Read Like A Writer

There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.

John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fiction as Art and Life by Robert Saunders Dowst (1919)









Ernest Dawson 


Robert B. Campbell 

"The the wise man all the world's a soil." — Ben Johnson. 

Fiction as Art and Life 



Author of 

"The Technique of Fiction Writing" 

"A TheoiT of Prose Fiction" 


Copyright 1919 by 


The Station Place Presa 

William R. Kane 



The Technique of Fiction Writing $1.75 

A Theory of Prose Fiction , 60 

Fiction as Art and Life 60 


The present essay, like its predecessor, "A Theory of Prose Fiction," has to do with matters taken up from the technical angle in "The Technique of Fiction Writing," but the treatment is historical and critical, rather than directly expositive. However, it has not been my purpose to write a conventional text-book, with all its neat little docketings and labelings of schools and tendencies; instead, I have sought to indicate and discuss briefly the one great process of development in fiction, the emergence of the more or less conscious conception of the art as a means to exhibit life, and thereby to interest, rather than as a means merely to entertain through narration of a conventional plot or story, attractive largely by its novelty, marvelousness, or complexity of intrigue. It is trite enough to say that a story should be a "phase of life," "slice of life," "heart throb," or what not — and all the professional and professorial exhorters on fiction technique and allied matters duly say it — but in reading discussion of the art of fiction I never have met with any intelligible statement of the relation between a story as a work of art, that is, a definite, organic thing, with beginning and end, and as a vehicle to exhibit the stuff of life, real or ideal. To do work that is worthy, work that will impress a reader by subjecting him to the power of each story, the artist in fiction must grasp that relation in all its implications, and thousands fail where one succeeds. Properly approached, the matter is a simple one to understand; the writer who does understand it will come to his work with deeper insight, new zest, and greater resources. I have often thought it a pity that so many deft technicians should whittle and pare away at their carefully elaborated, conventional stories, when a little consideration of the plain nature of their art would show them the way to become masters rather than craftsmen — at least would permit their substantive powers to reach full growth. In "A Theory of Prose Fiction" I attempted briefly to state the relation between a story as a work of art and as a bit of life, the co-existence of form and content; here I develop the same matter historically. It is of the very greatest importance, both to one who would write fiction and to one who would estimate the work of others justly and adequately, and its importance is my excuse for this book and the other.

To avoid possible misunderstanding, let me dis- claim any intention to spread the current propaganda of "realism." So many reverberating artillery-salvos have been exchanged between the critical schools over "realism" and "romanticism" as opposed artistic philosophies that it is quite impossible to mention "life" as the content proper for fiction without setting up in a reader's mind unfortunate currents of association. I might have mentioned the matter in the text, but, in so small a book, space, like time, is fleeting, and I desired to develop my own argument in peace. It should be enough to state here that when I mention "life" I do not mean "real" life, that assumed verity impossible to test, but rather use the term to indicate that the proper content of fiction is man's possible or conceivable experience, presented as experience and not merely as a series of events physically related as items of a conventional plot or intrigue. In other words, the writer of fiction who displays a phase of life, of man's experience, as he has seen or guessed it in reality or imagined it in his dreams, is dealing with "life" within my use of the term. The specific work he finally exhibits may be the "Legeia" of a Poe, the "Scarlet Letter" of a Hawthorne, the "Crime and Punishment" of a Dostoievsky, the "Way of All Flesh" of a Butler, or the "Don Quixote" of a Cervantes, even the "Alice in Wonderland" of a Carroll.


Tales and stories — prose fictions, in the dry modern phrase — have been told since first there were men to tell them and to enjoy the telling, and in an art of an antiquity so respectable one must expect to discover a process of growth and development, at least of change. And the art of fiction indeed has altered under the hands of those who have practiced it, in accordance with an alteration in their more or less unconscious conception of its proper content and purpose. If one examines the fairy-tales of the East and the Teutonic peoples, the earliest fictions that have been preserved to us, apart from the semi-philosophical myths of all primitive races, one sees that the apparent purpose of fiction was to entertain through exhibition of men and women involved in novel, bizarre, or even impossible courses of action ; but if one flutters over the leaves of the centuries and comes to the finest, most significant fiction of the past hundred years — the work of Balzac, Hawthorne, Thackeray, Dostoievsky, Tolstoi, Butler, and others — one discovers that the great moderns, in their great works, at any rate, have forsaken bare novelty and the marvelous as means to appeal to readers, and have turned instead to the portrayal of life, real or ideal, as they have seen, imagined, or dreamed it.

In its broad outlines, this process of change or development is sufficiently obvious. Traced piecemeal, step by step, from book to book and author to author, it reveals itself with some loss of emphasis, for no course of natural development functions evenly and uniformly. As the greater number of human societies have progressed for a time, then lost the initiative of advance and foully stagnated, so the stream of fiction, at various times, with various peoples, and in various tongues, has stagnated in periods of imitation, decadence, and mere trash. But if one examines the works that mark the beginning and end of the developmental process — passes from tales of "Cinderella" and "Alladin and the Wonderful Lamp" to the stories in Barrie's "A Window in Thrums," from Ann Radchffe's "Mysteries of Udolpho" or Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" to Balzac's "Lost Illusions" or Butler's "The Way of All Flesh"— one cannot but be impressed not only with the fact of change but of radical change. Where the earlier fictions were strictly inhuman in that they stressed the purely marvelous and all the mechanism of fairyland, or, as a concession to rationalism, turned for sensation and appeal to the grotesque and horrible, the later works are strictly human in that they affirm by example the natural eloquence, appeal, and general fictional worth of the more or less normal lives of more or less normal men and women.

It is broadly true that the art of fiction has developed thus, gaining in plain human significance — and hence in power to interest and influence cultured readers, if not in power merely to entertain those who seek in reading only to escape from reality — as it reached out for and embraced the world of common men and common facts, finding in the natural joys, sorrows, and passions of toiling humanity a gamut capable of tones sweeter than the elvish mirth of fairies, sadder than the woes of forsaken princesses, more dreadful and more thrilling than any cry that has ever burst from the dungeons of any castle of romance. The taproot of true interest is sympathy, fellow-feeling — witness the discerning critic (probably feminine) who complained of the Arabian Nights stories that one is apt to lose interest in a hero who may turn into a camel — and the story that shows the marvelous and nothing else, or displays neat interaction of intrigue and nothing else, lacks capacity to reach the hearts and minds of men through the appeal of something like their own experience. Jack may slay the giant and Jill may wed the prince — after his discovery of "the papers" proving her to be the gypsy-stolen daughter of the Grand Duke of Neverwasenstein — but the real Jack and Jill who read, unless they have the great luck to be children, find it all a trifle unreal and greatly insignificant, that is, unmeaning, in relation to them and their own personal lives. In the great books, on the other hand, they glimpse friendly human faces, grasp for a moment friendly human hands, witness the realization or defeat of spiritual or material aspirations and aims that they themselves have entertained in their degree, and are bound to the page by mutuality of experience, actual or potential.

