Aspects of the Novel

I just finished reading Aspects of the Novel, a compilation of writing lectures given by E.M. Forster. It’s a short and dense book on the craft of novel writing, filled with strong opinions. I loved it. In particular, I enjoyed some of Forster’s comments on the differences between novel writing and drama. I so often default to Aristotle and his concepts of what a story should be, yet I forget that the form of drama (a play) and the form of a novel are two different modes of communication.

The following are some ideas that really got me thinking and I thought I’d share:

“In the drama, all human happiness and misery does and must take the form of action. Otherwise its existence remains unknown, and this is the great difference between a drama and a novel.” (Forster, 84)

“In the novel, all human happiness and misery does not take the form of action, it seeks means of expression other than through plot, it must not be rigidly canalized.” (Forster, 94)

“The hidden life is, by definition, hidden. The hidden life that appears in external signs is hidden no longer, has entered the realm of action. And it is the function of the novelist to reveal hidden life at its source.” (Forster, 45)

“Sometimes a plot triumphs too completely. The characters have to suspend their natures at every turn, or else are so swept away by the course of Fate that our sense of their reality is weakened.” (Forster, 93)

“The plot is exciting and may be beautiful, yet is it not a fetish, borrowed from the drama, from the spacial limitations of the stage? Cannot fiction devise a framework that is not so logical yet more suitable to its genius?” (Forster, 97)

Interesting stuff, right? Most of these quotes come from the chapter about plot, but the whole book is quite wonderful.