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The Writer's Cafe

Learning to Write

***Don't make a character fit the plot; instead, the plot should grow naturally out of the behaviour of the characters.***

*The best way to learn to write is by reading other works of fiction. Read, Read, Read!* ->You'll bring to bear on your reading an 1)analytical eye, 2)a developing critical faculty, 3)a hunger to learn more of the craft.

*The best crime fiction is simply fiction with crime in it.*

*Novels to read to help you learn how to write, and why:*

  • "The Good Soldier" by Ford Madox Ford: The subtlety, its wonderfully understated, withholding from the reader - until nearly the end - of a chain of secrets, an interwoven carpet of mysteries.
  • Victorian ghost stories. M.R. James knew all about the power of reticence in building tension that is an essential element in crime fiction.
  • Perceval Landon, modern master of horror: teaches the writer all he needs to know about fear and how to create it in "Thurnley Abbey".
  • *Raw materials the writer must use to help bring life to violence, murder, kidnapped children, things we know nothing of to help us bring such events to life to our readers.*

  • What is it like to walk alone along a dark road at night.
  • To be alone in a house and suspect the presence of a marauder outside.
  • Hear a footfall or a door close where there should be no footfall and no closing door.
  • Suffer the suspenseful anxiety of waiting for some loved person who is late coming home.
  • Long for the phone to ring yet dread it.
  • Miss a train and a date.
  • Fear flying
  • Suffer jealousy, envy, love, and hate.
  • *These are the raw materials the writer must use.*

    *Newspapers as sources of stories and portraits of psychopathic perpetrators of violence have their value but are overrated as writing tools. *Read the great psychiatrists. Sociological case histories and transcripts of trials supply better models.**

    *Even the worst character should inspire in the reader some fellow-feeling. It is an intriguing fact that in order tomake readers care about a character, however bad, however depraved, it is necessary to make him love someone or even something - even a dog will do.*

    On writing violent or dramatic action: pare down the prose into brief sentences without adjectives or adverbs. Nothing else must be allowed to intervene, no descriptions of the room or the terrain or the people or the weather. While X is killing Y, let him do it bare, in Ango-Saxon nowns and verbs, in short brisk sentences. The action will come across swift and shocking.

    *Moving characters in time: The stray word, the seldom-heard name of a person or place, the sight of something or the scent - all these can evoke the past and carry the protagonist back in time days, months or years to when last heard, smelt, mentioned. There are subtler ways you'll learn along the way.*

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