As the race slowly has developed through the centuries, discovering and exercising new powers and capacities, feeling the concomitant new responsibilities of social life, its individual members, in so far as they have participated in and contributed to the advance, have lost the primal capacity to take keen interest in the merely miraculous or the merely ingenious relation ; and fiction, likewise, to interest the newer human type, must have put aside very largely its function of miracle-monger and mechanical problem-poser. There is more in life than the men of bygone ages ever knew or even guessed, more in men, both of powers and duties. To interest a mind that is at once able and representative of the present a work of fiction must embody a reality of human experience, a reality of fact, caught from observation, or a reality of conception, snared from dreams. Not all minds are able; still less are all able minds representative of the best of present humanity in that they possess what can be characterized roughly as social sensitiveness ; so it is that books of the earlier type, harping painfully upon their one string of wonder or mystery, still find readers. Fiction, written by man for man, has developed only with man, not in a smooth chronological progression. Jane Austen was a contemporary of Horace Walpole, or nearly so, of Mrs. Radcliffe and "Monk" Lewis, with their horrent claptrap; Balzac in one book would approach the heights of fictional achievement and in the next descend to the cheapest melodrama; the mass of English fiction went astray most woefully after Fielding, perhaps never has regained the straight and difficult path of complete sincerity and freedom from mawkishness. Only in Russian can be found a fictional literature which in the mass presents a relatively sincere, relatively undistorted content of human experience, and the exception is not adverse to the general argument because the whole of Russian literary expression is so comparatively recent that it has been influenced almost in its totality by the thought-currents of the new age. Moreover, though fictional sincerity does not consist in presenting the life-experience of the poor, nevertheless the tacit alliance in Russia between radicalism and literature in all its forms has tended to focus the attention of novelists and short-story writers upon the poor and oppressed, Gorky's "creatures that once were men," and it is certain that the writer who concerns himself with the spiritual and material adventures of the poor — the stark, struggling bulk of mankind — is least likely to lose touch with the genuine realties of human experience and to build in froth. The unique and surprising excellence of Russian fiction as a whole serves chiefly to emphasize the greatly varying capacities of writers and tastes of readers in countries where literature has been more a thing of the market-place and less a propaganda.

What has just been said was not intended in the least to imply that the office of fiction is to present socially important phases of contemporary life, to be a mere tool in the work of social betterment, for the one office and aim of fiction is to interest, some minds, at any rate, the best minds if possible; but it is true that the abler reader, the reader accustomed to dwell upon matter humanly significant and to dismiss matter humanly insignificant,- is to be engaged most easily and completely by some reality of contemporary human experience, presented as experience because it is significant — hence interesting — only as experience, and not as novelty, mystery, or mechanism. To put it briefly, the general advance of mankind has caused a similar development in fiction, which has changed from a mere vehicle of entertainment into a source of interest, appealing to the mind of a reader through the real human significance of its matter and to his heart through its men and women, at once concrete — which the people of older fiction often were — and intelligible — which they often were not. Truly man has changed, and the art of the story has changed with him, for the narrator has gained insight, and sees in his human material a more delicate complex, a deeper pathos, and a finer triumph.

The dual aspect of fiction as art and as life or experience, the co-existence of form and content, will be discussed in the following sections ; here the necessity is to clear the way for the discussion, for what will be said as to the artistic coherence of a story depending upon the actual coherence of the phase of experience exhibited would not be true of the older type of fiction, from fairy-tale to mechanical romance, where coherence depends upon the mere physical dove-tailing of happening and happening. In the mechanical romance, for instance, a marriage certificate, perhaps, is lost or stolen, and the relation is coherent only in that it states more or less plausibly the woes occasioned by the loss, but a relation of the newer type, seeking to interest through the just exhibition of human experience, is coherent in that the phase of experience presented is one phase, the finked actions and reactions of some individual human spirit during a part or the whole of its life-pilgrimage. Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" is an example, coherent, as it is, not by virtue of the necessary physical connection between the happenings, but because each incident springs directly or indirectly from the follies and vices of the heroine. In the older type of story the relation between events is physical, in the newer, physical and psychical, and discussion true of the one is false of the other.

The newer type of fiction, then, seeks to interest by showing experience as such, rather than to entertain by displaying marvels or complicating events, and if it were my purpose to demonstrate the superiority of the new over the old I could not do better than to call attention to Stevenson's "Kidnapped" and "The Ebb-Tide," stories which interest because they present justly worth-while phases of human experience, but which also possess "plot" in the mechanical sense. I am not concerned with the point of merit, but these two books are useful to point the difference between the old and the new types of fiction, as each combines berth. The conventional plot of "Kidnapped" consists in David's ignorance of his right to the estate of Shaws and in the frustration of his usurping uncle's scheme tc remove him ; the real interest of the story, however, does not reside in this mechanism, but in the boy's experience on the brig, on the Isle of Earraid, and in the heather, Alan Breck sustaining him and hostile elements and hostile men opposing him. The conventional plot of "The Ebb-Tide" utilizes the circumstance that a schooner laden with bottled water is stolen by men who believe her laden with champagne; but the interest of the story resides exclusively in its exhibition of the unavailing struggle of an essentially weak man tp be other than weak, whatever the enterprize engaging him, a justly conceived and justly presented phase of human experience. Exceptionally perfect as was Stevenson's technique, still it was not a new but rather the old technique, with its conventional plot-mechanism — the fraud on David, the piratical enterprize of Robert Herrick and his companions — employed less as the story and an end in itself than as a mere means to initiate definitely and sharply the phase of experience selected for presentation, also as a means to end it with equal definition. Stevenson devises the mechanism of "Kidnapped" to place David on the brig and in the heather, as he devises the mechanism of "The Ebb-Tide" to place Herrick on the schooner and the pearl-island, not because the mechanism in either case is greatly interesting. David's struggle with hostile elements and hostile men, an item of human experience, and the inner struggle between Herrick's stronger and weaker selves, a less tangible item, supply the substance, the source of interest, in each book. The mechanism is a mere adjunct, furnishing a definite beginning, the physical movement of the story, and a definite end. It is possible to write artistically coherent fiction without employing the mechanism of a conventional plot— Butler's "The Way of All Flesh," in English, and many Russian novels are examples — but mechanism, justly and understandingly employed, is a source of strength. In the particular case of Stevenson, whose artistic development can be traced clearly through each successive book, one cannot fail to note the ealier insistence upon the bare story for the story's sake and the later insistence upon specific human experience as such, the emphasis deepening, to the final point of "Weir of Hermiston," as the writer's understanding gains in power and his hand in craft. The inevitable movement in the work of any able and developing writer from the story as mechanism to the story as experience reproduces in miniature the general process of fictional development that has been discussed, and is a sure indication of the necessary character of the process. On the one hand, an able reader cannot lose himself in a relation humanly insignificant; on the other, the able writer has business more pressing than to spin complexities or to retail marvels. To trace in detail the evolution of fiction from mechanism to experience, from a means to amuse to a means to interest and subject a reader, would involve a separate examination of the two chief fictional literatures of Europe, the English and the French, and it would be difficult to avoid some treatment of Russian work; but perhaps enough has been said to serve as foundation for discussion directed to show that the presentation of experience as such and for its own sake does not involve incoherence, any failure in point of form and art, because coherence in the substance of a story, the phase of experience it presents, implies coherence in its form and outer texture. First, then, of the artistic question, the point of form.


