The Half-Known World

Robert Boswell

While mainly written for writers of fiction, The Half-Known World is almost like a literature class in a book, as each chapter references certain novels or stories, indicated at the beginning, though reading them is also not necessary to understand the concepts presented in the essays. I hadn’t read most of the referenced pieces, or hadn’t read them recently, but can see how that may have elevated the experience.

The first few essays are really great, but the themes feel less profound as the book progresses. Boswell’s theory of “the half-known world” in the opening essay is that writers can try to know too much about their characters and scenes at the outset, to the point where the writer has nothing to really discover through the process of writing. In order to create truly compelling characters, “the writer must suggest a dimension to fictional reality that escapes comprehension. The writer wishes to make his characters and their world known to the reader, and he simultaneously wishes to make them resonate with the unknown.”