The structure of Frank Norris's novels



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When Frank Norris died in 1902 at the age of thirty-two, he had completed approximately two hundred fifty separate literary works, including novels, short stories, articles and sketches, poems and translations. This phenomenal amount of work was accomplished in some ten years not by a mature and experienced mind, but by a young mind, eager and alive, inquisitive and formulative, systematic and subtle. Undoubtedly, Frank Norris knew how to write. However, this aspect has been largely ignored. Critics and students of Norris's works have preferred to concentrate on his philosophy and its origins or on his characters or on his constantly stressed issue of the "responsibilities of the novelist." Despite his derisive comments about style and about life versus literature, Norris was keenly aware of the importance and the possibility of training writers and of developing a method. Moreover, he severely criticized those writers who failed to organize their work. That Norris saw fit to present his criteria for structuring a novel is not surprising. "The Mechanics of Fiction" is a concise outline of what he proposes as the structure of a successful novel. In this essay, he briefly deals with climax, foreshadowing, rate of movement, characterization, setting, and motif; he also includes an alternate method for the amateur writer. [...]