Writing - Important Advice
( Originally Published 1922 )
Sequence.— Before dealing with the revision of the story, I will take up first its actual writing. First of all, the efficient and systematic, the sure and careful, author will make out an outline of his plot. All important events, even of minor value, will be included in their natural order. In pursuance of this regular outline form, a series of minor crises will show distinctly their relation to each other, how crisis three dovetails neatly into crisis two on one end and crisis four on the other.
Concentration.—The story itself, a matter of from two to five thousand words, should be written at two, never more than three, sittings. If the author has every detail of his story firmly impressed in his mind, and if his outline is in good working order, there is no reason why he should not write nearly two thousand words at one sitting. The benefit to be derived from such a concentration of effort is manifest. An invaluable totality of effect, with a smoothness and logic of movement, is attained in this fashion; otherwise, these in-dispensable qualities might be lacking. Thus, the author might proceed as far as the last crisis leading to the climax, then tire out. On returning to his work the following day, he might not be able to launch into the spirit of the story, especially at the emotional height it had attained just before he broke off his writing the day before. In such a case, the climax would fall flat, lack point and thrill.
Thereby follows the suggestion: scribble off the first draft of your story with reasonable dispatch. Adhere to your outline, but do not endeavor as you go on to keep all the rules of correct writing always before you. Simply write your story as the outline unrolls to your pen each succeeding incident. Tell the story in your own words without a thought of style or impression. Become as interested as possible in the movements of your characters without becoming wholly detached from the balance of the story and its correct pro-portions. Do not worry about rules or technicalities. Leave them to the polishing process, of which we will now speak.
Be Sure What Effect You Intend.—After the first rough draft of the story has been completed, the story should be viewed with regard to unity of impression. This would include the injection into the story of the elements treated under the chapter heading, "Unity of Impression." The story must be predominantly adventure, character, setting, or otherwise, as the case may be. But the totality of effect gained must be as clearly distinguishable as the difference between Gothic and Moorish architecture.
Mean What You Say.—After the writer has carefully revised his work with regard to unity of impression, the story should be very closely scrutinized for all alloys of insincerity and lack-luster. The two greatest wrongs the story plot can commit are those of being insincere and lacking in suspense. If the writer's heart is not in his work, he cannot write sincerely; if he knows or cares little of what he attempts to tell others, his words will not ring true. He must, then, if his story lacks sincerity of emotion, inject the unadultered product and no imitation, for the reader refuses to accept substitutes. He must, if at first tempted to write of the idiosyncrasies of society folk, though he may know little of their real thoughts, motives, and characterizations, resolve to deal entirely with more familiar and simpler folk.
Strengthening Suspense.—As to suspense, the arousing of exaggerated anxiety concerning the outcome of certain complications can best be brought about by the addition of still more opposition. This does not mean that the story should be made longer, but simply that the bitter struggle of the hero to attain his goal should be magnified by a greater reverse and heart-rending repulse. If it is necessary to add other material, rather than lengthen the story, the writer should cull out some of the most casual incidents leading up to the climax or to the main opposition. By doing this and strengthening the opposition or the suspense, he succeeds in plunging into the story precipitately.
Eliminating the Unimportant.—The last process of revision will include the elimination of all redundancies. This culling of the superfluous will apply to all parts of the story—to the beginning, description, exposition, dialogue, ending, characterization, and so on. There are certain characters for whom the writer will have especial regard. The writer will be so taken up with their personality that he will too greatly stress their part in the story, and what started off as a story of action may suddenly shift into one of character. The same applies to setting and to ideas. Some writers will fall into the habit of preaching to their readers; others will consider certain places in their script as excellent points at which to bring out certain opinions. But the writer must determine to be severely economical. He must weigh each incident carefully, asking himself if the story could proceed more swiftly and clearly were it eliminated. If its detachment from the story leaves no perceivable void in the action, then it would have taken from the value of the story to have left it as it was. The writer, too, must ruthlessly eradicate all phrases to which he leans kindly. He is apt to inject them on all occasions; they, by constant repetition, come in time to mean nothing.
The careful consideration of all these elements in the re-vision of the manuscript will heighten its value and salability by many per cent.
How to Refreshen Your Imagination.—As has already been stated, trains of thought are started in the mind by the impression of sights, sounds, smells, and such, acting on the nerve ganglia which convey the records to their particular places in the brain. These impressions, when they arrive at their destination, excite to life other impressions close by. Thus a train of thoughts is aroused and thus is explained the sudden flow of ideas at the smell of a certain flower. The brain is a vast maze of associated ideas; the perfume a wife used in the days of her courtship, when suddenly en-countered at a later day, will bring back pleasant memories to a husband.
So an excellent way to stimulate the imagination is to keep the senses ever on the alert—to see all the beautiful things that life holds, to listen with intentness to all of Nature's murmurings, in her physical, moral, and human aspects.
The Mental Tonics That Successful Writers Employ. —Nearly all writers get their ideas under different circumstances. Balzac arose at midnight and took a long draught of the hottest, blackest, and strongest coffee obtainable. "H. G. Wells," says Tit-Bits, "is one of those fortunate individuals who brim with ideas. His collection is so great that no pen could clothe them with stories in a lifetime. He gets his ideas at night, and then brings them down to breakfast in the morning, where he dictates them to his secretary." F. Marion Crawford got his ideas on foot. To think out a novel, he would often walk forty miles. The imagination of Stanley Weyman is warmed and lubricated by the sound of running water; therefore, he does his writing in a house-boat. Robert Hitchens' thoughts do not begin to flow until he has his pen in hand. De Quincy wrote under the influence of opium, while Stevenson received a multitude of ideas for his stories from the coastline of Scotland. Frankly, however, it is very doubtful whether any of this extraneous paraphernalia was absolutely necessary to assist these various writers in securing suitable ideas. I believe that they liked to live under such odd circumstances and to indulge in such peculiarities. We all have desires for certain locations, positions, atmospheres, conditions, and so on. Consequently, if we are placed as nearly as possible in an ideal location our ideas are bound to work out more harmoniously.
How to Enlarge Your Creative Ability.—The solution is simple, so simple, in fact, that by its very manifestness alone will it have failed to occur to the majority of writers. Most beginners are determined to have writing the art of the juggler, of the necromancer. They rather imagine that successful authors are born under lucky stars; that their horoscope has been read by some astrologer, who advised them to write; that a person's adaptability for writing is divined by a soothsayer who forsees that some day the would-be author will be winning the frenzied plaudits of the world. But the truth of the matter is, creative ability is nothing more than the process of constant thinking—of continual invention of plots —the endless elaboration of themes—the tireless devising of attractive situations—the illustration, in a multitude of ways, of elemental emotions.
It is sufficient proof of this statement when one considers that people who have written for some time never have the slightest difficulty in securing ideas. They have become so accustomed to habits of observation, their imaginations have been so developed, their powers of exhibiting themes so enlarged, that plot-building is an unconscious process. Do not the fingers, in certain trades, become so nimble and skilled that they can perform seeming miracles? But the brain it-self is capable of being developed to a thousand-fold more nimble state than the fingers. Every plot you devise makes the next one easier, and also suggests another. And, as you construct plot after plot, you find that plot-building is the easiest part of writing. Never was more apt observation made than, "Practice makes perfect."