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A rigorous examination of the workings of fiction by the novelist Robert Boswell, "one of America's finest writers" (Tom Perrotta) Robert Boswell has been writing, reading, and teaching literature for more than twenty years. In this sparkling collection of essays, he brings this vast experience and a keen critical eye to bear on craft issues facing literary writers. Example A rigorous examination of the workings of fiction by the novelist Robert Boswell, "one of America's finest writers" (Tom Perrotta) Robert Boswell has been writing, reading, and teaching literature for more than twenty years. In this sparkling collection of essays, he brings this vast experience and a keen critical eye to bear on craft issues facing literary writers. Examples from masters such as Leo Tolstoy, Flannery O'Connor, and Alice Munro illustrate this engaging discussion of what makes great writing. At the same time, Boswell moves readers beyond the classroom, candidly sharing the experiences that have shaped his own writing life. A chance encounter in a hotel bar leads to a fascinating glimpse into his imaginative process. And through the story of a boyhood adventure, Boswell details how important it is for writers to give themselves over to what he calls the "half-known world" of fiction, where surprise and meaning converge.


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A rigorous examination of the workings of fiction by the novelist Robert Boswell, "one of America's finest writers" (Tom Perrotta) Robert Boswell has been writing, reading, and teaching literature for more than twenty years. In this sparkling collection of essays, he brings this vast experience and a keen critical eye to bear on craft issues facing literary writers. Example A rigorous examination of the workings of fiction by the novelist Robert Boswell, "one of America's finest writers" (Tom Perrotta) Robert Boswell has been writing, reading, and teaching literature for more than twenty years. In this sparkling collection of essays, he brings this vast experience and a keen critical eye to bear on craft issues facing literary writers. Examples from masters such as Leo Tolstoy, Flannery O'Connor, and Alice Munro illustrate this engaging discussion of what makes great writing. At the same time, Boswell moves readers beyond the classroom, candidly sharing the experiences that have shaped his own writing life. A chance encounter in a hotel bar leads to a fascinating glimpse into his imaginative process. And through the story of a boyhood adventure, Boswell details how important it is for writers to give themselves over to what he calls the "half-known world" of fiction, where surprise and meaning converge.

30 review for The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Robert Boswell's The Half Known World is a great read for anyone interested in writing "literary" fiction and the first two chapters are a great read for anyone period. Chapter one is the book's cornerstone. Here Boswell inveighs against creative writing classes that have students making character lists, about birthdays, jobs, etc. This reminds me very much of Flannery O'Connor who insisted on the "mystery of personality" as the core of good stories. Anything that kills mystery for readers and w Robert Boswell's The Half Known World is a great read for anyone interested in writing "literary" fiction and the first two chapters are a great read for anyone period. Chapter one is the book's cornerstone. Here Boswell inveighs against creative writing classes that have students making character lists, about birthdays, jobs, etc. This reminds me very much of Flannery O'Connor who insisted on the "mystery of personality" as the core of good stories. Anything that kills mystery for readers and writers is bad practice. Boswell describes wandering an unknown, forbidden territory as a boy, a destination he and his friend never successfully reach. To really write well and make evocative characters "the writer must suggest a dimension to fictional reality that escapes comprehension. The writer wishes to make his characters and their world known to the reader, and he simultaneously wishes to make them resonate with the unknown." It's this territory of the unknown, the mysterious, that is our true aim. I loved every moment of this first chapter. Likewise, the second chapter captivated me. By telling a story of an encounter with a troubled woman at the bar, Robert Boswell describes his writing practice. I heard him read this aloud at the AWP convention a few years ago and was enthralled. It's something I could share with my undergraduate students. I also really liked his chapter on the "Alternate Universe" and his thoughts on omniscience are brilliant. Other chapters were intriguing, but a little troubling for me. Boswell's repeated use of the term "literary" is meant to establish a hierarchy in the fictional world and to make his points he sometimes dismisses the work of popular authors like Barbara Kingsolver or Sue Miller. He speaks of his own loves, for baseball and film noir, as "soft spots" that he wouldn't be able to write about in his fiction. This feels like bad advice to me. I think our core material often grows out of our obsessions, what we love. However, these are small quibbles. This one of the best books I've read recently on writing, one that has me longing for the free time to get writing again this coming month when school lets out, to once more set out to explore that mysterious terrain, the woods and iced over streams leading down to that unreachable river beyond.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Malbadeen

