Fiction Writers on Fiction Writing

May 1, 2020

coverA big benefit of post-processing books for Distributed Proofreaders is discovering bewitching books that I probably won’t have seen otherwise. Such books include a biography of the writer Lafcadio Hearn, The Journal of the Debates in the Convention which Framed the Constitution, and Breaking into the Movies, a 1921 guide to breaking into silent movies.

My latest find is Fiction Writers on Fiction Writing, printed in 1923, in which the editor, Arthur Sullivant Hoffmann, asked 116 authors a set of questions about fiction writing. The authors included Sinclair Lewis and Booth Tarkington.

The book includes some very interesting answers. For instance, in answer to the question:

What is the genesis of a story with you–does it grow from an incident, a character, a trait of character, a situation, setting, a title, or what?

Samuel Hopkins Adams said:

“usually from an incident, sometimes from a single phrase which illuminates a character; never from a title.”

William Ashley Anderson said:

“No definite principle can be laid down as to the inspiration of a story. It may be based on an actual occurrence; a striking tradition; a strange custom. Or an argument may suggest a point to be proved by a story. An extraordinary character, an unusual scene, an atmosphere even (fog, storm, scorching heat). I think one of the basic principles is the desire to tell something unusual about things that are commonplace, or to tell something commonplace about things that are extraordinary.”

I will be posting questions and partial answers from the book to Twitter about once a week, with the hash #FWFW. The longer answers will be in the comments below.

This post was contributed by Ernest Schaal, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.


Wednesday the Tenth: A Tale of the South Pacific by Grant Allen

September 10, 2014

Picture of Book Cover

I wanted to tell you about an excellent adventure story, published in 1890, that I read recently.

The book is Wednesday the Tenth: A Tale of the South Pacific by Grant Allen. To be honest, I picked it up because it was short and I wanted something that would be easier and quicker to read than my usual fare. I’m glad I did, though, because it was an exciting and suspenseful tale that had me enthralled to the end.

It starts with a rescue, when two boys in an open rowboat are discovered in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by a steam yacht plying its trade among the islands (yes, I know that’s a sailing boat on the cover, but it is definitely a steam vessel in the book). They are the children of missionaries and they tell a harrowing tale of slave traders who get the locals drunk and rouse them up against the family, after the father thwarts the slave traders’ attempts to get the locals to sell people to them.

The family are taken prisoner and held by the locals who plan to kill them—and then eat them. The boys manage to escape and set to sea in the rowboat, in the hope of finding help.

In this excerpt, the boys have just been picked up by the yacht and the crew have given them a small amount of food and water (not too much as they are literally starving). The older boy is already lying unconscious on a bunk and the younger is about to follow him, but manages to utter a few words:

“Steer for Makilolo … Island of Tanaki … Wednesday the tenth … Natives will murder them … My mother—my father—Calvin—and Miriam.”

Then it was evident he could not say another word. He sank back on the pillow breathless and exhausted. The color faded from his cheek once more as he fell into his place. I poured another spoonful of brandy down his parched throat. In three minutes more he was sleeping peacefully, with long even breath, like one who hadn’t slept for nights before on the tossing ocean.

I looked at Jim and bit my lips hard. “This is indeed a fix,” I cried, utterly nonplussed. “Where on earth, I should like to know, is this island of Tanaki!”

“Don’t know,” said Jim. “But wherever it is, we’ve got to get there.”

Wednesday the tenth of the month is when the sacrifice is scheduled to happen. The boys are convinced it’s Friday, but the sailors on the yacht are equally convinced it’s Saturday. Even so, the yacht’s captain gives orders to make for the island at full speed, sure they’ll make it in time.

Now, obviously, all doesn’t go as smoothly as anticipated or there wouldn’t be a book to read. As they get close to their destination they run aground on a reef that isn’t where the charts say it should be.

… Jim, looking up from in front, with a cool face as usual, called out at the top of his voice, but with considerable annoyance, “By Jove, we’re aground again!”

And so we were, this time with a vengeance.

“Back her,” I called out, “back her hard, Jenkins!” and they backed her as hard as the engines could spurt; but nothing came of it. We were jammed on the reef about as tight as a ship could stick, and no power on earth could ever have got us off till the tide rose again.

Well, we tried our very hardest, reversing engines first, and then putting them forward again to see if we could run through it by main force; but it was all in vain. Aground we were, and aground we must remain till there was depth of water enough on the reef to float us.

They get off the reef, but the yacht’s damaged, and they’re running out of time. Between engine troubles, the tide and a contrary wind will they make it before the missionaries are killed and eaten?

You’ll have to read it yourself to find out.


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