Perhaps not too many professors of aesthetics would dissent from the definition that a work of art is something that gives pleasure in the mere act of perception, apart from all considerations of utility, but my present concern with fiction as an art requires some more immediately practical statement of artistic quality, a statement that shall emphasize the formal and technical elements of the matter rather than the philosophical. From the technical viewpoint, then, any work of art is a creation or adaptation in some one of various materials — sounds, words, pigments, stone, even mimicry, in the case of the dramatic artist — which gives pleasure in perception less because the perceiving person dwells lovingly upon the thousand and one little miracles of execution in detail that go to make the whole —which is the pleasure of a brother worker in the craft — than because the finished work is an organic whole, without loose ends or interpolated fragments, and preaches a single message of truth, which is beauty. The sole fundamental technical oi formal quality of a work of art is unity, singleness of function as a whole.

One need not be an amateur in painting or music, for instance, to appreciate the singleness or unity of a landscape or a song, or to realize that in the unity of each resides its formal artistic quality. But the art of fiction is another and a more complicated matter, manipulating, as it does, a dual or twofold substance, words, visual and — in a sense — audible symbols, and the underlying realities symbolized, so that the complete adequacy of the statement that the formal artistic quality of a work of fiction resides in its unity or singleness may not at once appear. What is this much mooted unity ? how can a work of fiction, dealing with a thing so heterogeneous as human experience, possibly manifest it? are legitimate questions; but it can be shown that the idea of coherence, singleness, unity, has real meaning in relation to fiction. The only condition precedent to the demonstration is that the reader dismiss entirely from his mind all the vaporous modern discussion of the short story and the esoteric and undefined "unity" by possession of which it is alleged to be unique among all forms of prose fiction. Also it will be useful to remember that the present discussion purports to deal only with matters of substance, not with verbal treatment of substance, style, which will be touched upon incidentally.

In the first place, there are two chief methods or modes whereby a work of fiction achieves essential unity and thereby becomes a work of art indeed. Since my argument is novel, I have no convenient catchwords at hand rendered intelligible by repeated and contrasting use, but it will not be too extreme to characterize these two basic methods to achieve fictional unity as the mechanical and the natural. The shifting of emphasis from the first to the second has made the process of fictional growth or development hastily reviewed in the introductory section. The mechanical mode to achieve unity is to take some mechanical complication, intrigue, plot — examples are the matter of the slipper in "Cinderella," of the lamp in "Alladin," of David's inheritance in "Kidnapped," of the theft of the schooner in "The Ebb-Tide"— and to develop the mechanism fully. Since the plot-mechaism is single, self-contained and self-sufficient, the completed fiction is a unity, in the mechanical sense, at least, and, if the events and personalities dealt with have true relation, are mutually influential, the fiction is also substantially organic and a true natural unity. So far as can be ascertained — the great antiquity of the fairy-story and the constant employment of mechanism to unify the type bear witness here — fiction in fact did appear first as mechanism in the sense in which I have employed the term. But the material or content of fiction is human experience, and there have been, are, and will be innumerable aspects or phases of human experience, supremely interesting and therefore supremely worthy of relation, which contain no element of mechanism, of conventional plot-complication, and which would suffer only distortion if told in connection with a mechanism devised solely because of the tradition of plot. These worth-while phases of human experience in the last analysis consist of the actions and reactions of individual men and women in relation to themselves, their fellows, and their natural environment, and to present any straightforward, uncomplicated phase of experience simply as it is and for what it is invariably results in a unified, organic fiction, a fiction more essentially and closely a single whole than any mere mechanism, for the single phase of human experience is the natural unit of fiction. Adequate presentment of a phase of experience, then, is the second and a more effective, as well as the more natural way to achieve in fiction the unity which is essential to artistry. Of course both it and the device of mechanism may be employed in the same story; I have already cited "Kidnapped" and "The Ebb-Tide" in this connection.

The term "phase of experience," which I have been forced to use for lack of a better one equally brief, is ineffective by reason of its abstractness, and a little discussion and amplification may render more clear just what is meant by the foregoing statement of the natural mode to unify a work of fiction. All life, all human life is a struggle, wherein the individual wrestles with the elements to win a living and a foot- hold on the earth, with his fellows as their desires and necessities interfere with and cross his, even with him- self as his soul is buffeted by conflicting impulses. The result is an infinite succession of dramatic conflicts, frequently within the individual alone, as when opposed motives seize him, frequently between the individual and his natural environment, but more frequently between a group of individuals placed in opposition by incompatible motives and purposes. And any such struggle or dramatic .conflict constitutes a phase of human experience, as the term has been used, a substantial, and, in fiction, an artistic unity, having a definite beginning, the actual beginning of the conflict, L definite climax, the point of highest tension between the opposed forces of personality, and a definite end, the end of the particular conflict, when some one or some combination among the forces involved has shaped the others. These small and great unities of human experience, utilized by the artist in fiction, will stand alone, fair and shapely, without the support of mechanism. They need only be related simply as they would be perceived by an observer or experienced by a participant.

Thus it appears that any single phase of human experience is a true fictional unit, an artistic conception as well as an objective or a subjective fact. (Of course the item of experience may be purely imaginary, a subjective reality only.) A phase of experience, that is, some particular struggle or conflict between forces of personality, between personality and nature, or between opposed motives in the same person, is one of life's indivisible atoms, likewise one of fiction's, self-sufficient and self-contained, beginning when the forces involved first come to grips and ending when some one has compelled the others to yield to its imperious power. Quite apart from mechanism and formal complication of intrigue, each small desire and each great purpose of all real and all imaginable men and women furnish material for artistically coherent fiction, for each is certain to meet opposition either within the person, from his fellows, or from nature, and the defeat or realization of the motive is the story.

In the short story, the unifying opposition or dramatic struggle must be strictly single, because space for subsidiary conflicts or plots and the resulting by- play of action is not available save at expense of the main opposition; in the novel ox the romance, on the other hand, ideally — and, indeed, most commonly — unified by a main line of opposition between the chief characters, the minor persons of the story frequently become involved in secondary intrigues of their own, at least play their little parts in the main intrigue. And the story does not lose unity and consequently artistic status thereby, provided the secondary characters have some relation to the chief persons, and their doings are in fact ramifications and developments of the main business of the fiction. Yet arbitrarily to tell three or four essentially unrelated stories in one book, as did Dickens in "Our Mutual Friend," is to sacrifice unity and force to presumptive breadth of appeal. The short story is a form of fiction somewhat artificial in that it presents a flash of life in the bare essentials of personality and action; the longer forms are not less coherent and unified simply because they seek more leisurely to present a broader aspect of experience in a richer texture of detail. The short story can pretend to no higher artistry than that achieved by novel or romance justly treated.

