Elements of Fiction

By Smith, Valerie A. | Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Summer 2020 | Go to article overview

Elements of Fiction


Smith, Valerie A., Pennsylvania Literary Journal


Elements of Fiction. By Walter Mosley. New York, Grove Press, 2019. 288 pp. ISBN 0802147631. $16.00 (paper). Walter Mosley is an American novelist, essayist, and author. In Elements of Fiction (2019), he collects thirty years of experience in brief conversational essays that connect fiction theory with a passionate practice of the art.

Walter Mosley, renowned for his Easy Rawlins Mysteries, has written more than fifty novels. In his second craft book, Elements of Fiction (2019), Mosley explores his writing process and helps writers experience those principles in action. Mosley notes that his previous text on fiction, This Year You Write Your Novel (2007), may provide simpler step-by-step instructions toward getting a story on the page. In Elements of Fiction, Mosley expands the writer's vision and argues that "the child, the child-mind, instinctively understands that the world (in our case the novel) is larger than your head, your conscious experience" (Mosley 27).

Elements of Fiction is comprised of 115 pages divided into 23 chapters. Throughout the text, Mosley approaches writing from a holistic perspective while grounding fiction writers with practical tools. Chapter titles such as "The Structure of Revelation," "Character Development," and "Narrative Voice" lead discussions of familiar terms and concepts that challenge fiction writers of all levels. For example, in "Structure of Revelation," Mosley questions the clichéd climactic reveal prevalent in contemporary fiction. Instead, he advises writers to search for truths, not only in plot, but in every aspect of story. Writers with this mindset are open to "different kinds of structures and reveals...bringing new and different truths to the fore" (3). Likewise, in "Character Development," Mosley acknowledges the individually diverse methods by which we discover our characters. Discovery, Mosley says, is only the beginning; "Character development requires change. It calls for transformation, literal transmogrification-both change and the process of change" (27). "Narrative Voice" is one of the more technical chapters of the book. The concepts of first, second, and third person are elementary. Mosley leads writers to question "[what] is the best POV for the story you're telling" and to make that decision "as [they] become better acquainted with the story" (44, 45). Personal inquiry affects the outcome of the work.

Writers will enjoy the tone of Elements of Fiction, as Mosley balances instruction with conversation supplied by his own use of first and second person point of view. As the author of this book, Mosley speaks with equal iterations of I, we, and you, creating a positive mentor/ mentee relationship with the reader. Even the instructional portions are inspiring, as in the chapter, "The Novel is Bigger than Your Head. …

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