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This "book should be returned on or before the date last marked below. 

Creative Writing 



For Advanced College Classes 




The Rice Institute 


New Yorfc 



Copyright, 1935, 1954, by Harper & Brothers 
Printed in the United States of America 

All rights in this book are reserved. 
No part of the book may be used or reproduced 
in any manner whatsoever without written per- 
mission except in the case of brief quotations 
embodied in critical articles and reviews. For 
information address Harper & Brothers 
49 East 33rd Street, New York 16, N. Y. 


Library of Congress catalog card number: 54-7330 

Dedicated to Virginia M. Williams 


Preface to the First Edition xi 

Preface to the Revised Edition xv 

PART ONE: Writing 


1. The End Position. 2. Suspense. 3. Climax. 4. 
Proportion. 5. Structure. 6. Repetition. 7. Con- 
trast. 8. Interest. Exercises 


1. Control. 2. Structure. 3. Position. 4. Conti- 
nuity. Exercises 


1. Intellectual Vigor. 2. Emotional Vigor. Exer- 

IV. VIGOR IN STYLE (Continued) 82 

3. Vigor of Wording. Exercises 


1. Pure Sounds. 2. Patterned Sounds. 3. Rhythm. 
Exercises. General Exercises on Style 


1. Intellectual Personality. 2. Emotional Person- 


1. Art. 2. Kinds of Images. 3. Imaginative Words. 

4. Imaginative Details. 5. Imaginative Construc- 
tion. 6. Interpretative Description. Exercises 

PART Two: The Writing of Exposition 


1. Definition. 2. The Field of Exposition. 3. The 


viii Contents 

Uses of Exposition. 4. The Requirements of Ex- 
position. 5. The Sources of Exposition. Exercises 


i. The Familiar Essay 

n. Exposition of Events 

1. Diaries and Journals. 2. History. 3. Biogra- 
phy. 4. Anecdote. 5. True-Experience Narra- 
tive. 6. Narrative of Travel. 7. News Story 

in. Exposition of Facts 

1. Definition. 2. Descriptive Exposition. 3. Ex- 
position of a Process 

rv. Exposition of Opinion 

1. Exposition of Opinions about General Laws. 

2. Exposition of Opinions about Specific Condi- 
tions, Facts, or Things. Exercises 


1. Chronological Method. 2. Descriptive Method. 
3. Method of Classification. 4. Definition. 5. 
Comparison and Contrast. 6. Analogy. 7. Presen- 
tation of Authority. 8. Method of Illustration. 
9. Use of Examples. 10. Use of Details. 11. 
Method of Repetition. 12. Cause-and-Effect Re- 
lationship. Exercises 


1. The Fallacy of Rationalization. 2. Fallacies 
Due to Diction. 3. Inference. 4. Fallacies of the 
Inductive Method. 5. Fallacies of the Deductive 
Method. 6. Fallacies of Inclusion. 7. Fallacies 
of Confusion. 8. Fallacies of the Cause-and-Effect 
Relationship. 9. Fallacies of Evidence. Exercises 


1. The Subject. 2. Aims. 3. The Title. 4. The 
Introduction. 5. The Arrangement of Ideas. 6. 
Division. 7. Persuasion. 8. Some Stratagems. 

Contents tx 

PART THREE: The Writing of Fiction 


I. Imagination and Fiction 

1. What is Fiction? 2. Imaginative Narrative. 3. 
ii. Truth in Fiction 

1. Historical Truth and Poetic Truth. 2. Improb- 
ability in Fiction. 3. Chance and Coincidence. 4. 
Surprise. Exercises 


i. The Story 

1. Broad Types. 2. Special Types 
H. The Novel 

1. Broad Types. 2. Special Types. Exercises 


i. The Writer as a Person 

1. Egotism. 2. Humility. 3. Character 
ii. The Writer's State of Mind 

1. De-education. 2. Feeling. 3. Thought. 4. Im- 
ra. Cultivation of Values 

1. Feeling. 2. Observation. 3. People. 4. Infor- 
mation. 5. Ideas. 6. Delight. 7. In Conclusion. 


1. Feeling. 2. Subject. 3. Theme. 4. Characters. 
5. Background. 6. Information. 7. Change. 8. 
Straight Narrative or Obstructed Narrative. 9. 
Quest and Conflict. 10. Plot. 11. Complications. 


1. Two Methods of Composing. 2. Starting from 
a Feeling. 3. Starting from a Theme. 4. Starting 
from Background. Exercises 


5. Starting from Character. 6. Starting from Situ- 
ation. 7. Starting from Incident. 8. Starting from 

x Contents 

a Complete Story Idea. 9. The Actual Start. 10. 
Ending the Narrative. Exercises 


i. Some Preliminary Decisions 

1. Length. 2. Quantities in Fiction. 3. Style. 4. 
Point of View. 5. Symbolism 
n. The Beginning and the Ending 

1. Exposition. 2. The First Sentences. 3. The 
Last Sentences 

in. The Body of the Narrative - 

1. Suspense. 2. Creating Characters. 3. Portray- 
ing Characters. 4. Creating a Background 

rv. Incidentals 

1. Dialogue. 2. Titles. 3. Humor. 4. Prepara- 
tion of Manuscripts. Exercises 




Preface to the First Edition 

One can think of a dozen helpful and beautifully written books on 
English style by masters of the English language; but unfortunately 
none of them is suitable in method or in purpose for use in the 
average college classroom. On the other hand, one can think of a 
hundred excellent and really indispensable handbooks of English 
grammar, English usage, and English rhetoric; but unfortunately 
none of them is of much value to people aspiring to literary levels 
higher than those of mere clarity and correctness. The first kind must 
always be the study and delight of mature writers; the second kind, 
the study if not the delight of immature writers. But one can hardly 
recall a textbook of composition written exclusively for people in 
the intermediate stage between immaturity and maturity. 

This book is intended to supply the lack; it is written for people 
who know most of what is to be learned from the handbooks, but 
who do not yet know how to create literature. 

The book consists of three parts. Part I is a discussion of certain 
principles which apply to creative writing of any sort. Part II is a 
discussion of principles which apply to exposition; and Part III, of 
principles which apply to fiction. This work is, therefore, both a gen- 
eralized study of the methods of creative writing, and a particular- 
ized study of the most important types of creative writing. 

It has been in the author's mind that Part I and the first three 
chapters of Part II should fill the needs of the first semester in a full 
year-course in advanced writing, and that the rest of the book 
should fill the needs of the second semester. Yet all the parts are so 
independent of one another that any part could serve as a text for 
a course lasting only one term; and at the same time, other parts 
could serve as private study for individuals interested in writing for 
other purposes than the attainment of a college credit. 

All but two or three of the sets of Exercises in the volume are 


Preface to the First Edition 

creative rather than critical. That is, they demand that the student 
produce something from his own mind or imagination, instead of 
merely examining and appreciating what others have written. Many 
more Exercises are included than can possibly be completed in a 
year. But it was thought that a superfluity which would allow both 
the instructor and the student wide liberty of choice would be 
preferable to a paucity which would force both the instructor and 
the student into deadening formalism. 

And now about the point of view from which the book is written. 
Though the author believes that no important point discussed in the 
average correspondence course for professional fiction writers has 
been omitted from this book, the author's purpose has not been to 
discuss writing from the professional viewpoint. On the other hand, 
everything said in this book may be of real value to the student who 
intends to become a professional. The only difference, consequently, 
between this book and the books for professionals is in the spirit of 

Writing ( the author believes ) is valuable for its own sake. Every 
individual feels passing through him during every waking hour a 
thousand half -comprehended ideas, half-created characters, half -felt 
emotions, half-seen visions, half-heard melodies of language, half- 
constructed fabrics of fancy. The non-writing person allows all these 
to pass unheeded through the hazy background of his consciousness, 
and to be lost at last in a welter of immediate desires, common sen- 
sations, and material expediencies. But the writer clutches at them, 
halts their flight, and contemplates them until they materialize into 
the permanent actuality of words on paper; In doing this, the writer 
has transformed immateriality into materiality, the transitory into 
the enduring, the subconscious into the conscious, and the illusory 
into the real. And in doing this, the writer creates for himself the 
value of a stable, indubitable, and complete experience of mind and 
heart, where before there had existed only a drifting, dim, and em- 
bryonic vision. 

Writing, then, is not to be regarded as a mere means of making 
a living, or even of transferring ideas from one person to another. 
Writing is a means by which the individual grows by which he 

Preface to the First Edition xm 

passes intellectually and spiritually from a realm of nebulous sug- 
gestion into a realm of valid experience. Accordingly, writing may 
be a direct instrument of education where education is conceived 
as a means whereby the individual realizes his highest intellectual 
and spiritual potentialities. Every piece of original writing com- 
pleted adds to the personality of the writer some intellectual or 
spiritual reality which was not there previously; and every piece 
done as well as it possibly can be done adds a still finer intellectual 
or spiritual reality. 

Since writing can have for the student a very real educative value, 
an educational institution such as a college ought to look on writing 
as an instrument of education primarily, and as a contemplated pro- 
fession for the college student only secondarily. At any rate, the 
author of this book looks upon writing in such a way, and has ap- 
proached his task in the spirit of an educator rather than in the spirit 
of a professional literary adviser. 

I should be more than ungrateful if I did not acknowledge my 
indebtedness for many ideas to such authors as Sir Walter Raleigh, 
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, President William Trufant Foster, Pro- 
fessor Brander Matthews, and Messrs. William Archer, Clayton 
Hamilton, and Joseph Wood Krutch. I am indebted also to many 
publishers through whose generosity I have been able to use copy- 
righted material in illustrative passages throughout this book. More 
specific acknowledgments to these publishers are made at proper 
places in the text itself. 


Preface to the Revised Edition 

The first edition of Creative Writing was written twenty years ago 
by a young man. The revised edition has been written by a middle- 
aged man. The revised edition ought to be a better book; that is to 
say, the author ought to have learned something in twenty years. 
He hopes he has. He hopes this revised edition shows the results of 
twenty additional years of living, of learning, of teaching, and of 

It must be confessed that the middle-aged man has been keenly 
interested in watching himself at work on the young man's book. 
The middle-aged man has found, strangely, that the young man was 
more conservative than he. For example, the young man's book did 
not officially recognize Thomas Wolfe, John Dos Passes, Ernest 
Hemingway, James Joyce, or Virginia Woolf, and their contribu- 
tions to English style. The older man is more liberal. For though he 
is still firm in the opinion that the student writer's best teachers are 
Defoe, Swift, Fielding, Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Hardy, Conrad, 
Galsworthy, Hawthorne, Poe, and James, he thinks that some of the 
more recent writers are indispensable too. Neither the old writing 
nor the new is sufficient; both are essential. 

Another fault ( as it seems now to the older man ) that the young 
man had was a certain authoritarianism and arbitrariness. He knew 
precisely what was right and what was wrong and that was that! 
The older man sees the world in less stark lights and shadows; he, 
thinks writing is governed by some extremely subtle and complex 
laws. If, in trying to express these laws in the revised edition, the 
older man has made the book a little more complex, and even a 
little more difficult, he cannot help it. 

Revising the book has been not only an experience in self- 
criticism, but also a rather sad lesson in the transitoriness of human 


xvi Preface to the Revised Edition 

institutions and human fame. The Depression loomed large in the 
1930's, and the social and political phenomena accompanying it 
seemed so permanent that references to them were made as casually 
as references to the sun and the moon. Moreover, names familiar to 
every freshman then (Joffre, Arthur Brisbane, Rollo Brown, Elsie 
Robinson, Octavus Roy Cohen, Frank Colby, among others ) would 
be meaningless to most modern college seniors. What now seems to 
be one of the most astounding remarks in the previous edition was 
that the historical novel is no longer popular! But that was written 
before Anthony Adverse and Gone with the Wind altered the his- 
tory of fiction. 

The really major changes in this revised edition, however, have 
not been made because of either the young man's errors twenty 
years ago, or developments in the world at large. All in all, the older 
man is not ashamed of what the younger man did is rather proud 
of it, to tell the truth. The really major changes are due to the fact 
that, in twenty years, a man does not necessarily learn better, but he 
learns more. This book is both a bigger book and a richer book than 
the other; it contains much that was not even mentioned in the early 
book, and it augments much that was discussed there. 

Some actual statistics may be interesting. The older book con- 
tained 100 sections; this one contains 133. Though about half of the 
old sections remain substantially as they were, only about a dozen 
of them remain unaltered in any way. Only one of the old sets of 
Exercises at the ends of chapters remains unchanged; seven others 
remain substantially as they were; all the others have been changed; 
and several new ones have been added. 

The long and very important first chapter of the book has been 
almost completely rewritten; so has the chapter on Argumentation. 
All the other chapters in the first two parts of the book have been 
extensively revised in the interest of clarity, brevity, or complete- 
ness. But the main revision has been in the last part "The Writing 
of Fiction/' Ninety per cent of this part is new. 

Throughout the revised edition the writer's intention has been to 
polish the expression, to clarify the exposition, to excise unessentials, 
to widen the coverage, to improve the Exercises, and, above all, to 

Preface to the Revised Edition xvii 

bring the discussion of fiction into line with modern ideals and 

The writer would like to take this occasion to thank the many 
teachers of writing in hundreds of American colleges and universi- 
ties who have used the old edition of this book during the last 
twenty years. He is grateful to them; and he has tried to show his 
gratitude by working hard to make this revised edition a better book 
than the old one. 

The Rice Institute 
January, 1954 




Fundamental Principles 

First, a word of advice about the most fundamental principle of 
all. Students often enter writing courses with the illusion that they 
require nothing more than a driving urge and an undetermined 
amount of inspiration in order to create quite acceptable articles, 
stories, plays, and novels. It is true that both an urge and an in- 
spiration are essential. But they are not enough. A person may have 
an urge to heal the sick, another to impart knowledge, or a third 
to defend the unfortunate, and all three may have a considerable 
amount of inspiration. But a physician who has not undergone a 
very thorough and painstaking training is a quack, a teacher who 
has never studied is a charlatan, and a lawyer who has never read 
law is a shyster. Likewise, a writer who has not thoroughly studied 
the art he professes to practice is on the way to ending as a mere 

Most of the great writers of the past, you will say, never took a 
college course in advanced writing and didn't they do all right by 
themselves? To be sure. They never took a college course in ad- 
vanced writing, but they learned independently all that such a 
course contains and more, too. All great writers have studied their 
art intensively, and have had a consuming interest, theoretical as 
well as practical, in it all their lives. Indeed, scores of them (from 
Sir Philip Sidney and Ben Jonson right down to Thomas Hardy, 
Henry James, John Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett, Ellen Glasgow, and 
T. S. Eliot) have written extensively on the techniques and princi- 
ples of writing. A college course in advanced writing is only a short 
cut to what a writer must learn for himself in any event. It conveys 
in a few months what a self-educating writer must take years to 
learn. The present writer remembers making to Joyce Gary, the 

4 Creative Writing 

celebrated English novelist, one of those deprecating and insincere 
remarks that people do make about their own professions: "After 
all, one can't really teach people how to write." Mr. Gary pounced 
upon the remark immediately. "Oh, yes one can!" he exclaimed, and 
then proceeded to give the author a brief and persuasive lecture on 
the value of college courses in writing! 

But if a student is going to be taught how to write, he must be 
willing to learn how to write. He must resolve to learn techniques 
and principles just as a surgeon, no matter how gifted he may be, 
must learn to tie knots, or an English teacher must learn the differ- 
ence between a verb and a noun, or a lawyer must learn the minutiae 
of legal forms and court procedure. 

The present writer once had a student who, after hearing lengthy 
and probably tiresome counsel about the details of sentence 
formation and compositional structure, asked a bit indulgently, 
like a person who has consented to be deceived by a ventriloquist: 
"But surely you don't expect us to go to all that trouble with our 
writing?" The answer is an emphatic Yes. There is no other way 
to be a good writer. Furthermore, as a matter of plain fact, it is in 
the practice of the actual art ( or, if one prefers, the craft ) of writing 
that the writer avoids succumbing eventually to the boredom of his 
work, and giving it up for the more interesting employment of selling 
hosiery. His enjoyment, like the enjoyment of a painter, a sculptor, 
a dancer, a singer, or an actor, derives chiefly from the processes 
of his art from the planning, the constructing, the joining, the 
polishing, the exercise of skill, the conquest of problems arising with 
every sentence, the dexterous juggling of all the elements that go to 
make good writing: words, sentences, sounds, associations, ideas, 
arrangements, spaces, divisions, continuity, suppressions, intensifica- 
tions, and all the rest. Anyone who hopes or expects to write a great 
deal in his life must learn as much as he can about his art all its 
methods, devices, and even tricks and then try to apply it to every 
word, phrase, clause, and sentence that he writes. That is the only 
way in which he can endure to be a confirmed writer. When he has 
done this, writing will not be something to be avoided, but some- 
thing eternally seductive and irresistible. 

Fundamental Principles 5 

Much of this and the next few chapters is devoted to the structure 
of sentences. The student who has his eye on the far goal of articles, 
stories, plays, and novels must not scorn sentences any more than 
the golfer aiming at the green far away can afford to scorn the 
precise position of every finger on the club, the bend of the back, 
the position of the head, and the rhythm of the swing. Like threads 
of different colors fed into a loom, sentence elements will rush into 
the writer's mind not to be jumbled together by chance, and to 
emerge as a formless collection of words, phrases, clauses, and 
sentences but to be assorted, assembled, and re-assembled, and 
to emerge as an attractive and original pattern, the most attractive 
and original pattern possible. The writer must consider every sen- 
tence a special problem, and must experiment with it, cast it and 
recast it in his mind or on paper, take time, consider it as a solitary 
unit and as a part of the whole, return to it again and again if neces- 
sary, and leave it at last only when he is thoroughly satisfied. Yes, 
the teacher of writing does expect his students to "go to all that 

The present chapter recapitulates a few very old principles of 
composition. Doubtless the reader has heard them time and time 
again. A thing worth saying once, however, is worth saying more 
than once. The constant reiteration of these principles in books 
about writing indicates their importance. 

1. THE END POSITION. The most important word or idea in a sen- 
tence, a paragraph, or a whole composition should come at the end. 

Because readers are always more than usually alert when they 
know that a conclusion approagjies^a writer should use his most 
vigorous and telling details last. Not only are readers psychologically 
conditioned to waking up and fixing their attention near the end 
of a piece of writing, but also they are conditioned by modern habits 
of composition and publication. Nowadays, readers of scientific 
articles turn almost automatically to the end of the articles to learn 
the main pointy readers of modern poems expect the last line to 
be the key-line; readers of modern stories look to the last few sen- 
tences for clarification of some emotional or philosophical implica- 
tion in the narrative. It is true that requirements of clarity, coherence, 

6 Creative Writing 

or euphony sometimes prevent strict application of this principle; 
and once in a while the writer will deliberately flout the principle 
for the sake of variety, or in order to have a weak or falling close 
that will be consistent with a certain mood. Nevertheless, the prin- 
ciple is sound; a writer should avoid having his sentences, his para- 
graphs, his chapters, or his articles and stories dwindle off into final 

a. In Sentence Elements. As a rule, weakly subordinate or paren- 
thetical elements in a sentence should not come last. For example, 
the sentence just written, as well as the present sentence, would 
be intolerable if "as a rule" or "for example" came at the end. A 
very common offender of this law is the participial phrase dragging 
along at the end, as in the sentence, "These handsome birds are 
quite numerous on the coast, gathering often in groups of fifty to a 
hundred." This sentence runs downhill from the main clause. It 
would be better if it ran uphill; the participial phrase should come 
first. Dependent clauses, being less structurally weak than participial 
phrases, may often come last. Yet sentences like, "We could hear 
him shouting though we could not see him," and, "You will want to 
set down your impressions on paper as soon as you possibly can," 
would be stronger with the dependent clause at the beginning in- 
stead of the end. Both these sentences offend in another way: except 
for "possibly," the last four or five words in both are completely 
colorless. Placing the dependent clauses at the beginning would 
have, therefore, an additional virtue; it would make the sentences 
end with stronger words. Just to illustrate a typical process of sen- 
tence-forming, suppose we experiment a little further with the sec- 
ond sentence quoted. 

Even with the dependent clause at the beginning, the sentence 
would end with an insignificant prepositional phrase far removed 
from the word it modifies. Placing the phrase nearer the word it 
modifies would make it sound a little awkward: "You will want to 
set down on paper your impressions." Perhaps, then, we could let the 
phrase remain where it is, or perhaps we could change the wording 
slightly to make the entire sentence read: "As soon as you possibly 
can, you will write down your impressions." But whatever we decide 

Fundamental Principles 7 

to do with the sentence, we ought not to be content with it until we 
have tested it in all its possible forms. Slapping a sentence down 
just as it comes to us, and leaving it that way, may chance to result 
in a good sentence, but more probably it will result in a dull, weak 

b. In Larger Elements. Paragraphs, sections, chapters, and whole 
compositions may not invariably lend themselves to application of 
the present principle. Logical, chronological, or transitional con- 
siderations take precedence, and may interfere. Nevertheless, a 
writer should do what he can to apply the principle, and at least 
he can keep from violating it too flagrantly. For example, he will 
avoid having mere transitional sentences at the end of a paragraph; 
he will place them at the beginning of the next paragraph, or will 
reserve them for entirely separate paragraphs. He will not ramble 
on, saying nothing much, at the end of a chapter or a section after 
he has already made his point. He will not suddenly toss into the 
conclusion of his work some mere statement or suggestion of a new 
idea that he does not have time to develop properly. He will not 
use so much of his allotted space in developing minor ideas in the 
first part of a paper that he is compelled to rush through and in- 
adequately develop the ideas in the latter part of the paper. To 
speak positively instead of negatively: (1) he will arrange his de- 
tails, examples, or ideas in paragraph, section, chapter, or whole 
composition so that the most important and incontrovertible comes 
last; or ( 2 ) he may round out his discussion by a renewed statement 
of the main idea or point; or (3) he may bluntly summarize the 
matters he has discussed or the points he has made. 

2. SUSPENSE. An important idea hinted at in the beginning but 
reserved for the end makes for suspense. 

Suspense in writing as in life is created by three things: a hint, a 
wait, and a fulfillment. The hint may be either an open statement or 
a vague suggestion that something important will presently happen; 
or it may be a situation that, in its very nature, is certain to result 
in an important outcome like a war, or a serious illness, or the 
approach of final examinations. Suspense catches the reader's at- 
tention, and then holds his interest by the implicit promise of an 

8 Creative Writing 

impending result of some significance. Suspense is often that un- 
suspected quality that makes some writing vivid and nervous instead 
of dull and weak. Suspense is the opposite of surprise, and is a more 
effective instrument; for surprise lasts but an instant, does not hold 
the reader for more than a minute or two, and immediately becomes 
only a memory whereas suspense may last, and hold the reader's 
intense interest, throughout even the hours or days required for the 
reading of a long novel. 

The principle of building up suspense by withholding an impor- 
tant idea to the end is allied to the first principle discussed above. 
But the two principles differ materially; the first one does not require 
the initial hint, but this one does. For example, the following sen- 
tence creates no suspense even though it places the important idea 
at the end: "The Essay on Man is Pope's most philosophic work; 
The Rape of the Lock is his most poetic/' In contrast, the following 
sentence creates excellent suspense: "Pope's most poetic work is 
neither the philosophic Essay on Man, nor the descriptive Windsor 
Forest, nor the satirical Dunciad but The Rape of the Lock." 

a. In Sentence Elements. The sentence just quoted creates sus- 
pense by means of a series of negatives implying that a positive will 
appear shortly. Sometimes suspense may be created by means of 
a series of items obviously moving toward a climax, as in the follow- 
ing sentence: "He longed for an education; he made plans to obtain 
one; he saved his money; he sacrificed his pleasures; he endured 
privations and then, at the age of twenty, he was killed in Korea/* 
In such a sentence, suspense builds up as each clause succeeds an- 
other. Sometimes a mere periodic sentence creates suspense; thus, a 
sentence like, "The speeding automobile whirled around the corner 
on two wheels^ and with a terrifying scream of rubber tires on pave- 
ment," is much less suspenseful than this: "On two wheels, and with 
a terrifying scream of rubber tires on pavement, the speeding auto- 
mobile whirled around the corner/' We might include most, or all, 
of these devices under a heading like lengthy suspended grammati- 
cal structure. Shelley's famous conclusion of Prometheus Unbound 
is a perfect model for this kind of suspense: 

Fundamental Principles 9 

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite; 
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night; 

To defy Power, which seems omnipotent; 
To love and bear; to hope till Hope creates 
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates; 

Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent; 
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be 
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free; 
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory. 

b. In Larger Elements. Many devices for creating suspense, es- 
pecially in narrative writing, could be mentioned, and some will be 
discussed at length in the third part of this book. Two or three 
elementary devices are worth a few words here. A writer may create 
suspense by a definite statement that something very important is 
to be said later on like this: "In the story that follows, I shall tell 
you how John Jones died, and then returned to life/' Or like this: 
"After we have examined and discarded some patently false solu- 
tions of our problem, I shall tell you what seems to me the only true 
and satisfactory solution." Such advance notices make the reader 
know for certain that he is waiting for something important; they 
put him in a state of suspense. 

Sometimes the mere brief enumeration of topics the writer intends 
to discuss will make the reader aware that he is waiting for some- 
thing important. For example, a writer might say, "In this paper I 
wish to discuss, first, the historical background of our present diffi- 
culty; next, the immediate reasons why the difficulty has suddenly 
grown so tremendous; and finally, the most practicable means by 
which we can extricate ourselves from the difficulty/' A statement 
like this creates an almost unconscious, but genuine, suspense in the 
reader. Even a bare statement such as, "I wish to discuss three points 
in this paper," will keep the reader alert and forward-looking through 
Points One and Two. All that is required for suspense is a hint, a 
wait, and a fulfillment. 

A well-matched conflict always makes for suspense. Even when 
the main purpose of a writer is not to attack anybody else's doctrines, 

10 Creative Writing 

bi to give new information or to elucidate an original idea, the 
writer may often profit by deliberately creating a conflict at the 
beginning of his exposition. He may do this by referring to mistakes 
that other people have made, or by outlining opinions with which he 
says he differs. 

3. CLIMAX. Details, examples, and ideas should be arranged in 
the order of climax. 

The order of climax is the order of steadily increasing importance. 
This principle applies to a series of related or roughly parallel items 
that are usually three or more in number. The items may be details 
of a description or exposition, examples and illustrations of an ex- 
position or argument, or lists of causes, effects, and reasons. The 
principle demands that the least important of these be presented 
first, the next most important next, and the most important of all 
last. As in the old family portrait, the order of composition should 
be the stairstep order beginning with insignificant two-year-old 
Willie, and ascending head over head to the supreme head of 
William, Senior. 

a. In Sentence Elements. This principle applies to words, 
phrases, and clauses within a sentence. Thus, Burke wrote of "regi- 
cide, parricide, and sacrilege"; the words would have a very different 
tone if they were arranged as "sacrilege, parricide, and regicide." 
Lee's famous characterization of Washington "First in war, first in 
peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen" proceeding as it does 
from point to point in order of climax, is a skillful expression of a 
fine thought. But read in the reverse order, it becomes merely taw- 
dry. These examples of words and phrases illustrate a principle that 
should be carried over (where logic, chronology, and coherence 
permit) to clauses and clusters of sentences. It should be stressed 
here that the writer himself has the responsibility of determining 
the relative importance of his various items, and of arranging them 
according to his own standards. Burke's series of words quoted above 
are arranged as a religious man and a lover of political freedom 
would arrange them; a fanatical royalist would have reversed the 
order. The point is that ideas do not necessarily impose a certain 

Fundamental Principles 11 

form of expression on the writer; the writer imposes the f orr^ on 
the ideas. 

Sometimes, as has already been hinted, a writer must disregard 
the order of climax. Logic, chronology, and coherence come first. 
Euphony is another consideration, as in a series like "God, home, 
and native land," where the reverse order would be almost a tongue- 
twister. Or sometimes subtle considerations of courtesy or prece- 
dence (particularly in phrases originating long ago in times when 
precedence was more important than today) determine the order 
as in "king, queen, and nobles," or "men, women, and children." 
It is quite possible that the last word in the series "love, honor, and 
obey" would not have been struck from the modern marriage ritual 
had it not stood out so prominently by being last! 

b. In Larger Elements. Where other considerations are not in- 
volved, the principle of climax should apply to sentences within a 
paragraph, to paragraphs within a part, and to major parts within 
a whole composition. 

Some of the old popular ballads, with their device of "incremental 
repetition," perfectly illustrate this principle. In "Edward," for ex- 
ample, successive stanzas have the hero saying, first, that he has 
killed his hawk, then that he has killed his horse, and last that he has 
killed his father. Or consider a paragraph from Sir John Mandeville's 
Travels (ca. 1400). The first sentence in his first paragraph about 
the land of Prester John mentions a sea of sand and gravel; the next 
asserts that this sea has waves and tides; the next that the sea is 
bordered by mysterious lands unknown to man; and the last that 
the sea, though it has no water, has "plenty of good fishes." Here 
each marvel is more marvelous than the preceding. 

In the whole group of paragraphs describing the land of Prester 
John, the order of climax is maintained within the paragraphs them- 
selves. The first paragraph describes the sea of sand and gravel; 
the next tells of a river running precious stones; the third tells of 
the fabulous plants and animals of that land; the fourth tells of the 
unimaginably gorgeous equipment of Prester John's army; and 
finally, and most glorious of all, a paragraph describes the incredi- 

Creative Writing 

ble riches of Prester John's city and palace. Everything is arranged 
in climactic order. Moreover, Mandeville's entire book observes the 
same order. Starting with the fairly ordinary Balkan area, it proceeds 
to the more remarkable Near East, then to the still more extraordi- 
nary Middle East, then to the wonderful Far East, and finally to 
the utterly fantastic land of Prester John. 

