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About this book

This concise yet comprehensive study explores innovative practice in the novel and, from the perspective of creative writing, the astonishing resilience of the novel form. It offers a practical guide to the many possibilities available to the writer of the novel, with each chapter offering exercises to encourage innovation and to expand the creative writer’s narrative skills. Beginning with early iterations of the novel in the 17th century, this book follows the evocation of innovation in the novel through Realism, Modernism, Postmodernism and into today’s dizzying array of digital and interactive possibilities. While guiding the reader through the possibilities available (in both genre and literary fiction), this book encourages both aspiring and established writers to produce novels with imagination, playfulness and gravitas.

Dynamic and interactive, this text is distinctive in offering a grounding in the literary history of the novel, while also equipping readers to write in the form themselves. It is an essential resource for any student of creative writing, or anyone with an interest in writing their own novel.

Table of Contents

0. Introduction: The Phenomenon of the Novel

Abstract
The novel has been declared dead so many times, no one believes it anymore. The novel has survived many attempts on its life, mainly because it is so pliable and can morph into whatever it needs to be. Modernism fragmented it, Postmodernism issued its death warrant, and e-publishing tried to eclipse it. Yet here it is – still in bookstores and still in hardback, in paperback, and on Kindle and still selling more than ever. The key to its resilience is perhaps in its name: something ‘novel’ has to keep reinventing itself.
Paul Williams

1. Rise of the Novel: It was A Dark and stormy night

Abstract
While the Great Tradition has us believe that the novel was a white male invention and the likes of F.R. Leavis (1963) will point to Don Quixote (1615) or Robinson Crusoe (1719) as the first novel written, the candidate is more likely to be an 11th-century Japanese saga written by the female poet, Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji (1021) is a magnificent work whose chapters were written onto folded leaves of paper. It chronicles a dizzying array of hundreds of characters over generations. It was written for the entertainment of the court and offers a vicarious glimpse into the lives of courtiers at that time.
Paul Williams

2. Realism: The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Abstract
Ian Watt, in The Rise of the Novel (1957), argues that the novel’s ‘novelty’ was its ‘formal realism’: the idea ‘that the novel is a full and authentic report of human experience’ (Watt, 2000 (1957), p. 21). Realism is ‘the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, as well as implausible, exotic and supernatural elements’ (ibid).
Paul Williams

3. Modernism: The Fragmentation of Reality

Abstract
Realism remains the foundation of novel building. Readers expect verisimilitude and all the conventions of realism we associate with how the ‘real’ world is. But that is not how we experience the world. Realism is a flat convention. It is an absolute, monolithic, fundamentalist view of truth and is built on faulty premises.
Paul Williams

4. Minimalism: less is more

Abstract
‘Minimalism’ is a relatively new term. It began to be applied to literary works in the second half of the 20th century, but the minimalist movement has been around much longer. It was led by an eclectic group of vigilant artists who sought to curb the flowery exuberances of the Romantics and Modernists and melodramatists and overwriters of every age. It is essentially a realist movement that endeavoured to purge language of excess.
Paul Williams

5. Magic Realism: How Flying Carpets Really Fly

Abstract
By day, we live realist lives. For most of us, nothing ‘magical’ happens. The sun comes up, we go to work, and everything that seems out of the ordinary has a rational explanation, even that creak of the floorboards in the spooky house we live in is not a restless ghost but elementary physics – the house contracts and expands according to temperature fluctuations. But at night, monsters prowl our dreams, dead friends long gone are alive once more, we merge into other people, animals speak, we can fly by simply willing our bodies upwards, fantastic things happen to us, and we don’t even blink an eye – well, strictly we do because we are in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. We accept illogical, irrational images in our sleep as normal. We are at home swimming in our unconscious, which is filled with strange creatures, weird settings and bizarre events.
Paul Williams

6. Postmodernism: [DE] Constructing ‘Reality’

Abstract
Postmodernism presents writers with a kaleidoscopic array of practices, encourages innovation and experimentation, and has produced a dazzling smorgasbord of creative works, expanding the genre of the novel and pushing its boundaries. But postmodernism is a problematic term that has been loosely applied, appropriated, even disparaged and denounced. What exactly is postmodernism?
Paul Williams