A brief review of a few well known works of fiction, long and short, will demonstrate the truth that mechanism, the conventional plot-complication, is not indispensable to unity, coherence, the fundamental artistic quality. "Don Quixote" exhibits man under domination of a dream, a delusion, therefore misunderstanding and misunderstood by all the world, and the book is a rounded whole because it does present that phase of experience. "Robinson Crusoe" displays life in its rawest terms, the struggle of naked and hungry man against elemental forces for food, shelter, and raiment; since the work develops that one struggle, a single phase of experience, it is a symmetrical unit and a thing of art. Stevenson's short story, "Markheim," shows a struggle, after the deed, within a murderer, and Dostoievsky's "Crime and Punishment" shows like-wise a struggle within a murderer, before and after the fact, both single phases of human experience and both substantial and fictional unities. "The Scarlet Letter" presents the knot of opposition between a woman, her husband, and her lover, and is a strict artistic unity because it is concerned only with the initiation, development, and solution of that single dramatic problem. "Madame Bovary" utilizes the same theme, with emphasis more exclusively upon the woman, and is a coherent artistic whole for the same reason. Samuel Butler's fine novel "The Way of All Flesh," Dickens' "David Copperfield," Romain Rolland's "Jean Christophe," and several of Thackeray's works present a whole significant life instead of a single significant phase of a life, and find unity and artistic coherence less in one specific dramatic conflict than in the succession of dramatic conflicts that makes the particular life, though, of course, usually with one dominant emphasis, while a book such as Tolstoi's "War and Peace" still more ambitiously seeks unity by presenting the conflict between masses of men, be- tween societies and nations — in the particular case of "War and Peace" the bloody duel between France and Russia, Napoleon and Alexander. Yet in each story, slight or pretentious, the human opposition is the unifying, the artistic principle. To take a fiction known somewhat less than those just mentioned, "Asra," the first work in August Strindberg's collection of short stories entitled "Married," presents the struggle between a boy and his sexual impulses. Sincerely, therefore without the least evil suggestion,the author shows the personal conflict within the boy, and utilizes that conflict to show the more general opposition between young manhood and society in the particular concerned; the story is an artistic unit because it is a substantial unit, presents a single phase of human experience. Thomas Hardy's novels, "Tess," "The Return of the Native," "The Mayor of Casterbridge," and the others, find unity through the various human oppositions they develop, also through adequate treatment of the natural environment of the characters, or, more truly, a strange, Hardyesque compound of nature and inscrutable fate. As the persons buffet one an- other they turn, from time to time, to fend off elemental and supernatural forces.

The list and rapid analysis might be extended indefinitely, but enough has been said, I think, to demonstrate that mechanism is no essential of artistry, which is true unity, in fiction, that any conventional plot- or story-idea may be dispensed with quite without loss of coherence, and that the writer has much to learn who conceives his story found when he has chanced upon an interlocking series of events involving elements of mystery or of final surprise, of mechanical complication or of wonder. His business is with his human material, the men and women about him or the creatures of his musings, not because it is more difficult, more "literary," or more anything else to present life as it is or might be than to present artificially arranged events for their own sake, but because the cultured reader, the reader we would all wish at once to be and to serve, appreciates the value, the triumph and pathos, the zest, at any rate, of life, and can lose himself in its presentation more readily and more completely than in any exhibition of events, merely an events, however neatly dovetailing or arranged.

As was pointed out in relation to some of Stevenson's work, one may show life justly while utilizing the device of mechanism, the conventional "story," but the value of one's fable, its power to stimulate real interest, will depend upon its substance, not upon its physical outline. Whatever third-rate writers of fiction may seem to imply by their work, the god of things as they are did not create man solely as an actor in highly polished intrigues, and some great spirits — a few are named a page or two back — have realized that truth, and worked and written accordingly. More honor to them.

Even in the case of the story that is a unit only by virtue of its mechanism, the pat interaction of events, the events in fact do dovetail and interact in building up to a definite end of the whole sequence; thereby the fiction is in some sense a work of art, the bearer of a single message, though that message is superficial and does not touch the heart of things. And in the case of the story that is a unit because its substance is a unit, a single phase of human experience, the events like- wise build up to a definite end of the whole sequence, but they are more closely knit, more truly a progression, than the events which go to make a story of the mechanical, physical type, in that they spring more naturally from the human material, the people of the fiction, unforced by any bondage to the lines of a conventional plot or intrigue. Cinderella is tied to the slipper, and all we know of her is that her foot was small, but Bret Harte's M'lis lives far more at large and naturally, and so is far more interesting.

The complication of events in the older, more mechanical type of fiction, the intrigue, has always been known as "plot," and the term, despite its unfortunate associations and connotations, perhaps is the best at hand to denote the essence of the newer, more natural type of narration, the complication of opposition between men, between man and nature, or within the same man, which determines and shapes the events and so generates the living substance of the whole story. But some fictions lack completely this unifying principle of plot, presenting neither an old-fashioned intrigue nor a natural human opposition, a true phase of life; instead, they exhibit a mere succession of episodes — "Sinbad the Sailor" and "Gil Bias" are examples — interesting in themselves and by themselves, completely independent, no one essential to the others, and told together purely by chance. These tales, as the tend- ency seems to be to call them — in distinction from the story, which possesses plot and where the events function together as a whole — in no sense are works of fictional art. They are fictions, truly, as they may be works of art, an art purely literary, that is, but they cannot pretend to strict fictional artistry because they lack the principle of unity of substance. The point is of value to enforce the general argument. A tale perfectly told in point of language, of rhetoric, is a work of literary art, as any perfect bit of writing is a work of literary art, but it is not a work of fictional art and cannot be, for the definition of a tale is a fiction that lacks unity, the fundamental artistic quality, in that its component parts, the various events, do not function together as a whole, as steps of a progression, but stand in juxtaposition purely by chance, the caprice of the narrator. And one might be subtracted from the whole, but to subtract one of its events from a story is to destroy the fiction in its entirety, a negative test of artistry. The writer of fiction who subconsciously regards his chosen art as predominantly literary, as a mere matter of arranging words in pattern, has gone far astray. His function is to estimate life, to sift out for presentation its aspects most significant to him, hence most interesting to some others, and to seek to present them with maximum force by the exclusion of all irrelevant matter, which is to achieve unity and artistry. The substance of a story must be presented by words apt and proper for that purpose, but the literary task is, in fact, secondary, and for the same reason that a tale, however well told, is not a work of fictional art.

The impossibility to unify substance by devices merely literary and rhetorical is sufficiently obvious. The tale is not a form of fiction lower than the story, the fiction of plot; it is simply a different thing. The former is a mere relation, of something, of anything, and the only perfection it can achieve is in point of expression; the latter is a drama, a progression, an opposition of forces, a whole, and it can touch perfection as a drama, a work of fictional art, and also in point of expression, a work of literary art, like the tale. But in it painstaking manipulation of language cannot supply defects of substance.

The matter of verbal treatment of substance is not quite inclusive of the matter of style, of which so much is airily said and written, for the former concerns only fitness to substance while the latter imports a certain individuality of rhetoric and verbal pattern. Fitness of expression is essential to art, whether literary or fictional, whether the work be tale or story, but real individuality of expression, the reflection of a bent of mind, is not an essential of literary or fictional artistry ; style is rather the accompaniment of a fine spirit to its own particular song of life.*

* The statement that a tale may be a work of literary, but, by definition, cannot be a work of fictional art, may seem extreme to one who recalls the many prose fictions that are tales, in that they lack the unifying principle of a central opposition, and yet are interesting and striking relations by virtue of the novelty of their matter — the case of "Sinbad the Sailor" — or because of the engaging character of the events, plus adequate treatment of personality — the case of "Gil Bias," "Rip Van Winkle," and many others. Certainly the statement is novel; that it is true is equally certain. In fact, I should incline to make complete acceptance of it the test of an individual's comprehension of the art, the essence of the art, of fiction. The term "fictional," of course, is used in the special and limited sense in which alone it can have real meaning in connection with "art." And I think that a reader who will take pains to realize the many matters implied by "literary" — the intelligent choice and the just and pleasing arrangement of matter, whether or not in a true fictional progression, as well as verbal treatment of matter — will be the less likely to condemn my characterization of the tale as a work of an art literary rather than fictional. These points of classification are of small importance in one way; it matters little whether any particular work the artistic character of which is debatable — as "Gil Bias" — is episodal, therefore a tale, or substantially n true fictional progression, therefore a story; but classification is essential to discussion.


