Greene Guides

Graham Greene was born today, October 2, in 1904. Still regarded a master of craft, here’s some of the expert advice he shared on writing one of his earliest books and his later revision approach:

“My long studies of Percy Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction had taught me the importance of ‘the point of view,’ but not how to convey physical excitement. Now I can see quite clearly where I went wrong. Excitement is simple: excitement is a situation, a single event. It mustn’t be wrapped up in thoughts, similes, metaphors. A simile is a form of reflection, but excitement is of the moment when there is no time to reflect. Action can only be expressed by a subject, a verb, and an object, perhaps a rhythm — little else. Even an adjective slows the pace or tranquilizers the nerve.

“I should have returned to [Robert Louis] Stevenson to learn my lesson: ‘It came all of a sudden when it did, with a rush of feet and a roar, and then a shout from Alan, and the sound of blows and someone crying as if hurt. I looked over my shoulder, and saw Mr. Shaun in the doorway crossing blades with Alan.’

“No similes or metaphors there, not even an adjective. But I was too concerned with ‘the point of view’ to be aware of the simpler problems, to know that the sort of novel I was trying to write, unlike a poem, was not made with words, but with movement, action, character.

“Now when I write I put down on the page a mere skeleton of a novel — nearly all my revisions are in the nature of additions, of second thoughts to make the bare bones live — but in those days to revise was to prune and prune and prune. I was much tempted, perhaps because of my admiration for the Metaphysical poets, to exaggerated similes and my wife became adept at shooting them down. There was one, I remember, comparing something or someone in the quiet landscape of Sussex to a leopard crouching in a tree, which gave a name to the whole species. Leopards would be marked daily on the manuscript, but it took a great many years for me to get the beasts under control, and they growl at me sometimes yet.”

Wow, just consider the Robert Louis Stevenson passage Graham quotes:

… a rush of feet and a roar

… a shout from Alan

… the sound of blows

… someone crying as if hurt

No adjectives or similes, just words that express pure action : rush, roar, shout, blows, crying. What a great lesson on creating drama. Write on!

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About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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