Notes on Writing a Novel

An Essay

by Elizabeth Bowen

Plot.Essential. The Pre-Essential. Plot might seem to be a matter of choice. It is not. The particular plot is something the novelist is driven to. It is what is left after the whittling-away of alternatives. The novelist is confronted, at a moment (or at what appears to be the moment: actually its extension may be indefinite) by the impossibility of saying what is to be said in any other way.

He is forced towards his plot. By what? By the ‘what is to be said.’ What is ‘what is to be said’? A mass of subjective matter that has accumulated—impressions received, feelings about experience, distorted results of ordinary observation, and something else—x. This matter is extra matter. It is superfluous to the non-writing life of the writer. It is luggage left in the hall between two journeys, as opposed to the perpetual furniture of rooms. It is destined to be elsewhere. It cannot move till its destination is known. Plot is the knowing of destination.

Plot is diction. Action of language, language of action.

Plot is story. It is also ‘a story’ in the nursery sense = lie. The novel lies, in saying that something happened that did not. It must, therefore, contain uncontradictable truth, to warrant the original lie.

Story involves action. Action towards an end not to be foreseen (by the reader) but also towards an end which, having been reached, must be seen to have been from the start inevitable.

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