4. PROPORTION. Ideas should occupy space in direct proportion 
to their importance. 

The principle of proportion should be considered both as an in- 
junction and as a command. Unimportant ideas must not be 
treated at length, and important ideas must be treated at length. 
The elaboration of unimportant ideas leads to wordiness, triviality, 
and tiresomeness; the slighting of important ideas leads to disap- 
pointment of the reader, apparent pointlessness, and seeming lack 
of discrimination on the part of the writer. Ordinarily, the impor- 
tant part of a discussion should be developed with special ampli- 
tude; the important character in a story should be introduced with 
special privileges of space; the important action of a narrative 
should be recounted with special elaborateness of detail. Even 
when the temptation is to be brief, the writer should deliberately 
proceed with his amplifying. Brevity has its virtues, but also its 

The only time when the rule may be suspended is when a writer 
wishes to avail himself of the device of contrast, and so expresses an 
important idea with notable terseness. "Jesus wept." The simple 
statement, so noticeably short, contrasts so powerfully with the 
magnitude of the sentiment that the verse is effective. Such effective 
brevity, however, can be employed only on special occasions. When 
it is used too often as a rhetorical device, it looks affected. Further- 
more, it can never be effective unless it has the added advantages 
of position, climax, isolation, or extraordinary dignity of occasion. 
It should be remembered that even Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, 
with its marvelous brevity of phrase, fell completely flat when it 
was originally delivered. It was too short to make much impression 
on the audience. If Lincoln had not been martyred soon afterward, 
and if the address were not read today isolated from the circum- 

Fundamental Principles 13 

stances of its delivery, it is quite possible that unimpressed Ameri- 
cans would have allowed it to disappear into that limbo reserved 
for most public addresses. 

a. In Sentence Elements. Whether by accident or not, the most 
important phrase in Lee's eulogy of Washington quoted already 
"First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen" 
not only occurs at the summit of the climax, but also occupies more 
space than both the other phrases together. The whole expression 
was purposely designed, one could almost believe, to be immortal. 
Though exceptions are plentiful, it is ordinarily true that, if we wish 
a phrase or a sentence to make an impression, we must deliberately 
develop it until it occupies an amount of space proportionate to its 
importance. There is nothing wrong with a phrase like "bare winter 
trees" but nobody would remember it. Yet everybody remembers 

yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 

Maupassant, in describing the death of his "Old Maid," could have 
been content to write, "Her hands and fingers moved nervously/' 
But what he actually wrote was, "A ray of sunlight fell on the bed, 
lighting up the hands which moved nervously, opening and shutting 
without ceasing. The fingers moved as if a thought animated them, 
as if they would signify something, indicate some idea, obey some 
intelligence." Maupassant enlarged upon a single detail here because 
he wanted to be certain that the reader was impressed. 

b. In Larger Elements. Roughly speaking, the number of words 
in a paragraph, or the number of paragraphs, devoted to any idea 
should be proportionate to its importance. Thus, in Mandeville's 
description of Prester John's land, referred to above, the part on the 
waterless sea occupies 131 words; the part on the river of precious 
stones, 104 words; the part on the strange plants and animals, 228 
words; the part on the army, 255 words; and the part on the palace, 
336 words. Each part (except the second) has space proportionate 
to its importance. As a matter of fact, ideas often attain importance 

14 Creative Writing 

in the readers mind in direct proportion to the space given them. 
An idea that a writer does not wish the reader to consider of major 
importance will be discussed in only a little space, and an idea that 
he wishes the reader to consider very important will be given much 
space. The complaints of students about instructors who ask weighty 
examination questions on matters barely touched in class are quite 

If we combine the present principle with the principle of climax, 
we may express the result diagrammatically as follows: 

The average composition should look like this. The least impor- 
tant ideas come first, and require the least amount of space; the 
more important ideas come later, and require a greater amount of 

5. STRUCTURE. Important ideas should be expressed in important 
structures; unimportant ideas should be expressed in unimportant 

Importance of structure is relative. A paragraph is more important 
than a sentence, a sentence than an independent clause, an inde- 

Fundamental Principles 15 

pendent clause than a dependent clause, a dependent clause than a 
phrase, and a phrase than a word. An idea expressed in one of the 
lower structures may be made to assume a higher importance in 
the reader's mind by being given a higher structure; and, conversely, 
an idea expressed in one of the higher structures may lose impor- 
tance if expressed in a lower structure. 

a. In Sentence Elements. If a writer wishes to emphasize an 
idea he raises its structure. Thus, instead of using a single descriptive 
word, as in "a memorable day," he could use a phrase: "a day to be 
long remembered." Or he could elevate the phrase to the rank of a 
dependent clause: "It was a day which will be long remembered." 
Or he could elevate the dependent clause to the rank of an inde- 
pendent clause: "The day at length arrived, and it will be long 
remembered." Or he could elevate the independent clause to the 
rank of a sentence: "The day at length arrived. It will be long re- 
membered." The writer has to decide for himself whether he wishes 
to call special attention to any idea, and how much attention he 
has to make up his mind, and then act accordingly. As Humpty- 
Dumpty said, it is merely a question of who shall be master, the 
writer or the sentences that he creates. 

b. In Larger Elements. The next rank above a sentence is a 
paragraph. An idea expressed as a paragraph ( whether in one sen- 
tence or more than one) assumes a special importance in the read- 
er's mind. Writing during the First World War, John Galsworthy 
uses this device; he gives special significance to an idea by reserving 
for it an entire paragraph: 

He who ever gives a thought to the life of man at large, to his miseries 
and disappointments, to the waste and cruelty of existence, will remember 
that if American or Briton fail in this climb, there can but be for us both, 
and for all other peoples, a hideous slip, a swift and fearful fall into an 
abyss, whence all shall be to begin over again. 

We shall not fail neither ourselves, nor each other. Our comradeship 
will endure. 1 

Most paragraphs contain more sentences than the one or two in 
the example just quoted; but the fundamental principle that an 

1 From John Galsworthy's lecture on American and Briton. Reprinted by per- 
mission of Charles Scribner's Sons. 

16 Creative Writing 

idea expressed as a paragraph assumes special importance remains 
the same. Furthermore, an idea that requires several paragraphs 
assumes a still larger significance in the reader's mind. But here 
we move over into the field of proportion, a topic that has already 
been discussed. 

6. REPETITION. Repetition serves many purposes of emphasis, 
unity, clarity, coherence, and all-round effectiveness. 

The reason repetition is effective is that no reader is wide-awake, 
alert, and critical at every instant. For any of a number of reasons 
he may miss the entire significance of the writing. But if each im- 
portant point is repeated again and again, the reader is certain to 
get it at one or another of the repetitions. This, then, is the chief 
value of repetition it makes the reader know the writer's principal 
thought, and keep it in mind. 

a. In Sentence Elements. Repetition of the elements composing 
sentences may involve words, ideas, or structures. In the following 
discussion, these three will be considered in that order. 

(1) Much repetition is for the sake of intensification. We often 
repeat words in speech, as when we cry, "Quick! Quick! Quick!" or 
"Stop! Stop! Stop!" Poetry and song are filled with repetitions of 

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree. 

Old King Cole was a merry old soul, 
And a merry old soul was he. 

Why weep ye by the tide, ladie? 
Why weep ye by the tide? 

In prose writing, it must be confessed, repetition of words is sel- 
dom used for purposes of intensifying an impression. Once in a 
while it is most effective, as when Katherine Mansfield describes a 
young girl at a dance: "But in one minute, in one turn, her feet 
glided, glided" or when Chekhov describes the sleepy little maid: 
"She is as sleepy as before, fearfully sleepy!" If the device is used 
too often in prose, it sounds affected. 

Much more common in prose is the repetition of ideas for the sake 

Fundamental Principles 17 

of intensification. A large portion of the Bible consists of repetitions 
for the purpose of intensification. The following five-fold repetition 
is a good example: 

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to 
the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill. 

Hawthorne uses the device in this sentence about "The Ambitious 
Guest": "He had traveled far and alone; his whole life, indeed, had 
been a solitary path; for, with the lofty caution of his nature, he 
had kept himself apart from those who might otherwise have been 
his companions/' 

Even more common than repeated ideas in prose are repeated 
structures. The passage just quoted from the Bible illustrates this 
kind of repetition as well as repetition of ideas. Macaulay's much- 
admired indictment of Charles I illustrates repetition of structure, 
but not entirely of idea: 

We charge him with having broken his coronation oath; and we are 
told that he kept his marriage vow! We accuse him of having given up his 
people to the merciless inflictions of the most hot-headed and hard-hearted 
of prelates; and the defense is that he took his little son on his knee and 
kissed him! We censure him for having violated the articles of the Petition 
of Right, after having, for good and valuable consideration, promised to 
observe them; and we are informed that he was accustomed to hear 
prayers at six o'clock in the morning! 

For some obscure psychological reason, rhythmic structural repeti- 
tions such as these have the effect of intensifying the reader's emo- 
tions. It is for this reason that poetry, which is largely "an overflow 
of powerful feeling," has long been framed in repetitive structural 
patterns of meter and stanza. 

(2) Repetition may give unity to the reader's impressions by 
continually recalling to his mind the topic under discussion. The 
following paragraph from Matthew Arnold shows how unity may be 
obtained by repetition of words. Here the constant reiteration of 
"humane letters" and "engage the emotions" can leave no doubt in 
the reader's mind about Arnold's main point it is that "humane 
letters engage the emotions": 

18 Creative Writing 

The need of humane letters, as they are truly called, because they serve 
the paramount desire in men that good should be ever present to them, 
the need of humane letters to establish a relation between the new con- 
ceptions, and our instinct for beauty, our instinct for conduct, is only the 
more visible. The Middle Ages could do without humane letters, as it 
could do without the study of nature, because it supposed knowledge was 
made to engage its emotions so powerfully. Grant that the supposed 
knowledge disappears, its power of being made to engage the emotions 
will of course disappear along with it, but the emotions themselves, and 
their claim to be engaged and satisfied, will remain. Now if we find by 
experience that humane letters have an undeniable power of engaging the 
emotions, the importance of humane letters in a man's training becomes 
not less, but greater, in proportion to the success of modern science in 
extirpating what it calls "medieval thinking." 

The repetition of an idea, rather than of words, for the sake of 
unity is so close to repetition for the sake of intensification that 
distinguishing between the two is hardly possible or necessary. But 
here is a passage from Addison (Spectator, No. 81) that seems to 
repeat only for the sake of unification; Addison is saying that 
woman's place is in the home. 

As our English women excel those of all nations in beauty, they should 
endeavor to outshine them in all other accomplishments proper to the sex, 
and to distinguish themselves as tender mothers, and faithful wives, rather 
than as furious partisans. Female virtues are of a domestic turn. The fam- 
ily is the proper province for private women to shine in. 

The repetition of structure in order to lend unity to many diverse 
ideas is a commonplace of rhetoric. It is like putting an army of 
many men into uniform in order to make them seem one organized 
body instead of a disorganized rabble. An excellent example of a 
diverse mass of ideas assuming a phenomenal unity through sim- 
ilarity of structure occurs in the stanza from Shelley quoted earlier. 
Here is an example in prose from Dr. Johnson's make-believe diary 
of a young lady ( Rambler, No. 191 ) : 

I have so many things to do, so many orders to give to the milliner, so 
many alterations to make in my clothes, so many visitants' names to read 
over, so many invitations to accept or refuse, so many cards to write, and 

Fundamental Principles 19 

so many fashions to consider, that I am lost in confusion, forced at last to 
let in company or step into my chair, and leave half my affairs to the 
direction of my maid. 

The long sentence, despite its welter of unrelated ideas, achieves 
unity by a deliberate repetition of structure. 

(3) Repetition of words may make for clarity. Sometimes the 
clarity involved is a simple matter of grammatical reference as in 
this time-honored example from Freshman English: "If raw milk 
disagrees with the baby, boil it." Obviously, the repetition of "milk" 
is necessary for clarity. On a slightly higher plane, repetition of 
words sometimes helps indicate the connections and relationships of 
sentences, or helps the reader follow smoothly the progress and 
development of the writer's thought. This use of repetition is dis- 
cussed in more detail in the next chapter. Finally, word repetition 
may actually be necessary for the reader to understand what the 
writer is trying to say. Note, for example, how often words are re- 
peated in the following passage by Ralph Barton Perry: "President 
Cleveland once remarked, as everyone knows, 'It is a condition, 
and not a theory, that confronts us/ I do not remember what con- 
dition it was that confronted us; but the practical man is always 
confronted by a condition. I shall suggest presently that every 
condition does in truth involve a theory; but if so, the practical 
man ignores it. His practicality lies in confining himself to finding 
an act which will meet the condition." 

To see how valuable a part repetition of diction plays in this 
paragraph, we have only to rewrite the paragraph, omitting all 
repetition: "President Cleveland once remarked, as everyone knows, 
It is a condition, and not a theory, that confronts us/ I do not re- 
member what circumstance it was that faced us; but the practical 
man always finds some situation before him. I shall suggest presently 
that every occasion does in truth involve a general principle; but if 
so, the man of action ignores it. His worldly wisdom lies in confining 
himself to finding out a deed which will meet the affair in hand." 
Whereas the original paragraph was quite clear, and the relation- 
ships of all its sentences with one another clear, the garbled para- 
graph is difficult to understand as a whole, and the relationships of 

Creative Writing 

its sentences are difficult to grasp at one reading, or even two or 
three readings. 

Repetition of ideas for the sake of clarity is often desirable, or 
even necessary. A very large percentage of most non-narrative writ- 
ing consists of saying the same thing over and over again in different 
words. In the following passage, note how many times Steele (in 
Tatler, No. 25) makes the point that duelers are not really honorable 

As the matter at present stands, it is not to-do handsome actions de- 
nominates a man of honor; it is enough if he dares to defend ill ones. Thus 
you often see a common sharper in competition with a gentleman of the 
first rank; though all mankind is convinced that a fighting gamester is only 
a pickpocket with the courage of a highwayman. One cannot with any 
patience reflect on the unaccountable jumble of persons and things in this 
town and nation; which occasions very frequently that a brave man falls 
by a hand below that of a common hangman. 

If the reader seeks further examples of repetition for the sake of 
clarity, he need only look about him: a large part of this book, and 
particularly of this section, shows how often at least one writer 
repeats his ideas for the sake of clarity. It is a habit that the student 
writer should acquire as soon as possible. 

One cautionary remark is due before we leave the topic of repeti- 
tion, in sentence elements. Words to be often repeated must be im- 
portant words. Repetition of unimportant words sounds awkward 
and amateurish, as in the following sentences written by freshmen: 

In Ivanhoe, and also several other novels, Scott writes about the Middle 
Ages; but he writes also about the eighteenth century. 

From the square where the courthouse stands, one can look up and see 
a church standing on each of the three hills that stand above the village. 

The players themselves voted to play one post-season game. 

b. In Larger Elements. Outright word-for-word repetition of 
larger elements (paragraphs, sections, chapters) for the sake of 
clarity is virtually unknown in prose. Repetition of ideas, however, 
is common. It involves repeated statements, in different words, of 

Fundamental Principles 

the same idea. Almost any convenient well-written book will illus- 
trate this practice. The first five paragraphs in the third chapter of 
Mr. Bernard Muddiman's The Men of the Nineties begin with the 
following sentences: 

(1) One endeavors to remember some one or two outstanding novels 
written by one of the writers of this group. It must be at once admitted, 
one fails to recall a great novel. 

(2) None of the men of the nineties (as I have defined them) pro- 
duced a great novel. 

(3) But so far as English fiction alone is concerned, it cannot be said 
that the men of the nineties produced work of a very high order. 

(4) Indeed, if the name of a good English novel by one of them is 
demanded, it will be singularly difficult to suggest a title. 

(5) In the face of this strange dearth of novels in this school, one can- 
not help asking the reasons that engendered it. 2 

When a reader has thus faced this idea five times in five successive 
paragraphs, he is pretty clear about the main idea of Mr. Muddi- 
man's third chapter. Repetition keeps the reader constantly reminded 
of the subject. 

Repetition of structure is useful for creating both unity and clarity. 
Almost any textbook that one cares to examine, as well as most other 
non-narrative books and most good essays or articles, consists of 
several series of corresponding, or parallel, structures. Paragraphs 
will correspond to paragraphs by having similarly worded topic sen- 
tences, similarly arranged illustrative material, or numerical head- 
ings written down as figures or suggested by words like "first/' 
"next/* "a third," and so on. Chapters will correspond to chapters in 
general structures; thus, in the first book that lies handy Edward A. 
Ross's Social Control Chapters II to V have these headings: 'The 
Role of Sympathy," "The Role of Sociability," "The Role of the Sense 
of Justice," "The Role of Individual Reaction." It is a manifest effort 
to create unity and clarity by a repetition of general structure and 

2 Mr. Muddiman's sentences quoted here, as well as farther on in this book, 
are used by permission of the publishers, G. P. Putnam's Sons. 

Creative Writing 

approach in the four chapters. Finally, parts may correspond to 
parts, as in this same book. Part I is titled "The Grounds of Control/' 
Part II "The Means of Control/' and Part III "The System of Con- 
trol" another manifest effort to achieve unity and clarity by repeti- 

At this point, it might be well for us to sum up what has been said 
in this rather long section. We have seen that repetition of words, 
ideas, or structures may intensify a concept or feeling; or give unity 
to apparently independent elements of composition; or clarify ( and 
clarify the interrelationships of) complex or involved ideas and ele- 
ments of composition. As a rule, the repetition of words intensifies, 
unites, or clarifies minor elements of composition such as phrases, 
clauses, and sentences. The repetition of ideas intensifies, unites, or 
clarifies larger elements such as groups of sentences, entire para- 
graphs, or groups of paragraphs. And the repetition of structure in- 
tensifies, unites, or clarifies all elements of composition from mere 
phrases up to entire books. 

Poetry, with its many repetitions of metrical feet, line-lengths, 
rhymes, rhythms, and stanzaic forms, has been defined as patterned 
language. Repetition as it has been discussed in this chapter (and 
as it will be discussed later in the chapter called "Beauty of Style") 
is patterned prose. To be able to create patterns of language is to be 
an artist ( or at least a skilled craftsman) with the tools of the writer's 
profession. Indeed, it is almost possible to determine a writer's total 
skill by measuring his ability to use repetition, and yet to avoid 
monotony. The writer who has something to say should repeat it 
boldly and often. Let him choose key words and play upon them; 
let him voice his main ideas again and again, now in the same words, 
now in different; let him weld together seeming incompatibles by 
forcing them to assume similar structures; let him at every oppor- 
tunity avail himself of the many and fascinating complexities of pat- 
terned language. 

7. CONTRAST. Contrasts attract attention and make permanent 

Frederic Taber Cooper, an important critic early in this century, 
once wrote: "No matter what art or craft we practise, whether it be 

Fundamental Principles 83 

the painting of landscapes, or building of bridges, the decoration of 
tea-cups or the writing of novels, we cannot hope for fine results 
without invoking the aid of contrastthe dash of red to give tone 
and harmony to the greens and blues of nature, the touch of pathos 
that adds a deeper meaning to the sparkle of comedy, the grave- 
digger's jests that intensify the tragedy of Ophelia's death." Contrast 
gives accent, vividness, color to writing; it keeps writing from being 
monotonous and dull. Yet contrast seldom comes easily and un- 
consciously to any writer. It comes, for the most part, only with de- 
liberate thought and self-conscious creation. 

a. In Sentence Elements. Contrasts may involve tricks of print- 
ing, like italics, capitals, or very small type in the midst of ordinary 
type, large spaces containing only a few words, and so on. 

Or contrasts may involve mere length of sentences or of para- 
graphs. A short sentence in the midst of long ones, or after long 
ones, attracts attention to itself. "He was told to lead his men for- 
ward at any cost, to overrun the enemy positions, to occupy the 
wooded hill, and to prepare for the counterattack. All this he did." 
This short last sentence stands out prominently because of the con- 
trast between its shortness and the length of the preceding sentence. 
Short paragraphs consisting of a single sentence, or of a few brief 
sentences, or even of a single fragmentary sentence, have a similar 
effect. Examples of such paragraphs have already been quoted in 
another section of this chapter. 

Contrasts in length, however, constitute only the very simplest 
of contrasts. In addition, rhetorical questions occurring in the midst 
of declarative sentences; sudden learned words in the midst of famil- 
iar diction, or sudden words of doubtful respectability in the midst 
of formal diction; sudden inversions or unlooked-for twistings-about 
of sentence elements in the midst of plain straightforward writing; 
words which have certain almost invariable connotations, but which 
may be used in a literal and absolute sense these are some of the 
devices of contrast. 

b. In Larger Elements. Many effective contrasts involve subject 
matter, mood, or (in fiction) personalities of characters. Hamlet's 
scene with his mother, in which he demands that she "Look here, 

Creative Writing 

upon this picture, and on this," is so memorable because the two 
kings appear as such contrasting personalities. Byron's description of 
the night before Waterloo in Childe Harold is one of the great pur- 
ple patches of literature because it presents a contrast between the 
warmth, gaiety, light, and love-making of the Duchess of Richmond's 
ball, and the terror, darkness, and grief of war. Dickens uses the 
trick of contrast over and over again: the simultaneous deaths of 
Dora and Dora's lap dog; the death of Paul Dombey in the dark and 
desolate house on a lovely day when the outside world is full of sun- 
shine and birds' songs these are but two examples. Shakespeare 
uses contrast with unapproachable humor in the scene between the 
superstitious and verbose Glendower and the practical-minded, 
blunt Hotspur. Indeed, the technique of the Shakespearian play 
nearly always involves contrasting personalities for the principal 
characters. The hesitating Hamlet on the one hand, and the vigorous 
Laertes on the other; the traitorous Macbeth and the loyal Macduff; 
the passionate Antony and the level-headed Octavius; the strong- 
minded, manly Henry V and the weak, effeminate Dauphin; the 
etherealized Ariel and the beastly Caliban and so on. 

The student should deliberately examine his subject before he 
ever sets pen to paper, and ask himself wherein he can employ con- 
trasts. Is he writing a paper on the present federal administration? 
Certain contrasts inevitably present themselves social and eco- 
nomic conditions before and since the inauguration of this adminis- 

Is he writing an essay on cats? The contrast between the habits 
and the personalities of cats, and the habits and personalities of dogs 
will better characterize cats than will pages of description or 

Is he writing a story with a naive and gentle girl as the heroine? 
A contrasting character, worldly wise and hard, will bring out and 
intensify the character of the heroine. 

Since few writers would hit upon such contrasts by instinct, the 
student may well make it a rule never to do any piece of writing 
without first carefully examining the possibilities for contrast in- 
herent in his subject. 

Fundamental Principles 85 

8. INTEREST. By deliberately employing certain well-known de- 
vices, a writer may heighten the interest of his work. 

Again, it should be stressed that devices for gaining interest do 
not always come easily and naturally to the writer. While he is plan- 
ning his work, while he is writing it, and even after he has written it, 
he must deliberately explore means of making it more readable. Of 
course, one of the best guarantees of interesting work is an interest- 
ing personality. No mere textbook on creative writing can tell the 
student how to be an interesting personality. All that the textbook 
can do about this problem is to tell the student to be his real self 
that is, to try to find within himself the essential individual who has 
been muffled under layer after layer of conventional verbiage, con- 
ventional ways of looking at life, conventional reactions to life, 
conventional patterns of education and to be daring enough to in- 
troduce this essential individual into his writing. Even so, however, 
interesting personalities sometimes write dully. They must work 
hard and scheme intelligently to make their work interesting. 

a. In Sentence Elements. Perhaps this subsection should be pref- 
aced by the remark that the advice given here may often be utilized 
(as amendment, revision, or insertion) after a piece of writing is 

Periodic sentences or sentences having suspense, as described 
early in this chapter, are often more readable, more nervous, than 
loose or rambling sentences. Fairly short sentences ( averaging about 
20 words in length ) , if not more interesting, are at least more read- 
able than very long sentences (averaging over 30 words). The de- 
vices of contrast in sentence elements, as outlined in the preceding 
section, create interesting style. Parallel structure, if it is not over- 
done, is always attractive. Transposition of words out of their normal 
grammatical order (a device discussed more fully in the next chap- 
ter) makes for freshness of style; so does the use of vowel patterns 
and consonant patterns, to be discussed later on in the chapter 
"Beauty of Style/* Figures of speech are always helpful; they too will 
be discussed in more detail in a later chapter. In order to emphasize 
by repetition (as well as to anticipate the next paragraph) the pres- 
ent writer invites the attention of the reader to the following quota- 

Creative Writmg 

tions: "Variety is the spice of life" (Cowper); "Variety is the soul 
of pleasure" ( Aphra Behn ) ; "The great source of pleasure is variety" 
( Dr. Johnson ) ; "Variety is the source of joy below" ( Gay ) ; "Variety: 
that is my motto" (La Fontaine); "The one rule is to be infinitely 
various" (Stevenson, in particular reference to the art of writing). 
Nothing makes for dull writing quite so much as monotony, and 
nothing makes for lively writing quite so much as variety. 

One other device for creating interest is quotation, which will be 
commented upon at some length here because it will not be dis- 
cussed elsewhere in this book. When writers are very young, mis- 
trusting their own judgment, they quote at length and with fre- 
quency; when, they are a little older, they are so afraid of appearing 
unoriginal that they hesitate to quote anything. Both extremes are 
deplorable. Too much quotation sounds timid and immature, or 
( which is worse ) pedantic; but no quotation at all may leave a com- 
position with too little variety. Most readers tire of the same style 
extended through page after page, for no matter how various and 
rich a style it may be, it is bound to possess a certain inescapable 
sameness of tone which will at last weary the reader. Quotations in- 
serted occasionally relieve this sameness and postpone the inevitable 
weariness. Sometimes quotations may come spontaneously to the 
writer while he is in the act of composing; but usually they come 
only after deliberate and laborious search when the act of composing 
is over. Accordingly, when he has made the first draft of almost any 
kind of writing except fiction, a writer might well make a practice 
of running through some of the published literature on similar sub- 
jects to find passages that express some of his own ideas, and then 
insert these passages into his own work or substitute them for his 
own words. 3 For example, a traveler describing scenes in Europe 
might go, to take the first authors that come to mind, to Stevenson's 
Travels with a Donkey, Byron's Childe Harold, or Mark Twain's In- 
nocents Abroad; a student of socialism in America could hardly re- 
frain from quoting from Norman Thomas, Henry George, or Eugene 

3 This advice does not apply, of course, to writing which is a record of re- 
search done, or which is in any other way statistical, factual, or informative. It 
applies only to original creative writing which is imaginative or reflective. 

Fundamental Principles 87 

Debs; and an essayist writing on the social life of insects would cer- 
tainly quote from Fabre, Maeterlinck, Wheeler, and even Virgil. 

While we are on this subject, we may pause to mention a few 
sources always good for quotations. There are, of course, the stand- 
ard collections of selected quotations such as may be found in any 
good library. But possibly the most usable sources are the works of 
epigrammatists and maxim writers such as Oscar Wilde, Samuel 
Butler (of the Notebooks), Bernard Shaw, Carlyle, La Rochefou- 
cauld, Pascal, La Bruyere, Poor Richard, Alexander Pope, Bacon, 
and Theophrastus. Likewise, most of the great classics contain lines 
suitable to almost any worthwhile thought. An hour's paging through 
Shakespeare, Tennyson, Milton, Virgil, or any good anthology of 
lyric poetry of any time or country will uncover a dozen lines seem- 
ingly penned for no other purpose than to be quoted. A special word 
should be said for the King James Bible. It is extraordinarily rich in 
quotable passages of all sorts the straightforward earnestness of 
Paul, the bitter pessimism of Ecclesiastes, the sober business counsel 
of the Proverbs, the ecstatic imagery of the Psalms, the sensuous 
rapture of the Song of Songs, and the vivid epithets and flashing 
anger of Isaiah. No other book has had so profound an influence on 
English style and language; and no other book can give a writer 
more quotations, concrete and powerful, and filled with connotations 
that are rooted fast in the traditions and the spirit of the Anglo- 

Quotations should not be used ostentatiously. In general, except 
for purely expository purposes, they should be short; that is, they 
should seldom be more than a couple of sentences in length, and 
they may often be incorporated as clauses or phrases within the 
writer's own sentences. The phrase, "As So-and-so says or puts it 
or remarks," should be avoided. 

Even the lowest of us may have high ideals; or as Oscar Wilde says, 
*A11 of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." 

This sounds formal and affected because the quotation is too ob- 
viously inserted to impress the reader. It would sound better if it 

88 Creative Writing 

When Oscar Wilde said that "all of us are in the gutter, but some of us 
are looking at the stars," he meant that even the lowest of us may have 
high ideals. 

When the language of a quotation is obviously Biblical, Shake- 
spearian, Miltonic, or Burnsian, or when the quotation is familiar, 
the source from which it is taken ought not to be mentioned. To 
write, "As Shakespeare says, 'All the world's a stage' "; or, "As St. 
Paul puts it, 'These three remain, faith, hope, and charity* "; or, "As 
the old proverb has it, 'Honesty is the best policy* "; or, "In the words 
of Burns, 'My heart is weary, fu' o' care' " to write thus is to insult 
the reader. The quotations themselves tell their origins. 

b. In Larger Elements. A primary way to be interesting is to use 
perennially interesting subjects like sex, religion, murders, execu- 
tions, disasters, evidences of rationality in animals, relics of past 
ages, cures for common diseases, methods of making money, morbid 
aspects of human nature, and similar subjects which we need not 
trouble to catalogue here. 

Another obvious, but altogether different, means of giving interest 
is the setting up of an opposing idea to overthrow. Readers like a 
contest. That is, they had rather see something disproved than 
proved; something attacked rather than something created. A writer 
may cater to these combative instincts of his readers without de- 
scending to the level of cheap politicians. He can be vigorous, virile, 
and aggressive without being ignoble. He can prove even while he 
disproves; he can create even while he attacks. And he can succeed 
in being interesting where a more timid writer would be dull. 

No writer can be interesting if he gives the impression of being 
exhausted at the end of his work. How to avoid finishing like a child's 
toy which has run down and is teetering feebly to a close is a prob- 
lem that should exercise every writer. The solution of the problem 
differs with every composition. But the solution frequently lies in the 
application of principles discussed earlier in this chapter: arranging 
ideas in the order of climax, giving scant attention to unimportant 
ideas, and using a wealth of details to back up generalizations. An 
old but still effective trick is to say occasionally such things as, "This 
is not the place to dwell on that subject," or "Time and space will not 

Fundamental Principles 

allow me to deal with that question now," and so on. Remarks like 
these persuade the reader that the writer has depths beyond those 
exposed, and so tantalize the reader with the lure of the unknown. 

A fifth very common way of giving interest is by means of humor 
and a feeling of good humor pervading much of the composition. 
Communists would be much more successful if more of them had a 
sense of humor, and socialism might be the reigning system if all 
socialists were good-natured. Intensity of passion, righteousness of 
cause, and intelligence of outlook all have their effect at times; but 
for persuasiveness and interestingness, they do not compare with 
humor. A writer may try to prove the soundness of an argument; but 
if he can create a laugh, he will not be asked to prove anything. He 
may try to show that what he has to say is so important that no one 
can afford to ignore it; but if he can create a laugh, he will have 
readers who will take the importance of his argument for granted. 

What has just been said is particularly true in America; it need 
not be true in other countries. But in any country, writing which 
shows good taste by being urbane and tolerant, yet firm; which 
shows open-mindedness by being good-humored and dispassionate, 
yet sincere; which shows consideration for others by avoiding vio- 
lence and extremes, yet remaining shrewd and witty such writing 
is interesting anywhere in the world. 

Other devices for gaining interest are not so obvious as those just 
mentioned. Some which may require special planning of structure or 
special methods of development are these: progression, the appeal 
to self-interest, analogy, and illustration. 

To consider the first of these: We have all seen the lecturer who, 
as he reads his discourse to an audience and finishes each page, slips 
that page back under his manuscript. The audience perceives no 
diminution in the thickness of the manuscript; it feels that no prog- 
ress is being made; and it despairs. Like an audience, the reader 
must be made to feel that he is actually getting somewhere. Nobody 
likes to read page after page of solid prose unbroken by mechanical 
devices indicating progression paragraphs, divisions, chapters, 
parts. Everyone likes the feeling of accomplishment that comes with 
the end of one paragraph and the beginning of a new one or of a 

SO Creative Writing 

division, or chapter, or part, or book. Everyone likes to feel that he 
is getting somewhere, not merely plowing on endlessly and point- 
lessly through page after page of writing. 

