A Hundred Year-old Book Answers the Same Questions Struggling Authors Have Now
This little book is one which so well explains itself that no introductory word is needed; and I only venture to intrude a sentence or two here with a view to explain the style in which I have conveyed my ideas. I desired to be plain and practical, and therefore chose the direct and epistolary form as being most suitable for the purpose in hand.
I address myself to the man or woman of talent—those people who have writing ability, but who need instruction in the manipulation of characters, the formation of plots, and a host of other points with which I shall deal hereafter.
As to what is teachable, and not teachable, in writing novels, perhaps I may be permitted to use a close analogy. Style, per se, is absolutely unteachable simply because it is the man himself; you cannot teach personality.
Can Dickens, Thackeray, and George Meredith be reduced to an academic schedule? Never. Every soul of man is an individual entity and cannot be reproduced.
But although style is incommunicable, the writing of easy, graceful English can be taught in any class-room—that is to say, the structure of sentences and paragraphs, the logical sequence of thought, and the secret of forceful expression are capable of exact scientific treatment.
In like manner, although no school could turn out novelists to order—a supply of Stevensons annually, and a brace of Hardys every two years—there is yet enough common material in all art- work to be mapped out in a course of lessons.
I shall show that the two great requisites of novel-writing are
(1) a good story to tell, and
(2) ability to tell it effectively.
Briefly stated, my position is this: no teaching can produce “good stories to tell,” but it can increase the power of “the telling,” and change it from crude and ineffective methods to those which reach the apex of developed art.
Of course there are dangers to be avoided, and the chief of them is that mechanical correctness, “so praiseworthy and so intolerable,” as Lowell says in his essay on Lessing. But this need not be an insurmountable difficulty. A truly educated man never labours to speak correctly; being educated, grammatical language follows as a necessary consequence.
The same is true of the artist: when he has learned the secrets of literature, he puts away all thoughts of rule and law—nay, in time, his very ideas assume artistic form.
– – – –
* A Model Lesson in Novel-Writing
* The Teachable and the Unteachable
* Where do Novelists get their Stories from?
* Is there a Deeper Question?
* What about the Newspapers?
* Formation of the Plot
* The Agonies and Joys of “Plot-Construction”
* Care in the Use of Actual Events
* The Natural History of a Plot
* Sir Walter Besant on the Evolution of a Plot
* Plot-Formation in Earnest
* Characters first: Plot afterwards
* The Natural Background
* The Chief Character
* How to Portray Character
* Methods of Characterization
* The Trick of “Idiosyncrasies”
* Narrative Art
* Aids to Description: The Point of View
* Selecting the Main Features
* Description by Suggestion
* Facts to Remember
* Color: Local and Otherwise
* What about Dialect?
* On Dialogue
* Points in Conversation
* Topography and Geography
* Scientific Facts
* Quick and Slow
* How many Words a Day?
* Curious Methods
* Practice the Short Story
* Short Story Writers on their Art
* The Truth about Success (Minor Conditions of Success)
* And more including “The Philosophy of Composition” by Edgar Allan Poe
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