Just as in discussing the point of form and art it was necessary to treat of matters of substance, so, in treating of substance, in discussing fiction as the presentation of human experience, it will be necessary always to imply the existence of form and frequently to touch upon its influence; naturally my purpose is not the ambitious one to discuss life at large, but merely tc discuss it as it may be presented in fiction. Though fiction as a whole is potentially inclusive of all life, nevertheless any given story can be only itself, a given substance in a given shape, and the profitable way to examine the material of the story-teller, the palpitating tissue of life, real or imaginary, is to seek for and realize the permeating tie or magnetism which is at once the sign and essence of each symmetrical atom of fiction-material.

As I have stated already, this unifying principle is the principle of opposition, of dramatic opposition, that is, wherein personalty is involved. For the writer of stories the world of fact or of fancy, the world he chooses or is able to see, exists as a solid tissue of drama, an involved and mighty spectacle of the realization and defeat of human effort. He finds his separate fables in the separate conflicts between individuals that go to make the sum of life, real or ideal. As substance, each story is life; as art, each is single and coherent.

By developing a dramatic opposition the writer of fiction achieves both of these conditions, to present life as it is or might be — for life is the tussle between the individual human spirit and its environment, personal or impersonal — and to present the particular opposition with maximum force through directness and singleness of appeal. He need trouble about nothing else. All the isms of the critics, all their precise analyses and pretentious syntheses, he may forget quite without loss to his work. Such discussion virtually is but rough characterization of the particular story in hand, written along lines more or less conventional for readers more or less gullible. And it is always aridly negative. What the writer should remember is that he seeks to interest as completely as possible, that life as such is supremely interesting to those who live it, and that, because the single presentment is the more force- ful presentment, a single phase of life, a single struggle, should be displayed rather than an indiscriminate welter of incidents and persons.

Thus his aim to interest the able reader dictates that the artist in fiction turn to life, to human experience as such, for his material; his aim to interest as deeply and corapletely as possible dictates that he select from the whole mighty coil of physical struggle and spiritual aspiration one single dramatic opposition. He must show life if he really would interest at all, and he must show a single phase of life, a single struggle, if he would realize to the full the possibilities of his matter. These twin necessities have come into being with the growth of a public cultured to react to the spectacle of life, to feel its zest and know its worth, and they will become more urgent as the whole reading public frees its soul from all bondage to trivial sensations, whether the barbaric and primitive sensation of pure wonder at a novel spectacle or the highly artificial sensation of pleasure in mere complication and mechanical ingenuity. Certainly that emancipation was not hindered by the terrific forces that recently played upon the world.

The deteraiinant characteristic of all fiction, short or long", new or old, good, bad, and indifferent, whether tale or story, is movement; something happens. The tale passes from episode to episode, and though each is complete in itself a reader always can look forward to yet another. If what he has read was piquant and interesting, he expects to find more of the sort, and is tempted to read on. And the tale, on that account, in a way can be said to function as a unit, to interest as a whole. Of course there is continuity as to some person or group of persons in every tale, and, if the author has an eye for personality, that binding thread may count for much, as in "Gil Bias" ; it is the events of a tale, essentially isolated episodes, that do not function together to a single purpose and end. Apart from his interest in the people of the fiction, the reader of a tale can experience continued interest only in the low sense that he always can expect something else to happen. In the story, on the other hand, whether unified by possession of a conventional plot-mechanism or because it presents a true dramatic opposition, a reader not only can look forward to future action of some sort, he can look forward also and more specifically to a more or less definite range of occurrence limited by the conditions of personality and situation stated by the author at the outset, and it needs no argument to enforce the point that such a definite expectation is more stimulating and causes a higher degree of suspense. The story at once presents and solves a single specific problem. What will this particular person do in this particular situation? rather than the vague query, what will happen next? is the question constantly agitating the reader of a story, and the definition of the problem, the narrow range of conjecture left open, is precisely the condition needed to deepen interest by confining it within bounds. The story unified by mechanism and the story unified by a natural, unforced, dramatic opposition both achieve this necessary concentration of attention and conjecture; a reader who is following out to the bitter end the involutions and compilations of a conventional plot knows at least that the whole is working together obscurely to a single solution, a single end ; but a story which presents a phase of life as it is and for its own sake subjects its reader to a further spell. He knows that the whole fiction is pointed to a definite and conclusive end determined by the conditions of personality and situation involved, and in addition — since the thing is an atom of life, a plain recital of the actions and reactions of men and women at once vital and intelligible, human, in a word — he is caught and held by the detailed attraction of the human spectacle. The swift interplay of intellect and intuition, the rising tide of passion, misunderstandings and miscalculations, the alternation of stormy days and peaceful nights, the awakening of birth and the slumber of death, the pain and joy of labor and the ease of rest — all the great and trivial facts of life appeal in detail and as items just as the whole story appeals as a fact of life in itself. The attraction of such a spectacle for the sensitive reader is truly irresistible. Though a story is a spectacle, its reading is an experience.

The tale, episodal and without a central movement, was sufficient to claim the attention of simpler men in simpler ages; the story of mechanism, of conventional plot, largely — as written today and in the more recent past — a product of competition with the stage and its artificialities of intrigue, shaped itself as the artist in fiction groped for means of appeal more incisive when confronted by a public less naive and receptive than the audience which had heard the wonderful or merry fables of an older time. And the story which is true drama, which is life, which depends for interest upon the intrinsic value of its human spectacle, took form beneath the hands of creators great enough to pierce through the conventional husks of their art to the living substance below, shut from the eyes of mere formalists, and found a welcome from the less articulate spirits here and there who yet could react to the vital, the profound magnetism of such matter. Like the story which is fictional art, a forceful unity, by virtue of a plain human opposition, the story of mechanism has to do with life and the long march of man- kind toward distant, ever-vanishing goals, but its human substance must follow a rigidly prearranged course of mere physical action, its great moments of climax must occur at definite points fixed by the mechanism — here two characters must go into ecstasies as father and son reunited, there the mother must lament her lost child — while the scope of personality as such is limited by the action, for action alone can realize character adequately in fiction, and the action is simply that of a mechanism, mechanical and usually trite. And smce the real interest of any fiction for an able reader resides in the human spectacle, mechanism at the best is inessential and at the worst is crippling. Life, the natural actions and reactions of personality, is more compelling than the barren workings of a plot.