In various ways (besides the mechanical devices of division just 
mentioned ) can a reader be made to feel that he is progressing. The 
simplest way is for the writer to announce at intervals, throughout 
the composition, just how much ground has been covered, and just 
how much yet remains to be explored. This sort of announcement 
may be made in so many words, like, "We have considered so-and- 
so; it remains for us to study such-and-such.'' Or it may be implied 
by numbers, as when, for example, a writer says, "In the first place," 
and "Next," and "Thirdly," and "A fourth point," and "Finally." With 
such an orderly system of announcement, the reader is certain to get 
a definite sense of progression, and to feel that the writer is covering 
ground toward the attainment of a definite end. 

A second way to interest a reader is to show how a subject may be 
of real and immediate concern to him. For instance, people are or- 
dinarily not much interested in local politics until they discover that 
their water bills have suddenly increased by about fifty per cent, and 
that the bad stretch of street in their block goes unrepaired; they are 
not much interested in plague epidemics until they discover a case 
of smallpox in the school which their children attend; and they are 
not much interested in subversive plots until they discover that a 
bomb has been found under the bus in which they commute every 
day. When a writer can make distinct contacts such as these between 
his abstract subject and his reader's self-interest, two-thirds of the 
work of being interesting is done. 

A third source of interest involving the structure of a composition 
is the use of analogy. An analogy is a figure of speech chiefly differ- 
ing from a simile in being an elaborate comparison between two 
things like each other in many respects instead of merely one. Be- 
sides being a variation from literal, straightforward statement, an 
analogy may be interesting for various reasons. 

(a) It may attract the reader's interest by drawing a parallel be- 
tween conditions that concern the reader and conditions that do not 
concern him For instance, a reader may not have the slightest in- 

Fundamental Principles 31 

terest in the economic problems of England following the Industrial 
Revolution, but if the reader is made to see those problems as analo- 
gous to our own problems, he may become amazingly interested in 
the economic history of England. 

(b) Moreover, analogies may serve to convert the abstract into 
the concrete. Let us take an example: "There is no doubt that contact 
with the things that they do not understand is to many minds dis- 
tinctly disagreeable." This abstract statement is not particularly sig- 
nificant or memorable. But Frank Colby, the author, converts it into 
a strikingly concrete analogy by adding, "A dog not only prefers a 
customary and unpleasant odor; he hates a good one. A perfume 
pricks his nose, gives a wrench to his dog nature, perhaps tends to 
'undermine those moral principles' without which dog 'society can- 
not exist/ " This concrete expression is obviously far more interesting 
than the abstraction. 

( c ) An analogy may be interesting because it clarifies or simplifies 
an intricate argument or an involved description. The complex tangle 
of knotted theological doctrines about the Roman Catholic purga- 
tory may be cut through at once by the simple analogy, "Purgatory 
is a kind of waiting room or antechamber to heaven/* The compli- 
cated map of Greece can be presented clearly in a brief analogy: 
"Greece is shaped like a three-fingered hand with a great gash al- 
most cutting the palm in two below the thumb/' Such short cuts en- 
gage the reader's interest not only because they are imaginative, but 
also because they give the reader the triumphant feeling of having 
got along famously of having mastered a difficult situation at a 
single stroke. 

A fourth way in which a composition may be made interesting is 
by the use of concrete examples and specific illustrations. Nothing 
keeps a reader's interest quite so well as development through par- 
ticular details of an abstract generalization. Instead of the vague 
statement, "J* m began to associate with bad companions," how 
much more vigorous is the particularization, "Jim began to associate 
with the boys who gathered at Fatty's Hamburger Joint young 
toughs like Butch Lewis, Red Mattson, and Pug Hammond/' In- 
stead of the generalized, "All Americans are alike," how much more 

Creative Writing 

effective is the particularization made by a Frenchman: "Americans 
are all alike. Their meals are alike, their homes are alike, their cars 
are alike, their tastes in magazines and moving pictures are alike, 
their sentimentalities about dogs are alike, their very habits of love- 
making are alike/' And instead of the vague, "The children were 
noisy at the Saturday morning theater party," how much more in- 
teresting is this particularization made by a student: 

The noise did not issue from the screen. It was inherent in the audience. 
There were shouts, exhortations, and vocal commands to the cowboy-hero 
that must have reached him at his home in Hollywood. There were wails, 
groans, screams as of voodoo victims, and the keening of fanatical cultists. 
There were whistles, stomps, exploding popcorn bags, cowbells, and now 
and again the soft "plop" of an overwrought mother giving up and drop- 
ping gently to the floor. 

The development of a general idea by means of examples and il- 
lustrations requires observation, memory of fact, and imagination. 
It is not surprising, therefore, that the usual run of writers and 
speakers employ in their compositions only abstract generalizations. 
They have not observed life carefully enough to know it; instead 
they know only the laws of their personal creed. They have not been 
interested enough in life to remember what it is like; instead they 
remember only that they believe a certain thing. They have not im- 
agination enough to create, or re-create, a vivid life in which their 
reader or their listener can participate; instead they give out only 
dry summaries of an intellectual system. A writer who wishes to 
avoid both weakness and dullness cannot neglect to expand on his 
generalizations by means of examples and illustrations. No other de- 
vice of composition is so convincing or so vivifying. 


The end. 

Perhaps your instructor will bring some freshman themes to class, 
and allow you to look through them for examples of sentences with 
good endings or bad endings. Here are some poor sentences taken 
from freshman themes; try to improve them: 

Fundamental Principles 33 

a. She tossed her blonde hair back over her shoulder with one quick 
movement of her head. 

b. Many students in my class think that they have learned an 
enormous amount while they have been in college during the last four 

c. His leadership is friendly and effective, though it is not the kind 
of leadership a military man would show. 

d. Readers who have no specific interest, or very broad interests, 
are always glad to see Time on the newsstands, knowing that some- 
thing odd or interesting will be in the magazine somewhere. 

e. Serious friction between Sir Hyde Parker and Lord Nelson 
developed shortly. Parker seemed to dislike Nelson from the be- 

f . Most of us never stop to think how difficult it is to build one of 
the bridges that we cross daily. 

g. The modern writer must use new tactics of composition just as 
the modern mechanic must use new kinds of tools. 

h. It seems doubtful whether I shall get to finish my college educa- 
tion because of the critical international situation. 

i. My mother's beautiful grey hair is one among many things that I 
admire about her. 

j. A new development is the stream of consciousness method that 
became popular in the 1920's and 1930's. 

Make each of the following groups of ideas into a single sentence 
having a strong ending. Remember that you yourself must decide 
which of the ideas listed is of paramount importance: 


Hannibal was forced to adopt the dangerous expedient of marching 
through Europe. 

He was planning to attack Rome. 
Carthage had lost control of the sea. 

Because Carthage had lost control of the sea, Hannibal was forced, 
in attacking Rome, to adopt the dangerous expedient of marching 
through Europe. 

a. The weakfish is commonly called a trout. 
It is a salt-water fish. 

It is extremely popular with fishermen. 

b. My first four months in college have been beneficial. 

No other four months of my life have been nearly so beneficial. 
I feel certain of this. 

34 Creative Writing 

c. I have been in college three years. 

I have taken an almost completely technical course. 
This is not the best course. 

d. Women profit by attending a coeducational college. 
They learn to compete with men. 

They learn how men think and act. 
This is essentially a man's world. 

e. I have developed systematic habits of study. 

I never had such habits before I entered college. 

f. She was an energetic, independent woman. 
She had a keen intellect. 

She over-disciplined her children. 

g. The reactionary is a person who has never grown up. 

He feels it necessary to depend upon tradition and authority. 

He fears to be independent, 
h. Maya civilizations had periodic fluctuations of success and failure. 

The fluctuations are associated with climatic changes. 

No primitive people could keep a tropical jungle at bay. 
i. Rousseau knew that he had many weaknesses. 

He tried to blame society for them. 

He attacked civilization, 
j. Spender's verse sometimes suffers from imprecision. 

It contains no cheap stylistic trickery. 

It offers no easy political solutions to man's problems. 

What would be the best way to end 

a. A review of the arguments for (or against) universal military 
training in the United States. 

b. An account of Spanish cruelties in the New World. 

c. A campaign speech for a political candidate. 

d. An essay on Schopenhauer's philosophy. 

e. An article on the wild birds of your county. 

2. Suspense. 

Make each of the following groups of ideas into a sentence having 
good suspense: 

a. His daughter fell ill. 
She died. 

He was rich. 

b. Dante was melancholy. 

His melancholy came from within him. 
He did not want to be melancholy. 

Fundamental Principles 35 

His melancholy was not due to caprice. 

It was not a product of external circumstances. 

c. Unemployment is our outstanding problem. 
It troubles the workers. 

It agitates the government. 
It is the ruination of employers. 

d. Deliver us from fire. 
From sword. 
From sudden death. 

e. Knowledge got except by working is all hypothetical. 
It is a thing to be argued about. 

It is a thing floating in the clouds. 

f. Many young men left this country in 1918. 
They went to Europe. 

Thousands died in battle. 

g. It was always his deepest desire to go to college. 
But first he wanted to finish high school. 

He wanted to pay his own way through college, too. 
h. Dishonesty and crime are increasing. 

The police are as competent as ever. 

The public as a whole is worse. 
i. He died in the spring. 

It was at about the time the first swallow arrived, 
j. The ideals of the American people have changed greatly in the 

last twenty years. 

The cheap car is responsible. 

Yet there has been little real cultural progress. 

Write a beginning which would create suspense in each of the fol- 

a. A story about a man who deserted his wife. 

b. An account of some tour you have made. 

c. An account of a hunting trip. 

d. An account of the methods by which cancer may be cured. 

e. A series of paragraphs on the most important persons in your 

f . A character sketch of an absent-minded man. 

3. Climax. 

a. In the sentences you have made above, have you kept in mind 
the principle of climax? 

b. Arrange the sentences in the following paragraphs in climactic 

86 Creative Writing 

order, and study the climactic order within several of the individual 

1. Man's breath is fatal to his fellows. 2. Men are devoured by our 
towns. 3. The more they are massed together, the more corrupt they 
become. 4. Of all creatures man is least fitted to live in herds. 5. Men 
are not made to be crowded together in ant-hills, but scattered over 
the earth to till it. 6. Disease and vice are the sure results of over- 
crowded cities. 7. Huddled together like sheep, men would very 
soon die. 

Jean Jacques Rousseau: A garbled paragraph from Emile (1762). 

1. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the 
fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated. 
2. The natives of Europe were brave and robust. 3. The most aspiring 
spirits resorted to the court or standard of the emperors; and the de- 
serted provinces, deprived of political strength or union, insensibly 
sunk into the languid indifference of public life. 4. The long peace, 
and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and 
secret poison into the vitals of the empire. 5. Spain, Gaul, Britain, 
and Illyricum supplied the legions with excellent soldiers, and consti- 
tuted the real strength of the monarchy. 6. The posterity of their bold- 
est leaders was contented with the rank of citizens and subjects. 7. 
They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and 
trusted for their defense to a mercenary army. 8. Their personal valor 
remained, but they no longer possessed that public courage which is 
nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honor, 
the presence of danger, and the habit of command. 

Edward Gibbon: A garbled paragraph from The Decline and Fall 
of the Roman Empire (1776). 

Topics for several paragraphs are listed in each of the groups below. 
Tell how the arrangement of these paragraphs would vary according 
to your own purpose: 

a. The Greeks believed that evil was due to inherent imperfection in 

The Hebrews attributed both good and evil to the will of God. 
Zoroastrians saw evil as a cosmic principle at war with God. 
Buddhists thought that evil was inherent in selfhood. 

b. Oil is the largest single industry in Venezuela. 

The development of the steel industry is beginning. 
Factories for making rubber tires and tubes have opened. 
Cattle-raising has long been a major industry in Venezuela. 

c. The student makes requests through his instructor. 
The instructor, through the head of his department. 

Fundamental Principles 37 

The head of a department, through the president. 
The president, to the board of trustees. 

d. He is a sensitive and accomplished stylist. 
His storytelling ability is unquestioned. 

He has deep sympathy for human suffering. 
He understands human character. 

e. Some people think in terms of absolutes and ideals. 
Others think in terms of actual facts. 

Others think in terms of the relation of facts to one another. 
Others think in terms of the relation of facts to absolutes and 

4. Proportion. 

a. Do the sentences you have written or corrected in the previous 
exercises conform to the laws of proportion? 

b. Revise the following sentences according to the laws of propor- 
tion so as to make the important idea in each really seem important: 

After an absence of ten years, he returned to his native city, 
and found that his mother was dead. 

The year moved on to an unusually warm March. 

The many critics of our present age would have us believe that 
science threatens civilization. 

She made a loving and devoted mother, though she was so 
nervous that she sometimes scolded the children when their faults 
should have been overlooked. 

The roads are still very poor in country regions where horses 
are used, especially on hills. 

c. Write one paragraph about three people who have influenced 
your life. Make one of the three seem more important than the others. 
Next, write two additional paragraphs, in each of which a different one 
of the trio is made to seem most important. As nearly as possible, use 
the same materials in all three paragraphs. 

d. Suppose you were writing a story with this theme: "People who 
break social conventions always make themselves unhappy." Which 
parts of the story would you enlarge upon if you were writing for a 
serious magazine interested in real literature? If you were writing for a 
cheap newspaper-serial syndicate? If you were writing for a religious 

5. Structure. 

a. Look over the groups of sentences listed in the preceding exer- 
cises, and try to determine which sentences should be developed into 

38 Creative Writing 

paragraphs. Could the ideas suggested in several sentences be com- 
bined in one paragraph? Do your decisions about the sentences that 
should be developed into paragraphs harmonize with your decisions 
about position, climax, and proportion? 

b. See also the Exercises for Sections 2-3 of Chapter II. 

6. Repetition. 

a. Study the repetitions of words for intensification in some book of 
the Bible say Ecclesiastes I, III, and IV; and then try to enlarge in 
a similar way on two or three of the Proverbs of Solomon say those in 
Chapter XII. 

b. Write three or four sentences repeating the idea (not the words) 
of each of the following sentences: 

There was no water in that land. 
The man was insane. 
The girl was beautiful. 
It rained all day. 
The desk was untidy. 

c. Take some paragraph from a freshman theme that your in- 
structor has brought to class (or from some old theme of your own) 
and recast it so as to give it parallel structures throughout. 

d. Rewrite the following paragraph so as to have key-words appear- 
ing throughout: 

We have now arrived at one consideration which must always limit 
frankness in literature, namely, the standard of contemporary taste. 
The modesty that hesitates to align itself with this criterion is a short- 
coming. But if we are content with this consideration alone, our 
scale of judgment becomes purely historical; we are left with a sliding 
scale that readjusts itself to every new epoch. We feel at once that we 
need, besides the shifting standard just mentioned, some fixed unit 
of judgment that never varies. Neither the popular preferences of the 
brawling Restoration period, nor those of the prudish Victorian age 
are satisfactory. 

Arthur Waugh: A garbled paragraph from an essay on 
"Reticence in Literature." 

e. How many times has the main idea been repeated in the para- 
graph just quoted? Try to make the paragraph more effective by 
putting more of its sentences into parallel structure. 

f. Rewrite some freshman theme (or some old theme of your own, 
or some passage from a book or magazine) so as to make it about 
twice as long by means of repeating its ideas in differ ent words. 

g. Suppose you were writing an article on "The Different Sections 

Fundamental Principles 39 

of My Home Town/' What parallel divisions would you make if you 
were writing as an architect? As a social worker? As a historian? As 
a man wanting to establish a retail business? As a public health 

7. Contrast. 

a. Read a story by some good writer, and carefully analyze all the 
lesser and larger elements of contrast it contains. 

b. Study the contrasts in the following passage from Dr. Johnson's 
life of Addison. Write a criticism in Dr. Johnson's manner of the style 
of some other author. If you wish, rewrite your criticism, using other 
devices of contrast involving the length of sentences, rhetorical ques- 
tions, inversions, unusual words, etc. 

His prose is the model of the middle style; on grave subjects not 
formal, on light occasions not groveling; pure without scrupulosity, 
and exact without apparent elaboration; always equable, and always 
easy, without glowing words or pointed sentences. Addison never 
deviates from his track to snatch a grace; he seeks no ambitious orna- 
ments, and tries no hazardous innovations. His page is always lumi- 
nous, but never blazes in unexpected splendor. What he attempted, 
he performed; he is never feeble, and he did not wish to be energetic; 
he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences have neither 
studied amplitude, nor affected brevity; his periods, though not dili- 
gently rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever wishes to attain an 
English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostenta- 
tious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison. 

c. Write paragraphs defining the following by means of contrast: 

Pleasant weather. 

An interesting lecturer. 

A career. 

An old person. 

The typical college student. 

d. Develop elements of contrast in the plot, character, and setting 
of the following suggested stories: 

A young woman loves a man of whom her family disapproves, 
marries him, and then finds that her family was right. 

A doting mother brings up a daughter with the ideal of de- 
nying her nothing. When the child grows up, and the mother 
cannot possibly satisfy all demands, the child begins to hate the 

A young college couple plan to elope after a dance. But during 

40 Creative Writing 

the course of the dance, the girl meets another interesting young 
man. She refuses to elope. 

An artist wishes to paint a perfect madonna. But he finds that 
his idea of what she should be changes so fast that he can never 
paint her. 

A rich man loses his money, is not contented to remain merely 
well-to-do, strives frantically to regain his wealth, and finally 
commits a crime for the sake of a fortune. 

8. Interest. 

a. To find out what subjects are inherently interesting to people, 
let the members of the class keep a list of items in a week's reading 
(of newspapers, magazines, and books) which interest them indi- 
vidually. At the end of the week, the items may be read out, and 
classified on the blackboard by the instructor. 

b. How could you make essays on the following purely expository 
subjects have a somewhat belligerent tone: 

Raising Corn (cotton, wheat, rice, zinnias, petunias, collie 
dogs, canaries, hogs, race horses, etc.). 

On Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen. 

My First Play (opera, circus, concert, etc.). 

"It is not enough to do good; one must do it in the right way." 

The Man of One Idea. 

The Average Man. 

National Politics in the 1920's. 

The End of Victorianism in America. 

Television and our National Culture. 

The War to End War. 

Types of Hotels. 

The Small College or the Large University? 


Modern Biography. 

Why Masefield Is (or Is Not) to Be Regarded as the Poet of 
the Common Man. 

c. Review the work of the most important modern narrative- writers 
to determine how frequently they use the device of attacking some- 
thing. Consider especially the work of Shaw, Wells, Galsworthy, 
Aldous Huxley, Anatole France, Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, and 
John Steinbeck. To what extent does the season's most popular play 
or novel use the device? How could you use it in a story 

About a college professor. 
About a college girl. 

Fundamental Principles 41 

About a far- western town. 

About some foreign or distant locality you know. 

About mothers of grown children. 

About owners of small businesses. 

d. Write short essays on some local, national, or campus abuse 
first, in an earnest, serious style; then in a burlesque style like that of 
some early American humorist (Josh Billings, Artemus Ward, Will 
Rogers) ; then in an urbanely satirical style like that of James Thurber, 
Robert Benchley, certain essays in the New Yorker, Addison (Spec- 
tator Nos. 13, 112, 275, 281)1 then in a brutally ironic style like that 
of Swift (in the later books of Gulliver's Travels). Which essay does 
your instructor like best? 

e. Try to interest the reader in the subjects listed in b by engaging 
his self-interest. 

f. Explain the following abstractions by means of concrete anal- 




The effect of the atomic bomb on our characters. 

The place of religion in our public life. 

g. Clarify the following complexities by means of analogies: 

The way a camera (helicopter, piston of a gasoline engine, 
the valve of a tire, a dose of Epsom salts) works. 
The Federal Reserve System. 
The respiratory (circulatory) system. 
Bringing up a child. 
Teaching a class. 

h. Write a paragraph giving examples and illustrations of the 

So-and-so is a typical college student. 

Culture has no place in contemporary American life. 

The dominant trait of my personality is . 

I am disillusioned about college. 
Kipling epitomizes British imperialism. 


Rationality in Style 

The word "style," like the words "religion," "goodness," and "patri- 
otism," implies a vague, hazy sort of excellence which most of us 
would have a hard time accurately defining. But we are certain that 
no writing can be really good, or interesting, or worth-while without 
style. The cigarette advertisement has style (after its fashion); the 
classified advertisement has none. The newspaper account of the 
latest natural disaster has style; the schedule of radio programs has 
none. Gibbon's History of Rome has style; a mathematics textbook 
has none. Style, in a word, is that virtue in writing which makes it 
more than merely comprehensible. 

I wanted to see a movie. It was an Academy Award picture. It was 
being shown at the Rialto. So I went to town this morning and saw the 

We can understand such writing easily enough. But it has no style. 
Between writing like that, and the writing of people like Conrad, 
Faulkner, and Hemingway are a thousand intermediate stages. The 
very uppermost of these stages are probably reserved for people who 
have a special talent and sensitivity beyond what mere training and 
advice can do for them. But training and advice can help any in- 
telligent person clamber from the lower stages of writing to the 
general region of the upper stages. This chapter and the four that 
follow are intended to give advice and foster training that will hasten 
the ascent. 

The heading of this chapter is somewhat ambiguous. It means 
that the chapter will try to tell how meaning and structure should 
supplement each other how a rational correspondence should exist 
between the tiling said and the method in whicn it is said, to the 


Rationality in Style 

end that it be said as clearly and as logically as possible, and that it 
convey the exact meaning and shade of meaning the writer desires. 

1. CONTROL. The first requirement of all is that the writer have 
a rational understanding of what he wishes to say. That is, he can- 
not afford to write even a single sentence without first asking him- 
self, What is the most important idea, emotion, or image I wish to 
convey in this sentence? He must pick out the one word he wishes 
to emphasize, the one phrase he wishes to plant in the mind of his 
reader, the one clause which he wishes to make linger and ferment. 
Probably more elementary faults of style are due to the failure of 
writers to weigh and properly evaluate their own ideas than to any 
other weakness. For if the writer himself has riot decided which of 
his ideas is the most valuable, how can the reader decide? Rational, 
discriminating, judicious thinking is the first habit a writer should 
acquire. Without it, he is only a babbler. 

A student writes : 

There are types of students who go through college on the reputations 
which they received at the first of the year because they did extra-hard 
work then, though they do very little later on. 

The writer has not evaluated his own thoughts here. One thought 
is that students go through college on reputations received early in 
the year; another thought is that these students worked hard for 
their reputations; and a third thought is that these same students 
do little work later on. Which of these ideas is most important? The 
writer had not decided, and the reader does not know. Accordingly, 
the sentence, though comprehensible, is flabby and styleless. Other 
examples follow: 

Mrs. Rhymes had on an old pair of cotton gloves, and had evidently 
been puttering among the ferns and azalea bushes. 

Surely you are not in sympathy with those people who raise one of 
their own kind to prominence and then hurl muck at their own creations, 
as we know some of our city politicians have been doing in the present 

We had expected him to live, but he died. 

44 Creative Writing 

I had been vaccinated and was immune to the smallpox which was 
sweeping through the city; so I had felt safe, and had come there on a 
business trip. 

These sentences are all grammatically correct; they are not neces- 
sarily ununified; they are not incoherent. But in no sentence has the 
writer made a plain and definite choice of the most important idea 
in the sentence. In any one of them he might choose any one of sev- 
eral ideas as the most important, and construct a new and better 
sentence in any one of several ways. The choice never forces itself 
on the writer; but rather, the writer must always force his own choice 
on the sentence. This means that he shall have enough strength of 
intellect to make a decision, render judgment, and do execution on 
every idea that comes to him. If he fails to discriminate, he has failed 
in the very first step toward acquiring a rational style. 

Having decided what is the most important idea in the sentence, 
he must let that idea control the sentence by appearing in a dom- 
inant structure. He must show the reader that this idea is dominant, 
and that he intended it to be dominant. Let us look at the last of the 
faulty sentences quoted above. As it now stands, no dominating idea 
controls it. He can use his own discretion, therefore, in deciding 
which of the four ideas is really the most important, and can frame 
four different sentences accordingly : 

Though smallpox was sweeping through the city to which I had come 
on a business trip, I, having been vaccinated, felt immune. 

I felt immune to the smallpox sweeping through the city to which I 
had come on a business trip, for I had been vaccinated. 

Since I had been vaccinated and felt immune to the smallpox which 
was sweeping through the city, I had come there on a business trip. 

Though I myself had been vaccinated and felt immune, an epidemic of 
smallpox was sweeping through the city to which I had come on a busi- 
ness trip. 

Each of these sentences has a different meaning, a different implica- 
tion from the others; each puts forward a different idea as the con- 
trolling and dominant element in the sentence. Which of the four 

Rationality in Style 45 

sentences the writer shall use depends entirely on his own judg- 
ment as to which of the four ideas he desires to impress most strongly 
on his readers. 

Whenever a writer is confronted by such a multiplicity of choices, 
he should cast his vote for one of them, make his decision for better 
or for worse, and then stick to his decision. If he cannot decide 
which of his ideas is most important, he should do one of three 
things: not write the sentence, or write two or three sentences in- 
stead of one, or use a balanced or parallel structure. 

2. STRUCTURE. A balanced or parallel structure is one in which 
the writer has considered two or more ideas to be of equal impor- 
tance, has believed they supplement one another, and has expressed 
their equality and their supplementariness by placing them in simi- 
lar structures within one sentence. The sentence just written was 
molded into three parallel structures because each of the three ideas 
expressed is of equal importance with the other two, and each forms 
only one portion of a complete idea. If they had not been of equal 
value, they would not have had the same structure; and if they had 
not been portions of the same idea, they would not have been put in 
the same sentence. 

We may call it a rule, therefore, that ideas of equal thought-value 
deserve structures of equal value, and ideas of unequal thought- 
value deserve structures of unequal value. The ascending order of 
structure-value is this: word, phrase, clause, sentence, and para- 
graph. The following sentences illustrate all these stages but the 

1. Word: I saw armless men and legless men. 

2. Phrase: I saw men without arms and men without legs. 

3. Clause: I saw men who had no arms, and men who had no legs. 

4. Sentence: / saw armless men. And I saw legless men. 

Since the ideas of "armlessness" and "leglessness" are equal in 
thought-value, the following sentences with unequal structure-values 
would be absurd: 

I saw armless men, and men who had no legs. 

I saw men who had no arms, arid men without legs. 

4-6 Creative Writing 

In these last two sentences, equal ideas are given unequal struc- 
tures. But a more common offense is that in which unequal ideas are 
given equal structures. It is more common because so many inex- 
perienced writers have the habit of stringing together a hodgepodge 
of ideas by means of "ands" and "buts." One of the sentences quoted 
in the preceding section illustrates this fault: 

Mrs. Rhymes had on an old pair of cotton gloves, and had evidently 
been puttering among the ferns and azalea bushes. 

The two clauses are certainly not of equal thought- value; and yet 
in this sentence they have the same kind of structure. Such incon- 
gruity is irrational. 

The following sentences have the same weakness: 

He stepped off the curb without looking, and was struck and killed by 
a passing car. 

Here stepping off a curb, and being killed, are made to seem of 
equal importance. 

The sun may shine tomorrow, and then we can go horseback riding. 

Many people have no aim in life, and move in a circle which gets 

His mind was in a turmoil, so he decided to get drunk. 
All these sentences can be improved by judicious subordination: 

Mrs. Rhymes, with an old pair of cotton gloves on her hands, had evi- 
dently been puttering among the ferns and azalea bushes. 

Stepping off the curb without looking, he was struck and killed by a 
passing car. 

If the sun shines tomorrow, we can go horseback riding. 

Many people, having no aim in life, move in a circle which gets 

Since his mind was in a turmoil, he decided to get drunk. 

Rationality in Style 4? 

It will be noted that in each of these corrected sentences, the 
subordinate idea originally expressed in an independent clause has 
been re-expressed in a prepositional phrase, a participial phrase, or 
a dependent clause. That is, the structure-value has been reduced 
to correspond with the minor thought-values. 

Sometimes, however, a writer finds it necessary to do the opposite 
that is, to make an important idea really seem important. The 
writer accomplishes this feat by raising words to the rank of phrases, 
phrases to dependent clauses, dependent clauses to independent 
clauses, and independent clauses to sentences. An example follows: 

Thompson was a much-traveled man. 
Thompson was a man of many travels. 
Thompson was a man who had traveled much. 
Thompson, who was the man for us, had traveled much. 
Thompson was the man. He had traveled much. 

This deliberate heightening of an idea's importance requires more 
self-conscious artistry than does the proper subordination spoken 
of above. This heightening is a positive search for excellence; the 
other is merely a negative avoidance of error. 

3. POSITION. The most important positions in any element of 
composition are the beginning and the end. Reason requires, there- 
fore, that (whenever clarity permits) we place our most important 
words, phrases, clauses, or ideas in one of these positions. The nega- 
tive of this requirement, perhaps it is useless to say, is that we should 
avoid placing unimportant words, phrases, clauses, or ideas in the 
two important positions in the sentence. 

a. The Beginning. Sentences should seldom or never begin with 
words like "however," "also," "then too," and the like. But some laws 
supersede other laws. The law of clarity always comes first; other 
laws are secondary. Moreover, no rule should become a fetish. A 
certain fastidious student used to shudder at the very thought of 
beginning any sentence with "the" or "a." His instinct was right; but 
his practice was perverted. 

b. The End. Even more important than the beginning is the end 
of a sentence. If the reader will turn back a few pages to the sen- 
tence concerning smallpox, vaccination, and immunity, he will see 

48 Creative Writing 

that each of the corrected versions, except the last, ends with the 
principal clause and the principal idea in the sentence. In Section 2, 
likewise, each of the improved sentences ends with the principal 
clause and the principal idea. The practice illustrated in these sen- 
tences is, in general, safe. The important clause and the important 
idea should come at the end of the sentence. But like all other prac- 
tices, it may be carried too far. It may become an obsession with the 
writer, and it may lead to monotony of style. Furthermore, it is not 
adapted to writing of a leisurely gait and a familiar tone. It is best 
adapted to exposition aiming at absolute clarity, and to argumenta- 
tion aiming at conviction. 

Yet no sentence should ever end with a tailing off into insignficant 
words and ideas: 

Most of us would refuse to read more than a few sentences of it. 

The gift of prophecy was also assigned to him. 

The last two words in these sentences are flat and insipid. 

The habit, which most untrained writers have, of placing a par- 
ticipial phrase or a dependent clause at the end of a sentence was 
mentioned in the previous chapter. Here are some further examples 
of these offenses : 

Her voice failed, being broken by sobs. 

He died yesterday, having been sick only a week. 

He took to begging, being on the verge of starvation. 

She raised her hands in prayer to Neptune as she stood by the sea. 

He would not answer, though I rang the bell several times. 

I know, of course, that the drawing is offered only as a very slight and 
rapid sketch, and that it is impossible, even for a Rembrandt, to draw 
accurately when he is in a hurry, but there is a formlessness in some im- 
portant parts of this sketch .(the hands, for instance) which makes it 
almost without interest for me. 

( This last sentence is almost a model of what a sentence should not 
be.) All these sentences are irrational because they indicate by 

Rationality in Style 

means of subordinate structures that certain ideas are subordinate, 
and yet they place these subordinate ideas and structures in the 
prominent position in the sentences. A writer of such sentences is 
like a strawberry packer who would go to the trouble of culling out 
inferior stock, and would then pile this inferior stock at the top ot 
the basket for prospective customers to see. The writer should be 
like a real berry-packer; he should carefully choose the best of his 
stock, and then pile it in the most conspicuous place at the end 
of the sentence. If he has a word to emphasize, or a phrase, or a 
clause, or an idea, he should juggle the grammatical elements, 
manipulate the sentence-parts, rearrange the word-group, so as to 
make the important word, phrase, clause, or idea drop neatly into 
the prominent place. In a ballet dance, the chorus marches, wheels, 
converges, retreats, interlaces in a hundred gyrations; but always the 
star dancer appears in the prominent place. Good writing is like that 
It coils, turns, pauses, retreats, converges and always the impor- 
tant element appears magically at the supreme position. 

