Friday, July 11, 2008

Writing a Novel


Marion Crawford Describes His Method of Constructing a Story.

"What," I asked Marion Crawford, "is the germ of a novel for you?"

It is a character, and not a situation, which generally suggests a novel to me. I think that in most cases my characters are portraits of real people in imaginary situations. That is why they cannot be recognized by the originals, because they are out of their usual environment. There are two exceptions to this way of conceiving a novel. As I have already told you, 'The Tale of a Lonely Parish' and 'Marzio's Crucifix' were suggested to me by the real background."

"Won't you tell me," I asked, "how you go to work to construct one of your novels? Do you see the end from the beginning and work toward it?"

"Since my first novel or two I always see the end of the story from the start. When I have thought it over in this way, I take a largo sheet of paper, and having decided on the size of the book I make up my mind that it shall have, say, 24 chapters. Along the left margin I mark the numbers of these chapters, one under the other, a line for each. If it is to be in three volumes, as most of my novels are in England, I place a horizontal mark after each eight chapter numbers. That indicates the volume. Then, after the manner of a playwright choosing what he calls his 'curtain situation,' I decide on the culminating incident in each volume, and also decide in which chapter it shall fall, and place a catchword indicating that situation on the line with the chapter number. Then I fill in for the other chapters a catch word or phrase, which indicates the minor incidents in succession that culminate in the major incident. Of course all these things do not come at once, and I may fill in, from time to time, after I have begun the novel, but when the skeleton is comparatively complete I begin the work. Along the right hand margin I write down the calendar of the novel, as it may be called, from day to day. If it is a novel in which the action takes place in a very short time, I write down not only the day of the month and week, but the hour of the day, so that the action of the story may move logically. With this skeleton of the novel before me I write with great rapidity. Indeed I have found that if I write a novel slowly my conception of the leading characters may change from week to week, so that in the end the novel is not artistically so forcible or so complete as those written rapidly. You will understand, of course, that, after the novel is begun, I may have to shift the position of the leading incidents and alter the general arrangement."

"Do you ever dictate?" I asked.

"I dictated one novel under stress of circumstances, and I do not think that I shall over dictate another, for I consider it a relative failure." — McClure's Magazine.

No Cheese For Lunch

It is wretchedly bad form to serve cheese and wafers at luncheon, although one often sees it done. They are alone permissible with the dessert of a dinner, never of a lunch. — Philadelphia Press.


A midwinter festival was known and observed in Europe long before the Christmas era.

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