    Warning! The following anecdote will tell you next to nothing about the content of this book. Once I had a boyfriend that was freakishly worried that I would, "run off with a librarian or a writer". I, of course, acted extremely insulted by this assumption and found myself to be quite convincing at times. And then tonight, as I'm sitting in my daughters room waiting for her to fall asleep this book fell open and I noticed one of the notes I'd jotted in the margin of page 1. The note is a small hear Warning! The following anecdote will tell you next to nothing about the content of this book. Once I had a boyfriend that was freakishly worried that I would, "run off with a librarian or a writer". I, of course, acted extremely insulted by this assumption and found myself to be quite convincing at times. And then tonight, as I'm sitting in my daughters room waiting for her to fall asleep this book fell open and I noticed one of the notes I'd jotted in the margin of page 1. The note is a small heart next to the writers description of himself as a young boy. It reads as follows: "He and I played together in the woods: cowboys and Indians, pirates and captains, the War Between the States-anything with a narrative. We had decided we would be writers when we grew up and we played in chapters, narrating in the third person, pausing to invent a new chapter heading whenever we reached a suitably mysterious moment......" Now. Would I run away with this writer just because I LOVE to hear writers talk about their affinity for story and for the insatiable desire to narrate? Course not! But I will drop my heart on a page here and there for them.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John Sundman

    One of the best books I've read on technique in writing fiction. Boswell specifically addresses himself to those of us trying to create literature: "a slippery term, but for the moment let's call it 'fiction that aspires to be art'." Thus this book is at the opposite end of the spectrum from how-to-write-a-blockbuster-novel type books, the the tomes filled with story-plotting algorithms and character-trait spreadsheets. Literature, Boswell says, in words echoing those of Flannery O'Connor in he One of the best books I've read on technique in writing fiction. Boswell specifically addresses himself to those of us trying to create literature: "a slippery term, but for the moment let's call it 'fiction that aspires to be art'." Thus this book is at the opposite end of the spectrum from how-to-write-a-blockbuster-novel type books, the the tomes filled with story-plotting algorithms and character-trait spreadsheets. Literature, Boswell says, in words echoing those of Flannery O'Connor in her introduction to Wise Blood, must heighten our sense of mystery and wonder. Other books explain how to spell everything out so that the reader "gets it." Boswell explains how to not spell everything out. When you finish reading a great work of literature, Boswell says, you feel like you only half-know the fictional world it has created. And you are perforce brought to the realization that you know only a fraction of your own "real life" world. So how do you, as a writer, write a book that will create in your readers that experience of the half-known world? The answer, Boswell says, it to only half-know that world yourself. As to the specific techniques for doing this I have nothing to say here, because if you're interested in this subject you should just read Boswell's book. It's short and a good use of your time, and any synopsis by me would not add much value. The Half-Known World does assume a certain degree of sophistication in its readers. It's not a cookbook and it doesn't spoon-feed [gah! sound the mixed-metaphor alarm! Sorry!]. So I think some of its subtler points may be lost on writers just starting out. Had I read it before I attempted to write my first novel it probably would have helped me somewhat, but maybe not all that much. Because I had not yet wrestled with the thorny problems of voice and point of view and contradiction and omission to which Boswell gives much of his attention. But as someone who has now written a few novels and novellas (that do, in fact, "aspire to be art"), I found this book to be insightful, and very very helpful. In fact, it helped me with two specific problems that had been blocking real progress on a short novel on which I've been working for two years. I've had the plot of this novel laid out in pretty complete detail for quite a while now. I have the characters, I have the story, I have the settings and many of the scenes. But I knew I was lacking something. Boswell's book has helped me see what I was over-defining and what I was under-defining; I've taken from it some insights into how to fix some problems having to do with narrative voice and so forth. Now, I haven't finished writing my book yet and furthermore once I have finished it I will not be qualified to determine whether it's any good or not, so it's very premature to credit Boswell with having made me a better novelist. But I can say that found this book deeply satisfying, subtle and wise. I've extensively marked up my copy and I expect that I'll read it several times again. I may buy a second copy just to have one without my comments scribbled on the pages. I'm giving it 4 of 5 stars because I found a few chapters that had some weak points, a few paragraphs that just seemed wrong and out of place. But overall I really liked this book and I highly recommend it to serious readers, and especially to serious writers of fiction.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

