All posts by AMM15

The job of the writer

“The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all his figures were to come to life their coats in the fashion of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this?”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

The job of the writer is to write. There should not be a set of rules that an author has to follow. There are two possibilities when it comes to the ‘tyrant’ who Woolf is referring to. Perhaps the tyrant is all of the writers in the past who have stuck with the same structure and conventions throughout the years, leaving writers to feel obligated to follow suit. The reader is another possibility the tyrant. When reading a novel, people expect a plot, love interest, tragedy, etc. This puts a lot of pressure on the writer to fulfill certain expectations. Who are we to influence what the author wants to write about? All novels do not have to be the same; in fact the differences in structure are what make certain novels stand out from the rest.

A “good” novel: expectations and interpretations

“They would argue, of course, that a novel ought to be “good,” but they would interpret this term in a fashion of their own, which indeed would vary considerably from one critic to another. One would say that being good means representing virtuous and aspiring characters, placed in prominent positions; another would say that it depends on a “happy ending,” on a distribution at the last of prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, babies, millions, appended paragraphs, and cheerful remarks. Another still would say that it means being full of incident and movement so that we shall wish to jump ahead, to see who was the mysterious stranger, and if the stolen will was ever found, and shall not be distracted from this pleasure by any tiresome analysis or “description.” But they would all agree that the “artistic” idea would spoil some of their fun.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction” Major Stories and Essays (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1999), 576.

Everyone has different interpretations when it comes to reading a novel. There are certain expectations from the reader when getting deeper into a story that cannot and will not always be fulfilled. When it comes to characters and the situations those characters find themselves in, the reader will either be for or against the way the story plays out. When reading a fiction novel, we realize that our interpretations and expectations are just that. The author will end the story the way he or she wants. How we interpret the stories determines whether or not the novel is “good.”