Archive for January, 2018


OspreyForth Update, January 12

OspreyForth is now on Sourceforge! I wanted to have OspreyForth be more complete before uploading it, but I decided to go ahead an upload it. An error with Git on my end caused me to set up a Mercurial repo, which is where the code is currently held (perhaps I can do some kind of repo-sharing in the future).

I still have to set up the wiki pages for the project, but first I’d like to work on some example projects to show off the usability of the code.

Book Notes – How Fiction Works, Ch. 10

How Fiction Works is a book written by critic James Wood and is an examination of the techniques that fiction utilizes to immerse the reader and create an experience. This is the ninth of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.

Chapter 10: Truth, Complexity and Realism

In some ways the book has been leading up to this point. Wood immediately tackles the subject of realism. Wood starts out by offering quotes that denigrate realism in novels as a series of clichés. Wood suggests a different term: “commercial realism”. Here he suggests that what people are responding to are a kind of commonly accepted technique of using a lot of descriptive words that don’t reveal very much information at all. It’s just a sort of detailed description of what people are doing and what is around an environment but without anything to push a story forward in a relevant way. It also represents an interesting trope where where the same clichéd descriptions, scenarios and statements are used and re-used repeatedly.

Wood suggest replacing a focus on realism with a focus on truth. That is, he suggests that good writers don’t need to create a literary photograph of a moment so much as a sense that the moment is accurately depicting a truth within the reader. This is harder than it seems, however. He warns that writers must be constantly inventing new ways to unveil truth. Over time, clichés develop because writers start using the same techniques and ideas over and over again. This means what is truthful now, become empty convention soon after.


This is tip of the spear when it comes to the book. James Wood kind of uses this chapter to pull together the rest of the book  provide the framework for a truthful fiction. The word “Complexity” in the chapter title seems to mostly come from the complexity of words used in “realistic” novels. As mentioned much is said, but little is conveyed, leaving the reader to do a lot of work without much benefit.

Book Notes – How Fiction Works, Ch. 9

How Fiction Works is a book written by critic James Wood and is an examination of the techniques that fiction utilizes to immerse the reader and create an experience. This is the eighth of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.

Chapter 9: Dialogue

This is a relatively quick chapter to read. James Wood begins with a 1950 interview of author Henry Green. Green asserted that he resisted authorial adverbs (“she said, gallantly”, for example), rarely explained character motives and never internalizes character thoughts. In his thought people don’t know the thoughts of others, so why should authors know the thoughts of their characters?

Wood doesn’t believe things have to be this way. He notes that Green’s views makes sense because Green likes to reveal information through dialogue. This is useful especially for dialogue that is layered with meaning. Wood’s counterexample is the characters in the story “The House of Mr. Biswas” where there are many examples of authorial descriptions of behavior and environment. Dialogue alone does not have to reveal everything. An example in the story is Biswas’ purchase of a doll house. There is no dialogue here, but the description of the action alone explains the nature of the situation and the relationship of the characters.


Although this was a relatively sizable chapter, the bulk of the content can be reduced to the points above. Primarily it was a back and forth on the relevance of dialogue. The most valid point is that talking heads are not necessary to relay information and just relating in terms of action can have powerful effects if the author knows how to do it.

Book Notes – How Fiction Works, Ch. 8

How Fiction Works is a book written by critic James Wood and is an examination of the techniques that fiction utilizes to immerse the reader and create an experience. This is the seventh of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.

Chapter 8: Language

In this chapter Wood insists that novels must be written and read with a musical precision that should be equal to the beauty of poetry. The key, he proposes, is to write with simplicity or to focus on transmitting complexity in as little prose as possible. One tool is the use metaphors, which can spark a reader’s imagination with new meaning of the word. Metaphors are distinctly authorial, but properly done can feel organically grown out of the character’s world. The danger of metaphors is that they can be mixed in ways that just mix clichés, which can put off a reader. The best metaphors link to and replace their subjects in the mind of the reader.

When not using metaphors, think about avoiding the same phrases and idioms. To develop non-poetic beauty look to simple words to evoke color, time, action and so on. Unexpected rhythms can capture the reader’s eye and repetitions of words and phrases can reinforce ideas or suggest some kind of change. Gustave Flaubert himself loved to read aloud for this reason since it allows the language to be appreciated from a different perspective.