It has been a long process, this passage of fiction from tale to mechanism and from mechanism to life, but in its final stage of development — for it can go no further than to present life, real or ideal — the art of the story stands supreme among all the arts in point of capacity to speak to the whole miraculous complex of the human soul. Poetry and music, verbal cadence and pure harmony, through the ear can stir most readily the still depths of instinctive being that underlie consciousness ; painting most completely can satisfy the craving for reality — for truth — of the eye, of the whole faculty of sight, as architecture and sculpture most completely satisfy the eye's craving for proportion; but fiction that is life alone can satisfy at once and completely the longing of the human mind for stimulus to thought and the longing of the human heart for stimulus to emotion. The art of the stage, kindred in point of substance — life, and aim — to stimulate mind and heart, is equally supreme where efficient at all, but there are phases of life which cannot be precipitated in action and speech on a few square feet of boards ; fiction, written drama, is potentially inclusive of all life, the play, acted drama, is not. It is not to depreciate the power of dramatic art — in the usual narrow sense of stage-art — to assert for fiction the primacy which is legitimately its own, standing, as it does, first in power to pleasure sense, heart, and intellect, not one, but all, and without limitation as to substance.

The fact of dramatic opposition, of struggle, the essence of life and therefore of the fiction which is life, calls for some examination in detail apart from its office to unify a work of fiction and thereby render it a coherent work of art, a single thing of a single significance. The opposition which man must meet in his pilgrimage through this or an ideal world may come from his natural environment, from himself, or from his fellows ; each bar to his heart's desire is a natural unit of fiction; and by reviewing each in turn some attempt may be made to cover the substance of life.

The conflict between humanity and the elemental forces that play upon the earth, even between humanity and the earth, sea and land, itself, can serve as sole material for fiction, like any other opposition involving individual men. "Robinson Crusoe" is such a story ; the best of the book contains little of social emphasis, of the attrition of personality against personality; it presents the long, unimpassioned strife between puny man the the wild strength of the heavens and the sea, his slow toil upon the obdurate land for food and shelter. Or this primal drama may serve less to mo- tive a fiction than to round it, to give the natural term of the equation of life as well as the social. In his paper on Victor Hugo's romances Stevenson has pointed that the natural environment of "The Toilers of the Sea" is an inherent force of the drama rather than a mere adjunct or setting, and that is indeed the case. Nothing of the sort can be found in English fiction — with the exception of Defoe's greatest book — prior to Hardy; the eighteenth century was a time peculiarly unlikely to produce such work. But in Hardy, whether or not influenced by the mid-Victorian emphasis on scientific inquiry, a point that matters little, the determinative influence of environment, natural environment, that is, finds its way into fiction. His people are men and women, as Scott's are men and women, but they are shaped to the impress of the Wessex moors in person, heart, and mind; the countryside that cherishes and buffets them has sealed them with its unrelaxing finger. No such principle of natural determinism can be found in Scott, where the rain falls only to drive the wanderer to shelter, in Austen, or in Fielding, and the seeming flash of it in Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" is only apparent, not real. Hardy first and almost alone in English, with the very trifling exception of Stevenson himself in "The Merry Men," and the very real and very promising exception of Joseph Conrad, has shown the life of man in relation to nature as well as to himself and his fellows.

The somewhat solitary position of the author of "The Return of the Native" is an indication of the loss sustained by fiction as a whole through unintelligent insistence upon mechanism, "plot" in the narrow sense. The opposition between man and nature presents too little opportunity for complication and involution of events to have attracted the attention of writers who sought to draw the crowd by superficial mystery. But the opposition is drama, though not in the sharp, personal sense of a conflict between individuals ; it affords a climactic movement equally effective in sustaining interest when once aroused; and it is a phase of life of real human significance, hence interesting, even to the city-dweller. Fiction is vicarious experience, and not the least of its attraction is its offer of an escape from life, the life the reader lives and knows. In "The Nigger of the Narcissus" Conrad shows us old Single- ton, bronzed by the suns of all the seas, reading Bulwer- Lytton's "Pelham" in the forecastle, and wonders what interest such a book could have for such a man, but we, snug in our easy-chairs, feet on radiator, perhaps, read Conrad's book, see all the wrath of winds and waters play upon the laboring ship — and do not wonder that we read. These stark phases of life in the open, the experiences of men whom mere commerce, blind fate, or their own unrest has sent to toil through desert sands and arctic snow and ice, attract by virtue of a genuine and worthy novelty, perhaps by appeal to the ancient, inherited experience of the whole race. And the books which show nature less as cruel destroyer than as a cherishing if stern parent, which present the natural as well as the social element of life, impress by their manifest adequacy and body even those of us who scratch paper for a living. The kiss and cuff of social life are not the whole of humanity's troubled journey; mankind, like an army, travels on its stomach; grain must be sowed for reaping, and the sowers must bend to the earth. They also serve, in life and in fiction.

Like the opposition between man and nature, an opposition between conflicting desires or motives in the same individual can be utilized as sole material for a story; Stevenson's "Markheim" is an instance, where the murderer comes to see that he is marked for failure, even in murder, by quality of soul, and hastens to bring the dreary farce of his life to an end. In "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" also, the unifying opposition is within one man alone, the symbolism of dual personality as a physical fact being employed for the sake of concrete realization of the opposition, the drama. Dostoievsky's "Crime and Punishment" exhibits the struggle of a soul with itself; it has the force of a scream of agony at night. Once the irretrievable step is taken, once the hatchet has fallen on the old woman's head, then begins the heart-shaking spectacle of retribution as the murderer's mind feeds upon itself. Usually, of course, the story that depends for unity upon an inner conflict will be short; "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," perhaps the longest fiction we have of a strictly single psychological emphasis, is yet somewhat brief, and Dostoievsky was able to protract his spectacle of a slayer's conscience as he did only by creating a little human circle from which the unfortunate might creep apart, a self-branded pariah. But his reactions to those about him relate only to his crime, a phase of himself.

Thus the struggle of man with himself may motive a story, though the intrinsic difficulty to present such matter, to devise action to give movement to an opposition so intangible, is much greater than any difficulty to develop a story more thoroughly physical in texture. But the inner conflict, the indecision of the soul, is of further use to the writer of fiction. His work may be of the more usual sort, of a social emphasis, presenting the competition of men among themselves for love or money, place or power ; still, if he would be sufficiently- specific as to personality, he must show directly, not by mere inference from speech and action, the inner workings of his people, at least of the one from whose viewpoint he has chosen to narrate, in whole or in part. The writer's object is the same as in the rest of his work — to interest and subject a reader by developing a dramatic opposition — and he must realize personality with definition and adequately because the drama is a conflict of specific personalities; if the conflicting forces, the opposed persons, are not shown as probable sources of the particular drama, the drama itself, the whole physical and psychical complex of action and motive, becomes unintelligible, lifeless and formal, non- existent, indeed. It is not so much a matter of char- acterization, strictly, of dwelling upon personality for its own sake, as it is a matter of clearing and throwing into relief the obscure spirit-roots of action. The conflict is not within a single personality, but the genesis of the opposed motives in the opposed persons must be given if the interwoven texture of the spectacle as true experience is to be preserved. It is only in feeble fiction that we find the pure-black villain or pure-white hero, the one oppressively forbidding, the other oppressively virtuous, or, worse, unreally forbidding and unreally virtuous. In real life or a life evolved by a competent imagination the implications of personality are delicate and finely shaded, neither to be neglected nor smeared in black and white save at risk of total failure. The plain fact, of course, is that genuine and worthy novelty of story at this late period can be achieved only by dealing with the more subtle and unobtrusive ruances of soul and intellect — the task successfully attempted by Butler in "The Way of All Flesh," and by Conrad in "Victory" with the personality of Heyst.

Such shadings cannot be developed in action without first being stated; at least there must be some comment, some interpretation during the action.

