Addition and Subtraction

One of the great strengths of fiction, unsurpassed by any other form, is its capacity for building a world. How does one describe a world in all its details and density? What did Henry James mean when he talked of the ‘solidity of specification’ in his essay, ‘The Art of the Novel’? How much detail is enough and when is it too much, or too scant? How much should a writer put in and how much should she take out? This workshop will address the subject of physical details and world-building. We will be looking at three sample excerpts: one from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, one from AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book, and one from Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower (or maybe The Gate of Angels). I shall circulate the excerpts beforehand. While it would be brilliant if you have already read these three novels, this is by no means necessary.

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