This is what Tolstoy shows us. It's what makes Tolstoy a great writer.
Following on from the last blog on the ten-draft four-year development process for the writing of the book often described as the greatest novel, I want to show you what Tolstoy achieved with his writing, how he approached, and why.
“Therein is the whole business of one’s life; to seek out and save in the soul that which is perishing.”
The Gospel in Brief - Leo Tolstoy
(My second book This Human Season cites this quotation from Tolstoy at the frontispiece.)
The business of his life, his work, was to honour this passage from the Gospel, which he read and re-read as his favourite book.
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Matthew 7:5
Seen this way, you can understand the wholeness of his approach to his work,...
In the 1870's Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828 - 1910) experienced a profound moral crisis. During the writing of Anna Karenina, he went through a personal metamorphosis from sensualist to ascetic. This had a dramatic effect on his literary output and the novels after Anna Karenina are of a different tone, and more didactic.
Writing Anna Karenina required many drafts over four years, and evolved from a rather superficial treatment of a 'fallen woman' to a more nuanced and sympathetic evocation of Anna, the literary heroine.
The novel accrued greater depth over those drafts. The constant in the concept was Anna herself, though her character changed in the early drafts. With Anna, Tolstoy was able to put his finger on his own flaw or failing; the sensualist. Writing Anna enabled him to see the flaw, name it and move past it.
1. A fast first draft and multiple successive drafts. (For this method ideally you need a sounding board - an agent...
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913
A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.
Murderpedia is a free online encyclopedic dictionary of murderers and the largest
database about serial killers and mass murderers around the world.
UK Missing Persons Unit
Says our thriller writer, author Helen Callaghan, "It's the little details about the victims that are most affecting and really make you think. So I often visit here too: UK Missing Persons. The lists of possessions, tattoos, etc get me every time."
Says Helen, "The other place I use is the Suzy Lamplugh Trust as they have great insights and advice into stalking and threat."
Suzy Lamplugh Charity
"The other thing for crime research...
As a published author of four novels, Booker longlisted and a few awards, the major step-change in my writing came when I learn to take it on the chin. I became hungry for criticism, harsh criticism because I wanted to get better at my craft fast. Taking the blows - in style - was the difference between being an amateur and a pro.
A published book has seen many interventions post the author's first draft. Better to get these under your belt sooner rather than later and go out looking dandy when you show your work to the big guns - the agents, publishers and readers. For that reason, all insults, slurs and calumnies should be most gratefully received at any point between second draft and twenty-second.
Order of merit.
Choose your moment. You should never show...
The Novelry is the elite finishing school for aspiring authors. Here are our top novel writing tips - you're unlikely to find them elsewhere.
'Contrary' is how we roll, 'counterintuitive' are our methods.
Creativity has a lot to do with wit - outflanking expectations with bold leaps - based on more than a hunch. The Novelry helps busy people write novels. We give you tools, not rules, and they're tools you're unlikely to find anywhere else, they're practical and effective, fast.
Here are a few.
It is with modest boldness, I say to you that creativity is about putting two things together which should not go together.
Such as modesty and boldness.
The greater the opposition between the two things, the more attention the new construction merits.
You start with the idea for your novel itself and you take this through your practice in prose.
This creative method is practical and simple.
This week I have been reading Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). It was described in The Guardian review as 'sublimely weird.'
'This deadpan Japanese tale of an oddball shop assistant possesses a strange beauty.' Julie Myerson.
A literary prize-winner that's also a page-turner, it sold 660,000 copies in Japan alone and won Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, the Akutagawa Prize. Convenience Store Woman is a portrayal of contemporary Japan through the eyes of a single woman who fits into the rigidity of its...
It's a 'bystander' narrative, often first person, concerning a mysterious acquaintance, replete with puzzled admiration, with rumours as clues on the trail of charisma. It's a paeon to the allure of 'personality'.
It's a youthful form, an age-defying treatment. After all, it's a youthful idea that personality can succeed.
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity of the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away." (Scott Fitzgerald on Jay Gatsby.)
As one ages, one comes to see that if there is such a thing as personality, it fails. We let it drop, and accept the rump of commonality with humility. Apart from a few odd traits, we are not so different. 'Personality' lets a person down...
The ailment of overwriting afflicts most first drafts. It is the writer's common cold. If you have been multiply rejected by literary agents, I can almost guarantee you suffer from this illness. Your writing obscured the story. You have probably sent out your work too soon.
You must treat your manuscript for this sickness before you share the novel with anyone. The advice which follows is to be taken lightly by those writing a first draft. You've got to get the material down by any means necessary and forgive it on first draft. But those on second draft and beyond should seize this advice firmly.
If you're writing a rollicking good yarn, a plot-driven story, then you won't want overwriting to detract from 'what next'. A chapter advances the character's problem inexorably.
Overwriting is a handbrake turn, or a slow tedious slide back down the hill. The reader-passenger is slamming their foot on their imaginary gas pedal,...
Once upon a time, you told yourself you couldn't write a novel. "I’m too old, too young, too stupid, too clever, too reclusive, too sociable, too lazy, too busy... I’m nervous.”
That's the first thing a writer says to me when they take the plunge and commit to writing a novel. But a whole raft of other unkind self-doubts above lurk right behind that word 'nervous'.
When you open the door and come into The Novelry, it's all rather jolly, warm, unpretentious and friendly and so very do-able. The work you have to do is bite-sized daily. Take a look at our online novel writing courses and you'll see what I mean!
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." (Emma Lazarus.)
The recipe for confidence at The Novelry is fast-acting. We salute you from the moment you arrive. You are welcomed with warmth by our members, because they know full well it's a big step, and that...
With the sad news of the death of the original Firestarter himself, it is to Keith Flint we dedicate these offerings.
We have had a bumper crop of first chapter entries to this year’s competition, a great turnout at the polling station, and here are some sneak previews of the range of writing currently on fire at The Novelry.
A hapless estate agent is unwittingly touched by the beauty of nature in the first chapter of Alex Ireson’s ripe and robust comedic novel 'Above & Beyond.' 'And then the magic happens. The orange light of the dying sun hits the cottage.’ One misadventure leads to another in this rollicking darkly comedic tale.
A big-hearted period novel from Romla Ryan, in which loyal Lyle provides support to 'The Antics of Atticus Ashworth' for a fast-paced, ribald romp. Atticus Ashworth loves women and his gentle appreciation brings warmth to the first chapter which opens on ‘dying embers from...