In what has been said about fiction as a picturing of life, something has already been implied as to the methods involved. There remain, however, some other important questions of technic on which we may briefly touch.

However true a writer’s picture of life, it is of little value if it does not impress itself on the reader. The question of effectiveness is thus of great importance, and with certain classes of authors it not infrequently absorbs them to the exclusion even of the question of truth.

The most comprehensive element of effectiveness is structure. A story that does not hang well together, in which the scenes are mere scattered episodes, which has no palpable thread, no climaxes, and no conclusion, is not likely to be read through, and, if it is, it rouses no deep interest, intellectual or emotional, and leaves no definite stamp on the memory. The factors which it lacks are those that give unity of structure. From this point of view, the problem of the novelist is to make as close-knit and thoroughly organized a plot as possible without violating natural probability in appearance or reality. This is the greatest of technical problems for the author, as the critical appreciation of structure is the last power to be acquired by the careless reader; yet no sound capacity for judging or enjoying fiction is possible to him who cannot thus view the work as a whole.

Somewhat similar faculties are required on a smaller scale in the handling of situation and incident. Many writers are able to present these effectively in isolation; but the great writer treats them not as beads on a string, but as stones in a great building.

Both plot and incident in turn must be vitally related to character. Not only must the persons stand out clearly described and recognizable as the people we know, but the things that happen and the kind of characters through and to whom they happen, must reciprocally explain each other. Much discussion has taken place with regard to the propriety of explicit analysis of character in the novel, some writers feeling bound to let a character’s words and deeds alone explain him as they do in the drama, others feeling free to come forward in their own persons and explain frankly the motives and feelings of their creatures. Much naturally depends on the way it is done. Thackeray’s friendly gossip with the reader behind the backs of his dramatis personæ is often so charming that we should be loath to lose it; and often the explicit statement of the author saves us much labor and prevents important misunderstanding. On the other hand, there is unquestionably great satisfaction in the drawing of our own inferences, and a considerable gain in the illusion of reality when the actors are allowed to exhibit their quality unaided by a talking showman.

The attempt has here been made to outline some of the main principles of the art of fiction without adopting the partisan attitude of any one school. Within the limits of these principles there is room for a great variety of type, for realism and romance, for chronicles of the commonplace and annals of adventure, for stirring tales of action and subtle psychological analysis. The endless variety of human life supplies an equally endless variety of themes; and the nature of the theme will properly lead to emphasis now on the external, now on the internal, now on the ordinary, now on the extraordinary, with appropriate variation of the technical methods employed. But with all this variation the demand holds for truth to the permanent and essential traits of human nature and human life, and for vitality and interest in the presentation of this truth.

But what, the reader may ask, of the pleasure from novels? naturally, since the giving of pleasure is usually assumed as the main end of fiction. Well, pleasure largely depends on who is to be pleased: there are readers who could demand no greater pleasure than that sense of enlargement of personality, of the scope of experience and sympathy, which has been put down as the chief value of the novel. It may be claimed, also, that in the demand that fiction should impress vividly and hold the interest powerfully we have provided for the seekers after pleasure. The greatest pleasure is to live broadly and intensely, to feel oneself in a world significant at every point and palpitating in response to our activities, and this the greatest fiction surely tends to give. One of the finest of modern masters of the art, Mr. Henry James, has summed up the matter in an epigram as true as it is brilliant, that we are entertained by the novelist because we live at his expense.

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