    Some of the best and most thought-provoking craft essays available, period. Boswell deftly weaves personal narrative with lessons on the mysteries of literary fiction in a way that asks me to return to this book again and again, for inspiration and direction, but also because, as I grow and change as a writer, so the essays and what they mean to me change as well. There are three that are essential reading, in my humble opinion: "The Half-Known World", "Process & Paradigm" and "Narrative Spandre Some of the best and most thought-provoking craft essays available, period. Boswell deftly weaves personal narrative with lessons on the mysteries of literary fiction in a way that asks me to return to this book again and again, for inspiration and direction, but also because, as I grow and change as a writer, so the essays and what they mean to me change as well. There are three that are essential reading, in my humble opinion: "The Half-Known World", "Process & Paradigm" and "Narrative Spandrels". One of my very favorite books on writing, despite its decided bias for mainstream psychological realism.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mary Lynn

    Great series of essays on some of the more subtle elements of the writing craft. My favorites were: "The Half-Known World", "Narrative Spandrels", "Private Eye Point of View", and "You Must Change Your Life." Definitely recommended for fiction writers seeking something new in a craft book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn Paige

    One of the best books on writing fiction that I've ever read. Boswell's essays approaches each topic with self-deprecating wisdom, and gives practical and accessible advice for any level writer. I found his essay "Politics and Art in the Novel" especially enlightening. Highly recommended.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anna Vincent

