Book Review – “The Half-Known World on Writing Fiction” by Robert Boswell

The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction

While reading “The Half-Known World on Writing Fiction” by Robert Boswell, I came to the realization that I am not a real writer. While I think my story is good, it is just that – a story. It is not an artistic piece of work. A real writer is more interested in writing for the sake of writing while a story-teller is more interested in the story. The depth that my work lacks is due to my inadequacy on the intricacies of writing.

The inadequacies of my story are apparent in the first chapter of “The Half-Known World“. The first chapter discusses how important it is to discover your character as you write. If you tell all about your character right off, you dampen the mystery. Your character is predictable and boring, and quite possibly perfectly fits into a stereotype. This same step can be obvious in the story itself. Leave some aspects of the story half-known. This way when the full story is discovered, your reader is fulfilled. No one enjoys reading a story with a predictable end. By keeping the reader guessing, you are creating interest.

The second chapter of “The Half-Known World” explains how characters should react within a paradigm. Robert Boswell’s example is of a society in the 1930s. People behaved a certain way towards African Americans in that time. To write a story in that setting and ignore this fact would make the story difficult to believe. If a character is to act outside of the paradigm, then the story should show why? Notice I said ‘show’, not tell.

Chapter three of “The Half-Known World” goes into the use of what the writer calls narrative spandrels. A spandrel is an architectural feature but Robert Boswell applies it to writing. In writing, a spandrel is an element in the story that is part of the story but more of an accidental coincidence rather than a feature of the story itself. For example, a spandrel could be an insignificant item described in the story that somehow keeps presenting itself in the story. It somehow indirectly becomes the key or the glue to the story itself. But spandrels shouldn’t be obvious. By the end of the story, it should be a surprise.

I found chapter four of “The Half-Known World” of good use. It explains how if you’re telling a story from a narrator point of view, you need to be careful about ‘knowing it all’. Is the narrator a part of the story or just an observer? Either way, the reader should only know what the narrator knows. The reader should only be confined to what the narrator sees, hears, and feels. If such a narrator were to know how another character feels or why another character behaved the way they did, then it gives the story an unrealistic feeling. A narrator can certainly express his opinion, but it should be clear that it is such.

Other topics covered by “The Half-Known World” include how the imbalances between male and female characters creates tension, how stories can be in danger of sounding too much like an urban legend, using writing techniques to give a setting an unearthly or mysterious feeling, using writing to express a political or controversial opinion, and finally the importance of writing a mystery so that your character comes to the same conclusions as the reader at the same time.

Of all the topics covered in “The Half-Known World” by Robert Boswell, the ‘half-known’ was the most interesting and the one which I know I need to work on the most. Thinking about this issue, I realize that I have my main character almost fully known right at the beginning of the story. We already know he is the hero, we know his full character, so we almost know how the story is going to go. There is no conflict of character and therefore no conflict of story. The good guy is good and the bad guy is bad.

Does this mean I am going to go back to the drawing board? Probably, but not right away. For now, my book will stay published as it is. But to strive for a better story, I will read more books like “The Half-Known World” and practice more at writing short stories.

Before you write a story or book, start with reading “The Half-Known World on Writing Fiction” by Robert Boswell and hone your writing techniques. They key to becoming a good writer is to go beyond just telling a story – be a creative writer and intrigue your audience.


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