The social struggle, the opposition of man and man, is the third fundamental phase of life which may serve as artistically coherent material for fiction. With the other phases, the struggle of man with himself and of man with nature, it makes the sum of life, real or ideal, probable, possible, or conceivable. Also, it is the broadest of the three phases by virtue of the infinite complication and diversity of man's life in relation to his fellows, the million possible directions for his activity, the million satisfactions for which he may strive. To present the attrition between man and man is peculiarly the function of the novel, in the strict sense of a spectacle of persons and manners, with its insistence upon socialites and the busy, workaday turmoil of the world, but such material is utilized by fiction of all forms and types; the romance, for instance, likewise deals with men and women in opposition, reading their fates in the cold or glowing eyes of their adversaries, though the form is less specifically concrete than the novel as to its human material, even its happenings, tending, rather, in the direction of a greater abstraction and ideality. Most of the stories we read, from "Tom Jones" to the latest work of the newest author, show us this most obvious side of life, man against woman and against man, clique against clique, and nation against nation. As in the other sorts of struggle involving personality, there is a climactic movement or progression as the opposed forces come to closer grips, until some one force prevails, and the story ends because the opposition has ended. It is needless to expatiate on the life of man in relation to his fellows as fiction-material, for the matter has been utilized as story-stuff from the beginning, not always intelligently, with understanding that its worth was as experience, not as mechanism, but nevertheless utilized in some shape.

The fact that man has relations with himself, with nature, and with other men determines three phases of human experience ; all or any may serve as the sub- stance of fiction, and all have been touched upon. It remains to discuss briefly another simple scale of differences in life, in human experience, which exists in fact and which determines the artistic character of any story, a phase of life presented for what it is. I have reference, to state it in terms of life, apart from fictional art, to the difference between typical human experience and individual, personal human experience. The first, presented in fiction, results in the story, simply, without qualification; the second, so presented, results in the story of character.

If a writer chooses to deal with persons of no marked idiosyncracy, merely on that account he must choose also a unifying struggle or opposition involving traits or motives such as are common to nearly all men, as jealousy, the will to struggle for bare life, the will to love. But if he chooses to deal with persons of a high individuality, unique as only the individual soul can be unique, he must devise also a unifying conflict involving the peculiar traits and motives of his people, as Conrad, in "Victory," devised an opposition adequate to realize Heyst's most striking and most peculiar attribute, his wish to withdraw from life to escape its blows. The difference is between typical human experience and personal, individual human experience; the one story is the story, simply, with emphasis, it may be said, on the events, the forces of personality involved being so common ; the other is the story of character, with emphasis on personality, the events having no value except in relation to the particular — and peculiar — persons. As Stevenson has said, to write a story one either must take a sequence of events and create people competent to enact them — a process likely to result in a spectacle of typical human experience, or else take certain characters, and then devise action to involve their peculiar attributes, a process likely to result in a story of character.*

The point that human experience is a complex of man's relations with nature, with himself, and with his fellows will be useful for the writer to remember when searching for material ; the point that experience is either typical or individual will be useful for him to remember that he may know precisely what is beneath his hands, once his story, his phase of life, is found. I have no intention to insist pedantically that a story should present but one single kind of human opposition, social, natural, or psychological, should present highly individualized people or else mere human dynamos of action ; it is only that one cannot discuss these matters at all except in order, each exclusively. In the interests of artistry, force of appeal, that is, each story should have one central motive of human opposition natural, social, or psychological, but incidental, subordinate oppositions of the other sorts usually will be necessary to round the whole, to reproduce the complete spectacle of life, whatever its dominant emphasis. And as a matter of fact people in life or story are either somewhat negative, typical, that is, of the broad outlines of their race and time, or else positive and individual, men, not man.

* Stevenson also mentions the story of atmosphere, and cites "The Merry Men" as an example. In his phrasing, it is. an attempt to express the "sentiment" with which a stretch of coast affected him. The type — Poe's own by right of first invention and analysis — seeks to produce upon a reader a single emotional impression, and stresses personality even less than the story of typical human experience. Since the characters must function in deepening the particular emotional impression, they are little more than personifications of the "sentient" itself — as Darnaway in "The Merry Men," or Usher in "The Fall of the House of Usher" — and on that account the type of story is so little normal that it may be disregarded here.

Statements such as these, that insist upon the plain, matter-of-fact character of the fiction-artist's material, that emphasize the necessity, the utility, at least, to present life as it is seen in fact or guessed in dream, but always as life, not as mechanism, are apt to win acceptance from a reader so easily that they are as speedily forgotten, should he chance to attempt a story himself. To reinforce my armament that fiction seeks to interest by exhibiting human experience as such, I will ask the reader to consider for a moment the character of the bulk of critical comment on fiction. How does the professional estimator weigh the books that fall upon his desk? Usually he has a little to say about form and technique, whether or not he knows anything about such matters; usually he has a little to say about the author's artistic affiliations, the tendencies he represents or goes against; but always he has much to say upon the human values of the book, existent or non-existent. He takes up the characters, one by one, and inquires whether they are natural and believable or mere author-twitched puppets. He estimates them as real people in a real world, commenting upon their moral and intellectual qualities, their attraction or repulsion. He seeks their motives, to inquire whether they are adequate, and he views their acts, to see whether they accord with the motives developed. In a word, through the characters he estimates the story as a phase of life; if to him it appears a thing of real human significance, not a compound of trivialities, he praises it, but if the whole is a vapid spectacle of vapid automatons he condemns it. And justly.

The function of any story is to interest competent readers, an end to be achieved only by presenting life, the experience of the individual body and soul as it is or might be; the function of the writer of any story is to search the life he knows or creates in order to find and reveal its compelling phases. No other task can satisfy an able mind ; no other result can effect the stimulation of a reader implied by the word interest. For to entertain, merely, is not to interest. Life, then, simply as such, without qualification or exclusion of parts, is the substance, the material of fiction. And by the inherent nature of the vital process, the opposition between the living individual and his or her environment, all life is comprised of separate progressions of opposition which are the coherent units of fiction as well as of life itself.


The ultimate utility of fiction — for all arts have a cultural utility, a capacity to develop in those who enjoy them new powers of self-realization, new capacities to react to the magnetism of life — is not far to seek ; all knowledge is empirical, the human mind learns only through experience, primary or secondary, and fiction is vicarious experience. I would not suggest that the inveterate reader of stories profits essentially by the great mass of facts he must absorb, for mere information, undigested and incoherent, can impart neither strength of mind nor soul. But contact, through fiction, with other lives and other times, other aims and other fears, cannot fail to correct a narrow conception of the limits of human experience and to initiate or deepen realization of the dignity and worth of life. The written spectacle of life, real or ideal, at once broadens our view of the world, and concentrates, intensifies it ; we see our fellows seeking strange coasts beneath strange skies, and we see them intimately, knowing the urge of spirit or circumstance that has driven them forth and the hope or despair that buoys up or weighs down their hearts. And this intimacy of vicarious experience, this microscopic examination of alien souls, takes us from our accustomed ruts of thought and feeling into new spheres of emotion and understanding where we may experience the zest and sting of life as something fresh and new, not an old routine of outworn sensations. It is this capacity of fiction to reanimate the soul, to soften or steel the heart for the sweet or bitter fortunes of each new day, that marks the high station of the art and invests it with vitality to go forward with the race and endure. In our bustling, industrial world, sculpture, for instance, perhaps pictorial art, tends to become academic, the preoccupation of few artists and a narrow public, but fiction, as it has ceased to be a toy and has embraced the stirring life of man, has become a significant fact and an influential force, significant as an interpretation, influential as a .means to wake the multitude to the worth of the life they are called upon to five.