This brings a question of the difference between slick writing and truly interesting writing. When writing or reading, look for the variety in which the author is relating information. A truly interesting writer should be able to move from one voice to another for dramatic or comedic effect.


What makes this chapter interesting is the treatise on “slick writing” vs “interesting writing”. The chapter is not very long, but I do like the belief that prose should be as beautiful as poetry as well as the ideas on how to pull it off.

Book Notes – How Fiction Works, Ch. 7

How Fiction Works is a book written by critic James Wood and is an examination of the techniques that fiction utilizes to immerse the reader and create an experience. This is the sixth of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.

Chapter 7: Sympathy and Complexity

Wood begins with a question of the value of fiction. Wood asserts that there are three major values. One is language, the exposure to vocabulary and concepts of speech and writing. The second is the world. That is, experiencing life through the eyes of others, even if they are fictional characters. The final value has to do with convictions and beliefs. This is the idea that fiction allows readers to reinforce pre-existing beliefs or develop new beliefs or ideas through exposure to a fictional world. Seeing the world through the eyes of another can elicit sympathy and understanding and this is no less true for fictional characters than real people. In addition, insight into a character can be shown by that character’s own ability (or lack thereof) to imagine the world through the perspectives of another.

Wood believes this is connected to moral philosophy. The ability to sympathize with others or see their perspectives can lead to a character forced to immediately deal with two equal and conflicting moral arguments. Wood cites Bernard Williams, who claims that moral philosophy about the emotional life of a character rather than basic talk about the character’s self or general perceptions. Wood argues this can lead to insight in the complexity of a society’s moral fabric.


This was a relatively quick chapter to go through. I think the insight about a character’s ability or inability to understand the perspectives of others was interesting. This is also interesting in light of the idea that it can be used to highlight emotional perspectives and general moral fabric.

Book Notes – How Fiction Works, Ch. 6

How Fiction Works is a book written by critic James Wood and is an examination of the techniques that fiction utilizes to immerse the reader and create an experience. This is the fifth of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.

Chapter 6: A Brief History of Consciousness

In this chapter James Wood examines the idea of how characters evolved from essentially stock characters to developed entities that we expect today. In Wood’s estimation, this transition began with theatre, which he posits changed the nature of who sees the character. That is, is the character behaving a certain way for the benefit of the audience, or for some unseen force? That is to say, the author or some unseen deity. This becomes an highlight issue when taking into account theatrical soliloquies, such as Hamlet’s famous monologues. Who or what is the character talking to and what is the motivation? This begins the perception of dimensionality of the character.

For novels, the theatrical monologue becomes an internal voice, a form of mental speech, allowing readers to look into a character’s mind. In addition, theatrical characters can change over time due to dramatic effect. The dynamism of character in theatre caused novelists to experiment with their own medium, for example playing with time or perceptions within their stories in an effort to match and provide an alternative to the dynamism of theatre.

Wood also asserts that the modern novel owes much to the work “Rameau’s Nephew” by Denis Diderot. Diderot made the story completely about the internal lives of his characters instead of using the standard tropes of the time. This was also shown in the works of Dostoyevsky which focused on an analysis of human nature. His characters had three different layers: announced motives, unconscious motivations and a desire to be known and have their flaws revealed.

Just as an example of early storytelling. Wood cites a biblical story, David and Bathsheba. David as a character is transparent to God, but not to the characters, The readers can see his actions, but not his thoughts. This causes his actions to sometimes surprise readers, since they can’t see his motivations. According to Wood, such internal access doesn’t really come along in full until Shakespeare. In particular Wood cites Macbeth, which introduced the idea of retrospective thought, not just internal calculations. Dostoyevski’s character Raskolnikov acts as a kind of hybrid approach. Here the audience has complete access to the character’s mind and is all-seeing until God makes an appearance at the end of the novel.


This is an interesting chapter because there are pros and cons to the idea of being privy to a character’s inner mind. When a character is not internally accessible, the readers must create a narrative like assembling a puzzle. When a character is totally internally accessible, the readers can be more analytic.