Note how each member of the following pairs conveys a different 

They found him drunk in the street. 
They found him in the street, drunk. 

Queen Victoria walked ahead of us. 
Ahead of us walked Queen Victoria. 

The tiger now had him by the throat. 
The tiger had him by the throat now. 

I went from the hotel to my train. 
I went to the train from my hotel. 

In these sentences, different end-words produce altogether different 

c. Transposition. Words or phrases transposed from their normal 
place in a sentence usually gain in emphasis. This rule holds good 
except in sentences where transposition would take a word away 
from the end-position. 

Before continuing with this discussion, perhaps we had better see 

60 Creative Writing 

just what the normal sentence order is. The following sentence il- 
lustrates the elemental order: 

The good man kindly gave the book to me. 

(a) Subject, preceded by adjective. 

( b ) Verb, preceded by adverb. 

(c) Object. 

(d) Indirect object. 

This elemental order has a few additional complexities which de- 
serve mention: 

The man in gray talked in a high voice. 

(a) Subject, followed by adjective phrase. 

(b) Verb, followed by adverbial phrase. 

This order holds for adjective and adverbial clauses as well as 
phrases : 

The man who lived down the street talked when he had the chance. 

These examples show the fundamental orders. As for the order 
in more complicated sentences, the reader can more safely rely on 
his instinct for the language than on his memory of half-a-dozen 
special rules. 

All this has been a digression. The main point is that attention can 
be focused on a word in a sentence if that word is placed out of its 
natural order. The italics in the following sentences indicate words 
out of their natural order: 

Everywhere in the darkness, I saw men lying about, dead. 

Patiently, he listened. 

The sunshine, cold and bright, offered no sympathy. 

Last of all these marching thousands rode Napoleon. 

All datj were the birds loud in my garden. 

Among these visions wandered my spirit. 

The last sentence is almost bad. So much distortion looks artful 
and insincere. Indeed, a writer must use the device of transposition 

Rationality in Style 51 

with the most discreet caution. He should reserve it for those oc- 
casions when he "would be very fine." There it is effective. But if 
he uses it every time he has the opportunity to do so, it soon tarnishes 
and looks cheap. How poor would be these verses from Ecclesiastes 
if they were distorted by transposition in the following way: 

Of all the labor which under the sun he taketh, what hath a man the 
profit? Into the sea run the rivers all; and yet full is not the sea. 

On the other hand, how effective are these examples of transposi- 
tion from the same book: 

For in much wisdom is much grief. 

In the day of prosperity, be joyful. 

He by his wisdom delivered the city. 

All things have I seen in the days of my vanity. 

The reader should notice in passing that the transpositions in the 
first two examples are designed to place important words in the im- 
portant end-position, rather than to attract attention to themselves. 
In the last two examples, however, the transpositions are designed 
to emphasize the words transposed. Unless transposition can serve 
one of these two purposes, it is not worth while for its own sake. 
One other purpose, however, it may serve; and that is to make tran- 
sitions from sentence to sentence more smooth. 1 

4. CONTINUITY. A piece of writing has continuity if the connec- 
tions between its elements are tight and snug if each part is locked 
hard and fast to its neighboring parts. Continuity is not always a 
virtue. It implies a strictly logical procedure, and it hints of an intel- 
lect controlled by rationality. Obviously, therefore, too strict con- 
tinuity is out of place in writing which attempts to seem spon- 
taneously emotional and unstudiedly sincere. It precludes a quick, 
nervous, energetic style. Often it gives writing clarity at the sacrifice 
of strength. Furthermore, the tendency of modern writing is analytic 
rather than synthetic; that is, modern writing is coming more and 
more to consist of an accumulation of units rather than a nexus of 
parts. And finally, an unbroken continuity is likely to weary the 

1 The last three sentences contain transposed elements. The reader may care 
to analyze their function and criticize their effectiveness. 

Creative Writing 

On the other hand, even in our generation of hasty readers and 
impatient thinkers, some people demand logical writing instead of 
nervous writing, and some subjects require rational consideration in- 
stead of emotional contemplation. Moreover, writing in which no 
strong controlling intellect is apparent throughout never has been, 
and probably never will be, for a long time appealing. Even Shelley 
(to take the first example that comes to mind), who is the most 
purely lyric of the great English poets, felt the control of intellect. 
An analysis of such lyrics as the "Ode to the West Wind," "The Sky- 
lark," and "The Cloud" will reveal an amazingly solid and supple 
intellectual structure underlying the airiness of the poems. It is true, 
too, that the most powerful radicals and convincing innovators are 
those who know the ways of conservatism. Nearly every worth-while 
modernistic painter has had an early stage of conventionality, and 
nearly every modern stylist has had his period of conservatism. It 
can probably do nobody any harm, therefore, to learn a little about 
the conservative style of writing for writing with smoothness of 
continuity is conservative. 

a. Continuity of Ideas. Continuity depends, first of all, on the 
larger structure of the composition. In narration, it depends on a 
simple following of the time sequence. In description, it depends on 
the arrangement of details. In exposition, it depends on the arrange- 
ment of ideas. We shall discuss only the last of these three forms 

It cannot be too often repeated that the easiest way to give smooth 
continuity to style is to have a clear and rational structure in the 
composition as a whole. When the parts of the composition are so 
thought out and arranged that each part leads logically and inevita- 
bly to the succeeding part, a writer will have little trouble in giving 
continuity to his style. 

There are, however, a few devices which help the writer achieve 
this continuity. Some of these concern the continuity of ideas; some 
the continuity of paragraphs; and some the continuity of sentences. 

As for the first of these, the adoption of a certain order of pro- 
cedure and adherence to it is the simplest and most effective. 
For example, there may be an order of procedure altogether chrono- 

Rationality in Style 58 

logical; or the order may be from a general idea to particular illus- 
trations of it; or it may be from the particular illustrations to the 
general idea governing them; or it may be from simple toward 
more and more complex ideas; or it may be from known or admitted 
facts toward unknown or disputed facts; or it may be from an enu- 
meration of points that are to be considered to an elaboration of 
each of those points in turn. Which method the writer adopts will 
depend upon his subject. But once he has chosen his method, he 
ought to stick to it pretty closely throughout his work. If he does so, 
he will find the minor problems of continuity much easier to solve, 
and the reader will find the composition much pleasanter to follow. 

b. Continuity Between Paragraphs. A more mechanical consid- 
eration is that of continuity between paragraphs. The device most 
commonly used to effect this continuity is the transitional sentence, 
that is, a sentence which points both forward and back forward 
toward the new paragraph, and back toward the preceding para- 
graph. This paragraph begins with a transitional sentence. The 
words "a more" indicate that something has preceded; the rest of 
the sentence suggests the nature of the new paragraph. The second 
paragraph in this section also begins with a transitional sentence. 2 

A second device is the insertion of a short transitional paragraph 
between two important paragraphs. Like the transitional sentence, 
the transitional paragraph hints at something that has gone before, 
and indicates the general outline of what is to follow. The fifth 
paragraph in this section is a transitional paragraph; so is the para- 
graph beginning on the next line. 

c. Continuity Within the Paragraph. More varied than the de- 
vices which make for continuity between paragraphs are those 
which make for continuity within the paragraph that is, for con- 
tinuity between sentences. 

The first of these is the use of transitional words. In looking over 
the present section, one would find that the transitional words al- 
ready used are "therefore/' "furthermore," "that is," "finally/' "on 

2 Occasionally the transitional sentence comes at the end of a paragraph in- 
stead of at the beginning; but this type is uncommon, for it places an unimpor- 
tant idea in the important end-position of the paragraph. 

54 Creative Writing 

the other hand/' "moreover," "too," "accordingly/* and "however." 
This makes a sizable list, which may be supplemented from the fol- 
lowing paragraph. 

Somewhat akin to transitional words is the use of pronoun refer- 
ences in one sentence to nouns in a preceding sentence. The pro- 
nouns thus form a rational link between the two sentences. By way 
of illustration, the paragraph just above begins, "The first of these" 
with these referring to a noun in the preceding sentence. And the 
first paragraph in this section contains several "it's" referring to 
nouns in the preceding sentence. A better example follows: 

The Pleiads were daughters of Atlas, and nymphs of Diana's train. One 
day Orion saw them and became enamored and pursued them. In their 
distress they prayed to the gods to change their form, and Jupiter turned 
them into pigeons, and then made them a constellation in the sky. Though 
their number was seven, only six stars are visible, for Electra, one of them, 
it is said, left her place. 

The reader conceives these four sentences as a large unit, quite un- 
conscious of the subtle device which cements them. 

A little different is the trick of repeating in one sentence important 
words of the preceding sentence. An example, also from Bulfinch, 
follows : 

The story of the Iliad ends with the death of Hector, and it is from the 
Odyssey and other poems that we learn the fate of the other heroes. After 
the death of Hector, Troy did not immediately fall, but receiving aid from 
new allies still continued its resistance. One of these allies was Memnon, 
the /Ethiopian prince, whose story we have already told. Another was 
Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons. . . . Penthesilea slew many of the 
bravest warriors, but was at last slain by Achilles. But when the hero bent 
over his fallen foe, and contemplated her beauty, youth, and valor, he 
bitterly regretted his victory. Thersites, an insolent brawler and dema- 
gogue, ridiculed his grief, and was in consequence slain by the hero. 3 

Such a weaving together of sentences becomes an even stronger 
union when the repeated words are brought close to each other by 
transposition. In the passage just quoted, for example, there would 

8 The passages quoted are taken from chaps, xxvi and xxviii of Thomas Bui- 
finch's The Age of Fable, 1855. 

Rationality in Style 55 

be a closer weave if the author had transposed his link-words in 
some such fashion as the following: 

It is from the Odyssey and later poems that we learn the fate of the 
other heroes, for the story of the Iliad ends with the death of Hector. After 
the death of Hector, Troy did not immediately fall, but continued its 
resistance with aid received from new allies. One of these attics was 
Memnon . . . etc. 

This revised version carries the thought swiftly from sentence to 
sentence with hardly a break. Bulfinch, however, had so simple a 
theme that he needed no such powerful coupler to fasten his sen- 
tences together, and so he dispensed with it. But in compositions 
where the idea is knotty and the coherence difficult, it is an ex- 
tremely useful device. 

The repetition of a word from sentence to sentence may couple 
together pairs of sentences. But it does not link together all the 
sentences in a paragraph. This latter feat is accomplished when one 
word is repeated from sentence to sentence throughout the para- 
graph. This repeated word (or phrase) becomes a distinctive brand 
burned on each sentence, and identifies that sentence as belonging 
to the particular herd of sentences which go together to make up a 
paragraph. We have spoken of this device in a preceding chapter, 
but it will bear further illustration here. The following paragraph 
from Matthew Arnold offers good examples not only of key-words 
but of other devices of continuity already mentioned; the key-words 
are capitalized, and the other transitional words are italicized: 

This culture is more interesting and more far-reaching than that other, 
which is founded solely on the scientific ardor for knowing. But it needs 
times of faith and ardor, times when the intellectual horizon is opening 
and widening all around us to flourish in. And is not the close and 
bounded intellectual horizon within which we have long lived and moved 
now lifted up, and are not new lights finding free passage to shine in upon 
us? For a long time there was no passage for them to make their way in 
upon us, and then it was of no use to think of adapting the world's action 
to them. Where was the hope of making REASON AND THE WILL OF 
GOD prevail among people who had a routine which they had christened 
REASON AND THE WILL OF GOD, in which they were inextricably 
bound, and beyond which they had no power of looking? But now the 

56 Creative Writing 

iron force of adhesion to the old routine social, political, religious has 
wonderfully yielded; the iron force of exclusion of all which is new has 
wonderfully yielded. The danger now is, not that people should obsti- 
nately refuse to allow anything but their old routine to pass for REASON 
AND THE WILL OF GOD, but either that they should allow some 
novelty or other to pass for these too easily, or else that they should under- 
rate the importance of them altogether, and think it enough to follow 
action for its own sake, without troubling themselves to make REASON 
AND THE WILL OF GOD prevail therein. Now, then, is the moment for 
culture to be of service, culture which believes in making REASON AND 
THE WILL OF GOD prevail, believes in perfection, is the study and 
pursuit of perfection, and is no longer debarred by a rigid invincible 
exclusion of whatever is new, from getting acceptance for its ideas, simply 
because they are new. 

One final device by which continuity may be obtained, though 
it too has already been mentioned, will be discussed here. It is 
parallel structure the expression of diverse ideas in so similar a 
form that they have a seeming relation. The parallel structure may 
be quite complex like a telescope with a tube within a tube within 
a tube. Thus, parallel words may occur in parallel phrases, which 
may occur in parallel clauses, which may occur in parallel sentences. 
In the eighteenth century the device often took the form of an- 
tithesis; it was revived in the late nineteenth century as a means of 
unifying a sometimes impressionistic, highly individualistic prose. 
Here is a passage from Henley (1890); note its multiple parallel- 

Essayists, like poets, are born and not made, and for one worth remem- 
bering the world is confronted with a hundred not worth reading. Your 
true essayist is in a literary sense the friend of everybody. . . . He must 
be personal, or his hearers can feel no manner of interest in him. He 
must be candid and sincere, or his readers presently see through him. 
He must have learned to think for himself and to consider his surroundings 
with an eye that is both kindly and observant, or they straightway find his 
company unprofitable. He should have fancy, or his starveling proposi- 
tions will perish for lack of metaphor and the tropes and figures needed 
to vitalize a truism. He does well to have humor, for humor makes men 
brothers, and is perhaps more influential in an essay than in most places 
else. He will find a little wit both servicable to himself and comfortable 
to his readers. For wisdom, it is not absolutely necessary that he have it. 

Rationality in Style 57 

With this we may leave the discussion of rationality in style. The 
whole subject demands only a clear understanding of just what one 
wishes to say, a clear knowledge of a few mechanical principles, and 
a little care in applying the principles. 


1. Control. 

Organize each of the following groups of ideas into a sentence with 
one of the elements in the controlling structure; then organize the 
same ideas into another sentence with a different element as the 
controlling structure; and so on with each idea listed: 

a. He read out to me the scheme of another book. 
He had been ill. 

He had laid the scheme aside long ago. 

b. His past came back to him in pictures. 
His boyhood returned first of all. 

He saw again his old home. 

c. The sweat broke out upon his forehead. 
A sudden truth had come to him. 

He knew that he hated this woman. 

d. I desired to mix with the crowd. 

I longed to listen to the life-throbs of the world. 
I went back to the city. 

e. We choose traits from many imperfect individuals. 
These we put together. 

Thus we form an ideal. 

We are like painters or sculptors. 

2. Structure. See the following exercise. 

3. Position. 

Recast the following sentences so as to make thought-value and 
structure-value consistent. Where clarity permits, put the important 
idea in the end-position. 

a. All the student's financial affairs are handled by his parents; 
therefore, the student is relieved of all financial responsibility. 

b. Virtually cast into a new world and thrown on his own resources, 
the student overdraws his allowance at the bank once or twice, thus 
learning the virtues of economy. 

c. These are vivid principles such as are remembered and applied 
throughout the life of the student. 

68 Creative Writing 

d. When a horse is in the process of jumping over a fence, he brings 
his hind feet forward. 

e. He is a man who is endowed with abilities of an extraordinary 

f. He was a good rider, but he could not stay on that horse. 

g. Very often when I was a child I would slip into the bathroom, 
where I would occupy myself watching my father perform the morn- 
ing ritual of shaving. 

h. Dr. Pinkham is not really tall; but he is thin, and his thinness 
causes him to look taller than he is. 

i. I finished college having a grossly exaggerated sense of my own 

j. The sandwiches were ordered, and they were soon placed be- 
fore us by the waiter. 

k. On our way to town we paused in the city park, which was 
glowing with dahlias, chrysanthemums, and purple gay-feathers. 

1. Uncle Ned appears to be heart-broken, but he gives that im- 
pression at every funeral, and so no one pays any attention to him. 

m. He looked over the side of the plane, only to see people scatter- 
ing in all directions, or looking anxiously up, as if they feared the 

n. My brother is a wearer of a fraternity emblem, and I myself 
hope to be, like him, a member of a fraternity; yet I must admit that 
I am not entirely in favor of fraternities. 

o. As yet his belief in himself has not proved to be a confidence 
which has been misplaced. 

Experiment with transpositions in the following sentences, and study 
the different effects you obtain: 

a. There is no such music in all the range of English verse, seek 
where you will, as there is in Swinburne. 

b. As yet the great art of self-embellishment is for us Englishmen 
but in its infancy. 

c. They added a musical note to my joyous mood. 

d. The first rule for a good style is that the author should have 
something valuable to say. 

e. I swung from place to place in happy, lightsome mood, blithe as 
a fairy prince in quest of adventures. 

4. Continuity. 

a. What arrangement of ideas would you adopt to gain continuity 
of idea in compositions on the following subjects: 

The Negro in modern literature. 

Rationality in Style 59 

The American Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916. 

How to play football. 

Communism in America. 

The meaning of recent economic developments in America. 

Types of sailing vessels. 

Types of students. 

b. Write transitional sentences or paragraphs to connect the para- 
graphs suggested by each of the topic sentences in the following 

(1) Creative intelligence requires for its full realization a 
mature civilization. 

We have disproved the romantic delusion of the free creative 

Primitive society was not all bad. 

Primitive man had a grasp of some of our elemental truths. 

(2) The average man thinks only about his daily business. 
The Greeks discovered a world-order, a "cosmos." 

Within the framework of their "cosmos" the Greeks discovered 
abstract science. 

The Greeks did not discover natural science. 

(3) The art of the novel is a young art. 

The novel has taken its place among the arts. 
The young novelist of todoy has enormous chances. 
The novelist must beware of his chief enemy the excessive 
admiration of people without taste. 

(4) Most plays now produced by the commercial theatre are 

The first object of every play producer is to make money. 

It is said that the public likes trash. 

The public taste for good music and good art is increasing. 

(5) The world about us contains individual things. 
It is easy to define individuality. 

It is not easy to describe an individual. 

c. Give continuity to the sentences in the following paragraph by 
using as many transitional devices as you can. Combine sentences if 
you wish: 

Only one circumstance induces us to notice this most un- 
pleasant book. The author evidently has ability to do better. He 
does not write with much skill. The writer does not seem to 
understand the poor people whom he describes. He does not 
sympathize with them. He has sharp eyes for details. He does 

30 Creative Writing 

not penetrate the superficial dirt of toil and poverty. He grossly 
exaggerates the vices of the poor. We cannot accept his char- 
acters as typical. One thing he has done beyond all doubt. Rough 
and inartistic, the novelist has used violent color and the blackest 
of black shadows. He has succeeded in drawing a figure who 
sticks with painful reality in the memoiy. Liza is a factory girl 
of eighteen, who lived in a Lambeth slum. The portrait of this 
girl is complete and strong. Her ghost refuses to be laid. The 
writer has achieved much. 

Garbled paragraph from a review of 
Somerset Maugham's Liza of Lambeth, 
in Literature, November 6, 1897. 

d. Write a paragraph on some subject suggested in the exercises 
at the end of Chapter I. Use a key-word throughout the paragraph. 
Or try to rewrite the garbled paragraph just above so that it will have 
a key- word. 

e. Try to give the sentences in the garbled paragraph above, or 
in some paragraph that you have previously written, as many parallel 
structures as possible. 


Vigor in Style 

Smoothness, beauty, and vigor are all terms ofjipproval. But they 
are not the same thing, for a piece of writing may have any one of 
the three without having the others. Indeed, the presence of the last 
may often exclude the others. In the following delightful passage, 
Stevenson has adopted the smooth and easy style of the familiar es- 
sayist which, though not languid, would certainly never be described 
as essentially vigorous and forceful: 

And what would it be to grow old? For, after a certain distance, every 
step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and 
all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through. By 
the time a man gets well into the seventies, his continued existence is a 
mere miracle; and when he lays his old bones in bed for the night, there 
is an overwhelming probability that he will never see the day. Do the old 
men mind it, as a matter of fact? Why, no. They were never the merrier; 
they have their grog at night, and tell the raciest stories; they hear of the 
death of people about their own age, or even younger, not as if it was a 
grisly warning, but with a simple childlike pleasure at having outlived 
someone else; and when a draught might puff them out like a guttering 
candle, or a bit of a stumble shatter them like so much glass, their old 
hearts keep sound and unaffrighted, and they go on, bubbling with laugh- 
ter, through years of man's age compared to which the valley at Balaclava 
was as safe and peaceful as a village cricket-green on Sunday. It may 
fairly be questioned (if we look to the peril only) whether it was a much 
more daring feat for Curtius to plunge into the gulf, than for any old 
gentleman of ninety to doff his clothes and clamber into bed. 1 

Compare this graceful passage with a paragraph from Carlyle: 

All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labor, 
there is something of divineness. Labor, wide as the Earth, has its summit 

1 From "JEs Triplex," in the volume Virginibus Puerisque. Reprinted by per- 
mission of Charles Scribner's Sons. 


68 Creative Writing 

in Heaven. Sweat of the brow; and up from that to sweat of the brain, 
sweat of the heart; which includes all Kepler calculations, Newton medi- 
tations, all Sciences, all spoken Epics, all acted Heroisms, Martyrdoms, 
up to that "Agony of blood sweat," which all men have called divine! O 
brother, if this is not "worship," then I say, the more pity for worship; for 
this is the noblest thing yet discovered under God's sky. Who art thou that 
complainest of thy life of toil? Complain not. Look up, my wearied 
brother; see thy fellow Workmen there, in God's Eternity; surviving there, 
they alone surviving: sacred Band of the Immortals, Celestial Bodyguard 
of the Empire of Mankind. Even in the weak Human Memory they sur- 
vive so long, as saints, as heroes, as gods; they alone surviving; peopling, 
they alone, the unmeasured solitudes of Time! To thee Heaven, though 
severe, is not unkind; Heaven is kind, as a noble Mother; as that Spartan 
Mother, saying while she gave her son his shield, "With it, my son, or 
upon it!" Thou too shall return home in honor, doubt it not, if in the 
battle thou keep thy shield! 

How vigorous, how energetic it is! Rude, uncouth, and inelegant, 
yet it burns with strength and vebemence. But Carlyle did not al- 
ways write thus, as a study of some of his letters and of his earlier 
work will show. 

Many a time, likewise, every writer must choose between two 
types of style. Patrick Henry did not invariably use the Give-me- 
liberty-or-give-me-death style; and Theodore Roosevelt could pen 
quaint little epistles to his children. The style to be used depends, 
of course, on the subject. A description of a tropical hurricane would 
require one sort of style; a description of Lake Placid in the moon- 
light would require another. A speech demanding war would re- 
quire one sort of style; a funeral oration on a sweet old lady would 
require another. An argument in favor of scientific as opposed to 
liberal education would require one sort of style; an essay on the 
pleasures of fishing would require another. 

Indeed, there are as many styles as there are kinds of subjects. 
To catalogue them would be both impossible and useless. Yet we 
may quite profitably study the elements of writing which contribute 
toward making, on the one hand, for vigor of style, and, on the 
other, for beauty of style. We shall begin with the first. 

1. INTELLECTUAL VIGOR. In a way, the two words just written look 
absurd in a book of advice about writing. For advice, however good, 

Vigor in Style 63 

cannot create intellectual vigor in anybody. A cynic would say, as a 
matter of fact, that a writer who has any intellectual vigor needs no 
advice. Perhaps the cynic would be right. We have all seen beautiful 
girls who would be beautiful under any conditions, and need no 
artificial make-up or professional advice to help them. Nevertheless, 
even these beauties look their best under certain favorable (and 
frequently quite artificial ) conditions. Moreover, we have seen girls 
who are not beautiful unless they have certain advantages of dress, 
light, or make-up, but who are undeniably beautiful when they 
have these advantages. Advice about intellectual vigor of style is like 
advice about beauty. A few writers do not need it; most writers 
can profit by it; and some writers would be nothing without it. 

a. Labored Intellectuality. It is paradoxical and unjust, but la- 
boriousness of style often conveys a stronger impression of intel- 
lectual vigor than does ease of style. Laboriousness consisting of in- 
versions, transpositions, difficult structures, relationships not easily 
grasped, long or involved sentences, superfine discriminations, 
parenthetical explanations all of these have a tremendous effect 
on a large body of readers. True, they sometimes hide poverty of 
idea and muddiness of intellect; yet they do have a legitimate use 
among shrewd or crafty authors. In mock-serious writing, they create 
a humorous incongruity between actual triviality of idea and the 
apparently intellectual style. In public life, they make simple facts 
appear important when policy demands that they appear so, or they 
take the edge off truths which would cut sharply if not framed la- 
boriously. And they impress the class of people who must be im- 
pressed sometimes, but who cannot be impressed by honest sim- 

The following paragraph from Cabell's foreword to his Figures of 
Earth shows how a skillful writer may deliberately employ a la- 
bored, mock-serious style to create an effect of sententiousness: 

To you (whom I take to be as familiar with the Manuelian cycle of 
romance as is any person now alive) it has for some while appeared, I 
know, a not uncurious circumstance that in the Key to the Popular Tales 
of Poictesme there should have been included so little directly relative to 
Manuel himself. No reader of the Popular Tales (as I recall your saying at 

64 Creative Writing 

the Alum when we talked over, among so many other matters, this monu- 
mental book) can fail to note that always Don Manuel looms obscurely in 
the background, somewhat as do King Arthur and white-bearded Charle- 
magne in their several cycles, dispensing justice and bestowing rewards, 
and generally arranging the future, for the survivors of the outcome of 
stories which more intimately concern themselves with Anavalt and Goth 
and Holden, or even with Sclaug and Thragnar, than with the liege-lord 
of Poictesme. 2 

This next paragraph, taken from an editorial in the daily paper, 
garbs a few simple truths in a highly laborious style: 

The resignation of Judge L affords a revelation of the unwisdom 

of the legislature in making an excessive reduction in the salaries of mem- 
bers of the judiciary. Rejecting the advice of prominent members of the 
bar of the State, of many other responsible citizens, and of most of the 
newspapers, the last session of the legislature cut the compensation of 
judges to such an extent that it was inevitable many of the abler judges 

would leave the service of the State. Unfortunately, Judge L is one 

of those who find it impossible to make the financial sacrifice that is re- 
quired of judiciary members who serve under the new schedule of salaries. 

This could be translated: 

Judge L 's resignation shows the unwisdom of the legislature in 

reducing the salaries of judges. Rejecting the advice of prominent lawyers, 
other responsible citizens, and most newspapers of the State, the legis- 
lature cut salaries of judges so sharply that withdrawal by many of the 

abler judges became inevitable. Unfortunately, Judge L was one 

of the judges who could not afford to serve under the reduced salary 

The first version contains 111 words; the second, 67 words a 
reduction of 40 per cent. The editor who wrote the first version was 
excusable only because he wanted to make his editorial sound as 
important as possible to people who cared little for style. 

Unfortunately, the following sentences, though amusing, are seri- 
ous examples of the way in which facts are often concealed by an 
elaborately intellectual style: "Conditions now prevailing prevent 
us from giving a favorable reply to your request" ( equals, No ) ; "In 
the face of bitter enemy resistance, our ground forces made con- 

2 Copyright, 1921, by James Branch Cabell. Reprinted by permission of Mr. 
Cabell's publishers, Robert McBride and Company. 

Vigor in Style 65 

siderable gains" (equals, We advanced slightly); "In a frenzied 
suicide attack of massed thousands, the enemy was able to penetrate 
our lines a few hundred yards" (equals, They advanced slightly); 
"Our rapidly advancing forces seized two major rail centers" 
(equals, We took two towns); "Our advance patrols penetrated two 
enemy villages, and returned safely to our lines" (equals, They re- 
took them ) . 

To call the passages quoted above vigorous writing would be 
false, and to call them intellectual would be flattering. But they do 
have a spurious sort of intellectuality that deceives a certain type of 
reader. And the kind of writing they represent is worth knowing 
about if only for the sake of its being avoided. 

Yet in their deliberate shamming of intellectual vigor, they are, 
perhaps, superior to the writing which is so intellectual as to be 
incomprehensible. For instance, the abstruse intellectuality of the 
following passage, taken from a public lecture by a philosophy pro- 
fessor, is inexcusable: 

That which is given at any moment is a perceptual perspective with an 
organism at the focus or center. The perspective called "mine" is mine 
only in virtue of the fact that the body called "mine" is, although only one 
factor among others, the focal factor of the perspective. It is the focal fac- 
tor because even though at times the body is not given (as when we are 
said not to be self-conscious but absorbed in the "objective world") it can 
easily be "recovered," and because while the body varies with the other 
factors of the perspective, the other factors of the perspective seem to 
vary in an even greater degree with changes in the body. 

When the reader of good intelligence cannot quickly understand 
what a writer is talking about, it is the writer's fault. If the reader 
must ponder, wonder, reread, and then at last remain in doubt, the 
writing is bad. 

b. True Intellectuality. Leaving this false or deceiving sort of 
intellectuality, we may pass on to a kind of style which shows an 
authentic intellectual vigor. Description of this style is difficult, and 
advice about how to achieve it almost futile. A seed catalogue I pick 
up is definitely non-intellectual in style: 

The popularity this plant has gained in the short time since its intro- 
duction is simply marvelous. It is one of the finest decorative plants ever 

66 Creative Writing 

introduced. It grows rapidly under all conditions, and its inexpensiveness 
places it within the reach of everyone. The plant has often been called 
"Fountain Fern" on account of its gracefully drooping habit. It has ma- 
tured fronds that often attain a length of four feet. 

Nobody can justly complain about the clarity and the simplicity 
of this passage. It serves its purpose of conveying information, and 
it is in keeping with its lowly position in the world of letters. But 
nobody would think of it as having an intellectually vigorous style. 
Let us analyze it to try to discover what characteristics it has, and 
what it lacks. 

In idea, it is concrete rather than abstract; it states simple, un- 
original facts of observation such as anybody might make; it really 
develops no idea; it gives no independent opinions; it draws no in- 
ferences and makes no generalizations from presented data; it 
delves into none of the complexities of idea which might suggest 
themselves; and it deals with obviously unimportant ideas. 

In structure, its sentences are short; only two sentences are com- 
plex; and one sentence is compound only by having two unrelated 
ideas joined by the ever useful "and." It has no transitional devices, 
no transpositions, no parallel structures indicating a synthetical in- 
telligence at work, no variety of structure suggesting variety of idea. 

Now contrast the passage from the seed catalogue with the fol- 
lowing paragraph from Matthew Arnold: 

I am going to ask whether the present movement for ousting letters 
from their old predominance in education, and for transferring the pre- 
dominance in education to the natural sciences, whether this brisk and 
flourishing movement ought to prevail, and whether it is likely in the end 
it really will prevail. An objection may be raised which I will anticipate. 
My own studies have been almost wholly in letters, and my visits to the 
field of the natural sciences have been very slight and inadequate, al- 
though those sciences have always strongly moved my curiosity. A man of 
letters, it will perhaps be said, is not competent to discuss the comparative 
merits of letters and natural science as means of education. To this objec- 
tion, I reply, first of all, that his incompetence, if he attempts the discus- 
sion but is really incompetent for it, will be abundantly visible; nobody 
will be taken in; he will have plenty of sharp observers and critics who will 
save mankind from that danger. But the line I am going to follow is, as 
you will soon discover, so extremely simple, that perhaps it may be fol- 

Vigor in Style 67 

lowed without failure even by one who for a more ambitious line of 
discussion would be quite incompetent. 

