This must have been a very fun romp when Forster unveiled it as a series of lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, nine years after the First World War ended and eleven before the Second one started. In illustrating examples of specific writing techniques Forster refers to easily fifty books, authors, and characters (in 175 pages, mind you). When would the young men in his audience have had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with a fraction of them? How many would still have a place set for them at the family table twenty years hence? This slender volume is a piece of history itself; more a running critique of two hundred years of British literature than it is a manual of craft. God how I’d like to see the attendance sheet for those lectures to see how many of his students profited from Forster’s observations and are known today.
What will you learn from this book? For one you will learn Forster’s distinction between “story” and “plot.” FYI, stories read as follows: “then this, then this, then this…” Plot reads as follows: “This caused this, which caused this.” Okay, that’s two chapters. Then we have two aspects of character. The first is what we now call the character’s interior life, and Forster calls his “secret life.” This is something known to the author and revealed as organically and realistically as possible in order to seduce the reader into the character’s mind and to intimately share his understanding of things. The second aspect of character is a Forster neologism, round versus flat characters. In a nutshell, flat characters are predictable and round characters surprise us. This perception of characters being more interesting to readers because of their dimensionality was an original insight of Forster’s.
Frankly, dear reader, (a familiarity Forster strongly discourages) the chapters on fantasy and prophesy may be skipped. He was after all being paid for a series of lectures and though he’d covered the topic in five chapters, he recognized the billing opportunity of carrying on for another four. In fairness the last is a three and a half page conclusion. It basically says that we may learn much from past masters but only creative new insights, new characters, and new craft will delight tomorrow’s readers. Future readers, that would be us, will have higher expectations.
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books (14 September 1956)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156091801
- ISBN-13: 978-0156091800
- Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.5 x 1.2 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 204 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)