The first of a two-part special on Orwell's own development as a writer to greatness.
How did Orwell make the leap from The Clergyman's Daughter to works like Animal Farm and 1984, from more conventional middle-of-the-road writing, small themes and safe prose to the stark, and bolder books of his last years? To 'prose like a windowpane'?
Write the book only you can write, the book you're meant to write, I counsel writers in the Classic course, but how do you locate the book you can write freely and truly and honestly with cleanliness? Let me show you how Orwell, the author of that phrase, found his way.
Eric Arthur Blair was born 25 June 1903 (and died at just 47 21 January 1950 - which gives this ageing writer pause for thought.)
“I had the lonely child's habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a...
Viva La Fiesta!
We had 75 entries from our member writers to the First Line Fiesta, our competition to find the most appealing first line of a novel in progress. (Read some of the most famous first lines of all time).
The standard was very high with high-scoring entries mostly from our writers either now with agents or on second drafts, taking The Big Edit, poised on the brink of bagging agents and publishing contracts. But we had one or two surprises from our first drafters!
Voting has been one member, one vote, and a first past the post system. Given the range of lines and the quality of the prose, I was surprised to see clustered results around a few front runners.
A contest like this is a bit of a beauty parade. The lines that stand out most boldly will secure votes. And the contestants don't have the opportunity to impress their judges with their plans for world peace as with our Firestarter Competition in February for the best first chapter.
But a great first line...
We get word-blind. Over the course of a couple of drafts, the word blindness can get worse. You're clinging to your darlings, but the story's changed, and they're possibly no longer on point. (Our enforced reading break in between drafts, and the astringent Editing course are the citrus you need in your writing diet, but even so, it takes a lot of bad parenting to know how to treat your beloved manuscript roughly for its own good.)
WhenI read a writer's work, I evaluate it very simply. Here's how:
1. There is nothing wrong with it. It looks clean and good. There are no typos, and the grammar is right. (Don't ever hit send to anyone before using Grammarly.) It's not backstory-heavy. It's not blighted with how he or she 'feels'. ( Ideally none of these 'she-feels a trembling-anticipation-in-the-pit-of-her-stomach wretched things are in it at all. But if you must, because you're not good...
If the agent of change in the novel is a person and you’re telling the story as an outside observer.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald.
“Elmer Gantry was drunk.” Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis.
“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.” On The Road, Jack Kerouac.
If the agent of change is the narrator.
“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by a Mr Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.” Mark Twain.
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before...
To the Battle!
The battle in the classics of Tolkien and others is often a bit of a let down.
There’s a long walk, a lot of fine talk, plenty of awe then either the human hero finds an exit and postpones the battle or there’s a divine intervention which crushes evil a tad unfairly I think.
So, we have a complete rout, or evil sneaks off. There’s not much in the way or real prolonged suffering, no lingering in the mud of the trenches here. But hey ho. We’ve all been surprised by our first punch and children milk-fed on reading books are no doubt the most sucker-punched of all. But we all know there’s no alternative without completely compromising the experience of wonderment.
Tolkien approaches the battle in short sentences. You will know one’s coming because his word count between full stops drops dramatically. This seems to me to prove that discretion really is the better part of valour.
Bilbo almost stopped breathing, and went stiff...
It's crucial to invest in the groundwork of story before going on to potter in prose if you mean business (i.e, to sell books.)
Our 'big story' course - the Classic course, one option in our series of online novel writing courses - is good for all writers but absolutely essential for those who are world-building - which is to say writing Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult and Children's. Pack it in your writer's kit bag, toss it behind you back and whistle all the way to the literary agency (nail that theme tune en route).
I'll be referring to the 'classics' in this blog but don't worry, I'm not being lofty and referring to works of Ancient Greece etc, I'm being low-brow. Populist! (Hoorah!) I'm referring to the golden classics of fiction, the bestsellers enjoyed by adults and kids. The genre-busting crossovers!
The course delves into the cunning plots of seven of the ten bestselling books of the last hundred years. (With apologies for the omission of...
I get to see a lot of novels-in-waiting as you might imagine. Sometimes my writers will share with me the editorial reports or feedback they have had from other writing courses and agents and ask me to interpret them. I don't read them before I make my own diagnosis. But after I have read the work and made some recommendations, I do take a look.
"The action feels generic and doesn’t feel specific enough for the predicament to be entirely engaging in my opinion." Er, ok.
But sometimes, and especially when you get feedback from agents who want a product that's more or less finished on their desk, you'll get something like the remark above - that they just don't like the main character. Of course, at the end of the day, the problem is in the writing not Cheryl!
Remember, you are not defective as a writer, this is not about you. A novel can be fixed.
Yes, we can and we will fix it. That's what we do at...
The Novelry is delighted to announce the launch of our own publishing imprint.
We have the inside track on some fine work at The Novelry, and it seems natural and right that we offer an additional publishing route for the wonderful work which comes to our attention here first.
For some while, I have been considering the route to market for works of literary fiction, those books which wouldn't automatically bag a mainstream publishing deal. These are the books which get awards listings and are thus propelled to success.
There are some wonderful small publishers taking a chance on books like these - Galley Beggar Press with its Booker Prize shortlisting for Lucy Ellman's book Ducks, Newburyport - Salt, Fitzcarraldo Editions and others but these publishers are only able to take on a handful of titles a year, sometimes just two or three.
More small publishers, bold and independent, are needed!
If you're writing commercial fiction, we will send you to...
Happy is the writer with a habit! If you want to write a book fast, write daily. Routine wins the race. Most of my writers follow the encouragement we give to write first thing, fresh from dreams, emboldened by coffee and in advance of the maddening crowds, the kids and the day job.
Part of our method for getting writers to complete their novels is blatant bribery. I suggest writers grant themselves a few perks during the writing of the first draft and bribe themselves out of bed. Upgrade your coffee-making, get a few indulgent pastries in. (No one said you'd lose weight writing a novel.) The course has you prepare your time and space before you start writing so that you get out of bed and go somewhere really special to you.
It's a great feeling to have your really important work out of the way before you attend to lesser emergencies! Don't switch on that phone, don't check email, take one hour for yourself and you'll see how enriching it is not just...