It sounds original because it expresses personal opinions and per- 
sonal experience. The first personal pronoun or adjective is used no 
less than seven times in the passage, and, in addition, it is implied 
in all the sentences about "a man of letters/' The ideas presented 
are not mere concrete records of observation, but are ideas involving 
generalizations about facts. They are ideas with many complex 
facets of which the author is aware, and which he is willing to de- 
velop. And they are ideas of wide importance because they involve 
the thought and the conduct of great masses of human beings. 

In structure, the sentences are long enough to avoid seeming 
childish: they average thirty-four words in length, whereas the sen- 
tences from the seed catalogue averaged only fourteen words. In 
the entire passage, there is no simple sentence, and no sentence com- 
pounded of only two simple independent clauses joined by "and." 
Throughout there are inversions for the sake of clarity, interpola- 
tions for the sake of completeness, and transitional devices for the 
sake of continuity. In a word, the author seems aware in the passage 
of the involved complexities, the many different points of view, the 
subtle significances which surround ideas. The world to him is not 
a lesson in the obvious. Moreover, he suggests the variety and com- 
plexity of the world by the variety and complexity of his sentence- 
elements; yet he shows the power of his intellect by fusing these 
various aspects of the world into a coherent and unified piece of 

This kind of style, however, is not the only kind that is intellec- 
tually vigorous. As a matter of fact, whether for good or for ill, this 
kind of style is seldom used nowadays in writing for the general 
public. It is used in writing intended for specialists the "new" 
critics, modern philosophers, psychologists, and specialized scholars. 

Another kind of vigorously intellectual style involves the use of 
antithetical structure offering mutually opposing views of the same 
idea. This device nearly always gives to writing a touch of sober 
strength, of rationality, of unhurried power. It shows a mind well 
balanced, unprejudiced, and unsparing. Dr. Johnson, the dominating 

68 Creative Writing 

figure of the Age of Reason, the ponderous philosopher whose opin- 
ions were like the heavy hand of law on a hundred years of litera- 
ture Dr. Johnson seldom penned a line which contained no judi- 
ciously balanced antithetical structure. Paragraph after paragraph 
unwinds in the manner of the following criticism of Dryden: 

Criticism, either didactic or defensive, occupies almost all his prose, 
except those pages he has devoted to his patrons; but none of his prefaces 
were ever thought tedious. They have not the formality of a settled style, 
in which the first half of the sentence betrays the other. The clauses are 
never balanced, nor the periods modeled; every word seems to drop by 
chance, though it falls into its proper place. Nothing is cold or languid; 
the whole is airy, animated, and vigorous; what is little is gay, what is 
great is splendid. He may be thought to mention himself too frequently; 
but, while he forces himself upon our esteem, we cannot refuse him to 
stand high in his own. Everything is excused by the play of images and 
the sprightliness of expression. Though all is easy, nothing is feeble; 
though all seems careless, there is nothing harsh; and though since his 
earlier works more than a century has passed, they have nothing yet 
uncouth or obsolete. 

This kind of writing is hardly to be imitated on a large scale; it is 
neither spontaneous, nor emotional, nor imaginative. But it is power- 
ful. Nobody reading it can suspect the writer of having a weak intel- 
lect or undigested opinions. And one has only to contrast it with 
any book review in the Sunday newspaper to see why Dr. Johnson 
is immortal, and the reviewer is not. 

So far we have dealt with the studied and elaborate sentence 
structure of vigorous intellect. But, on the other hand, a vigorously 
intellectual style may be just the opposite in its simplicity from the 
complex passages quoted above. When a writer is sure that his ideas 
in themselves are powerful, he need have only a direct, straight- 
forward style which pounds away at the reader with simple, power- 
ful logic, and simple, powerful facts. 

Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to 
that which is good. Be kindly affectioned to one another with brotherly 
love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in 
spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continu- 
ing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospi- 

Vigor in Style 69 

tality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with 
them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind 
one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low 
estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for 
evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as 
much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge 
not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Venge- 
ance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hun- 
ger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap 
coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with 

In this passage from Paul's Epistle to the Romans is so much meat, 
so much weight of idea and power of logic that the writing needs 
no subtlety of style, no complexity of structure, no variety of form to 
give it vigor. 

In this next (a letter from the anonymous Junius to Sir William 
Draper, who had taken it upon himself to reply to Junius's attacks 
on political abuses of the day ) strength of idea and of feeling like- 
wise makes superfluous any style but the most straight and hard- 

25. September, 1769. 

After so long an interval, I did not expect to see the debate revived 
between us. My answer to your last letter shall be short; for I write to you 
with reluctance, and I hope we shall now conclude our correspondence 
for ever. 

Had you been originally and without provocation attacked by an anony- 
mous writer, you would have some right to demand his name. But in this 
cause you are a volunteer. You engaged in it with the unpremeditated 
gallantry of a soldier. You were content to set your name in opposition to 
a man, who would probably continue in concealment. You understood the 
terms upon which we were to correspond, and gave at least a tacit consent 
to them. After voluntarily attacking me under the character of Junius, 
what possible right have you to know me under any other? . . . 

You cannot but know that the republication of my letters was no more 
than a catchpenny contrivance of a printer, in which it was impossible I 
should be concerned, and for which I am in no way answerable. At the 
same time I wish you to understand that if I do not take the trouble of 
reprinting these papers, it is not from any fear of giving offense to 
Sir William Draper. 

70 Creative Writing 

Your remarks upon a signature, adopted merely for distinction, are 
unworthy of notice; but when you tell me I have submitted to be called 
a liar and a coward, I must ask you in my turn, whether you seriously 
think it any way incumbent on me to take notice of the silly invectives of 
every simpleton, who writes in a news-paper; and what opinion you would 
have conceived of my discretion, if I had suffered myself to be the dupe 
of so shallow an artifice? . . . 


These, then, are the two styles which may be justly said to have 
intellectual vigor. One style is involved, the other direct; one is 
complex, the other simple; one is subtle, the other forceful; one is 
studied and various, the other plain and uniform. One expresses 
ideas important for their originality, for their discriminating per- 
ception, for their keen intuitiveness, for their nice logic. The other 
expresses ideas important for their sincerity, for their open clarity, 
for their blunt power, for their obvious truth. One is the result of 
an astute mind at work on difficult and intricate problems; the other 
is the result of a strong mind at work on elemental truths. 

2. EMOTIONAL VIGOR. In real life we convey ideas to one another 
by means of words, and we convey emotions not merely by means 
of words, but also of gestures, tones of the voice, expressions of the 
face, movements of the body sometimes quite unconscious. But in 
writing, we must convey emotions to one another by means of words 
alone. To accomplish this, we have, first of all, to convince the reader 
that we ourselves feel emotion. For people are like a herd of ani- 
mals: fright, curiosity, or anger on the part of one is conveyed subtly 
to the whole herd. All that is necessary is that the herd be aware 
of the emotional state of one of its members. 

The first business, therefore, of a writer who wishes to make his 
reader have an emotion, is to make the reader feel that the writer 
has the emotion. It is not sufficient that the writer merely have the 
emotion; he must make readers believe he has it, and thus convey 
the emotion to them. The devices by which readers are made to be- 
lieve that the writer feels emotion are so varied that they can be 
discussed in only the most general way. It is obvious, however, that 
all emotions may be divided into two groups: those which are not 
in harmony with the intellect, and those which are aided and abetted 

Vigor in Style 71 

by the intellect. Thus, a man may be so angry at an automobile 
engine that he could strike it with a hammer. That is a feeling not in 
harmony with the intellect. On the other hand, the man may be 
angry at an example of injustice and oppression in his daily life, and 
he may find that the more he weighs and considers the condition 
intellectually, the angrier he becomes. Here his feeling harmonizes 
with intellect, and grows the more powerful for intellectual influ- 

a. Uncontrolled Emotion. To convince the reader that the writer 
feels uncontrolled emotion, a writer would use certain forms of ex- 
pression that he would not use in trying to convey the other sort of 
emotion. For instance, he would not employ long, involved sen- 
tences, elaborate sentence structures, devices for effecting smooth 
continuity, and so on. His writing would be rough, breathless, ex- 
clamatory sentences short or incomplete, relation between sen- 
tences obscure, transition from sentence to sentence, idea to idea, 
and image to image abrupt and unplanned. This sort of violent 
incoherence is Carlyle's chief trick in writing. The following para- 
graph, chosen almost at random, is an excellent example of his 
vigorously emotional style. The semicolons and colons in the passage 
help deceive the reader's eye; but they have actually the effect of 
periods, as reading the passage aloud will prove: 

No Dilettantism in this Mahomet; it is a business of Reprobation and 
Salvation with him, of Time and Eternity: he is in deadly earnest about 
it! Dilettantism, hypothesis, speculation, a kind of amateur-search for 
Truth, toying and coquetting with Truth: this is the sorest sin. The root 
of all other imaginable sins. It consists in the heart and soul of the man 
never having been open to the Truth; "living in vain show." Such a 
man not only utters and produces falsehoods, but is himself a falsehood. 
The rational moral principle, spark of the Divinity, is sunk deep in him, 
in quiet paralysis of life-death. The very falsehoods of Mahomet are truer 
than the truths of such a man. He is the insincere man: smooth-polished, 
respectable in some times and places: inoffensive, says nothing harsh to 
anybody; most cleanly, just as carbonic acid is, which is death and 

Ruskin has a passage of similar emotional incoherence which, ex- 
cept that it is more subdued, might have been written by Carry le: 

72 Creative Writing 

Their labor, their sorrow, and their death. Mark the three. Labor: by 
sea and land, in field and city, at forge and furnace, at helm and plough. 
No pastoral indolence nor classic pride shall stand between him and the 
troubling of the world; still less between him and the toil of his country, 
blind, tormented, unwearied, marvellous England. 

Also their Sorrow: Ruin of all their glorious work, passing away of their 
thoughts and their honor, mirage of pleasure, FALLACY OF HOPE; 
gathering of weed on temple step; gaining of wave on deserted strand; 
weeping of the mother for the children, desolate by her breathless first- 
born in the streets of the city, desolate by her last sons slain, among the 
beasts of the field. 

And their Death. That old Greek question again; yet unanswered. 
The unconquerable spectre still flitting among the forest trees at twilight; 
rising ribbed out of the sea-sand; white, a strange Aphrodite, out of 
the sea-foam; stretching its gray, cloven wings among the clouds; turning 
the light of their sunsets into blood. 

The short, sharp style of Dr. Johnson in his letter to Macpherson 
is another example of the same sort of emotionally vigorous writing: 

I received your foolish and impudent letter. Any violence offered me I 
shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for myself, the law shall 
do for me. I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think 
a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian. 

What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture; 
I think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my reasons to 
the public, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage I defy. Your abili- 
ties, since your Homer, are not so formidable; and what I hear of your 
morals inclines me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but to what 
you shall prove. You may print this if you will. 

This sort of writing is not common anywhere except in short pas- 
sages. Carlyle, indeed, is the only important English writer who con- 
sistently used it on a grand scale. But it is an extremely useful piece 
of equipment for a writer to have available when he needs it. 

b. Governed Emotion. Much more frequent than the style repre- 
sented in these passages is emotional writing showing a strict har- 
mony between feeling and intellect. This harmony manifests itself 
in two ways in pattern and in imagery. 

(1) Pattern consists, essentially, of repeats. One line (thus: /) 
does not make a pattern; nor do two different kinds of lines (thus: 

Vigor in Style 73 

/). But a series of similar lines repeated (thus: /////) makes 
pattern. Likewise, a series of similar structures, sounds, or accents 
makes a pattern in sentences. 

For some psychological reason too complex to be discussed here, 
the human mind under emotional strain tends to express itself in 
patterns, usually of sounds. The simple beat of tom-toms, the keen- 
ings of Celtic women over their dead, the waving of garments, the 
repetition of exclamations, the steps of a dance and so on up to 
the complex repeats and rhythms of meter, alliteration, and rhyme 
in poetry all these are patterns in which human emotion expresses 
itself. In prose, these patterns consist of rhythms ( which will be dis- 
cussed more fully later), parallel structures, and repetitions. 

Hebrew poetry consists of parallel structures expressing over and 
over again different aspects of the same idea. Since much of the 
Bible is poetry, much of it is made up of such parallelisms. For ex- 

Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and 

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in 
the beauty of holiness. 

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: 
the Lord is upon many waters. 

The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of 

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the 
cedars of Lebanon. 

This trick of repetition is carried over into the prose parts of the 
Bible. Paul writes: 

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not 
charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries 
and all knowledge: and though I have all faith, so that I could remove 
mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give 
my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunt- 
eth not itself, is not puffed up, 

74 Creative Writing 

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily 
provoked, thinketh no evil; 

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all 

It is natural for writers laboring under a strong emotion which 
is at the same time validated by intellect to speak in these patterned 
structures; but it is particularly true that writers of the Anglo-Saxon 
tradition, whose style has been influenced for centuries by the King 
James Bible, resort continually to this style. Hardly a paragraph 
from any great English stylist is free of it, and seldom any great 
emotional moment is without it. 

The passage from Junius, quoted above, is an example of power- 
ful emotion formulating itself into parallel structure. And the fol- 
lowing from Huxley is an excellent example of a style manifesting in 
its complex and long-sustained elements a genuine intellectual vigor, 
and at the same time manifesting in its patterned structures an ex- 
traordinary emotional vigor: 

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge 
authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind 
faith the one unpardonable sin. And it cannot be otherwise, for every 
great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection 
of authority, the cherishing of the keenest scepticism, the annihilation of 
the spirit of blind faith; and the most ardent votary of science holds his 
firmest convictions, not because the men he most venerates hold them; 
not because their verity is testified by portents and wonders; but because 
his experience teaches him that whenever he chooses to bring these con- 
victions into contact with their primary source, Nature whenever he 
thinks fit to test them by appealing to experiment and to observation 
Nature will confirm them. The man of science has learned to believe in 
justification, not by faith, but by verification. 

Very similar is Dr. Johnson's letter to Chesterfield, which should 
be contrasted with the letter to Macpherson already quoted. The last 
two paragraphs of the Chesterfield letter follow: 

Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man 
struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, en- 
cumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take 

Vigor in Style 75 

of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed 
till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot 
impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical 
asperity, not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, 
or to be unwilling that the Publick should consider me as owing that to a 
Patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself. 

Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any 
favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude 
it, if less be possible, with less; for I have long wakened from that dream 
of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation, 

My Lord, 

Your Lordship's most humble, 
Most obedient servant. 

This next, from Ruskin, almost too long to quote, is a magnificent 
example of an intricately intellectual style which flames with emo- 
tion. It shows that the two types of vigorous writing intellectual 
and emotional need not be mutually exclusive: 

Stand upon the peak of some isolated mountain at daybreak, when the 
flight mists first rise from off the plains, and watch their white and lake- 
like fields, as they float in level bays and winding gulfs about the islanded 
summits of the lower hills, untouched yet by more than dawn, colder and 
more quiet than a windless sea under the moon of midnight, watch when 
the first sunbeam is sent upon the silver channels, how the foam of their 
undulating surfaces parts and passes away, and down under their depths 
the glittering city and green pasture lie like Atlantis, between the white 
paths of winding rivers; the flakes of light falling every moment faster 
and broader among the starry spires, as the wreathed surges break and 
vanish above them, and the confused crests and ridges of the dark hills 
shorten their gray shadows upon the plain. . . . Wait a little longer, and 
you shall see those scattered mists rallying in the ravines, and floating up 
towards you, along the winding valleys, till they crouch in quiet masses, 
iridescent with the morning light, upon the broad breasts of the higher 
hills, whose leagues of massy undulation will melt back and back into 
that robe of material light, until they fade away, lost in its lustre, to ap- 
pear again above, in serene heaven, like a wild, bright, impossible dream, 
foundationless and inaccessible, their very bases vanishing in the unsub- 
stantial and mocking blue of the deep lake below. . . . Wait yet a little 
longer, and you shall see those mists gather themselves into white towers, 
and stand like fortresses along the promontories, massy and motionless, 
only piled with every instant higher and higher into the sky, and casting 
longer shadows athwart the rocks. 

76 Creative Writing 

(2) It is to be noted that one source of emotion in this passage 
is its imagery. Indeed, it is characteristic of human beings not only 
to create patterns of sound or form in times of emotion, but also to 
vision forth images. Notice how, in the following extract from 
Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," the adven- 
turer's imagination is vivified by a sudden emotion: 

Burningly it came on me all at once, 

This was the place! those two hills on the right, 
Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight; 

While on the left, a tall scalped mountain . . . Dunce, 

Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce, 

After a life spent training for the sight! . . . 

Not see? because of night perhaps? why, day 

Came back for that! before it left, 

The dying sunset kindled through a cleft: 
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay, 
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay, 

"Now stab and end the creature to the heft!" 

Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled 

Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears, 

Of all the lost adventurers my peers, 
How such a one was strong, and such was bold, 
And such was fortunate, yet each of old 

Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years. 

There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met 

To view the last of me, a living frame 

For one more picture! in a sheet of flame 
I saw them and I knew them all. 

Most of Whitman's poetry is a catalogue of images envisioned in 
moments of emotion. Here is an example from "A Song of Joys": 

the joy of my spirit it is uncaged it darts like lightning! 
It is not enough to have this globe or a certain time, 

1 will have thousands of globes and all time. 

O the engineer's joys! to go with a locomotive! 

To hear the hiss of steam, the merry shriek, the steam-whistle, 

the laughing locomotive! 
To push with resistless way and speed off in the distance. 

Vigor in Style 77 

O the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides! 

The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds, the moist fresh 

stillness of the woods, 
The exquisite smell of the earth at daybreak, and all through 

the forenoon! . . . 

O to have life henceforth a poem of new joys! 

In the well-known Twenty-third Psalm, note the wealth of im- 
agery that pours from a mind undergoing emotion: 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside 
the still waters. 

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for 
his name's sake. 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will 
fear no evil: for thou art with me: thv rod and thv staff thev comfort me. 

J * V 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: 
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. 

The characteristic of these passages is not so much completeness 
and accuracy of observation, as it is richness of imagination. Not 
one completely developed picture appears, but a teeming variety of 
pictures which follow, one after the other, in rapid procession. The 
truly emotional mind seldom lingers on one subject and describes it 
meticulously, detail by detail. Such a mind leaps, rather, from one 
object to another, vivifying each in a bold flash of imagination, sug- 
gesting each with a single phrase or epithet, and then passing on 
quickly so that in the end a score of images flash in and out of the 
mind of the reader. 

These images are often figurative. The imagination is not content 
to restrict itself to the presentation of pictures as they exist, but 
transforms the pictures into something different, and yet similar. 
This ability to transform, this facility in creating a multitude of com- 
parisons, this high emotion which sees resemblances where the com- 
monplace mind sees only separate and distinct existences this is 
the trait in a writer which makes for the highest poetry and the most 

78 Creative Writing 

stirring prose. Francis Thompson, the mystic poet, is remembered 
chiefly for the daring leap of his imagination which marks breath- 
taking resemblances between objects never before spoken of in the 
same breath, Thus, in his poetry, God becomes a hound pursuing 
his quarry; a poppy is a "yawn of fire"; the poet's thought runs "be- 
fore the hooves of sunrise"; and the setting sun becomes a "globed 
yellow grape" which Evening "bursts against her stained mouth." 
Good prose writers use figurative language much more than the 
average person believes. Following is a paragraph from Washing- 
ton Irving, with the figures in italics: 

Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the 
Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appa- 
lachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to 
a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change 
of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, pro- 
duces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, 
and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect 
barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in 
blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; 
but sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will 
gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays 
of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory. 

This next simple piece of description ( from Stevenson ) indicates a 
mind vividly alive and strenuously alert to catch and translate every 
image in nature: 

While I was thus delaying, a gush of steady wind, as long as a heavy 
sigh, poured direct out of the quarter of the morning. It was cold, and 
set me sneezing. The trees near at hand tossed their black plumes in its 
passage; and I could see the thin distant spires of pine along the edge of 
the hill rock slightly to and fro against the golden east. Ten minutes after, 
the sunlight spread at a gallop along the hillside, scattering shadows and 
sparkles, and the day had come completely. 3 

In this next, by H. M. Tomlinson, the scene described excites a 
vigorous emotion which manifests itself in picturesque figures of 

3 From Travels with a Donkey (1879). Reprinted here by permission of 
Charles Scribner's Sons. 

Vigor in Style 79 

The berg rose out of the level forest by the river, and to Colet it was 
anomalous. It was an isolated mass of white limestone, a lofty island in 
the ocean of jungle. Its pale cliffs fell sheer to the green billows. Its sum- 
mit was flat, but was so near to the clouds that its trees were but a dark 
undulating strip. Its walls, when glimpses from below through breaks in 
the roof of the forest could be found, appeared to overhang, but there 
were scarves and girdles of green on their bare ribs. An eagle soaring 
athwart its loftier crags was a drifting mote. Stalactites were pendent 
before the black portJiolcs of caves in upper stories, like corbels over the 
outlooks of a castle of the sagas. If the number of those dark apertures 
meant anything, then the berg was hollow, was honeycombed with cavi- 
ties. This enormity was not inviting, even in a morning light; not in such 
a land as that. The unexplored dungeons of such a castle might hide any- 
thing. 4 

With this we shall leave the problem of emotional vigor in writ- 
ing. Abrupt and incoherent writing, patterned writing, profuse im- 
ages, original and vivid figures of speech these are the best indica- 
tions of emotional vigor in writing. 


1. Intellectual Vigor. 

a. Write in an intellectually laborious style a mock-serious account 
of some trivial campus or local happening. 

In the same kind of style, write a serious account of the same hap- 
pening. Try to make it seem of genuine importance. 

Suppose you are the editor of your college newspaper. You wish 
to make a sharp criticism of some campus occurrence or custom, but 
you do not wish to offend anyone. By means of an editorial written 
in an intellectual style, accomplish your purpose. 

b. Write an essay on some subject which has many purely reflective 
rather than merely informational complexities, and which will demand 
much original thinking on your part. Try to do justice to the com- 
plexities by developing them properly in a mature and thoughtful 
style. Choose such subjects as the following: 

What have we a right to believe? 

An examination of the philosophy of optimism. 

Culture and a democracy. 

4 From chap, xxxi of Gallions Reach ( 1927 ) . Reprinted here by permission of 
the publishers, Harper & Brothers. 

80 Creative Writing 

The nature of man. 


Must the right triumph? 

A new economic plan. 

What is art? 

Tragedy and the tragic. 

Comedy and the comic. 

What one loses in going to college. 

Education as an end in itself. 

If I could educate a boy (or girl) as I wished. 

Write paragraphs composed of antithetical sentences on the follow- 
ing subjects: 

Undergraduate enthusiasms. 

The evils of examinations. 

Dangers of business success. 


The lecture method of instruction. 

Choose any of the subjects given in this set of Exercises, crystallize 
your opinion about it into a short thesis sentence, and then write a 
theme on the subject. Use a straightforward, terse, pounding style 
in which you express elemental truths simply. 

2. Emotional Vigor. 

a. Write two emotional paragraphs on each of the following topics. 
In one paragraph, try to give the impression that emotion is beyond 
intellectual control, and, in the other, that emotion is in harmony with 
the intellect: 

A description of the death of some friend or relative. 

A description of a flood, a fire, a windstorm, or some other 
natural disaster. 

An account of some battle which figures in the history of your 

An argument against some political abuse now agitating your 
section of the country. 

A characterization of a favorite historical (or contemporary 
or fictional) hero. 

b. Employing series of images, portray emotionally each of the 

Trees after a rain. 

The coming of winter. 

The geological history of your home state. 

The song of a street musician. 

Vigor in Style 81 

The grief of an animal over the death of her young. 

The grief of a wife over the death of her husband. 

The delight of a coir descent walking in the woods (or along 
the seashore or over r meadow) for the first time after a long 
and dangerous illnes. 1 

The love of a tin) i girl for some man whom she regards as 
a hero. 

The hatred of a i etty employee for his foreman. 

The fear of discovery on the part of a murderer. 


Vigor in Style (Continued) 

3. VIGOR OF WORDING. We have spoken of the way in which in- 
volved and closely woven sentence structure, blunt and straight- 
forward sentence structure, abrupt and exclamatory sentence struc- 
ture, and patterned sentence structure make for intellectual and 
emotional vigor. It remains now for us to examine the smaller ele- 
ments of composition to discover how they, too, may contribute to- 
ward a vigorous style. 

a. Brevity. One of the first principles a writer ought to remember 
is the principle of brevity. In general, it is a sound doctrine which 
demands the greatest number of ideas in the shortest space. This 
does not mean that writing should be sketchy, incomplete, or hasty. 
Important ideas deserve to be elaborated, dwelt on, and discussed 
fully. The doctrine means merely that, however many ideas enter 
into a composition, the statement of each of them should consume 
as little space as possible. 

The disease of wordiness has two quite different forms. One 
shows a general swelling involving the entire organism of the com- 
position, and the other shows only small local abnormalities in the 
individual members of the composition-body. The first is easily de- 
tected and, in most patients, easily cured; the other is insidious and 
hard to cure. 

(1) The first kind has two symptoms: the bookishly artificial use 
of unnecessarily long words, and the deliberate use of too many 
words. Sometimes one of these symptoms predominates over the 
other, and sometimes both are pronounced. Dr. Johnson's famous 
revision of his remark about a certain comedy "which had not wit 
enough to keep it sweet" is a good example cf the first symptom. 
Dr. Johnson corrected himself: "A play which does not possess 


Vigor in Style 83 

enough vitality to preserve it from putrefaction/' The fault here is 
not too many words, but too many syllables. At another time the 
Doctor assured a "little thick, short-legged" printer's devil: "When 
you consider with how little mental power and corporeal labour a 
printer can get a guinea a week, it is a very desirable occupation for 
you." Boswell has the same habit of profuse syllabification: 

However confident of the rectitude of his own mind, Johnson may have 
felt sincere uneasiness that his conduot should be erroneously imputed 
to unworthy motives, by good men; and that the influence of his valuable 
writings should on that account be in any degree obstructed or lessened. 

This sort of wordiness is seldom seen nowadays except where its 
purpose is humorous cheaply humorous, most often. O. Henry's 
use of long words, however, for a humorous effect is extraordinarily 

Mrs. Hopkins was like a thousand others. The auriferous tooth, the 
sedentary disposition, the Sunday afternoon wanderlust, the draught upon 
the delicatessen store for home-made comforts, the furor for department 
store marked-down sales, the feeling of superiority to the lady in the 
third-floor front who wore genuine ostrich tips and had two names over 
her bell, the mucilaginous hours during which she remained glued to the 
window sill, the vigilant avoidance of the instalment man, the tireless 
patronage of the acoustics of the dumbwaiter shaft all the attributes of 
the Gotham flat-dweller. 1 

Much more common is the other symptom, but much harder to 
describe. It is the stiff-starched, now-l-take-my-pcn-in-hand style; 
the padded style of the student who feels that he must be scholarly 
and formal in his writing; the patronizingly careful style of textbook 
writers; the stiffly personal style of prefaces; the painfully impersonal 
style of learned articles; the gravely sententious style of editorials. 
In a word, it is a style affected by writers too much aware of the 
seriousness of their missions, and too eager to make other people 
likewise aware. As Dr. Johnson said, it is a style which tries to ap- 
pear dignified by walking on tiptoe. 

At some time in life [a freshman theme beginsl we all stop for a mo- 

1 From The Voice of the City, by O. Henry, copyright, 1904, by Doubleday, 
Doran and Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission. 

84 Creative Writing 

ment and ask ourselves what this world of ours really is, what its true 
meaning may be, and toward what unknown destiny it is tending. From 
that moment, we become aware that we are philosophers in the deeper 
sense of the word. 

Another freshman puts it: 

What is the meaning of life? When I am asked this all-important ques- 
tion, I do not make some visible motion with my arms or body, but I 
search the invisible recesses of my mind. 

Another more oratorical youngster ends his theme: 

Give these United States today a man of Washington's integrity, Lin- 
coln's will, and Wilson's perseverance, and he will guide us out of the pit 
into which we have fallen, and peace and prosperity will reign supreme. 

Probably the best way to correct all these examples of wordiness 
is to cross them out entirely. They say the obvious, and use too many 
words to say it in. 

A little different is the next, the beginning of the preface to a 
freshman composition book by two great American scholars: 

With the student in an attitude of confidence in the worth of his own 
thinking and of eagerness to learn the methods by which his thought can 
be conveyed to others in words, the problem of teaching the use of Eng- 
lish reduces to the balancing of constructive practice over against the 
corrective drill necessary to eradicate the bad habits due to foreign birth, 
defective training, or indifference. 

This formal sentence may be re-rendered: 

When the student believes his own thinking is valuable, and is eager 
to learn how to convey his thoughts to others in words, teaching him the 
use of English becomes merely a problem of balancing constructive prac- 
tice against drills necessary to correct bad habits due to foreign birth, 
defective training, or indifference. 

The original sentence contained 67 words, the altered one only 52 
a saving of 22 per cent. 

A group of three English instructors wrote this for the benefit of 

It is often necessary for a writer, in the course of preparing a com- 
position, to obtain information from books, periodicals, or other publica- 

Vigor m Style 85 

tions. When such sources are used by the writer, the fact must be made 
clear to the reader, and this is done by a system of reference called 

A less formidably textbookish statement would be: 

In preparing a composition, a writer must often obtain information 
from books, periodicals, or other publications. When he does so, he should 
tell the reader so by a system of reference called documentation. 

The original passage contained 51 words, the revised 33 a saving 
of 35 per cent. 

A scholarly paper which I have at hand starts off: 

The average Elizabethan saw in astrology a subject which for the most 
part was incomprehensible to him. He believed in the efficacy of the stars 
to foretell human events to those who could read them, but he did not 
understand by what means these matters were discovered. 

The passage might be rewritten like this: 

To the average Elizabethan, astrology was mostly incomprehensible. 
He believed the stars could foretell human events to the initiated, but he 
did not understand how. 

The original passage contained 47 words, the revised 25 a saving 
of almost 50 per cent. 

(2) These examples, together with the excerpt from an editorial 
quoted in the previous chapter, are enough to show how the con- 
scious desire for a stiff-starched tone results in wordiness. But an- 
other kind of wordiness creeps with malign ingenuity into even the 
most informal writing. It is a wordiness due to grammatical con- 
struction rather than to downright bombast. For example, a writer 
may use a long dependent clause or a long phrase where a short 
phrase or a single word might express his meaning quite as well, 
and be briefer. 

"I watched the man as he swam across the river/' might be re- 
written, "I watched the man swim across the river/' or, "I watched 
the man swimming across the river." 

"A quality which he lacks is politeness/' might be rendered, "He 
lacks politeness." 

"Cosmic rays constitute a phenomenon which no one has yet been 

86 Creative Writing 

able to understand," might be rendered, "No one has yet been able 
to understand cosmic rays." 

