how fiction works

i’m reading HOW FICTION WORKS by James Wood, a great little book that functions as a discussion of what this literary critic thinks is important to writing stories. i’m struck by the identification of several tactics i’ve gravitated towards in my own work.  it’s good to know intuition takes me down narrow backstreets in the direction of the best seafood joint in town.

Wood identifies the use of free indirect style as the hallmark of good fiction, and describes this as “a character’s internal speech or thought has been freed of its authorial flagging; no “he said to himself” or “he wondered” or “he thought”. Note the gain in flexibility.” (p9).  here’s an example:

He looked at his wife.  Yes, she was tiresomely unhappy again, almost sick.  What the hell should he say? (p9)

The reason that Wood identifies free indirect as most excellent is that the reader is able to not only see things through the character’s eyes and language, but also through the writer’s eyes and language. Wood argues this bridge between character and writer creates a tension that is pleasurable.

as i reflect on my writing process, i see that i am dropping into free indirect style over the years, that i no longer use as many “he thought” and “she wondered”. this is progression, i think, both into my process and immersing myself into characters. i think i know my characters more now and that shows up in the writing. it’s true that i spend a lot of time with them in my head.

how do you get out of your head?