Writing 2018-01-14

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.

About the author

Erik Hentell: I started out in theater before moving to graphic design. I eventually moved into web design while trying to expand my knowledge on software development. I currently work for a media company helping with their digital assets such as source code archives and ebooks.