"He is a man whom no one should trust," might be rendered, "He 
is an untrustworthy man," or, "He is untrustworthy." 

"Lincoln was a man endowed by nature with extraordinary abili- 
ties," might be rendered, "Lincoln was a man of extraordinary natu- 
ral abilities," or, "Lincoln had extraordinary natural abilities." 

"Men who have no principles should not be chosen to fill positions 
in the legislative halls of this nation," might be reduced to, "Un- 
principled men should not be elected to Congress." 

This sort of wordiness is extremely common in the work of young 
writers, for young writers have not learned to give each sentence 
that last instant of observation and consideration without which a 
concise style is impossible. 

Even the practiced writer may sometimes neglect this last instant's 
survey, and may as a result construct such a sentence as this, found 
in an excellent textbook on writing: 

But the break with convention being touched upon here is not an ex- 
treme one. 

The sentence would be much better if it read: 

But the break with convention touched upon here is not extreme. 

Further on in the same book is an almost identical lapse: "A style 
which is distinguished by exactness in the meaning of words used is 
evidently an economical one." 

The word "one" is the source of many an offense against brevity. 
In the following sentences, it might profitably be omitted: 

That horse is the most beautiful one here. 

He is a man whom you can trust and one whom you can believe. 

The farm which he owns is a large one. 

The term "hurricane" is used when the storm is one of marked intensity. 

The question of states' rights is one which still troubles the country. 

Vigor in Style 87 

Another frequent offender is "there is" or "there are." Naturally 
there are times ( as in this sentence ) when no other word or structure 
could convey the same shade of meaning or perform the same func- 
tion. In the following sentence, for example, any revision to omit 
"there is" would give the sentence a different implication: 

There is no doubt that Sylvester's concept of verse was much influ- 
enced by that of Poe. 

But in other sentences the form makes for wordiness: 
There are many palaces which are as beautiful as this. 

There are many good writers who have used slang. 

There were two men killed in the wreck. 

Five minutes ago there were no clouds in the sky. 

There were several books which had to be read carefully. 

There is one thing to be remembered. 

"Up" misused is a famous offender against brevity. Though it is 
indispensable in such expressions as "speak up," "wash up," "touch 
up," and a few others, it is an unnecessary tag in sentences like 
"Wind up the clock," "Drink your milk up," "He slipped up on the 
ice," "Hurry up with your examination," "I met up with him today," 
and many others. 

The passive voice sometimes results in wordiness. Many teachers 
of composition have an almost unreasoning horror of this voice, not 
only because it is wordy, but because it is psychologically weak. Yet 
the passive voice is useful. It discriminates between an important 
receiver and an unimportant agent, as, "My brother was shot by a 
highwayman." It helps an author be impersonal in a work ( such as 
this book) where openly personal opinions would sound too much 
like personal prejudices. It draws the reader's attention from the 
personal equation to the concrete fact, as when a scientist writes, "It 

88 Creative Writing 

was found that this serum halted the disease," instead of, "I found 
that this serum halted the disease." It keeps statements indefinite 
where definiteness is impossible, as, "Nagging wives may be blamed 
for many domestic troubles," or "This type of bird has been noted 
in nearly all parts of the world." It enables writers to say things 
which prudence or ignorance would prevent their saying in the 
active voice, as, "College football has been commercialized in this 
state." But notwithstanding these excuses for the passive voice, it is 
too often weak and wordy. 

The theme of the play is artistically developed by the young author. 
If this read, 

The young author develops the theme of the play artistically. 

the sentence would be 16 per cent shorter. Moreover, it would be 
direct and pointed instead of circuitous. In most of the following 
sentences, the active voice would be briefer, and in all of them it 
would be stronger: 

Passive: A great game was played by both sides. 

Active: Both sides played a great game. 

Passive: When the passive voice is shunned, a few words are usually 

Active: Shunning the passive voice usually saves a few words. 

Passive: As soon as the trench was abandoned by our troops, it was 
taken, over by the enemy. 

Active: As soon as our troops abandoned the trench, the enemy took 
it over. 

Passive: The automobile was driven into the shade of a tree which had 
been chosen as the picnic site. 

Active: We drove the automobile into the shade of a tree which we had 
chosen as the picnic site. 

In all but the last example from two to four words are saved. In the 
last example, the active voice is obviously more effective than the 

b. Apologies. The passive is indirect; and indirect writing of any 
sort is weak. When a writer has something to say, he should say it 
(unless he has excellent reasons for doing otherwise) as directly as 

Vigor in Style 89 

possible. He should avoid halfway statements, apologies, and pal- 

He should not say, "She seemed to dance like a woodland fairy/' 
but, "She danced like a woodland fairy." 

He should not say, "My head seemed to be bursting," but, "My 
head was bursting." 

He should not say, "He was, if I may use the term, a man of des- 
tiny," but, "He was a man of destiny." 

He should not say, "It looked as if the fountains of heaven had 
opened," but, "The fountains of heaven had opened." 

He should not say, "His life hung, so to speak, by a thread," but, 
"His life hung by a thread." 

c. Static Verbs. These expressions are weak because they hint at 
an indecisive and somewhat timid nature in the writer. A few words, 
however, are weak in themselves. One of them is the verb "to be" 
in its various forms. A writer should not say, "Here is a field," but, 
"Here lies or stretches or extends a field." He should not say, 
"Here is a building," but, "Here stands or towers or squats or 
huddles a building." He should not say, "Here is a path," but, "Here 
runs or winds or wriggles a path." In other words, whenever a 
writer can gracefully avoid the static "is" in favor of a more active 
verb, he should do so. 

d. Vague Words. Another offender is "very." The word has been 
used so much to intensify other words that it has lost its own 
strength. Nowadays, indeed, "He is a good man," is a stronger state- 
ment than, "He is a very good man." "It was a delightful party," is 
stronger than, "It was a very delightful party." And, "This is an in- 
teresting book,* is stronger than, "This is a very interesting book." 

"Great" is the next culprit on the list. It is not descriptive, not 
exact, not concrete. "A great door" tells us nothing about the door; "a 
great storm" does not make us visualize the storm; "a great event" 
does not distinguish the event in any particular way; "a great bar- 
gain" does not tell us whether the price is $4.98 or $4.90; "a great 
undertaking" does not tell us whether it is a worth-while undertak- 
ing, or a difficult undertaking, or an undertaking too big for the 

90 Creative Writing 

man who begins it; "a great number of people" does not tell us 
whether the number was five hundred or five thousand. 

"Wonderful," "nice," and "splendid" are three old offenders who 
have been escaping the gallows erected by judges of writing for the 
last fifty years. They have been used so much that they have lost 
their original meanings. Observe: "He is a wonderful/nice/splendid 
man." "It is wonderful/nice/splendid weather." "We had a wonder- 
ful/nice/splendid time." "This is a wonderful/nice/splendid cake 
you have cooked." "It is very wonderful/nice/splendid of you." It 
makes no difference which of the three one uses, or in what con- 
nection one uses them. Words that mean so many things mean noth- 

e. Hackneyed and Trite Words. This brings us to the problems 
of hackneyed phrases and jargon. Any good handbook of freshman 
English will give a list of the more common hackneyed or trite terms 
which a writer should avoid. Many of them are included in the fol- 
lowing piece of doggerel: 

When will we cease to write in books 

Of murmuring, gurgling, twisting brooks, 

Of winds that sigh and moan and beat, 

Of the beautiful maiden's dainty feet, 

Of crowds that surge and wagons that clatter, 

Of waters that swirl and birds that chatter, 

Of his firm jaw and his modest ties, 

Of her sunlit hair and her heavenly eyes, 

Of fleeting clouds that fleck the sky, 

Of loves that wait but never die, 

Of lips that tremble and quiver and curl, 

Of bosoms that heave, and teeth like pearl, 

Of engines that puff and throb and groan, 

Of the villain's hiss, and his low, tense tone, 

Of the dying sun's last flickering beam, 

Of the pale moon's mellow, tender gleam? 

When, my friend? When the universe is dead, 

When the brooks are dry, or gone instead, 

When the sun doesn't shine and the moon doesn't show. 

There you have it, my friend and now you know. 

Vigor in Style 
This list contains others likely to escape detection: 


along these lines 
artistic temperament 
brilliant career 
captain of industry 
close to nature 
come in contact with 
deadly earnest 
depths of despair 
discreet silence 
dominant issue 
dull thud 
each and every 
equal to the occasion 
evolutionary process 
familiar landmark 
fiber of his being 
force of circumstances 
harked back 
heart's content 
in great profusion 
iron constitution 
last analysis 
last but not least 
myriad lights 
of the earth earthy 
Old South 

paramount issue 
passed away 
picturesque scene 
powers that be 
profound silence 
promising future 
proud possessor 
ruling passion 
sea of faces 
self-made man 
simple life 

skeleton in the closet 
snow-capped mountains 
soul of honor 
struggle for existence 
student body 

thunderous applause 
true meaning of the word 
untoward incident 
vast concourse 
venture a suggestion 
walk of life 
wrapped in mystery 
wrought havoc 

f. Jargon. Jargon is a form of speech a little different from any- 
thing we have yet encountered. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, in his 
book, The Art of Writing, has a chapter on jargon which is the pro- 
totype of what all essays on the subject should be. If the reader has 
not seen this shrewd and whimsical study of Quiller-Couch's, he 
should look it up in the library and read it at once. What will be 
said here is only a pale and vapid summary of what Quiller-Couch 
has said supremely well. 

The jargoneer dislikes to say things directly. In the eighteenth 
century he would not call a fish a fish, but the "scaly breed" or the 
"finny tribe/' He would not call sheep, sheep, but the "gentle tribe" 

92 Creative Writing 

or the "fleecy kine." He would not say, "The flowers are blooming," 
but, "Blushing Flora paints th' enamel'd ground." And on one fear- 
ful occasion, he would not call snow, snow, but "wooly rain"! Nowa- 
days the jargoneer resorts to circumlocutions and euphemisms. Near 
is in the environs of; being born is first saw the light of day; dying is 
passing away; no is in the negative; several years is over a period of 
years; good weather is favorable climatic conditions; studied hard is 
pursued his studies with great diligence; love is amorous advances; 
grew up is reached mans estate and so forth, and so forth. 

Thus, we could say of a young man: "He. first saw the light of day 
in the environs of New York. After pursuing his studies with great 
diligence over a period of years in the educational institutions of the 
metropolis, he reached man's estate, and shortly thereafter began 
making amorous advances to a member of the opposite sex. Though 
she long turned a deaf ear to his proposals, or answered them in the 
negative, she at last yielded, being under the spell of the favorable 
climatic conditions of spring. Forthwith the happy pair entered into 
the state of matrimony, and lived for a considerable period of years 
in a state of connubial bliss, though at last our hero's better half 
passed away." 

Special groups of "vague, wooly, abstract nouns" are mentioned 
in the following warnings by Quiller-Couch : "Whenever in your 
reading you come across one of these words, case, instance, charac- 
ter, nature, condition, persuasion, degree whenever in writing your 
pen betrays you to one or another of them pull yourself up and 
take thought. . . . Train your suspicions to bristle up whenever you 
come upon 'as regards' 'with regard to,' 'in respect of 9 f 'in connec- 
tion with' 'according as to whether.' " The following sentences illus- 
trate these examples of jargon, together with a revision of the ob- 
jectionable phrases: 

In case it rains, we shall not go. 
If it rains, we shall not go. 

In the first instance, I must speak to you of, etc. 
First, I must speak to you of, etc. 

Vigor in Style 93 

A book of this character (or nature) is useless. 
A book like this is useless. 

The condition of his health forbids his removal. 
His bad health forbids his removal. 

Our Mohammedan friend worshiped with others of like persuasion. 
Our Mohammedan friend worshiped with other Mohammedans. 

He assented with some degree of reluctance. 
He assented reluctantly. 

As regards his honesty, I am not at all doubtful. 
I do not doubt his honesty. 

In connection with (or with regard to, or in respect to) your last offer, 
we cannot just now accept. 

We cannot just now accept your last offer. 

We shall employ him or not according as to whether he answers the 
questions correctly. 

We shall employ him if he answers the questions correctly. 

One other sort of jargon which Quiller-Couch discusses is Elegant 
Variation, that is, a squeamishness about the repetition of words 
already used. For example, the school symbol of the local university 
is an owl. When the sports editor of the local paper describes a foot- 
ball game in which the team of this university participates, we hear 
in successive sentences of the "home team," the "Owl gridsters," the 
"feathered flock," the "feathered warriors," the "doughty Owlmen," 
and so on, with all the adjectives switched about to go with other 
nouns and carry on the elegant variation ad infinitum. In many a 
theme the death of some individual becomes "this unhappy event," 
"his unexpected demise," "his untimely end," "this shocking occur- 
rence," and whatever else the ingenuity of the author may contrive 
to circumvent ( as he would call it ) the Grim Reaper. Such elegant 
variation looks self-conscious, as if a writer were too timid to use 
the same word twice, or too eager to show the resources of his vo- 

This section has consisted, up to now, of admonitions about what 

94 Creative Writing 

a writer should not do. From this point on, the section will consist 
of more positive advice about what a writer should do to attain vigor 
of wording. 

g. Specific Words. The elementary rule, Prefer the specific to the 
general word, is still sound. Instead of, "The birds were loud in the 
trees/' write, "The jays were screaming among the pines." Instead 
of, "Flowers were blooming everywhere," write, "Red gaillardias and 
yellow cosmos glowed over the whole prairie." Instead of, "The 
many kinds of books scattered about showed the diversity of his 
interests," write, "Gibbon's History on the desk, a volume on elec- 
tricity lying open on the lounge, and a shelfful of modern novels 
showed the diversity of his interests." 

h. The Exact Word. The other elementary rule, Choose the exact 
word, is equally sound. Walter Pater regarded the language as an 
immense hoard of treasure to which writers resort for words. In this 
accumulated hoard is hidden one word for every purpose, and only 
one word. All others besides the one are mere makeshifts with which 
no self-respecting writer could be content. Thus, if one is pleased 
with something, he may put it that he is delighted, charmed, glad- 
dened, warmed, rejoiced, taken, captivated, fascinated, enchanted, 
enraptured, transported, bewitched, ravished, satisfied, gratified, 
tickled, regaled, refreshed, enlivened, attracted, allured, stimulated, 
or interested by the thing. Which of the store to choose, the writer's 
meaning must determine. To give another example, people move in 
other ways besides by mere walking or running. They may travel, 
journey, flit, migrate, perambulate, circumambulate, tour, peregri- 
nate, wander, roam, range, prowl, rove, ramble, stroll, saunter, gad 
about, patrol, march, step, tread, pace, plod, promenade, trudge, 
tramp, stalk, stride, strut, stump, or toddle. Nor should an author 
rest until he has chosen the one word in all these which suits the 
meaning he has in mind. Note how different are the meanings and 
the feelings conveyed by the following sentences: 

He sauntered into the room. 
He strutted into the room. 
He stalked into the room. 
He stumped into the room. 

Vigor in Style 95 

He journeyed about the country. 
He flitted about the country. 
He prowled about the country. 
He tramped about the country. 

A word always exists to match a thought, and nearly always to 
match a feeling. It is the writer's business to seek out this matching 
word as if it were a lost piece in a jigsaw puzzle. No other word 
is so satisfactory; no other word makes quite so perfect a fit. 

i. Short and Saxon Words. These two elementary rules about 
the specific word and the exact word are beyond stricture. But one 
or two other rules often quoted should be brought before the bar 
of good judgment and retried. The first of these is, Prefer the 
Saxon word to the Latin together with its companion, Prefer the 
short word to the long. These precepts we should take with reserva- 
tions. A simple, direct, and swift style, dealing with simple, clear, 
and nimble ideas, quite obviously demands a vocabulary much 
sharper and quicker than does a more elaborate style dealing with 
involved, heterogeneous, and deliberate ideas. 2 Furthermore, long 
Latin words give to writing a sonorous dignity never attainable by 
the crisp Anglo-Saxon. How inferior is Tyndale's pure English trans- 
lation, "I am the again-rising and the life," to the Latinized, "I am 
the resurrection and the life!" And how poor would be the following 
much-quoted and well-loved passage from St. Paul if all the italicized 
Latin words were replaced by their English equivalents: 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or 
distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 

As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are 
accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that 
loved us. 

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor princi- 
palities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate 
us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

2 In this very sentence, notice how ( without conscious design by the author ) 
the two contrasting ideas have shaped themselves into two contrasting modes of 
diction. On the one hand, "simple," "direct," "swift," "clear," "nimble," "sharp," 
and "quick"; on the other hand, "elaborate," "involved," "heterogeneous," and 

96 Creative Writing 

Representative passages show that the following use words of 
one syllable to the extent indicated: 

Somerset Maugham 75% 

Katherine Mansfield 74% 

John Galsworthy 70% 

Willa Gather 69% 

Sinclair Lewis 78% 

Thomas B. Macaulay 70% 

R. L. Stevenson 71 % 

Charles Dickens 73% 

Walter Pater 65% 

Matthew Arnold 66% 

The daily newspaper 61 % 

This book 68% 

Narrative writing usually has the largest number of monosylla- 
bles; expositions of processes next; descriptions of sight-images next; 
descriptions of sound-images next; and expositions of ideas least. 
Modern writers tend to use more monosyllables than did the writers 
of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

The figures just given show what a large percentage of modern 
English writing consists of monosyllables. Indeed, when other things 
are equal when cadence, sonority, and euphony are riot concerned; 
when complex and abstract ideas are not involved; when a stately, 
formal, dignified tone is not required; when no relief from a long 
succession of short words is necessary when all these provisos are 
made, the short and Saxon words are to be preferred to the long 
and Latin words. Thus, in the old humorous examples, *T must go 
home/' is better than, "I consider it necessary that I retire to my 
domicile/' And, "I think he is a good man," is better than, "I am 
convinced of the rectitude of his principles/' 

Sometimes ( as in the paragraph from O. Henry already quoted ) 
a rare or sesquipedalian word will break the sameness of mono- 
syllabic and commonplace diction. Perhaps Shakespeare had this 
effect in mind when he wrote these three dull lines, and then finished 
off with the amazing fourth line: 

What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes. 
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood 

Vigor in Style 97 

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather 
The multitudinous seas incarnadine. 

The eighteenth-century critics made it a rule that no regular line 
of poetry should consist of monosyllables alone; and Pope illustrated 
the fault thus: 

And ten low words oft creep in one dull line. 

Like many other eighteenth-century rules of writing, this went in 
the right direction, but went too far. "The one rule," said Stevenson 
in a famous passage, "is to be infinitely various/* Too many short 
words, too many long words, too many Saxon words, too many Latin 
words all are bad. 

j. Division of Labor. One of the commonly recommended means 
toward variety is what is called "division of labor." That is, the 
adjective should not bear the larger part of the burden of meaning 
and emotion in the sentence. Nouns and verbs are the backbone and 
the sinew of the language: they should carry the chief weight; and 
the adjective may often be transmuted, for the sake of strength as 
well as variety, into an adverb. All this does not mean that we ought 
to shun adjectives altogether, for adjectives have an indispensable 
place in all good writing. But we ought to be wary of using adjectives 
to the exclusion or the subordination of other parts of speech. Mark 
Twain gave the excellent advice years ago, "When in doubt, omit 
the adjective." And Emerson counseled, "Let the noun be self-suffi- 
cient" (using an adjective, be it noted, in the sentence). These 
precepts will raise many a dubious sentence into respectability, and 
many a weak sentence into sound health. "He was an enormous 
man" has not the vigor of "He was a monster of a man." "The flash- 
ing guns were visible in the darkness" has not the vigor of "The 
guns were flashing visibly in the darkness." "The breeze became 
fresh" has not the vigor of "The breeze freshened." And "A cheerless 
wind was blowing" has not the vigor of "A wind blew cheerlessly." 

k. Coinages. Another means toward variety not accounted for 
in Pater's conservative scheme is the coining of new words and 
new compounds. The outright coining of absolutely new words 
can never proceed on a grand scale except for the purposes of out- 

98 Creative Writing 

landish, gargantuan humor such as that in Rabelais. Even there, 
however, it gives vigor to the writing. But in general, a sober writer 
coins words for their onomatopoeic or their tonal effect. "Slurp!" 
"Blip!" "Tonk!" "Pfitt!" these and their verb-forms are examples 
of onomatopoeic coinage. On the other hand, "He went galumphing 
down the street" is chiefly intended to give to the action a certain 
feeling. And so with, "The wind wheemed eerily through the forest." 
Or, "He woozled me out of five dollars." Such coinages have an 
undeniable flavor of originality, an atmosphere of vigor; and though 
they can never be used abundantly, they are often worth the trouble 
it takes to make them. 

Another sort of coinage which we may mention in passing is the 
deliberate creation of new words to fit new ideas, new inventions, 
or new discoveries. These words differ from the preceding in hav- 
ing legitimate root-words, generally Latin or Greek. Often they 
fill a want or an absolute need. The automobile, the airplane, and 
the radio, for example, have brought into the language hundreds 
of new words naming new objects such as carburetor, magneto, 
heterodyne, and autogiro. Biology and psychology have brought 
new words naming new ideas and processes such as patroclinous, 
phenotype, introvert, libido, and schizophrenia. Physics and chem- 
istry have an entire vocabulary incomprehensible to the uninitiated. 
And a few trademarks or trade names have supplied new and now 
reputable words for example, mercurochrome, vaseline, fabrikoid, 
masonite, and cellophane. With all such words we can have no com- 
plaint. But the impudence of high-pressure advertising and the 
eagerness of a certain kind of scientist to invent long hard words 
to replace old easy ones these we should resist. Realtor, groceteria, 
healthatorium, dactijlogram, macrograph, and radiogoniometer, to 
mention a few examples, are without excuse. 

1. Compounds. A more important source of new words lies in 
the combination of old words. Such combinations or compounds 
are characteristic of Teutonic languages, and are in the best line of 
English tradition. The introductory ten lines of Beowulf contain 
these combinations: spear-Danes, yore-days, people-kings, mead- 
settle, tore-away, little-owning, honor-worth, every-one, dwellers- 

Vigor in Style 99 

around, and whale-road. A single scene from Shakespeare's The 
Tempest yields virgin-knot, sour-eyed, lass-lorn, pole-clipped, rocky- 
hard, grass-plot, many-coloured, honey-drops, short-grassed, dove- 
drawn, bed-right, waspish-headed, marriage-blessing, ever-harmless, 
sickle-men, rye-straw, cloud-capped, red-hot, calf-like, filthy-man- 
tled, foot-licker, and pinch-spotted. A page of John Galsworthy has 
sub-golden, silver-coloured, silvery-necked, high-collared, red- 
coated, sword-hilt, week-end-run-to, and dark-lashed. Nearly all 
these last, however, are compounded of adjectives, which are not 
to be compared in vigor with noun compounds such as those from 
Beowulf and Shakespeare. 

The chief value of both sorts of compounds is their brevity and 
their freshness. Thus, in Galsworthy, "with dark lashes" would be 
neither so short nor so original as "dark-lashed." The same would 
be true of "one willing to lick another's feet" instead of "foot-licker" 
as Shakespeare wrote it, or "spotted from the effect of pinches" in- 
stead of "pinch-spotted." "The window glass covered with a mist 
from his breath" is inferior to "the breath-misted window glass"; 
"a man who often sits on his lawn" is more commonplace than "a 
confirmed lawn-sitter"; "with lips drawn in" is a less notable phrase 
than "in-drawn lips"; and "people who live on a farm" is longer than 

m. Original Meanings. To people who know a "little Latin and 
less Greek," the use of words in their original etymological sense 
may be a source of extraordinarily vigorous diction. In English, 
words attach to themselves through the centuries an incrustation of 
acquired meanings which writers conventionally accept; yet the 
core of the word, the original meaning at the center of the con- 
ventional meanings, still persists as a vague contour apparent in 
spite of the incrustation. If a writer can unearth this original mean- 
ing, he can present his readers with words elemental and powerful. 
When Shakespeare refers to the ghost of Hamlet's father as "the 
extravagant and erring spirit," he is getting back to the elementals 
of words. He does not mean a "spendthrift and sinful spirit" but a 
"strayed and wandering spirit." In a good dictionary, the original 
meaning of a word is given either in the etymological note or in the 

100 Creative Writing 

definition of the word. By referring to these places, we may construct 
sentences such as the following: 

The castle was a towering fabric of stone. 

Damp spirits overcame him. 

I shall keep the Christmas holiday. 

A vagrant wisteria vine climbed over the porch. 

He came from a gentle family. 

He proved himself a truly Laconic warrior. 

n. New Uses. But the chief source of fresh and vigorous diction 
lies in the new uses of words. For example, we are accustomed to 
see the word plump used with definite material objects; but Kip- 
ling applies it to an action in "plump obeisances." We are accus- 
tomed to see the word staring used with eyes; but J. B. Priestley 
says, "She talked in a kind of idle, staring voice." We are accustomed 
to see the word blur used with images of sight; but de la Roche 
writes, "The music became by degrees blurred." 

The attainment of this freshness of diction is not easy. It comes 
from the same almost philosophic spirit from which comes the 
power to make figures of speech that is, the mind which sees 
similarities in things which to the average mind are quite different. 
When Conrad describes a swimmer immersed "in a greenish ca- 
daverous glow," he recognizes the similarity between two things 
so unlike as a swimmer and a corpse; when Poe speaks of "thy 
hyacinth hair," he recognizes the similarity between the curls on a 
woman's head and the curls of hyacinth petals; and when Wilbur 
Daniel Steele writes of "little houses scrambling up the length" of 
a street, he recognizes the similarity between houses and living 
things. Not quite so obviously, but just as surely, a writer who 
says, "She was one of those frankly sanctimonious persons," is em- 
ploying a word usually associated with something very different 
from sanctimoniousness. Jane Austen has a similar description: "He 
possessed a countenance of strong, natural, sterling insignificance." 
When O. Henry says, "The girl penetrated the restaurant to some 
retreat in its rear," he uses a word associated with solids because 
he sees the likeness between the crowded restaurant with its thickly 
aromatic atmosphere, and a material substance. When Conrad says 

Vigor in Style 101 

that light "fell from above on the heads of the three men, and they 
were fiercely distinct in the half-light," he sees the likeness between 
distinct vision and strong passion. And when Ellen Glasgow writes 
of "eyes fixed in a pathetic groping stare," she sees the likeness 
between searching eyes and searching hands. 

To perceive likenesses in things different, to apply to one idea or 
image words most frequently used with another this may require 
a certain quick, almost mystical intuition which every writer may 
not possess. But almost every writer has at least a spark of intui- 
tion; and by proper care, one may fan the spark into quite a warm 
blaze. At any rate, one can try. He can avoid saying "green grass/' 
and say instead "poisonous grass," or "pallid grass," or "delicious 
grass," or "cheerful grass." He can avoid saying "blue sky," and 
say instead "livid sky," or "purple sky," or "dead sky," or "living 
sky," or "brazen sky," or "hovering sky," or "huddling sky," or "still 
sky," or "weary sky," or "glad sky." And he can vivify such a com- 
monplace statement as "He glanced toward her" by saying instead, 
"His glance slid toward her or slipped toward her or rushed 
toward her or wandered toward her or bounded toward her." 

So far, everything which has been said about style in this book 
has been advice which any intelligent person with some capacity 
for taking pains might follow. But what is to be said in the next 
two parts of this discussion of style is not advice which anybody or 
everybody can follow. Indeed, much of it is not even advice. It is 
merely an analysis of some of the elements which create the vague 
abstractions "personality" and "beauty" in style. Some writers will 
find the analysis useful for their own writing; others will not. 


3. Vigor of Wording. 

a. Make the wording of the following sentences more vigorous. In 
addition, change the structure wherever it is weak. Explain all changes 
you make: 

(1) We come to college with the expectation of being able 
to increase our practical knowledge to such an extent that we 
shall be able to make a living for ourselves. 

102 Creative Writing 

(2) We may taste of many things in college, and thus acquire 
a wonderful fund of knowledge which, in our future life, will 
help us to understand the world and to enjoy it. 

(3) We make judgments in the same manner in which the 
business man makes his. 

(4) It is not the circumstance that we have a college educa- 
tion, or willingness, or ability, or personality, or any other one 
quality that assures success for us; but it seems to be a happy 
combination of all these qualities. 

(5) We must not permit the importance which attaches 
itself to one phase of college life to overshadow the possibilities 
which are encompassed within the other. 

(6) The plays that college students have assigned to them 
as required reading are read very hurriedly, and with the one 
idea in mind that an examination is to be passed. 

(7) My first day at college was one of wonderful surprises 
and great disillusionments. 

(8) The professor was a young man of seemingly athletic 
build. His eyes were bright and his manner was alert. The 
splendid character of this man was a great influence over all 
with whom he came in contact. 

(9) He at once instituted an inquiry through the advertising 
columns of the daily paper in order that he might learn some- 
thing of the whereabouts of his missing son. 

(10) He was very glad to part with a large portion of his 
savings in order that his son might be able to train himself in 
the profession of law. 

(11) The prisoner is charged with murder in connection with 
the killing of Q. R. Bronson in a holdup which is known to have 
occurred on November 10. 

(12) There is a considerable portion of the population which 
still harbors suspicion concerning the nature of the American 
banking business. 

(13) Although marriage ceremonies and funerals seem to be 
entirely different things, they are similar in many respects. 

(14) He thought that he could not remember having spent 
such a wonderful evening. 

(15) The walk was postponed, but only after the promise of 
one for the next evening was given to him. 

(16) The morning dawned clear and bright; in fact, it suf- 
fices to say that it was a typical Palm Beach morning. 

Vigor in Style 103 

(17) The moonlight reflected on her hair made her resemble 
a goddess. 

(18) He was very much attracted to this beautiful young 
lady who seemed to exert something of a spell over him, though 
he felt that he was powerless to do anything about it. 

(19) But alas! A rude awakening from a dream of splendor 
lay before him. 

(20) There might be a few people who would pretend to 
be his friend as long as he had money. 

(21) This nest is rather different from most I have seen, a? 
it appears to be much more bulky than is usually the case. 

(22) It would be audacious of me to appear to speak with 
authority on the more technical aspects of the printer's profes- 

(23) Mr. D. believes the model to prove it possible to build 
a yacht to the limits of the length to which sheet aluminum of 
the correct quality can be rolled, without any cross-seams what- 
soever on the hull. 

(24) Mrs. Van Kosh had an utter horror of physical punish- 
ment in any capacity. 

(25) She insisted that persuasion was the most efficient, 
cultured, and humane manner in which a child should be reared. 

(26) Standing there, he presented an appearance that re- 
minded one of a fish. 

(27) In rescuing the unfortunate canine and bearing it off 
with me to my home, I succeeded in smothering all apprehen- 
sions as to family reactions relative to what they would in- 
variably term an additional nuisance. 

(28) There is a new color called Briar Brown, which is a 
dark, rich shade of brown, and which is very attractive, to say 
the least. 

(29) In Coleridge's case a boy of truly extraordinary quali- 
ties was father to one of the most remarkable of men. 

(30) Sedate, composed, and courteous, she presented a wide 
contrast to her little brother. 

(31) He was a large man who had hair which was the color 
of a carrot; but though he was grotesque in appearance, he was, 
I think, almost the kindest man I have ever known. 