At once to present and interpret life, thereby to interest, subject, and influence its readers, a story, a form of art, must depend for artistic coherence upon the substantial, actual coherence of the phase of life with which it is concerned. And actual coherence, true unity, therefore, both of form and substance, is present only in the various human oppositions that confusedly intermingle to form the quick, breathing tissue of life as a whole. The task and office of the artist in fiction is to detect with ready insight the human significance of some particular thread of opposition, to strip from it the obscuring tangle of other and immaterial oppositions, and, finally, to body it forth for what it is, a logical progression evolving from its own proper forces of personality and nature, the whole interfused with the light of his superior intellect, the warmth of his warmer heart.

If the task be performed, if the central drama be significant and adequately exhibited, the writer's basic aim to interest will have been achieved, and his collateral function as an artist, to enforce realization of the worth of fife, will have been fulfilled.

In a review, published in 1841, of Bulwer-Lytton's "Night and Morning," Poe says, after defining plot as "that in which no part can be displaced without ruin to the whole": "Drawing near the denouement of his tale, our novelist had proceeded so far as to render it necessary that means should be devised for the dis-covery of the missing marriage record. This record is in the old bureau ... at Fernside. . . . Two things now strike the writer — first, that the retrieval of the hero's fortune should be brought about by no less a personage than the heroine — by some lady who should in the end be his bride — and, secondly, that this lady must procure access to Fernside. Up to this period in the narrative, it had been the design to make Camilla Beaufort, Phihp's cousin, the heroine ; but in such case, the cousin and Lord Lilburne being friends, the docu- ment must have been obtained by fair means ; whereas foul means are the most dramatic. There would have been no difficulties in introducing Camilla into the house in question. . . . Moreover, in getting the paper, she would have had no chance of getting up a scene. The lady is therefore dropped as the heroine; Mr. Bulwer retraces his steps, creates Fanny, brings Philip to love her, and employs Lilburne (a courtly villain, invented for all the high dirty work, as De Burgh Smith for all the low dirty work of the story) — em- ploys Lilburne to abduct her to Fernside, where the capture of the document is at length (more dramatically than naturally) contrived."

I do not reproduce this from any desire to injure Poe's reputation — he, poor fellow, was not responsible for the books he had to review — but merely to show, as emphatically as possible in brief space, the essential feebleness and frivolity of the story that is mechanism and not life. In such fiction there is literally nothing to interest a reader by virtue of its plain human worth and significance. "Documents" — dear to the heart of the fiction-mechanic because a mechanism must have some such hard, physical pivot — are lost and recovered ; it is all as devoid of the breath of hf e as a stone, and would not interest an idiot. Consider Joseph Conrad, in "Falk," that grisly story of the mate of a ship, dismasted and lost in antarctic seas, who lurks by the fresh-water pump and shoots down the men as they come to drink that he may devour them and preserve the life within him that will not let him die. "Why continue the story of that ship, that story before which, with its fresh-water pump, like a spring of death, its man with the weapon, the sea ruled by iron necessity, its spectral band swayed by terror and hope, its mute and unhearing heaven? — the fable of the 'Flying Dutchman' with its convention of crime and its sentimental retribution fades like a graceful wraith, like a wisp of white mist." Or the same writer, in the preface to "The Nigger of the Narcissus" ;".... the artist . . . speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives : to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain : to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation — and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity — the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.

"It is only some such train of thought, or rather or feeling, that can in a measure explain the aim of the attempt, made in the tale which follows, to present an unrestful episode in the obscure lives of a few individuals out of all the disregarded multitude of the bewildered, the simple and the voiceless. For, if there any part of truth in the belief confessed above, it becomes evident that there is not a place of splendor or a dark comer of the earth that does not deserve, if only a passing glance of wonder and pity."

The artist in fiction has the world before him, the world of fact about him or the world of conception within; he has but to choose. From all the four corners of the earth he may catch the enduring and vivid voice of humanity crying for expression, in whispers of love and moans of pain, resonant in victory, cravenly whimpering, it may be, in defeat, but always speaking loudly to him and to all men of the heart-shaking interest of the fate of the individual soul, passing by obscure ways to unknown ends. And he has before him the world of books, the work of his brothers in spirit gone before, wherein he may trace the living current of the fiction that is life from its small and unregarded source to its full and much analyzed tide of the recent past and the present, a task, a pleasure that can react upon him only to his profit, the gain of his own work. Let him first realize his function and his task — to interest, to do his part in making the race more keenly alive, a finer human precipitate; let him fire his mind with curiosity and warm his heart with sympathy''; then, if he is chosen of the gods, let him snare in a few drops of ink a soul in its supreme moment of triumph or agony. Though the soul and its agony or triumph be poor and common, of the earth, earthy, the triumph of the artist will not. For by the singleness of his aim, the repeated suggestion to one end of word and sub- stance, he will have seized from out the turmoil of life  a shining or sombre vision of joy or terror, not less human than the reality because presented with some- thing of the emphasis of obsession, not less worthy as art because it is life and not lies.


Aspiring writers and readers interested in the technique of writing, or interested in the technique of writing, or the problems of writers, will find much material of real interest and value in the twice monthly numbers of The Editor. Subscriptions, which cost $2.00 each per year, may be sent to the publisher, The Editor Company, Ridgewood, New Jersey. Overleaf will be found brief notices of books for writers also published by The Editor Company.


Roget's Thesaurus, (New large type edition) $1.65 

The Writer's Book, Compiled by William R. Kane 2.50 

1001 Places To Sell Manuscripts, 

Compiled by William R. Kane 2.00 

Practical Authorship, James Knapp Reeve 1.50 

The Fiction Factory, John Milton Edwards 1.50 

Photoplay Making, Howard T. Dimick 1.00 

The American Short Story, Elias Lieberman 1.00 

Points About Poetry, Donald G. French 60 

The Editor Manuscript Record 60 

Rhymes and Meters, Horatio Winslow 50 

Fiction Writer's Workshop, Duncan Francis Young 50 

The Way Into Print 25 

Essays on Authorship 25 

What Editor's Want 25 

How to Be a Reporter 15 

How to Write a Short Story, Leslie W. Quirk 50 

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, Georges Polti 1.20 

Eighty-Eight Ways to Make Money by Writing, 

Homer Cvoy 1.00 

Idols and Ideals, Charles Leonard Moore 1.75 

An Alphabet Book for Writers, F. G. Webster 1.00 

Writing for the Trade Press, Frank Farrington 1.00 

The Technique of Fiction Writing, Robert Saunders Dowst. 1.75 

Thoughts and Opinions on Writing, William R. Kane 15 

The Making of Contemporary Verse, Marguerite Wilkinson. .35 

The Soldier's Scrap Book, Compiled by William R. Kane. . . .60 

A Theory of Prose Fiction, Robert Saunders Dowst 60 

The Newspaper Correspondent's Guide, Alton D. Spencer. . .60 

The Country Publisher, E. A. Little 75 

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