the sacrifices that made it. but not worth doing. Such a motif has a life of its own. unconnected with the lives of its auditors. I doubt that it can be achieved by the writers who plan their books beforehand.’ Rhythm on the other hand is like a musical motif which reappears with slight variations and helps to unify the novel. The appearance of a motif is not an artificial pattern. and should not be relied upon as any kind of professional advice.com/techniques/media/forster. It is almost an actor.Aspects of the Novel . it can be obtained without mutilating the characters.storyinsight. it has to depend on a local impulse when the right interval is reached. Terms of Service www.com
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If you think this page would interest others like yourself looking for ideas about writing fiction please recommend it on these community bookmark sites: Del. and their verdict is ‘Beautifully done.icio.storyinsight. and that ‘not quite’ means that its power has gone towards stitching [the] book together from the inside.E M Forster
http://www. not to be there all the time like a pattern. But the effect can be exquisite.us | Stumble it! | DiggIt! | reddit
Highlighted quotes © copyright unknown Editorial material © copyright Ian Briggs 2001 These pages contain only personal opinions. and it lessens our need of an external form. and this seems to me the function of rhythm in fiction. but not quite. and there are times when it means nothing and is forgotten. but by its lovely waxing and waning to fill us with surprise and freshness and hope.