How Fiction Works

  • by James Wood
  • Narrated by James Adams
  • 5 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

What makes a story a story? What is style? What's the connection between realism and real life? These are some of the questions James Wood answers in How Fiction Works, the first book-length essay by the preeminent critic of his generation.Ranging widely from Homer to David Foster Wallace, from What Maisie Knew to Make Way for Ducklings, Wood takes the listener through the basic elements of the art, step by step. He sums up two decades of insight with wit and concision, resulting in nothing less than a philosophy of the novel, which has won critical acclaim nationwide, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times Book Review.


What the Critics Say

"Deservedly famous for [his] intellectual dazzle, literary acuteness and moral seriousness....Wood writes like a dream." (New York Times Book Review)
"[Wood proves] that superior criticism not only unifies and interprets a literary culture but has the power to imagine it into being." (Cynthia Ozick)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


Written in short chapters, this book is a sensible diagnosis of narrative construction with good examples. What is not is a simplistic how-to book. It forces one to work a bit to understand. I especially like the chapters on "free indirect style," which I found useful as a concept that can be applied to not only writing but also filmmaking. Give it a chance!
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- Don

Closely Reasoned

I try to approach books that will fill gaps in my knowledge. “How Fiction Works” by James Wood fit that bill. It is short, but full of insights into fiction. I have no background in literary criticism, but was able to follow Wood’s arguments for the most part. Wood throughout the volume stresses how fiction writers need to be observers. The chapters demonstrated that insight throughout and reveals how various authors have presented their subjects as a result. The book is well worth the time, but come expecting to apply yourself to the subject for the duration. Otherwise, I was disappointed in the asides that Wood made toward religion. It was out of place in this volume because this book was about fiction and how it works. Frankly, statements referring to Jesus as “that cheerless psychologist” and to religion as “That vast musical moth eaten brocade” were simply out of place. Wood’s uses other passages from the Old Testament to good advantage and they were informative. My beef isn’t with religion or quoting religious texts. I just found Wood’s cracks about religion not germane to the topic at hand and a distraction. Otherwise, the reading of James Adams is good though his accent was difficult for me to follow in places.
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- Roy

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-01-2009
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.