The Writing of Novels

By Rubens, Robert | Contemporary Review, January 1996 | Go to article overview

The Writing of Novels


Rubens, Robert, Contemporary Review


Throughout this year there will be a series of articles examining the English Novel in this century. These will range from reminiscences of a particular novelist, such as Barbara Pym, to the role of Salman Rushdie and other novelists from the Indian tradition. The series begins with a novelist discussing how he goes about his writing.

THE WRITING OF NOVELS

Robert Rubens

As a novelist I feel that the only rule in the writing of fiction is that there are no rules. It seems to me that a novel can be approached through almost any method or any technique. It can be a direct narrative or an indirect narrative. It can be written in the first person, the second person, the first and second person or even in a montage of varying first person monologues interspersed with journals, diaries, letters or the recounting of dreams and fantasies.

As to the subject matter, I feel that any subject - any kind of person or ambience is valid material for fiction so long as the author has an understanding of and compassion for his characters as well as something original to say about them. For me the actual subject has little to do with the artistic merit of a novel. What gives a novel its vitality is an author,s original vision of the world he is describing.

I also feel that it is a mistake for a writer to consciously look for a subject. In my own experience I have found that the subject of a novel invariably emerges in my mind when I am least expecting it, and gradually takes the form of the characters and situations in my books. I have never started a book with a carefully worked out theme. I have never said to myself: `I am going to write a novel about the problems of adolescence' or `the difficulties of old age' or `the social conflicts in Brixton'. To me this approach to fiction produces a form of hollow reportage which is not really creative writing.

When I am asked why I write novels, I can only reply that creating fiction is an essential part of my nature which produces an exhilaration, quite unrelated to the actual events in my life, yet equally as intense and real. For me these two events have gone on concurrently since as a child I invented stories about imaginary grown-ups which I wrote down in a little school notebook that I kept on my bedside table.

I have found that there are three kinds of subjects which for me can trigger off the idea for a novel. These can be either a character, a situation or a place. I have never taken a character directly from real life nor would I want to. What happens to me is that suddenly the face and sometimes the voice of a character emerges in my thoughts and if that same face or voice continues to recur, then I know that he or she will eventually become an important figure in a novel. At that early stage I have no idea what is going to happen to this person in my book; that comes later. An example of this is that some years ago a character occurred to me almost from nowhere. She seemed to be standing in front of a curtain, in a spotlight and she was holding a microphone. I could see her quite clearly, she was fair, not young (about forty) with finely chiselled features and an alert and amused expression on her face as she sang a torch song in a rather husky voice with a foreign accent.

It was clear to me that she was a cabaret singer and as I know almost nothing about show business and have never been involved in that world, I discarded her - thinking that I couldn't possibly write about an entertainer. However she was very persistent and she began coming back into my thoughts, always holding her microphone and always singing in the same voice. After she had appeared in my mind's eye for the fourth or fifth time, I knew that I had no choice, that she would have to be a character - and an important one - in a novel. But what, I asked myself, did I know about cabaret singers? And what did I know about middle-European emigrees? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Writing of Novels
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.