    The worst part about this book was the author's notion that a writer should not be organized. Like Annie Dillard in The Writing Life, Boswell emphasizes that the writer should not have a clear understanding, and certainly not an outline, of characters, plot, themes, etc. One page 21, Boswell notes, “A story may fail because the writer has made up his mind about the characters before any words reach the page.” Can neither Boswell nor Dillard comprehend an author who is able to imagine the skeleto The worst part about this book was the author's notion that a writer should not be organized. Like Annie Dillard in The Writing Life, Boswell emphasizes that the writer should not have a clear understanding, and certainly not an outline, of characters, plot, themes, etc. One page 21, Boswell notes, “A story may fail because the writer has made up his mind about the characters before any words reach the page.” Can neither Boswell nor Dillard comprehend an author who is able to imagine the skeleton of a book in his/her head?—and to aid that mental structure by organization of an outline? Just because Boswell and Dillard can’t see the bones of a book before it’s begun doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, shouldn’t be the goal, and doesn’t make the book better for it. I think they’re justifying their own inadequacies. I understand using your subconscious mind to facilitate the writing process, but, as was emphasized in Writing and Thinking, by Foerster and Steadman, it’s best for the clarity and mastery of the book for the author to have thought it all out before hand, sorting out their conscious goals and subconscious undercurrents then. Boswell understands the value of the subconscious in writing; on page 28 he explains, “This is often how I know a new story element belongs, even if it seems out of place in the early drafts—it persists. It won’t let me shut it out. It demands my attention by providing me with details, which may seem inconsequential at the moment but nonetheless begin to add up.” My point is that Boswell should understand his book before beginning to write; otherwise, he will be writing off shoots too far, later having to edit them out, and he will have a very disorganized mess when he’s about finished, making the final editing process chaotic and near impossible to untangle and sort. I did not like this book, but the author did make a fair effort and gives us a detailed book. He goes into detail about the tactics of narration, for instance, and he gives frequent samples of autobiographical writing to illustrate certain concepts. These samples are interesting and, at times, insightful. Also, he is capable of wit; on page 184 he describes a sleepless night of emotional conflict with the following sentence: “I had a long argument with my pillow about the shape it wished to take about my head.” That made me laugh aloud. (view spoiler)[ The basis of the title for this book is that the world in a book should only be half-known to its readers. The author should not attempt to describe the scene and characters in entirety, and much should be alluded to. This is an opinion; Boswell prefers a certain style, but he states it like it’s absolutely the only way to write correctly. He has a very negative view on characters that are too well understood by readers: “Here’s another definition of stereotype: any character that is fully known” (p. 7). Boswell’s chapter On Omniscience was insightful. He shows a tactic Tolstoy used in Anna Karenina: he points out how the omniscient narrator’s voice blends with a main character, Levin, at the end of the book (p. 67). My thought: This book is a kind of social commentary on an era of Russian life, and throughout the book the reader is meant to have sympathies for all the main characters; but, by blending the all-knowing voice of the narrator with that of Levin, it is clear that Tolstoy is telling the reader that Levin’s perspective was the correct one. Boswell enlightened me to the idea that narration can be used this way. In the chapter The Alternate Universe, Boswell illustrates how setting can be used for character building and theme. He uses Alice Munro’s story Friend of my Youth as an example, offering two passages from her book, each a description of the same landscape but by two different characters (p. 118-119). Boswell then explains, “The landscape is exaggerated and transformed by the narrator’s mother, while the narrator’s firsthand response is colored by her disappointment. The reader comes away with competing versions of the setting, which, in turn, creates ye another vision in the reader’s mind, a combined vision that is not just complex but almost mythic. QUESTION: What does the place actually look like? ANSWER: It depends on who you are.” Although I haven’t read her book, it seems that what Munro did was use these differing description of the same landscape to show the reader differences in two characters, and perhaps also to develop a theme of how perspective seems to alter reality. It is not a new concept, but an interesting one, that setting can be used symbolically; many authors use lightening storms to indicate doom or to show the character’s mood. I have often thought it would be telling to use different descriptions of the setting by the same character but while in different moods, or frames of mind. I am sure this has been done before too. (hide spoiler)] If you want a good book on writing, chose The Art of Fiction, by Ayn Rand or Writing and Thinking, by Foerster and Steadman.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    This book was weird because as I was reading it, I didn't really care for it and didn't think the advice was that helpful. However, afterwards, when thinking about writing and writing a paper on writing, I found Boswell's words creeping into my head and on to the paper. His book proved to be the most helpful and his words stuck with me without me even knowing it. After writing a paper, I found a lot I too away from his book. Always half know the worrld you are writing about. To fully know it is This book was weird because as I was reading it, I didn't really care for it and didn't think the advice was that helpful. However, afterwards, when thinking about writing and writing a paper on writing, I found Boswell's words creeping into my head and on to the paper. His book proved to be the most helpful and his words stuck with me without me even knowing it. After writing a paper, I found a lot I too away from his book. Always half know the worrld you are writing about. To fully know it is boring and does not allow you room for creativity or imagination. Don't label characters as "good guy" "Bad guy" etc. You can't form a character from a list of traits you predetermined them to have. They have to grow as the story grows and become who they are supposed to be, much like how we become who we are supposed to be as life goes on. Also- Narrative spandrels. The things that just spew out on the paper and you have no idea where they came from or what they mean, are the most helpful point of a story and usually, according to Boswell, make the story. Good read, helpful read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Charming, straightforward and good-humored like Boswell himself. Keeps his ideas about writing fiction grounded in the texts of stories and novels he loves, resulting in my to-read and to-re-read lists growing. "Politics and Art in the Novel" and "You Must Change Your Life" were my favorite essays. "On Omniscience" seemed to lack the power (and not just emotional power) that I remembered from when Boswell's delivered it as a lecture. There's definitely a bias to realist, psychologically-driven fi Charming, straightforward and good-humored like Boswell himself. Keeps his ideas about writing fiction grounded in the texts of stories and novels he loves, resulting in my to-read and to-re-read lists growing. "Politics and Art in the Novel" and "You Must Change Your Life" were my favorite essays. "On Omniscience" seemed to lack the power (and not just emotional power) that I remembered from when Boswell's delivered it as a lecture. There's definitely a bias to realist, psychologically-driven fiction in The Half-Known World, leaving me to want to interject several times ("But what about ...") and to bristle at his interpretation of "literary fiction," his essay on hardboiled mystery novels notwithstanding. Nonetheless, I appreciate this candid meditation on the craft of fiction writing. Boswell's passion is plain, and contagious.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    There is some good writing advice here, despite the lack of diversity in the examples used. You can tell the age of the author by the over-reliance on cannonical works--the usual suspects such as Melville, O'Connor, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. Indeed, this book is very much written like an old-school English professor wrote it--it veers more academic than something suitable for a popular audience. The prose might be too dense/analytic for someone just starting out as a writer, or someone without a de There is some good writing advice here, despite the lack of diversity in the examples used. You can tell the age of the author by the over-reliance on cannonical works--the usual suspects such as Melville, O'Connor, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. Indeed, this book is very much written like an old-school English professor wrote it--it veers more academic than something suitable for a popular audience. The prose might be too dense/analytic for someone just starting out as a writer, or someone without a degree in English (being honest). That said, I think it could be helpful for well-read writers who are hoping to "level up" their game--by thinking about what really works in what we consider "great" works of literature, or why great works of literature are "great," at all. The concept of the "half-known world" was quite interesting and helpful to my own approach to writing fiction.