(32) Throughout my high school career, I selected subjects 
that gave promise of preparing me for college; and in those 
subjects I tried to stand out in scholastic rating that is, I 
studied a great deal. 

104 Creative Writing 

(33) When he came out into the light, I could see that he 
was very tall; but the dark eyes appeared to have a sinister light 
in them, and seemed to be able to see right through me. 

(34) Sophistication and poise (both of them qualities essen- 
tial for beauty) are evident in her entire bearing. 

(35) The physical aspects of this great educational institu- 
tion are in keeping with its scholastic attainments. 

b. Make the diction of the following sentences more specific: 

(1) The child was pleased by the many Christmas presents. 

(2) It was an untidy room. 

(3) Bright colors were to be seen everywhere at the game. 

(4) The entire village disliked seeing its minister wear 
shabby clothes. 

(5) His whole appearance was grotesque. 

c. Find a more exact word for each of the italicized words in the 
following sentences: 

( 1 ) I heard a heavy body fall to the floor of the apartment 
above us. 

(2) The puppy came toward us. 

(3) The sun went down behind the palm trees. 

(4) I heard the child crying again. 

(5) He is a wonderful man; it is a wonderful book; I had 
a wonderful time. 

d. Write a paragraph on each member of the following groups of 
subjects, and then compare the number of Latin words in one para- 
graph with the number in the other: 

(1) The necessity for internationalism. 
The necessity for nationalism. 

(2) The death of an old country grandmother. 
The death of a great warrior or statesman. 

(3) The love of Paris for Helen. 

The love of a high school boy for a girl. 

(4) A criticism of some ultra-modern painting. 

A criticism of a painting by one of the old masters. 

e. Make adjectives bear less of the burden in the following de- 
scriptive passages: 

A small, cowering boy of ten stood before a huge man who 
held a long leather whip in his hand. An ugly scowl was on the 
man's swarthy face as he leaned toward the small boy with a 
threatening attitude. 

Vigor in Style 105 

An old and tottering man was trying to pick his feeble way 
along the crowded street. His shaking hand would now and 
then touch a wall for support; and now and then he would pause 
as if he were afraid to go farther through the dangerous traffic. 
"Can I help you, mister?" a shrill voice cried as a ragged urchin 
ran toward the old man. Taking the trembling hand in a close 
grip, the boy led the old man across the street, and left him safe 
on the other side. This kind act showed that, for all his ragged 
clothes, the little boy was at heart gentlemanly. 

f. Substitute compound words for phrases in the following sen- 

(1) He entered the gate to the field. 

(2) The chickens had littered the earth with the rubbish 
they had scratched up. 

(3) He moved off down the road leading to the mill. 

(4) He wore a black mustache which was cropped short. 

(5) He came into full view on the slope of the hill. 

(6) Daffodils grew in boxes at the windows. 

(7) The farm was about a mile from the edge of the wood. 

(8) We passed two outlandish vessels with high sterns. 

(9) The owner of the boat came toward us. 
(10) He rode a horse marked with sweat. 

g. Write sentences in which you use the following words in their 
original meanings: 

concur artful eager 

capital trivial indifferent 

apprehend character countenance 

insinuate prevent quick 

fond virtue conceit 

infantry nominate accost 

h. Try to find more notable words for the following ideas: 

full face windy day 

puffy face green trees 

blue eyes thick foliage 

bright eyes clear stream 

rosy cheeks high mountain 

full lips rolling country 

weak chin shady path 

strong jaw bright sunlight 

receding forehead sweet song 

bald head swaying vines 

106 Creative Writing 

i. In a good thesaurus find ten synonyms for each of the following 
words. Last the synonyms, and make sentences that will contain at 
least three of them: 

light brown 

dark red 

transparent green 

color yellow 

colorless blue 

white purple 

black orange 

gray variegated 

loud hot 

faint cold 


musical high 

hard dry 

sour fragrant 



Beauty of Style 

Beauty is that which gratifies the eye or the ear independently 
of other considerations. But since writing (exclusive of good pen- 
manship or good printing) consists of ugly black wriggly figures 
spread across white pages, it cannot gratify the eye as a beautiful 
image. Accordingly, writing which is beautiful must symbolize 
sounds gratifying to the ear. In this sense, therefore, we shall discuss 
beauty in style. It means beautiful sound, pleasing sound, in writing. 
Moreover, it ought to involve, and it shall involve in our discussion, 
fitness of sound to sense. 

In the following pages we shall discuss beauty under three heads: 
beauty of pure sounds, beauty of patterned sounds, and beauty of 

1. PURE SOUNDS. In some way, and for some reason, a few sounds 
have come to please, and a few to displease, most English-speaking 
people, irrespective of meaning or context. 

a. Beautiful Sounds and Ugly Sounds. Among the vowels, a as 
in arm, o as in ode, oo as in moon, and the two u sounds in tuneful 
are the most pleasing. Close behind come a as in ale, e as in be, 
and i as in white and ill. Positively displeasing are the aw sound in 
all, ou ( or ow ) as in out, u as in up, a as in fat, and perhaps e as in 
well. Oi seems displeasing sounded alone or in certain combinations; 
but words like voice and loyal are not ugly. 

The consonants may probably be arranged something like this in 
descending order: 

Beautiful: Z, m, n, r, v, s, d. 
Negative: t,f,w,y. 

Ugly: k, b, p, h, g, /, z. 


108 Creative Writing 

This order is only approximate, it would differ with different 
individuals. But in a list made out by a score of people, the first 
half-a-dozen sounds here given would probably appear first in one 
order or another on all lists. An Italian musician pointing out the 
beauty of the English language gave as an example of perfect beauty 
the words "cellar door"; Poe thought t; was the most beautiful letter, 
and he said that the saddest words in the language were "no more." 
In his famous poem he used with tremendous effect the word "never- 
more." In all the phrases quoted, the beautiful fs, ms, ris, rs, and 
one s, together with the long o's, occur again and again. 

S and d, however, are problems. They seem to be beautiful when 
they occur alone, but are ugly when prominently repeated in suc- 
cessive words. Likewise all the negative letters and their partners 
(mentioned below) become ugly if too much repeated. Indeed, a 
sentence in which the number of consonants is disproportionately 
large is rough, no matter what the consonants may be: 

Midst thickest mists and stiffest frosts, 
With strongest fists and stoutest boasts, 
He thrusts his fists against the posts, 
And still insists he sees the ghosts. 

Moreover, some consonants sound so much alike that a reader 
must be careful to pronounce them very distinctly when he finds 
one of them at the end of a word, and another at the beginning of 
the next word. Such pairs make unpleasant reading. They are b 
and p; d arid t; f and v; g and k; m and n; s and z. To be added 
to the list is any consonant repeated from the end of one word to 
the beginning of the next word, as "deep places." Some ugly sen- 
tences showing the liaison (as it is called) of pairs of consonants 

The big king kicked Tim. 

A plain man must drink good tea. 

Hop up behind his sister. 

Pop broke glass on market days. 

Beauty of Style 109 

The next few quotations illustrate the beautiful and the ugly 
effects produced by certain letters: 

Fat black bucks in a barrel-house room 1 

This is an ugly-sounding line. Notice the flat a's and the flat w, the 
b's, the k's, the h, the /, the ugly on in house. Room is the only 
beautiful word in the line. 

This next is from that now-neglected master of word-music, 

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear, 

And thinner, clearer, farther going! 
O sweet and far from cliff and scar, 

The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! 
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying; 
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. 

Notice how the long o's, the i's, and the ;i'.9, /'.$, and rs echo and 
reecho through the lines; and how every ugly sound (like h, k, g, 
and p) is immediately modulated by a following beautiful sound. 
The single exception is "how." 

Shakespeare's early and poor play, the Comedy of Errors, has 
lines such as these: 

Back, slave, or I will break thy pate across. 
Hence, prating peasant, and fetch thy master home. 
If I last in this service, you must case me in leather. 

It would make a man as mad as a buck to be so bought and sold. 

Turning to prose, we find this in Kipling: "shrimp-pink prisoners 
of war bathing." Not quite so bad is, "The shutter of the room next 
mine was attacked, flung back." Carlyle writes, "Thus your Actual 
Aristocracy have got discriminated into Two Classes," and, "The 
Ant lays-up Accumulation of Capital, and has, for aught I know, a 
Bank of Antland." Here is a sentence from Galsworthy, with the 

1 In the original poem, the word is "wine-barrel" instead of "barrel-house"; 
the latter word is the first in the next line. 

110 Creative Writing 

purely unpleasant sounds capitalized, and the unpleasant repetitions 
or liaisons italicized: 

HiS KicKS And CrowS And sPlAsHingS HAd fhe Joy of a gnAt'S 
dAnce or a JAcKdAw's GAmBols. 

But it should be remembered that the sense or the feeling of a 
passage may often demand ugly sounds. The sentence just quoted 
from Galsworthy (in which the bathing of an infant is described) 
would be absurd if it were dignified and beautiful; and the line 
from Lindsay's Congo ("Fat black bucks," etc.) is purposely ugly 
because the author tries to create an unpleasant reaction in the 
reader. The following from Tennyson's Mortc d' Arthur is likewise 
purposely harsh for its onomatopoeic effect: 

Dry clashed his harness in the icy caves 

And barren chasms, and all to left and right 

The bare black cliff clanged round him, as he based 

His feet on juts of slippery crag that rang 

Sharp-smitten with the dint of armed heels. 

b. Feeling and Letter-sounds. Not only are certain sounds beau- 
tiful or ugly in themselves, but certain sounds convey certain feel- 

O, especially long o, gives sonorousness, solemnity, power, and 
often mournfulness to words. 

7, especially long t, gives a feeling of quick brightness, delight, 
and happiness. 

A as in fate often has about it a feeling of lazy deliberation, or 
stateliness, or undeviating straightness, or weight. 

Long c usually implies feeling keen rather than powerful. 

Long u and long oo make a tuneful, crooning sound that is sooth- 
ing, smooth, and curative. 

Short a, e, and u are dull words, heavy, flat, platitudinous, and 
sometimes depressing. They occur in words like wet blanket, mud, 
sniut, fat, nap, and death. 

The Biblical sentence, "Arise, shine, for the light has come, and 
the glory of the Lord is upon thee," is a perfect example of joyous 
long is which grow into the more solemn emotion of the long 

Beauty of Style 111 

os, which in turn end with a hint of excited feeling in the long e. 

"Give ye ear and hear my voice; hearken and hear my speech/' 
This, with its long es, almost screams at its reader. The next verse, 
however, at once mounts into true solemnity: "Doth the plowman 
plow all day to sow? Doth he open and break the clods of his 

Some consonants have definite emotional connotations, or excite 
definite feelings or ideas. The long-drawn in and n, for example, 
bring about in the sound-progression a momentary suspension which 
is lulling and soothing. Tennyson uses these letters, together with 
long o, most skillfully in "The Lotos-Eaters": 

"Courage!" he said, and pointed toward the land, 
"This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon." 
In the afternoon they eame unto a land 
In which it seemed always afternoon. 
All round the coast the languid air did swoon, 
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream. 
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon; 
And, like a downward smoke, the slender stream 
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem. 

R with long vowels creates a calm, clear music, as in this stanza 
from "The Lady of Shalott": 

Only reapers reaping early 
In among the bearded barley, 
Heard a song that echoed cheerly 
From the river winding clearly, 

Down to towered Camelot; 
And by the moon the reaper weary, 
Piling sheaves in uplands airy, 
Listening, whispers, " Tis the fairy 

Lady of Shalott." 

But with a profusion of other consonants, r becomes harsh and 
rasping as in the lines from Morte d 'Arthur already quoted. 

L is liquid, light, translucent; it is pale like twilight; it is soft 
like the glow of a pearl. In his descriptions of the sea, Conrad in- 
variably calls on this letter to assist him, as in this: 

Creative Writing 

I saw it suddenly flicker and stream out on the flagstaff. The Red En- 
sign! In the pellucid, colorless atmosphere of that southern land, the 
livid islets, the sea of pale, glassy blue under the pale, glassy sky of that 
cold sunrise, it was, as far as the eye could reach, the only spot of ardent 
color. 2 

S is a swift and agile letter if it is not bound up with long vowels. 
Thus, Tennyson's "So strode he back slow to the wounded king," 
is slow and deliberate because of the long os which impede the 
flow of the ss. But Pope's lines, 

Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain, 

Flies o'er the unbending corn or skims along the main, 

show the s in its true nature. The old tongue-twister, "She sells 
sea-shells by the seashore," is all the more difficult to say because 
the s's invite indeed, almost compel hasty utterance. If the line 
were slowed up by long o's, we should not be tempted to say it 
fast, and should find it no more difficult than Tennyson's line quoted 
above. Thus: "Sol soaks so-and-so's in soapsuds." 

B, t, and p give an impression of abruptness of a chopped-of? 
sound, an idea bitten through, a sentence pat and proper. 

G, h t and / are ordinarily regarded as rough, savage letters with 
none of the refinement of /, in, n, and r. A look into a thesaurus 
shows all these words with gs and h's as synonyms of horrible: 
ugly, homely, misshapen, shapeless, hard, hard-visaged, haggard, 
grim, ghastly, ghostly, gristly, gruesome, ungainly, gross, hulking, 
horrid, and hideous. 

Poe's poem, "The Bells," is a deliberate exercise in letter-sounds 
and letter-feelings which the reader may study with profit. 

In the following experiment, notice how the sense and the feeling 
change with the changing of dominant letters: 

With o: A bullet moaned slowly across the hollow. 

With t: A bullet trilled swiftly from cliff to cliff. 

With e: A bullet screeched fiercely, deep in the ravine. 

With a: A bullet wailed past the face of the palisade. 

With n: A bullet sang along the canyon between pinnacles of stone. 

2 From A Personal Record, by Joseph Conrad, copyright, 1912, by Double- 
day, Doran and Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission. 

Beauty of Style 113 

With r: A bullet from far off rang its clarion through the gorge. 

With /: A bullet leapt lightly across the valley. 

With s: A bullet sped swiftly from side to side of the abyss. 

With fo, /, p, and t: A bullet cleft the space between lip and b'p of 

the gulf. 

With g, h, and ;': A bullet hurtled savagely from jagged crag to 


So far, we have dealt with pure sounds as units, irrespective of 
their relation to the sentence as a whole. In the next section, we 
shall examine them as they appear in the sentence itself. 

2. PATTERNED SOUNDS. The essence of pattern is repeat. A single 
beat of a tom-tom is not a pattern, but a series of similar beats is; 
one soldier in uniform is not a pattern, but a whole squadron is; 
one row of corn is not a pattern, but a field of rows is. 

These primitive types of patterns, however, consisting as they do 
of mere repeats, soon grow monotonous to the eye or ear. To be 
permanently gratifying, therefore, a pattern must have variety, 
change, relief from sameness; and yet all the while it must main- 
tain its identity as a system of repeats. Good sentences have this 
variety within sound-patterns. One sound repeats itself over and 
over, and yet just before it becomes monotonous, this sound gives 
way to another. Then, after a bit, the first sound may be taken up 
again, carried on, blended with the second, made a part of the 
special pattern formed by the second, and eventually wrought into 
a harmony. 

Within the sentence, only those sounds which occur in accented 
syllables and in important words form a part of the sound-pattern. 
But the very fact of repetition gives importance to sounds which 
would be ignored if they were not repeated. Any sound, therefore, 
repeated several times becomes a part of the sound-pattern almost 
independently of its accentuation or sense-importance. 

a. Vowel-Patterns. A sentence already quoted is a good example 
of simple vowel-pattern: 

Arise, shine, for thy light has come, 

. .1 i i..i u. . . 

and the glory of the Lord is upon thee. 

. O . O O ..... 6 

114 Creative Writing 

Expressed symbolically, according to the rhythmical balance of 
the sentence, the pattern looks like this: 

i i i i u 
o o o e 

In this next, as in the preceding, only accented vowels are noted: 

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, 
. . .e i aw u 

or the golden bowl be broken, 
o o o. . . . 

or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, 
i o ow 

or the wheel broken at the cistern. 
e o i 

The pattern of it may be expressed thus: 

e i aw u 

o o 

1 o ow 
e o i 

Observe the beautiful weaving back and forth of the dominating o 
( with the kindred open aw and ow ) and the less emphatic e's that 
gradually reach a climax in wheel; and observe the minor i sound 
reappearing in all the components but one. 

One more example from the Bible: 

Intreat me not to leave thee, 
. . . .e. . . .e. .o e e. 

or to return from following after thee: 
U....U...O.Q a e.. 

for whither thou goest, I will go; 
i ow. . .o. . . i. . .i. . .o. . 

and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. 
a .... ow . o i ... i ... o .... 

Beauty of Style 116 

This, with its open ow and o sounds, is approximately as follows: 

e e o e e 

u u o o a e 

i ow o i i o 

a ow o i i o 

The entire passage is a pattern of three elements e, o, and 
with u and a as discords. Notice, moreover, the additional pattern 
in the last two elements of the passage. 

Here is a sentence from a modern writer, Joseph Conrad: 

He is the war-lord 
. .e aw. .aw 

who sends his battalions 
. . u . . e a . a .... 

to the assault of our shores, 
u a . . aw .... ow ... o ... 

There may be some questions as to whether the passage is divided 
correctly; but the interplay of aw's and as is obvious. The last 
element of the sentence forms a perfect conclusion by repeating the 
two dominant elements, and then shifting subtly to the related 
open sounds of ow and o. 

One more example will reveal additional complexities of these 
vowel-patterns : 

Oh, moonlit night of Africa, 
o u. .i. . .i a 

and orchard by those wild sea-banks 
aw i. . . .o. . . .i. . . .e. . .a. . . 

where once Dido stood. 8 
. . .a. . .u i.o. . .u. . . . 

Exclusive of alliteration, which can become obvious and tiresome, 
there is no better way to get music in prose than by the use of 
vowel-patterns such as those analyzed. Their intricate interweaving, 
or counterpoint, makes the beauty of language. 

3 From Andrew Lang's Adventures among Bonks. Quoted by W. E. Williams 
in Plain Prose, Longmans, Green and Company, 1929, p. 110. 

116 Creative Writing 

b. Consonant-patterns. It is true that consonants can be molded 
into patterns quite as complex; but except for a few consonants 
and a few simple patterns, consonant-patterns have little real effect 
on the reader. He usually sees them as mere repetitions of a unit 
without relation and without variety. Furthermore, except with three 
or four consonants (m, n, /, and sometimes r), these repetitions 
become displeasing before they have worked themselves into a 
notable pattern. About the best a writer can do, therefore, after 
he has made the simple consonant-patterns, is to be content with 
repeating consonants only for the psychological effects already men- 
tioned. He should leave most of the business of pattern-making to 
the vowels. 

Some consonants can be worked into pleasing arrangements of 
repeats. In the stanzas from "The Lady of Shalott" and "The Lotos- 
Eaters" we have seen how the repetition of r, m, and n gives real 
pleasure. And in a passage from Conrad we have seen I used pleas- 
ingly. Moreover, these repeats are not merely alliterative; they 
weave at random in and out of the syllables. This next passage of 
prose, from Kipling, illustrates the musical use of the same four 
letters. It begins with / and r, passes on to m and n, and concludes 
with r once more. ( The vowels make a pattern of o's and is. ) 

The night had c/osed in rain, and rowing c/ouds b/otted out the fights 
of the vi//ages in the va//ey . . . The monkeys sung sorrowfuWy to each 
other as they hunted dry roots in the fern-draped trees. 

But (omitting these four) consonants can usually be felt as pat- 
terned only when they are alliterative. Furthermore, if the allitera- 
tion involves more than two or three syllables, it is nearly always 
distinctly unpleasant to the reader. 

The sentence lacks a proper proportion of parts. 

The water washed the watchdog away. 

Girls gain their growth less gradually than boys. 

All these sentences sound bad. 

The best sort of alliteration for prose is that which is an intricate 
crisscross of sound that is felt rather than intellectually perceived. 

Beauty of Style 117 

Let us see it working out in verse and then in prose. Swinburne, 
that master of patterned language, writes: 

There go the loves fhat wither, 

The old loves with wearier things; 
And all dead years draw f hither, 

And all disastrous things. 

The pattern is 

Th th 1 th w 
Th 1 w w w 
a d d th 
a d th 

In the following passage from Pater's Marim the Epicurean, note 
how s and ra are the primary alliterative elements, and how allitera- 
tions of Z, /, and h weave like three threads in and out of the funda- 
mental pattern: 

So, /ittle by fittle, they stole upon the /jeart of their sister. She, mean- 
while, bids the lyre to sound for their dc/ight, and the playing is heard: 
she bids the pipes to move, the choir to .sing, and the music- and the 
singing come invisibly, soothing the mind of the /istener with sweetest 
modulation. Yet not even thereby was their malice put to sleep: once more 
they seek to know what manner of husband she has, and w/icncc that 
seed. And Psyche, simple overmuch, /orgetful of her first story, answers, 
"My husband comes from a /ar country, trading for great sums, //e is 
already of middle age, with whitening focks." 

In the following highly rhetorical passage from Ruskin, the reader 
should notice how the first half of the first sentence is dominated 
by a constantly recurring w; how the second half is dominated by 
couplets or triplets of alliteration (b, b, b; p, p; l y /, I)- and how 
the two halves are woven together by the / and k sounds repeated 
at intervals throughout the sentence. The next sentence follows the 
same scheme, with variations. The first half is dominated by s; 
the second half is dominated by groups of other alliterations ( g, g, g; 
b, b, b, b; r, r, r, r; b, b); and the two halves are woven together 
by the I sound repeated at intervals throughout the sentence: 

And then you will hear the sudden rush of the awakened wind, and 
you will see those watch-towers of vapor swept away from their /ounda- 

118 Creative Writing 

tions, and u;aving curtains of opaque rain let down to the valleys, swing- 
ing from the burdened clouds in black tending fringes, or pacing in pale 
columns a/ong the /ake-/evel, grazing its surface into /oam as they go. 
And then, as the sun sinks, you shall see the storm drift for an instant 
from off the hills, /caving their broad sides smoking and loaded yet with 
snow-white, torn, steam-like rags of capricious vapor, now gone, now 
gathered again; while the smouldering .?un seeming not far away, but 
burning like a red-hot ball beside you, and as if you could reach it, 
plunges through the rushing wind and rolling cloud with headlong fall, as 
if it meant to rise no more, dyeing all the air about it with blood. 

To summarize all this about patterned "sounds : 

Prominently repeated vowel-sounds (interspersed occasionally 
with variant vowel-sounds ) constitute the easiest, and often the most 
effective kind of sound patterns. 

L, m, n, or r prominently repeated make easy and effective sound- 

The other consonants seldom make noticeable or pleasing sound- 
patterns unless they occur in alliterations. These alliterations them- 
selves are not pleasing unless they occur in the intricate crisscross 
formations described above. 

c. Rhyme. One other subject remains to be discussed, though 
briefly. It is rhyme. We may say at once without any hesitation 
that rhyme has no regular place in prose. It usually looks like an 
accidental error made by an unskilled writer; and sometimes it 
looks like cheap sensationalism. Yet once in a while rhyme is ef- 
fective. It may be onomatopoeic, as in Bierce's "a grumble of drums," 
and in such phrases as "a growling, howling pack of dogs," "a 
sputtering, stuttering, frightened little boy," "rushing through the 
bushes," "chattering about matters of no consequence," "lapping at 
the platter" (approximate rhyme), "wailing in the jail-house," and 
so on. Or it may sometimes, in this day of advertising and political 
slogans, make a catchy phrase which will draw attention and per- 
haps be memorable: "gangsters shooting and looting in the cities," 
"lovers sighing and crying in the parks," "people wailing and railing 
against fate," "politicians snug in their offices and smug in their 
conceit," "portraits of office-seekers staring and glaring from every 
billboard," "the smart, tart bright young people," and so on. 

Beau ty of Style 119 

Up to this point, we have discussed only letter-sounds and word- 
sounds as units or repeated units. We have not discussed the larger 
groupings of words, the blocks made up of many different syllables 
forming complex bursts of sound and related harmoniously to other 
such groups. Our next section will deal with such sound-clusters. 

3. RHYTHM. The problem of prose rhythm has been the subject 
of some studies in physics, many studies in psychology, and count- 
less studies in rhetoric. But probably no writer has ever been able 
to satisfy anybody but himself with his analysis of prose rhythm. 
Accordingly, it will be extraordinary if the following paragraphs 
seem to the reader at all correct or helpful. The chief virtue that 
the author would claim for them is that they add another point of 
view, another method of analysis, to those already known. Through 
synthesizing the various points of view, through picking up a hint 
here and following a suggestion there, somebody may sometime 
come to a real understanding of prose rhythm. Till that time, all 
suggestions, hints, and points of view of whatever kind will be 

Rhythm in prose is not rhyme; it is not meter (which is a regu- 
lar succession of alternating accented and unaccented syllables); it 
is not mere parallel structure (like / came, I saw, I comfuered)-, it 
is not groups of sounds having the same number of syllables; it is 
not patterns of vowel-sounds and consonant-sounds. Rhythm is like 
ocean waves breaking on the shore. No two waves are alike; the 
sounds made by no two waves are alike; and the intervals between 
no two waves are the same. Yet a rhythm exists in the beating of 
the surf; and the rhythm changes with changes in the tide and 

a. Rhythm as a Sound Wave. The essence of rhythm, like that 
of pattern, is repeat, although the repeated units need not be iden- 
tical. Moreover, the repeat consists of two elements instead of one. 
The wave comes in, and it goes out; comes in, goes out; comes in, 
goes out. Sounds rise and fall; rise and fall; rise and fall. A sen- 
tence with rhythm rises to a crest of sound, pauses, and then falls, 
only to be followed by another such rise and fall, rise and fall. 

Creative Writing 

the sea; 

run into yet the sea 
All the rivers is not full. 


the rivers thither 
from whence they return 

Unto the place again. 

of labor; 

are full man cannot 

All things " utter it. 

with seeing, 

is not satisfied nor the ear 

The eye filled with hearing. 


which hath it is that 
The thing which shall be; 


which is it is that which 
And that shall be done. 

Notice in the passage just quoted that the rise to the crest and 
the fall away from it are of about the same length; and that each 
of the different crests, from beginning of rise to end of fall, is 
about the same length as each of the others. Contrast the passage 
with a piece of non-rhythmic prose such as the following. Writing 
such as this conveys information clearly, but it is not beautiful. 


throughout India due to 
were reported monsoon storms, 

and heavy property damage 
Hundreds of deaths 

were homeless, 
of families 

over a cliff, 
a train was thrown 
In southern India 

Beauty of Style 1%1 

was buried 

of fifteen when a house 

a wedding party collapsed. 

In the United Provinces 


Most deaths were caused 

by similar 

We need not follow punctuation (always variable and often 
arbitrary) in analyzing passages into sound waves. Sometimes sev- 
eral sound waves may occur in a single sentence, as in the Biblical 
passage already quoted. On the other hand, one sound wave may 
involve more than one sentence: 

We were in an ecstasy. // We were possessed. 

The sun was glorious in the sky. // The sky was of a blue unspeakable. 

A great deal of steam! // The pudding was out of the copper. A smell 
like a washing day! // That was the cloth. 

b. Rhythm as Balanced Sound. So far, we have been speaking 
of the larger rhythmic unit as a wave. Suppose, now, that we aban- 
don that figure, and speak of it as a balance of sound. As in poetry 
there are the strophe and antistrophe, the stanza and the refrain, 
the word and its rhyme, so in prose there are sound-units which 
cry aloud for other sound-units to complete them. In a word, many 
a sentence-element demands another balancing sentence-element 
before the sentence as a whole can be satisfying. 

Various forces within one sentence-element may impose the neces- 
sity of a corresponding sentence-element for the sake of comple- 

Grammatical structure is one of the forces: 

Though I wanted to go, ... 

If he speaks to me, . . . 

When he was writing this book, . . . 

Fio. i 



FIG. a 


FIG. 3 

FIG. 4 



FIG. 5 

Beauty of Style 128 

All these sentence-elements demand by their structure an answering 

Furthermore, a certain rhythm in preceding sentences may point 
to a like rhythm in subsequent sentences. Thus: 

He tried five or six professions in turn without success. He applied for 
ordination; but as he applied in scarlet clothes, he was speedily turned 
out of the episcopal palace. He then became tutor in an opulent family, 
but soon quitted his situation in consequence of a dispute about play. 
Then he determined to emigrate to America. . . . 

The last sentence cannot possibly remain thus without a completing 
clause. The rest of the passage has imposed a certain rhythm on the 
entire paragraph which the last sentence cannot ignore. 

c. Types of Balance. But to get back to our fundamental point. 
Rhythm involves a balancing of sound-groups. Now, balance does 
not mean symmetry. Balance, indeed, does not necessarily require 
that both elements have the same general structure. The sketches 
(Figs. 1 and 2) show a balance between identical parts. But such 
a balance is primitive and crude. The next sketch ( Fig. 3 ) shows a 
balance made up of one heavy mass and three light masses. This 
balance is more complex and more interesting than the others. The 
final sketches (Figs. 4 and 5) show what any artist knows that 
well-isolated small objects balance a large object or a group of 
objects. This is the most interesting of all balance-combinations. 

These are the fundamental types of balance. All other types are 
but variations of these. In sentences, sound-elements of different 
lengths take the place of the figures in the drawings. Otherwise 
the principles of balance are the same in both pictorial and literary 
art. It should be clearly understood, however, that since spatial iso- 
lation is not usually possible in writing, it is replaced by weight of 
meaning. Thus a short sound-element must have a powerful sig- 
nificance before it can balance a long one, or before it can balance 
several sound-elements. 

Examples of the various types of balance follow, along with a 
graphical analysis of each: 

Creative Writing 
( 1 ) Two sound-elements of the same length balance each other. 

Stolen waters are sweet, // but bread eaten in secret is pleasant. 
Hatred stirreth up strifes: // but love covereth all sins. 
He is my brother,// but I do not love him. 

(2) Several sound-elements may balance several other sound- 
elements of the same length: 

He that hath pity on the poor / lendeth unto the Lord: //and that 
which he hath given / will He pay him back again. 

Then said the princes / and all the people / unto the priests / and 
unto the prophets: //This man is not worthy to die: /for he hath 
spoken to us / in the name of the Lord / our God. 

Such as it [Milton's character] was when, / on the eve of great events, / 
he returned from his travels, / in the prime of health and manly beauty, / 
loaded with literary distinctions, / and glowing with patriotic hopes // 
such it continued to be when, / after having experienced every ca- 
lamity / which is incident to our nature, / old, poor, sightless, and dis- 
graced, / he returned to his hovel / to die. 

(3) One long sound-element will balance several short sound- 
elements. ( The long element may come last, as shown, or first. ) 

Wrath is cruel, / and anger is outrageous; // but who is able to stand 
before envy? 

What shall we say then to these things? // If God is for us, / who is 
against us? 

Neither blindness, / nor gout, / nor age, / nor penury, / nor domestic 
afflictions, / nor political disappointments, / nor abuse, / nor proscrip- 
tion, / nor neglect, // had power to disturb his sedate and majestic pa- 

(4) Occasionally one short sound-element, weighty in its mean- 
ing, will balance a longer element: 

Beauty of Style 

He labored long and faithfully, // but failed. 
The first man is of the earth, // earthy. 

