Bennett on Writing

From The Author’s Craft:

On observation as a “moral act” and a novelist’s duty:

Observation endows our day and our street with the romantic charm of history and stimulates charity – not the charity which signs cheques, but the more precious charity which puts itself to the trouble of understanding.

On the geography of characters:

Every street is a mirror, an illustration, an exposition, an explanation, of the human beings who live in it.

On the art of momentum:

All the persons in the motor-bus have come out of the past and are moving towards a future. But how often does our imagination put itself to the trouble of realising this? We may observe with some care, yet owing to a fundamental defect of attitude we are observing not the human individuals, but a popular race of beings who pass their whole lives in motor-buses, who exist only in motor-buses and only in the present! No human phenomenon is adequately seen until the imagination has placed it back into its past and forward into its future. And this is the final process of observation of the individual.

On the need for disruptive ideas:

The other attribute which may be taken for granted in the novelist, as in every artist, is passionate intensity of vision. Unless the vision is passionately intense the artist will not be moved to transmit it. He will not be inconvenienced by it; and the motive to pass it on will thus not exist. Every fine emotion produced in the reader has been, and must have been, previously felt by the writer, but in a far greater degree.

On the reader’s judgement:

In proportion as the interest of the story is maintained, the plot is a good one. In so far as it lapses, the plot is a bad one. There is no other criterion of good construction.

On literature and life:

No novelist has yet, or ever will, come within a hundred miles of life itself. It is impossible for us to see how far we still are from life…The notion that “naturalists” have at last lighted on a final formula which ensures truth to life is ridiculous. “Naturalist” is merely an epithet expressing self-satisfaction.

Image: Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division via Vangobot
The Author’s Craft, London: George H. Doran Company, 1914

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