  11. 4 out of 5

    missy jean

    This is a really, really good craft book. The basic premise--that in writing fiction, we should start by writing a half-known world, giving the story time to teach us what it wants us to say before we start imposing our ideas onto it--really resonated with me. Boswell de-emphasizes "practical" suggestions (like lists and writing exercises) and encourages the writer to let the story take the lead.

  12. 5 out of 5

    elka

    I read one essay the day I processed this book at the library and liked it so much that I ordered the book from my local bookstore. I cited the essay in my own essay, too. Fucking fantastic orientation -- very clear cut yet sparse, beautiful prose. Yeah, I have yet to pick up the book, because I have no money. But I will. Sorry, Walden Pond. I know it's been there for weeks.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zach VandeZande

    This is a really fine book on craft, up there with Charles Baxter's Burning Down The House but geared more toward practical application. A couple of the essays are too specific to be helpful to everyone (there's one on detective fiction and one on political fiction), but overall I found the book to be thought-provoking, warm, and full of good advice.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    I read most of this in 2009, so I guess it's legit. The best book on writing I have read in a long time. Maybe ever? I love his discussions of published works. Everything he says is very straight forward and insightful. It made me think differently about many elements of fiction. Highly recommended.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks they ever want to write anything. Seriously. Non fiction, fiction, short stories, memoirs, novels, anything that has something resembling a plot. And also people who feel like they have no idea what they're doing in their lives. And at the end of the day, isn't that kind of all of us?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mike Mullin

    Exactly the book I needed to read now. Rereading it confirmed the decision I made over the weekend to step back from my 300 page first draft of ASHFALL #4 and try a different approach. If the final book is any good, Boswell gets some of the credit.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Noreen

    Loved his essays on craft. Inspiring. I'm getting my pen and paper out right now.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Extremely readable book about writing. Good for us writing neophytes.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carole

    A book about writing literary fiction that is not only informative but a work of art in itself---a demonstration of the blurring of the lines between fiction and nonfiction.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sukie

    Excellent book on the art of reading and writing the sublter forms of literary fiction. Great analysis, great examples, great writing. Worth reading whether you're writing or not. No formulas here.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Wonderful. Next best thing to being in class with Boswell, whether or not you've been so lucky.

  22. 5 out of 5

    William Adams

    Robert Boswell presents 9 personal essays exploring different aspects of the craft of writing fiction, addressing the idea that you should be writing about something that escapes complete comprehension. If you describe and show all aspects of your fictional world, then you are writing genre, or possibly a technical manual. Literary fiction is supposed to confront regions of human experience that are not fully susceptible to rational understanding. You don’t need to say it all, you can't, and you Robert Boswell presents 9 personal essays exploring different aspects of the craft of writing fiction, addressing the idea that you should be writing about something that escapes complete comprehension. If you describe and show all aspects of your fictional world, then you are writing genre, or possibly a technical manual. Literary fiction is supposed to confront regions of human experience that are not fully susceptible to rational understanding. You don’t need to say it all, you can't, and you shouldn’t try. At the other end of the spectrum, it seems to be true that nothing in human experience can be fully comprehended. If you stare at a stone long enough, it becomes mysterious. Boswell’s dictum becomes a truism and any description superfluous. Boswell gives multiple examples from literature of what he means. He suggests that a character you only half understand might do something surprising, and presumably readers of literary fiction enjoy fresh, surprising material. As somebody famous once said, if the writer is never surprised, the reader surely won’t be. The essays vary in interest and effectiveness. On writing characters, he contradicts many writing teachers who say you should know everything there is to know about your character before you start. Boswell says you should only know one or two essential things. Get inside those, and something surprising might arise. One excellent chapter discusses the omniscient narrator, one who knows everything and is judgmental about it all. That’s relatively rare these days, as we prefer third-close or third-limited. We don’t trust a narrator with full omniscience. Boswell argues that omniscience is actually the best narrative voice for a mature writer who has something to say. He makes a detailed and compelling argument, perhaps the strongest in the book. Some chapters are far weaker, some almost pointless rambles. And nearly all essays are slow in getting to the point, usually beginning with frustratingly irrelevant first-person anecdotes that may or may not illustrate the gist of the essay. These often feel like warm-up exercises. The last chapter is devoted entirely to one of these autobiographical indulgences, and while I admit it is really well-written, it has nothing to do with anything. This is not a step-by-step how-to book, but a consideration of ideas that can make for good literary fiction.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Roland

