Writing Tips from the 19th Century
I’m currently studying some of the definitive books in the children’s literary canon. If this statement makes me sound pretentious, I assure you, I’m not. The first book I read, A Pretty Little Pocket Book by John Newbery, made me want to stick needles in my eyes.
Things got better though, when I moved onto Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I am in love with Lewis Caroll; the man was as mad as a box of frogs, but that just makes me love him more. In fact, the last time I had a crush this big it was 1983 and the object of my affections was Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley. Did I really just admit that…?
Whilst I’m feeling reckless, I’m going to move the discussion onto writing rules. Now before you stop reading, let me finish. I promise I’m not going to tell you to delete your adverbs: in fact I quite like adverbs. Caroll liked them too. He also liked exclamation marks, brackets and popping out of the story moment long enough to make a cup of tea.
You see, Caroll wrote before the advent of the writing rule. As such, his work presents us with an opportunity to turn such rules on their head. To ask, what if things had been different; if the age of mass-communication had never happened and we still wrote as though we were from the 19th century? So, because I have nothing better to do today, I present you with my alternative rubric: how to write like a 19th century children’s novelist.
Rule 1. Just tell it how it is.
Do you find it hard to convey your character’s emotions through action or dialogue? Well don’t bother. Instead just add an adverb to your dialogue tags: humbly; indignantly; angrily. If they were good enough for Lewis Caroll, they’re good enough for you.
Rule 2. Bullet-proof punctuation.
Just to be absolutely sure your reader gets it, throw in lots of exclamation marks. If your character is really excited you probably want to add one to every other sentence until they calm down again. If you are still worried your reader can’t process the information you are throwing at them, add some supporting information in brackets.
Rule 3. Dramatic Tension
You don’t have a thesaurus, so you are struggling to find verbs that are strong enough to convey the drama of your narrative. Simple: just throw in a few more adverbs. Adjectives work well too.
Rule 4. Transition
Tension sorted, but your narrative still not moving along quite as you’d like it? To help things flow, frequently use words such as, however, suddenly, or presently. If these don’t work, try phrases such as: in another moment; as she said these words; or just as she said this. Your writing will flow like alpine spring water during the summer thaw.
Rule 5. The perfect ending.
Not quite sure how to wind things up? Is your narrative so weird and wonderful that you don’t know how to explain events to your reader? Easy: it was a dream. Everybody loves a good dream story. And don’t be afraid to follow with a dream sequel.
So there you have it. How to write like a 19th century children’s novelist. Do with this information what you will. After all, why would you listen to me? I used to be in love with Andrew Ridegley.