Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas

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Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas

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Buy Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Reference
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Think you've got a novel inside you? Scarlett Thomas's entertaining guide to writing fiction may be just the kick up the backside you need to get it written.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Canongate
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857863782

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I really wasn't expecting a book about how to write fiction to change my TV viewing habits. Alter my reading? Possibly. Improve my writing? Hopefully. But watching Grand Designs in a completely different light?

My moment of Kevin McCloud inspired revelation came after reading a chapter on narrative structures in Scarlett Thomas' enlightening Monkeys with Typewriters. The latest episode of the architectural masterclass followed all the hallmarks of a classic three act arc. In act one, the potential housebuilders outlined their vision and explained how they'd have to overcome opposition from the neighbours. In act two, crucial equipment never arrived, the weather caused havoc and the home makers faced financial ruin. In the third and final act the builders completed the project, the clients avoid bankruptcy and the neighbours shared a glass of vino in the shiny new modernist cube. Just how Aristotle told 'em.

Narrative arc is just one of many aspects of literary theory covered in the opening half of Monkeys with Typewriters with more practical advice for budding novelists following in part two. Thomas is a successful novelist and a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Kent making her an ideal guide to both.

The theory elements are clearly explained, jargon free and backed up with plenty of relevant examples ranging from Plato's Cave and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina right through to modern works from George Saunders and Ali Smith as well as films such as Toy Story. Whether it's differentiating between comedy or tragedy, or identifying the eight basic plots, Thomas is a fine guide. Part one delivers the 'unlock the secret power of stories' part of the subtitle but what about the 'how to write fiction' bit?

The second half offers much useful advice on generating ideas, styles of narration (first person? third person?), character development, the elements of writing a good sentence and the importance of editing. A word bank will aid writers looking to tighten up their prose and eliminate unnecessary adverbs and the dreaded cliche and a number of matrices will help anyone struggling to overcome the fear of the empty page.

Can a novel be written using such a matrix? Most certainly. Can a good novel be written using a matrix? Probably. What Scarlett Thomas has done in Monkeys With Typewriters is provide the reader with the building blocks of writing successfully. The rest is down to the skill and imagination of the writer. Create a solid structure, plot correctly using the laws of cause and effect, tell the story by the actions of characters and write clear, honest sentences and you've got half a chance.

If this book appeals then you might like to try The Art of Fiction by David Lodge. We've also recently enjoyed Write. by Phil Daoust (editor).

Buy Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas at Amazon.com.

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