    This book is composed of several essays that have to do with the craft of writing fiction. In the first chapter, Boswell rails against “normal” creative writing classes, where professors have students make lists of characters, settings, etc., and so on and so forth. I understand his meanings behind it, but I still feel like knowing things about my character helps me write the books. Several of these chapters had me shaking my head and disagreeing, particularly when he praises Alice Munro. I know This book is composed of several essays that have to do with the craft of writing fiction. In the first chapter, Boswell rails against “normal” creative writing classes, where professors have students make lists of characters, settings, etc., and so on and so forth. I understand his meanings behind it, but I still feel like knowing things about my character helps me write the books. Several of these chapters had me shaking my head and disagreeing, particularly when he praises Alice Munro. I know that she’s an important writer, and I know that she is practically worshiped for her prose, but I have never been able to truly get into her writings. Oh, I’ve read several short stories and collections of hers, but I’ve never seen what makes her worthy of being elevated to god-like status. That probably makes me a bad writer. I also discovered that my fantasy plot is probably trite and will not be well-received by anyone, despite my professor enjoying what I’ve written so far and encouraging what I’ve written so far. It’s a little disheartening to read things like this, to be honest. I understand where Boswell is coming from, and I understand that many people hold this as one of the best fiction-writing craft books out there, but it was just such a struggle for me to get involved in this. I spent nearly two months attempting to read this book, because I just could not get into it. Every single page was a trudge to get through. Do I consider it a good book? Probably. Would I re-read this? Most likely not. It’s going to go on my writing shelf just in case I need to reference it at some point in the future. But for now…it’s not for me. I don’t feel right in giving this a “proper” grade. It has a 4.2 on GoodReads, but I’m just not feeling this. I’m sure it will help many other people, but it was a lot of repetition and a lot of things I disagreed with. Maybe I’ve just had bad creative writing professors (and I KNOW that’s not the case). Have you read this book? What were your opinions on it? Do you think we can accurately grade books that fall into the category of “craft” books? Let me know in the comments! And as always, keep reading. Originally posted on https://booksareonlythebeginning.word...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Philip Demers

    Robert Boswell is a good fiction writer, but this is a great book, and by a very long measure, the best one with his name on the cover. Don't let the subject matter confuse: this is not just a volume for aspiring writers. Anyone can pick it up and find much wisdom, amusement, and upper-tier pop philosophy. I blew through it in three days.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    I read the title essay and a few others. Basically the platonic ideal of a book on How to Write Post-war MFA Fiction and so valuable as a guide on How You Absolutely Should Not Write Fiction. Tries to conscript Melville to its lost cause — a sin for which this book cannot be forgiven. A pet peeve: every essay begins with a personal anecdote.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rod Raglin

