Frye on Writing Fiction


An excerpt from the screenwriting seminar scene in the brilliant Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation, a wonderfully convoluted meditation on the agonizing effort to write something that is somehow beyond formula. If you haven’t seen it, make a point of renting it.  Also, Kaufman’s much deeper and darker film about writing as soul-rending existential crisis, Synecdoche, New York.

Further to comments earlier today by Ed Lemond and Jonathan Allan, here are a couple of entries from the notebooks on writing fiction, culled once again from Denham’s Northrop Frye Unbuttoned.

On the possibility of “a new fiction formula”:

I have been struggling for some time to think of a new fiction formula, and all my ideas tend to revolve around Rilke’s idea of the poet’s perceiving simultaneously the visible & the invisible world.  In practice that means a new type of ghost or supernatural story, possibly approached by way of some science-fiction development.  The idea is a vision of another life or another world so powerfully plausible as to make conventionally religious & anti-religion people shake in their shoes.  I’ve begun notes on this many times, but threw away my best notebook, written in Seattle, in a London (Ont.) hotel.  By “shake in their shoes” I don’t mean threats, but the ecstactic frisson or giggle aroused by plausibility. (92)

On the possibility of writing a “philosphical romance”:

Since the popular success of Tokien and the rise in seriousness of what is called science-fiction, I’ve been attracted to the notion of the philosphical romance.  It would have to be entirely “software,” as I don’t know anything about hardware, and I notice most of the hardware is used to transpose the characters to a remote spot in some other galaxy that turns out to be a category of something on earth.  So why not stay on earth?  The taking off point is the relativity of what the sane waking consicousness sees to other perspectives.  These are, chiefly, those of (a) dream (b) madness (c) mythopoeic imagination (d) existence following physical death.  If I never write such a book, collecting notes for it could still be a valuable experience in loosening uup the imaginative faculties.  The idea is to write what I myself would be most interested in reading.  (93)

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One thought on “Frye on Writing Fiction

  1. Tamara M

    Regarding Frye’s “new fiction formula,” I see this pattern emerging more and more in contemporary fiction. After years of boycotting Stephen King, I was convinced to read his newest concoction, The Dome. I was blown away by this monster of a book. The juxtaposition of possibility and plausibility made me rip through the pages. King also combines multiple theologies and ideologies throughout the book. Technology, religion, alien life, global warming, political monopolies — it’s all there.


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