7. Metafiction: Writing about the Mirror

Abstract
He slumps over his desk, staring at the words he has typed: Chapter 7: Metafiction: Writing about the Mirror. The rest of the screen is blank. Should he plunge straight in with a definition, or should he invent some frame tale to cleverly show, rather than tell, how metafiction works?
Paul Williams

8. The Transgressive Novel: Writing with Dark Ink

Abstract
In the science fiction movie Planet of the Apes (1968), earth space travellers find themselves on a strange planet which contains a Forbidden Zone no one dares enter: to transgress this border means madness and sure death. The Forbidden Zone holds secrets that should never be revealed because knowledge of this will destroy civilisation. But these travellers from earth cross the line and discover something about themselves that is shocking. This self-revelation unmasks the lies of this planet’s civilisation and reveals a naked truth.
Paul Williams

9. Ecriture Feminine: Writing the Body

Abstract
The first thing you might ask is this: who am I, Paul Williams, to be writing a chapter on l’ecriture feminine? It’s a question that must be asked because it raises the issue of whether other genders and sexes have different ways of writing, how other genders experience and write the world differently, and even more importantly, how white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men’s voices have dominated literary discourse, women’s and ‘other’ voices have been silenced, and men tend to speak over women and others, appropriating their voices.
Paul Williams

10. Postcolonialism: Writing Back to Empire

Abstract
During the final years of Apartheid in South Africa, I was teaching in the English department at the University of Zululand and moved to Johannesburg to teach in a newly formed breakaway department from the English department at Wits University (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg), the department of African literature. Why the split? The English department, it was argued, was Eurocentric in its offerings, reflecting a colonial approach to literature and seeing Europe as the motherland and origin of culture and the South as the colony. The new department was Afrocentric, meaning that it focussed on local culture (Zulu and Xhosa and Tswana oral traditions, South African literature, both black and white, and then other African literature, then the diaspora, and finally European and American literature).
Paul Williams

11. The Graphic Novel and Illustrated Books

Abstract
I grew up reading novels, yes, but also comics, those so-called trashy, garishly coloured narratives consisting of six or eight frames per page, speeches in balloons with too many exclamation marks, and caricatured superheroes doing impossible things. My teachers condemned this form of reading, contrasted it with ‘real’ books, and disparaged its blend of visual and textual art. We would get in trouble at school for reading comics, but not books with pictures, and I was not sure why. One teacher said that comics were ‘lazy reading’, the images given to us rather than created by our imaginations, and were another form of TV.
Paul Williams

12. Interactive Narrative and Digital Possibilities

Abstract
I am sitting in a lecture theatre, watching and listening to a lecture, with my laptop open. I am taking notes. But I also flick to Facebook every now and then to see whether anyone has posted on my page regarding the book launch. I then flick to the university website to see how many people have enrolled. I now and then check my email and reply to a few urgent emails. When the lecturer mentions the new Moreton Bay campus and tells us there is a website updating its progress, I type in the address and browse through the pictures and info there. Then I open Word and read an assignment from one of my students.
Paul Williams

13. Conclusion: Writing Innovative Fiction

Abstract
Ben Marcus, in ‘Why Experimental Fiction threatens to destroy publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and life as we know it’, identifies what he calls the ‘reader’s muscle’ – Wernicke’s area, in the left temporal lobe of the brain – which is responsible for complex linguistic abilities. This muscle needs to be exercised if it is to keep our cognitive abilities sharp and growing and keep our language agile enough to engage with the world around us in a focused way. Marcus argues that it is literary fiction (and poetry) that invigorates this muscle:The brain is, literally and metaphorically, as big as the universe in that it contains as many neurons as there are stars and neural pathways that are virtually infinite. If we stare up at the Milky Way, we are seeing what our brain (our ‘self’) looks like in all its vast wonder.
Paul Williams
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