    This is another book written by an instructor of a Creative Writing Program likely under the threat of publish or perish. Boswell’s got some interesting concepts and he delivers them in a self-deprecating voice which is refreshing coming from an academic. One gets the impression that writing likely saved Boswell, who unabashedly admits he failed at just about everything else he tried. Two things were gleaned from this thin book. One was the use of “narrative spandrels” in fiction. A spandrel is a This is another book written by an instructor of a Creative Writing Program likely under the threat of publish or perish. Boswell’s got some interesting concepts and he delivers them in a self-deprecating voice which is refreshing coming from an academic. One gets the impression that writing likely saved Boswell, who unabashedly admits he failed at just about everything else he tried. Two things were gleaned from this thin book. One was the use of “narrative spandrels” in fiction. A spandrel is a byproduct of the evolution of some other characteristic, rather than a direct result of it. Boswell suggests we be on the lookout for these opportunities to help mutate our stories into something better. These devices, perhaps a physical object, or maybe an idiosyncrasy, can be an at-the–moment event, but then go on to service the larger function of the story. They can be an effective “ticking symbol” but he warns they must be spontaneous, even unconscious and not obvious “plants”. In my latest novel, The Big Picture, my protagonist wears a cheap watch with a dead battery. Every time she looks at it, forgetting that it doesn’t work, it symbolizes how broke she is, how reluctant she is to be ruled be the clock, and how insignificant these types of personal belongings are to her. When it appeared on her arm I had no idea the significant role it would play. The other advice that was worthwhile was Boswell’s conviction that if you’re going to write politics into your fiction you must do it from the point of view of the antagonist, the aggressor. This way you can fully explore both sides of the argument and, if you insist on the truth, avoid the work becoming clichéd propaganda in favor of the victim – your protagonist. Boswell suggests that exploring political issues is important work for writers. “Writers cannot pretend to be helpless,” he says. Helpless,no. Impotent, yes.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. "I resist knowing until the story finally rubs my nose in it." "Here's another definition of stereotype: any character that is fully known." "...make the character an individual. ...fail to explain him." "George and Martha constantly question whether the other is real, whether the other is human." "Stories, it seems, often reside in conflicted desires." Conflicting emotions and instability of a scene - create contradictory wants and then have a character act. Setup two boys on an icy river walk o "I resist knowing until the story finally rubs my nose in it." "Here's another definition of stereotype: any character that is fully known." "...make the character an individual. ...fail to explain him." "George and Martha constantly question whether the other is real, whether the other is human." "Stories, it seems, often reside in conflicted desires." Conflicting emotions and instability of a scene - create contradictory wants and then have a character act. Setup two boys on an icy river walk or two men at a hotel bar away from their families approached by a woman Social paradigm and a character's place within - how the character perceives and accepts social customs Narrative spandrels: write what comes from the characters not what is there because the writer wants to use it or plans to use it later "...mystery comes from knowing a great deal and still residing in a state of bafflement." Alternate universe: describing without explaining - create a place or a character not of this world - how this is perceived reveals the other characters 1. It is the responsibility of the intellectual to speak the truth and to expose lies. 2. When we consider the responsibility of intellectuals, our basic concerns must be their role in the creation and analysis of ideology 3. If it is the responsibility of the intellectual to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Solita

    I read it twice. I'm reading it again. I love Robert Boswell. I think he's brilliant. These are the best essays on writing fiction that I've ever read. Do you want to be a creative writer, or a literary writer? I think all literature is creative writing, but not all creative writing is literature. Boswell knows the difference. Literature is art. "...art--all art--has to work to alter the vision of the audience," he writes in the essay "Urban Legends, Pornography, and Literary Fiction". And in th I read it twice. I'm reading it again. I love Robert Boswell. I think he's brilliant. These are the best essays on writing fiction that I've ever read. Do you want to be a creative writer, or a literary writer? I think all literature is creative writing, but not all creative writing is literature. Boswell knows the difference. Literature is art. "...art--all art--has to work to alter the vision of the audience," he writes in the essay "Urban Legends, Pornography, and Literary Fiction". And in the final essay, "You Must Change Your Life," he says. "The story of Johnny Hake changed my life. 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' changed my friend Clam's life. It's not what literature can do; it's what it must do."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Editor Chiron Publications & innerQuest

    This book evoked something "half-known" in me that I count as having inestimable value. Had Boswell completely satisfied my appetite I might have felt good right away but in the end, I would not have had the same rich, lingering aftertaste that made this book worth reading. Writers will appreciate this book. Those who wonder about the process whereby writers bring characters to life so that sometimes they become more meaningful to us than some of the persons who populate our world, will be encha This book evoked something "half-known" in me that I count as having inestimable value. Had Boswell completely satisfied my appetite I might have felt good right away but in the end, I would not have had the same rich, lingering aftertaste that made this book worth reading. Writers will appreciate this book. Those who wonder about the process whereby writers bring characters to life so that sometimes they become more meaningful to us than some of the persons who populate our world, will be enchanted.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Keight

    While mainly written for writers of fiction, The Half-Known World is almost like a literature class in a book, as each chapter references certain novels or stories, indicated at the beginning, though reading them is also not necessary to understand the concepts presented in the essays. I hadn't read most of the referenced pieces, or hadn't read them recently, but can see how that may have elevated the experience. Read more on my booklog While mainly written for writers of fiction, The Half-Known World is almost like a literature class in a book, as each chapter references certain novels or stories, indicated at the beginning, though reading them is also not necessary to understand the concepts presented in the essays. I hadn't read most of the referenced pieces, or hadn't read them recently, but can see how that may have elevated the experience. Read more on my booklog

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