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What Is A Bildungsroman And How Do I Write One?

What Is A Bildungsroman And How Do I Write One?


If you’ve ever wondered what a bildungsroman is, read this post. We define it and tell you how to write one.

What Is A Bildungsroman?

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica a bildungsroman is a “class of novel that deals with the maturation process, with how and why the protagonist develops as he does, both morally and psychologically. The German word Bildungsroman means ‘novel of education’ or ‘novel of formation’.”

A bildunsroman is a coming-of-age story.

In this genre, a protagonist grows up emotionally, physically, spiritually, and morally. In most of these novels, they are at an impressionable age and must confront and then come to terms with an experience or situation. Once they have done this, they are seen as having matured or grown up.

These stories focus on the psychological  growth of a protagonist from youth into adulthood. The plot typically follows the conflict between a protagonist and societal values.

They are usually written in first person.

You can identify this type of story by these characteristics:

  1. There is a loss of innocence. The protagonist will never see the world through rose-coloured glasses again. Reality asserts itself.
  2. There is a societal conflict. The protagonist usually finds that they cannot accept something that is the norm in their society. They have to come to terms with this.
  3. There is a journey. This could be physical or spiritual or psychological.
  4. There is an acceptance. The protagonist usually finds some kind of peace or understanding.

Examples Of Bildungsroman Novels

  1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is the story of Holden Caulfield who runs away and goes to New York. After his experiences there, he accepts the possibility of a future beyond adolescence.
  2. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a story of a Scout, young girl whose father defends a black man. She is an innocent, immature girl who witnesses hatred, injustice, and racism. She is very different at the end of the novel and she learns that life is not fair or just.
  3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro follows the life of Kathy, a ‘donor’ whose organs are harvested and donated to dying patients.
  4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is about Pip, an orphan, who inherits money. Dickens shows his personal growth as he moves from poverty into living as a gentleman.
  5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a story of two friends from different social classes growing up in Afghanistan.

How Do I Write A Bildungsroman?

  1. Write a coming-of-age novel if you want to show a situation where society is the cause of suffering for your protagonist.
  2. The novel must be realistic. Choose a situation that could happen and that does happen all the time.
  3. You should choose a protagonist who is sensitive, and probably introverted. This person must be deeply affected by their experiences.
  4. The character must (in the end) be able to deal with the conflict.
  5. Because the story is so intimate, readers should be able to identify with the character, so you will need to create an empathetic protagonist.
  6. Set up the story by introducing the character in childhood in a state of innocence.
  7. Your inciting moment usually involves a loss. This could be physical or psychological.
  8. The story follows a real or metaphorical journey where the protagonist undertakes to try to gain control of the situation.
  9. The protagonist will experience conflict with society and evil figures of authority.
  10. The protagonist is usually supported by a friend or teacher or mentor.
  11. Use experiences that will end with a protagonist experiencing a spiritual or psychological crisis or loss of faith.
  12. The bildungsroman story ends with an acceptance of some kind. The protagonist has usually matured and come to terms with what has happened.

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.

© Amanda Patterson

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