Writing a little book like a Classic.

Mar 07, 2018

Time to press play. (Turn the volume up.)

When on occasion, my writers they struggle to find words, I advise them to try writing less. That seems to work. 

This week, working with one of my writers we laughed about using this motto - 'I'm just writing a little book' - rather than the heady rhetoric of empire-building to encourage yourself to the daily writing. When you work in a way that is small, humble and cosy, proceeding with patient affection from one paragraph to the next, it is like building a fire from kindling and breathing life into it as we saw with The Firestarter competition last week. (Rather than chucking a load of petrol over a barbecue and watching it go out leaving the sausages burnt and foul.)

So when I bill the new course that starts on Monday as 'How To Write A Classic' I hope you will not feel too awed. 

I've been ever so 'umble' in the last three months, quiet and cosy as a Hobbit in my hole, studying the all-time bestselling books of Tolkien, JK Rowling and CS Lewis and others to find out what they have in common, taking a good look under the bonnet to examine the engine. 

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling - 107 million copies sold.
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien - 100 million +
  • The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' by CS Lewis - 85 million +

These three books are in the top ten grossing books of all time and they have formed the backbone of my studies, and I've included some other 'Classics' too to test, compare, and measure.

What I have discovered has completely blown me away. I wish I'd begun here twenty years ago!

'Have achievable goals.' This was JK Rowling's advice to students at Harvard when she gave her address there.

Start small and keep it humble is my advice based on these three books and the other Classics on the course. Don't be clever, when you can be cosy. It's the cosy start that provides the sustenance for the big journey in the big Classics.

As those on my Ninety Day Novel course know, I'm very interested in two things:

  1. how stories hook us, read us and write us and
  2. magic

Magic is a series of sleights of hand, an improbable outcome from a highly choreographed multiply-layered set of manoeuvres and when cast as a spell of words, the effect on the reader is overwhelming. They are transported.

I show in the course the elements needed and the order they're needed in to create an immersive and transporting reader experience, to take the reader out of body and out of time. There are rules, yes there are. There are always rules. It's where science and magic shake hands.

There's a maths behind JK Rowling's magic and it's simple, but when you see it you see the virtue of planning. I show you the trigger words used by CS Lewis, Tolkien, JK Rowling, JM Barrie and Lewis Carroll and more which belie their intentions. You will read between the lines even as you hear the magic.

When you watch the video in this blog post which is a homage to the Classics, a big curtsey from The Novelry, don't be daunted by their majesty.

Each and every one of them began at a 'Welcome' mat at a humble front door. 

'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.'

(JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit.)

'Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.'

(JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.)

And used plain speaking.

'Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.'

(CS Lewis: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)

You'll be consoled and encouraged by the simple 'one step in front of the other' method used by those authors whose books you love. What I show you in the 45 lessons in the course is how to go from that front door to Neverland, Narnia, Wonderland, Hogwarts and Middle-Earth and be home safely in time for tea.

You will unearth some very surprising material by delving into the dustbins of your memory and combining it with the things you love and treasure. This combination is more commonly known as 'imagination.'

The fairy dust is in the ideas used in the Classics which it may seem to you that you knew before a long long time ago in a forgotten land.

It's when you dig very deep, and go very niche, into the very personal, that you tumble down a tunnel into a universe we all share.

Come with me.


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The Novelry.