A philosopher might admire so noble a conception; // but not the 

(5) A short sound-element may balance several other sound-ele- 
ments of any length provided the short one expresses a more 
weighty idea than the others, and (most often) comes at the im- 
portant end-position of the sentence: 

I tell you further, / and this fact you may receive trustfully, / that his 
sensibility to human affliction and distress / was no less keen / than even 
his sense for natural beauty // heartsight deep as eyesight. 

We shall attempt to speak of them, / as we have spoken of their an- 
tagonists, // with perfect candor. 

Be not deceived: // evil communications / corrupt good manners. 

Till I come, // give attendance to reading, / to exhortation, / to doc- 

All these illustrations are sufficient to show the general nature 
of balance in prose. These general principles, however, are subject 
to infinite variations. Balanced elements may fall within larger bal- 
anced elements; and a whole paragraph may consist of a complex 
interweaving of balance within balance. The following paragraph 
from Huxley, for example, is one large rhythmic unit: 

If these ideas be destined, / as I believe they are, // to be more and 
more firmly established / as the world grows older; 

if that spirit be fated, / as I believe it is, // to extend itself into all de- 
partments of human thought / and to become coextensive with the range 
of knowledge; 

if, as our race approaches its maturity, / it discovers, / as I believe it 
will, // that there is but one kind of knowledge / and but one method of 
acquiring it; 

then we, / who are still children, / may justly feel it our highest duty // 
to recognize the advisableness / of improving natural knowledge, 

and so to aid ourselves and our successors // in our course toward the 
noble goal / which lies before mankind. 

Creative Writing 
Graphically analyzed, the passage would look like this: 

// ~ 


The distinctiveness of a writer's style, the prevailing temper, form, 
and sound which make him what he is, issues, for the most part, 
from the rhythms which he adopts. It may be a simple rhythm of 
parallel and antithetical structures composed of two, four, or six 
sound elements, as in entire books of the King James Bible. Or it 
may be the complex symphonies of Ruskin, Newman, and Pater. 

d. Harmony of Rhythm and Idea or Feeling. But whatever the 
rhythm they use, good writers fit it to the sense of their work. 
Simple and plain ideas demand simple and obvious rhythms; in- 
volved and difficult ideas demand involved and intricate rhythms. 
Moreover, letter-sounds must harmonize with the rhythm and with 
the idea. Certain subjects require certain letter-sounds for their 
proper transference to the reader; and both subjects and letter- 
sounds require certain tempos of rhythm. A funeral oration, for 
example, would not have sprightly i-sounds nor would it have a 
quick and tripping rhythm; instead, it would be filled with long 
o-sounds, and would fall into a slow, stately tempo full of long pe- 
riods, long sound-elements, and large groupings of well-balanced 
parts. One would not say in the oration, "He died of angina"; but, 
"Having long suffered an acute affection of the heart, he at last 
succumbed to his ailment/' ( Of course, this second version is wordy; 
but its rhythm is right it means right. That a child may under- 
stand.) Of a boxing-match, on the other hand, no one would seri- 
ously write, "During an encounter notable for its rapidity as well 
as for its vigor, the present holder of the championship title sue- 

Beauty of Style 187 

ceeded in decisively conquering the challenger ; but one would 
write, "In a hard, fast match the champion knocked out the chal- 

The whole purpose of rhythm, from the beat of the Zulu's tom- 
tom to the measures of Shakespeare's blank verse, is to create some 
sort of feeling in the listener. Feeling expresses itself in pattern 
(for rhythm is but a pattern); and pattern, in turn, rouses feeling. 
The whole business of a writer, therefore, if he wishes to make 
his reader feel, is to formulate a rhythm which will be consistent 
with the ideas conveyed by words and the feeling stimulated by 


1. Pure Sounds. 

a. Write two short descriptions on each subject suggested below. 
Try to fill the first description with pleasant, and the second with un- 
pleasant, sounds. 

The traffic parsing your home at a certain hour. 
A touchdown made by your school, and one made by the 
opposing school. 

A conference with a professor. 

Food on the table ready to be eaten. 

A crowd at a bathing beach. 

An automobile ride through a hilly country. 

A modernistic picture you have seen. 

A dog sleeping in the sun. 

Children playing in the street. 

A large person dancing. 

b. Experiment with the different emotional effects you can obtain by 
changing the letter-elements of the sentences below. Alter the mean- 
ings slightly whenever you wish. 

The old lady was sitting up in bed. 

The cat was crying to be admitted. 

A bird was singing beautifully from a nearby bush. 

He is always complaining about his troubles. 

You can always find him reading a book in the library. 

Creative Writing 

2. Patterned Sounds. 

a. By describing different kinds of winds at different seasons of the 
year, try to make the following kinds of vowel-patterns: 

With long a. 
With long e. 
With i. 
With o. 

With oo as in moon. 

Do the same with descriptions of different cloud effects. 
Do the same with the different expressions a child's face as- 
sumes as the child passes through different emotional states. 
Do the same with different incidents in a football game. 

b. Using whichever of the consonants I, m, n, or r seems most 
suitable, write short, patterned descriptions of the following: 

An opal. 

An emerald. 

A clear winter night. 

A spring morning. 


A cat stalking a bird. 

A woman singing her baby to sleep. 

Morning services in a country church. 

c. Using a subject suggested in any of the Exercises of this book, 
try to construct a few paragraphs having pleasing alliterative patterns 
such as that in the passage by Ruskin quoted in the text above. 

3. Rhythm. 

a. Read aloud long passages from the King James Bible, Macaulay, 
Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Thomas 
Wolfe. Try to find the rhythm in each group of sentences you read, 
and try to express this rhythm with your voice until you get the 
"feel" of rhythm. 

b. With the purpose of getting appropriate rhythmic effects, write 

A somewhat poetic description of the movement of the planets 
and other heavenly bodies through space. 

A description of the movement of traffic as seen from a tall 

A character sketch of a dignified old scholar. 

A character sketch of an energetic and mentally powerful 

An account of a train trip taken at night. 

A short essay on Lincoln's place in history. 

Beauty of Style 189 

A short essay on Augustus Caesar's place in history. 
A short emotional argument against child labor. 
A short emotional argument in favor of universal military 


Improve the following sentences or passages, and explain your changes: 

1. That man is spiritless who mildly sinks into senility merely because 
he believes he is irrevocably growing old when the years slip by, for he 
should know that youth is merely a mental state. 

2. His hair was curly, and two small locks stood above his forehead 
like the horns of a faun. He was seated at the soda fountain waiting for 
his order, and he ran his fingers through his hair. 

3. In desiring to go to college I had an ideal to attain, and in order that 
I might not fail before I reached the goal, I prepared myself. 

4. The same punishment which in one age and country is effective 
may, in another age or country, be wholly without effect. 

5. We received an unusually long "town-permission" in order to see 
O'Neill's Strange Interlude because it lasted from two-thirty in the after- 
noon until six; then a forty-five-minute intermission was given for dinner, 
and the play was over at ten. 

6. However, his coma was soon broken into by the grinding of the steel 
wheels of the streetcar. 

7. Thorsen was happy: he was going to die, and he had found a 
strange beauty in death. 

8. The crowd was quiet, disdaining even the small whisperings and 
rustlings often attendant where people gather together in groups. 

9. In the light of the torches he was strangely impressive. Wisps of 
light danced about his white hair with a curious effect. 

10. He was praying, his voice mingling with the sounds of river and 
wind, and then winging upward to Him by whom words were heard be- 
fore they were spoken. 

11. In the shadows at the old man's feet I perceived a cripple, and 
I realized that the prayers were for him, and there came to me a startling 

12. Individual prayers sprang up among the crowd, and often these 
rumbling undertones were broken by loud shouts of "Amen!" 

13. The sufferer trembled as he listened to the whispering of the figure 
in white, and then he did something that he had never done before he 
rose from where he lay, and walked. 

14. Already I was the possessor of one dog of sorts. 

ISO Creative Writing 

15. That evening the two hunters met in the cabin, and a discussion 
of the day's luck followed. 

16. Both in England and in the United States constant efforts are 
being made by many people to reduce the number of capital offenses. 

17. The power of the state over the life of law-breakers should be 
exercised with great discretion. The offender's age, the country, and the 
state of society should be taken into consideration, and punishment should 
be delivered accordingly. 

18. It may be added that the Scriptures clearly recognize and justify 
the infliction of capital punishment in certain cases. 

19. His mother was conscientious, thoughtful, and did her best to 
quell her unruly offspring. 

20. Neither of these opportunities is taken advantage of in high school. 

21. All types of psychological devices had been lavished on Wee Willie 
without the slightest trace of improvement in him. 

22. Afterward, his habit of fibbing became annoying, even exasperat- 
ing, as he neared his fifth birthday. 

23. Choking and sputtering, he overturned Marjorie's salad, broke his 
tea glass, and almost blinded Mr. Rover with his spluttering, enjoying 
himself immensely. 

24. Dave's thoughts were evidently far from his situation, and a pe- 
culiar expression stole over his features. 

25. As far back as I can remember, I have always had an intense dis- 
like for them. 

26. I had just received my report card, but I was very disappointed 
to find that I had made no better than a D in my English. At first I 
thought that there must be some mistake; so I averaged my grades and 
found that the grade was correct. 

27. In personally diagnosing myself, I believe that of my traits and 
characteristics, both good and bad, the outstanding one is selfconscious- 

28. Science has greatly increased our power of affecting the lives of 
distant people, without increasing our sympathy for them. 

29. The qualities which produce a man of great eminence in some one 
field of endeavor are such as might often be undesirable if they were 
universally distributed. 

30. The creed of efficiency for its own sake has become somewhat 
discredited in Europe since the War, which would never have taken 
place if the western nations had been slightly more indolent. 

31. He fed red corn to the hogs bred on the farm, and stored the 
white corn in his barn. 

32. The summer evening was closed, and Janet, just when her longer 
stay might have occasioned suspicion and inquiry in that jealous house- 

Beauty of Style 131 

hold, returned to Cumnor Place, and hastened to the apartment in which 
she had left her lady. 

33. But it soon appeared that fate intended to turn the incident which 
he had so gloried in into the cause of his utter ruin. 

34. Somewhat to his surprise, the countess said nothing further on the 
subject, which left Wayland under the disagreeable uncertainty whether 
or no she had formed any plan for her own future proceedings, as he 
knew her situation demanded circumspection, although he was but im- 
perfectly acquainted with all its peculiarities. 

35. The throng and confusion was of a gay and cheerful character, 

36. Whenever the senses are impinged on by external objects, whether 
by the rays of light reflected from them, or by effluxes of their finer parti- 
cles, there results a correspondent motion of the innermost and subtlest 
organs. This motion constitutes a representation, and there remains an 
impression of the same, or a certain disposition to repeat the same mo- 

37. In the application of these principles to purposes of practical criti- 
cism as employed in the appraisal of works more or less imperfect, I have 
endeavored to discover what the qualities in a poem are, which may be 
deemed promises and specific symptoms of poetic power, as distinguished 
from general talent determined to poetic composition by accidental mo- 
tives, by an act of the will, rather than by the inspiration of a genial and 
productive nature. 

38. On the night of his arrival in London, Alexander went immedi- 
ately to the hotel on the Embankment at which he always stopped, and 
in the lobby he was accosted by an old acquaintance, Maurice Mainhall, 
who fell upon him with effusive cordiality, and indicated a willingness to 
dine with him. 

39. Henri was very poor, his clothes were torn and dirty and his shoes 
full of holes, but Sophie felt proud to be with him, although usually she 
would have been much put out by such things; for several years she had 
not followed the fashions, but she had always been scrupulously clean 
in herself and her linen. 

40. Miss B., who suffered much from gastric catarrh, had saved a 
little money out of her dress allowance, and driven from the house by 
her mother's ill-treatment, went to study in Cracow. 

41. She finds her way here by the same creative process by which 
our feet find the familiar way home on a dark night by accounting for 
themselves for roots and rocks which we have never noticed by day. 

42. We think that it is possible that when these novels written by 
Miss Gather have little left in them but historical interest, there will still 
be readers who will find in the three brief novels we have already men- 

13% Creative Writing 

tioned and in one long one some flashes of truth about men and women 
that is universal. 

43. When the show was over, they strolled over to the drug-store to 
procure a Coca-cola. 

44. He checked himself abruptly, throwing up his hands in what 
seemed to be a convulsive gesture. 

45. Smith, who had by this time made his sales-connection, swallowed 
the pride which contrasted so strangely yet not, after all, unusually 
with his lack of chin, and went to see his father and his older sister, who 
were the last of his close relatives. 

46. There she stayed, not happy, and yet not unhappy, making some 
friends, until she was eighteen, and had graduated with honors, making 
up for lost time with a vengeance which astonished her teachers, filling in 
the gaps with a fortitude and determination which won her admiration, 
and taking a tremendous interest in chemistry. 

47. Inflation is among the many subjects mentioned about which I 
disclaim any pretension to real comprehension. 

48. Perhaps the greatest danger which is involved in the growing as- 
sumption of power by the federal government is the possibility that when 
rugged individuality has been eliminated as a vital factor in our life the 
indomitable fighting spirit that made America what she is today may also 
have been crushed to earth, so that instead of the old do-or-die initiative 
we may continue to pass the buck in placid resignation. 

49. Poor thing! It seemed to be an effort for her to move; her pink, 
checked gingham dress seemed to make her appear fatter than she really 
was, and her sunbonnet made her head look too large for her. 

50. The statement just made is in accordance with the known facts. 
Something must be done about the industrial situation which confronts us 
today. The fate of the nations hangs in the balance; we cannot afford to 
delay action any further. Everything depends on the willingness of the 
citizens of this great nation to pull together in one concerted effort to set 
the wheels of prosperity spinning once more. 


Personality in Style 

This part of the discussion on style will be short because the subject 
is vague, and because good advice about how to acquire personality 
in style is about as useless as good advice about how to acquire it 
in real life. The only thing really worth stating is that all writing 
pretending to literary merit should have personality. But what is 
personality? The dictionary says that it is "that which constitutes 
distinction of person." This helps a little, for it implies that per- 
sonality in style is individuality; it is what distinguishes one author's 
work from another's, and gives to each work of one author a certain 
unity which brands it as distinct. 

What constitutes this distinction, however, is another problem. 
When we look about at our friends and acquaintances, we find our- 
selves classifying them as straightforward, earnest, sincere, idealistic, 
emotional, nervous, changeable, melancholy, sophisticated, excita- 
ble, stupid, clever, brilliant, and so on. We classify them accord- 
ing to their morals, their intelligence, and their emotions. But the 
first of these three standards is obviously useless in our investigation 
of personality in style; for though a writer or his thoughts may be 
virtuous or wicked, his style cannot be. We have left, therefore, 
the two categories of intelligence and emotion. 

1. INTELLECTUAL PERSONALITY. Concerning the first of these, 
something has already been said in the section on rationality in style; 
accordingly, little remains to be mentioned here. One of the most 
important items contributing to intelligence of personality in style 
is the presence of an objective in every piece of writing. That is to 
say, every piece of writing should have a central thought, a funda- 
mental idea, a unified theme around which all the other thoughts 
in the writing are grouped, and toward which they all point. Writing 


134 Creative Writing 

which has no such central objective is certain to convey the im- 
pression of a maundering, flaccid intellect which allows itself to talk 
on and on without point or purpose. Furthermore, this objective 
must be made clear to the reader by means of repetitions, summaries, 
references, and proportional lengths of discussion; for if the ob- 
jective is not obvious to the reader, having an objective is useless. 

Next, every non-fictional composition of any length should be 
divided into a few major parts. Readers cannot and will not fol- 
low long, unbroken discussions. But these, parts should not be di- 
vided and redivided into a vast number of interrelated subdivisions 
which confuse the reader and make him lose the main objective or 
the main divisions of the composition. Such dismemberment of 
ideas is a German habit foreign to the best English tradition. Super- 
fine distinctions and complicated analyses indicate a careful but not 
a brilliant personality. 

As a kind of transition between intelligent personality and 
emotional personality in style, the value of impartiality may be 
mentioned. Unpracticed writers are likely to think that the most tell- 
ing criticism and the most powerful satire consist of slashing ad- 
jectives, forceful epithets, and scathing denunciations hurled with 
passionate vigor against the thing attacked. But practiced writers 
know that no criticism and no satire is effective unless it sounds 
coolly impartial. Accordingly, practiced writers are always careful 
to mention a few good traits of their victims. The practiced writer 
says, "No one ever doubts that Mr. Hoover was as honest as the day 
is long, sincere, hard-working, and business-like. BUT . . ." Or, 
"No one ever doubts that Mr. Roosevelt was vigorous, progressive, 
courageous, and earnest. BUT . . ." And the concession that each 
man has many real virtues only makes the criticism that follows 
seem the more calmly judicious, and therefore the more tellingly 
hurtful. Even if the writer believes that the object of attack has no 
virtues at all, he should not say so, but should rack his brain to 
discover some plausible excellence with which to drape the victim. 
Furthermore, two or three words like "unutterably stupid/' "idiotic 
bungler/' "nincompoop/' "blockhead," "lunatic," and so on, will undo 
the effect of entire pages of seemingly impartial writing. They are 

Personality in Style 135 

the cloven hoof showing an essentially passionate rather than in- 
tellectual personality. 

2. EMOTIONAL PERSONALITY. This brings us to emotion in the per- 
sonality of style. Emotion, however, is a vague word. As used here, 
it means general disposition, habit of spirit, temperament. The emo- 
tion which appears in a style may be of a thousand sorts: violent in 
Carlyle; playful and whimsical in Charles Lamb; genial and banter- 
ing in Arnold Bennett; exaggeratedly humorous in Mark Twain; 
austerely but passionately logical in Matthew Arnold; enthusiastic 
but careful in T. H. Huxley; graceful, familiar, and well-bred in 
Stevenson; painstaking, plain, and sincere in Defoe. 

Different subjects and different audiences may demand a variety 
of personalities at different times from the same author. A socialist 
talking to a group of miners would have a style flaring with indig- 
nation; talking to a board of mediation, he would have a forceful, 
logical style; talking to an audience made up from the general 
public, he would have a persuasive, good-humored style; and writing 
a book about the economic condition of the poorer classes, he might 
have a sympathetic, compassionate, warm-hearted style. Which style 
he adopts depends entirely on his judgment of the fitness of things. 

Before setting pen to paper, a writer ought to decide quite 
methodically what personality he intends to adopt in his contem- 
plated work. Doing so is not admitting duplicity or insincerity. 
Dickens could write half-a-dozen books like the Pickwick Papers 
and David Copperfield, and then adopt an entirely new manner in 
the Tale of Two Cities; Scott could write the swashbuckling Ivan- 
hoe and the tender character study, Heart of Midlothian; Poe could 
write the Gothic study in madnes^ and the supernatural, The Fall 
of the House of Usher, and then turn to a "story of ratiocination" 
like The Gold Bug; and George Eliot could write realistic studies 
of English village life such as Silas Marner and Adam Bede, and 
then turn to an historical novel of the Italian Renaissance, Romola. 
Different subjects and different occasions demand different styles. 

A writer should deliberately adopt a style which seems to him 
to fit the subject, the occasion, and his own purpose. If his purpose 
is to ridicule chivalry, he will adopt one style; if it is to glorify 

136 Creative Writing 

chivalry, he will adopt another. If his purpose is to write a delight- 
ful essay on raising vegetables, he will adopt one style; if it is to 
give information about raising vegetables, he will adopt another. 
If his purpose is to write a thrilling account of a Civil War battle, 
he will adopt one style; if it is to criticize the strategy employed 
by General McClellan, he will adopt another. His writing person- 
ality will shift like a windmill with every change of the wind; and, 
like a windmill, it can do valuable work only if it is able to shift. 

One caution must be voiced. Some writers are versatile enough 
to possess many writing personalities; some can have only two or 
three; and some can have but one. By experimenting, every writer 
should determine which personalities serve him best, and which 
make him ridiculous (or worse). Those which he can assume con- 
vincingly are, of course, those which he should adopt. The others 
he should attempt only for his own private edification. Just here 
it is that teachers and advisers may be of genuine assistance. They 
may give a writer impartial judgment on his different personalities. 
They may tell him to preserve and develop one, reform another, 
and do immediate execution on a third. Counsel such as this is 
almost indispensable. Literary groups give it among themselves; 
composition classes encourage it; teachers and personal advisers 
should take it as their chief business. 

The very first duty of a writer of anything but textbooks is to 
develop some sort of personality in his style. Without it he will not 
be read; with it, and even with little else besides, he will be read by 
even very wise people. 



1. ART. From the hundreds of definitions of art which have been 
written, the definition which seems best, and which is certainly the 
most useful for our present purposes, is that of the Italian philoso- 
pher, Benedetto Croce. To Croce, art is "intuition." That is to say, 
art is "Vision/ 'contemplation/ 'imagination/ 'fancy/ 'figurations/ 
'representations/ and so on/' 

Art is derived from the artist's power to conceive and bring forth 
images. These images are not an accumulation of parts; they are 
not a series; they are not a group of interdependent organs. But 
each image is a oneness, a totality, a nexus of parts. It is an intuition 
conceived and brought forth perfect. When we see a man, we do 
not see an accumulation of arms, legs, ears, hands, feet, and so on; 
we see a man. Art is like that. The artist conceives images com- 
plete, and (if he is a true artist) he conveys them to other people 

These two principles imagination and completeness are the 
bone and sinew of art. Historical fiction differs from history in that 
the one makes the reader see the past, and the other makes him 
know it. Architecture differs from mere construction in that one 
makes an observer see a building as an image, and the other makes 
him know it as something to be used. Painting differs from photog- 
raphy in that one creates a unified image, while the other creates a 
collection of unselected images. 

Art need not be beautiful; it need not teach a lesson; it need not 
be true or untrue; it need not be moral or immoral; it need not be 
useful or non-useful; it need not be realistic or unrealistic. That 
which is perceived as a complete and unified image merely that 
is art. 


138 Creative Writing 

With this conception of art as intuition, or perfectly conceived 
image, Croce includes another idea. It is that the real source of the 
image is feeling; that, indeed, the image is but a symbol of feel- 
ing that art is feeling made image. Suppose we give a concrete 
illustration. The neighbor owns a police dog. To me the dog is a 
useless, noisy, meddlesome animal; to the neighbor he is a joyous, 
faithful, courageous friend; to the casual passerby he is a danger- 
ous and detestable creature who may bite unoffending strangers 
without provocation. The three of us, therefore, if we described 
the dog or painted a picture of him, would create three quite 
different images. Our individual feeling about the dog would de- 
termine what he would look like in our artistic efforts. 

In the same way, the Middle Ages, for example, may be imagina- 
tively conceived as dashing and adventurous (as in Sir Walter 
Scott), superstitious and ridiculous (as in Mark Twain), gentle 
and beautiful (as in Maurice Hewlitt), or mysterious and super- 
natural (as in Cabell). A story of the South may be romantic and 
gallant (in Thomas N. Page) or sordid and ugly (in William Faulk- 
ner ) . Negro life may be gently humorous ( in Joel Chandler Harris ) , 
grimly tragic (in Richard Wright), or broadly farcical (in Roark 
Bradford). Feeling alone determines what the image is to be. 

2. KINDS OF IMAGES. We have been speaking of images as if all 
of them were pictures. And as a matter of fact, the great majority 
of images do appeal to the sense of sight by being made up of de- 
tails of color, form, and motion. Yet other sorts of images are 
equally the material of art images of sound, of taste, of touch, of 
smell, of temperature, of sensations in the vital organs and in the 
muscles. Except for images of sound, most of the list seldom play 
a part in writing. They deserve attention not only because they are 
neglected, but because when they are used, they are generally 

An appeal to the senses is the only way to create images. Mere 
factual knowledge is worse than nothing so far as art is concerned. 
To say that a building faces south; that its reception hall is forty- 
five feet long and twenty-two feet wide; that the hall contains 
three tables and fourteen chairs this means nothing at all to one 

Imagery 139 

looking for artistic writing. And no more does it mean anything 
that a man is about five feet and ten inches tall; that he weighs 
about one hundred and fifty pounds; that his eyes are blue and his 
hair dark. Such exact details are not imaginative. They are scientific. 
They have no place in artistic writing. 

3. IMAGINATIVE WORDS. Some words, or patterns of words, make 
pleasing or suggestive sound-images irrespective of their meaning. 
But since we have already spoken of these sound-images made by 
words, we must confine ourselves here to the images involved in 
the accepted meanings of certain words. That is, we must talk of 
words that recall sense impressions. 

a. Concrete Words. It is an old principle that concrete words 
are preferable to abstract. They are preferable because they are 

"It was autumn," is not so imaginative as, "The last of the leaves 
were falling, and the earth was spread with brown and gold." 

"The sun rose," is not so imaginative as, "The red and swollen 
sun lifted itself over the eastern wall." 

"In winter," is not so imaginative as, "When icicles hang by the 

The entire Bible, a book of precept, philosophy, and theology, 
where, of all places, one might expect teeming abstractions, is in- 
stead a treasure-house of concrete imagery. 

"Wickedness is vain," becomes, "He that soweth iniquity shall 
reap vanity." 

"The froward shall have many hardships," becomes, "Thorns and 
stones are in the way of the froward." 

"Life is better than death," becomes, "A living dog is better than a 
dead lion." 

"There shall be peacefulness," becomes, "The lion and the lamb 
shall lie down together, and a little child shall lead them." 

"They shall have no decent burial," becomes, "And their dead 
bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of heaven, and to the beasts 
of the earth." 

In every good writer there is a similar urge to transform the ab- 
stract into the concrete. Hardly a bald, factual statement exists but 

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it can be dignified and vivified by concrete imaginative expression. 
The simple fact that it is dawn becomes in Hamlet: 

The morn in russet mantle clad 

Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill. 

In the same play, the simple fact that the player was much affected 
becomes concrete: 

All his visage wann'd, 

Tears in his eyes, distraction in *s aspect, 

A broken voice. 

Nor does Hamlet say, 'Who insults me?" but 

Who calls me villain, breaks my pate across, 
Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face, 
Tweaks me by the nose, gives me the lie i' the throat 
As deep as to the lungs, who does me this? 

Stevenson does not say, "Death makes life lonely for the living," but, 
"There are empty chairs, solitary walks, and single beds at night." 

Irving does not say, "It grew darker in Westminster Abbey," but, 
"The chapels and aisles grew darker and darker. The effigies of the 
kings faded into shadows; the marble figures of the monuments as- 
sumed strange shapes in the uncertain light; the evening breeze 
crept through the aisles into the cold breath of the grave." 

b; Poll/symbolic Words. All words symbolize something; but 
some words symbolize several things. Naturally, a writer's meaning 
becomes richer if he can substitute the latter sort of word for words 
that symbolize only one object, idea, or emotion. The following is a 
list intended to suggest the possibilities of such substitutions. In the 
list, the first of each pair of words appeals to one sense only; the sec- 
ond word appeals to several senses. 

Black sight 

Pitchy sight and touch 

White sight 

Snowy sight and temperature 

Gray sight 

Leaden sight and weight 


Sticky touch 

Mucilagenous touch and sight 

Sore touch 

Raw touch and sight 

Hot temperature 

Fiery temperature and sight 

Soft touch 

Cottony touch and sight 

Weep sight 

Sob sight, sound, and motion 

Cut sight 

Chop sight, sound, and motion 

c. Atmospheric Words. These words with their complex imagery 
are close kin to the next sort of words we shall consider, namely, 
words with atmosphere. To indicate what is meant by "atmosphere," 
we have only to recall the old joke about the foreign gentleman who 
complimented the American woman: "What a lovely hide you have!" 
Hide was just what the gentleman meant; but the atmosphere of 
the word is wrong: no lady would endure it. In the same way, we 
cannot write (as in the old example), "The lady held a lily in her 
fist," though that is what she did. We cannot write, "George III went 
crazy," but must say, "George III became insane." We cannot write, 
"Heifetz is one of the world's greatest fiddlers," but must say, "Hei- 
fetz is one of the world's greatest violinists." These illustrations ex- 
plain atmosphere very well. It is the aura which surrounds a word, 
the associations linked to it, the ideas, images, and emotions which 
come to the reader when he chances on the word. 

The business of the writer is not merely to avoid such ludicrous 
errors as those mentioned above, but to find words which will enrich 
his meaning by adding clusters of appropriate images to his words. 
Thus, to use an example already mentioned in another connection, 
the sentence, "She lay between white sheets," tells the reader merely 

11$ Creative Writing 

that the linen was clean. But if it reads, "She lay between snowy 
sheets/' it tells the reader that the sheets are cool as well as clean. 

To the sick man, the wrinkles in the bedclothes looked enormous. 
To the sick man, the wrinkles in the bedclothes looked mountainous. 

The last word has associations of vast irregularities spread over wide 
spaces, of laborious travel, of unfeeling ruggedness. Since these 
words fit the sick man's conception, the word mountainous enriches 
the simple idea of bigness. 

He moistened the sick man's face with a damp cloth. 
He swabbed the sick man's face with a soggy rag. 

The first sentence does the sick man a kindness; the second abuses 
him. "Swab" is associated with mops roughly handled; "soggy," with 
solids left too long in questionable liquids; and "rag," with casual 
salvaging from dirty clothes. 

Keats writes, "I set her on my pacing steed." Suppose he had sub- 
stituted the plain word "horse" for "steed." How different would have 
been the effect. Sir Walter Scott writes, "He mounted his charger." 
What if he had written "pony" instead? 

Shakespeare begins a sonnet: 

That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 

The word "choirs" calls up far more images than the word itself ac- 
tually signifies. It calls up a picture of the entire abbey ruined and 
desolate, with a winter wind wailing through it. 

Diction such as this means more than it says. It makes use not 
only of the reader's knowledge of word-significance, but also of his 
experiences, his reading, his emotions, his imaginings. It is like music 
which calls a thousand pictures to mind, though each picture may be 
only half-perceived and half -comprehended. Tennyson had this kind 
of diction in mind when he wrote of Virgil's poetry: 

All the charm of all the Muses often flowering in a lonely word. 

Imagery 1%3 

d. Figures of Speech. Figures of speech, like the reflections in a 
lake, interest us, somehow, even more than the realities themselves. 
It is a human characteristic to find pleasure in recognizing similari- 
ties. We like to see imitations and miniatures; we like toys and dolls 
and mannikins; we like to note how well the imitation resembles the 
real. This trait it is which makes us think on looking at a picture, 
"How like reality!" and on looking at a landscape, "How like a pic- 
ture!" It makes us think of a story, "How like real life!" and of an 
incident in real life, "How like a story!" This pleasure which we de- 
rive from the recognition of similarities makes us always interested 
in figures of speech. For instance, we may not be at all interested in 
an ordinary drop of water, or in a lamp globe. But when someone 
says, "The lamp globe clung to the ceiling like a heavy drop of water 
just ready to plump down to the floor," we take notice. We may not 
be interested in either ladies' veils or flies. But when someone says, 
"The veil over the woman's face was like a spider's web with black 
flies caught in it here and there," we take notice. And we may not be 
interested in either church choirs or dead boughs. But when some- 
one writes, "Boughs that shake against the cold, Bare ruined choirs 
where late the sweet birds sang," we take notice. / 

This demonstration of an essential unity in objects unlike in most 
respects stimulates the imagination, and gives the reader an oppor- 
tunity to exercise the faculty for recognition already mentioned. The 
recognition may not involve mere pictorial images, as in the three 
examples just given. 

(a) It may involve the recognition in inanimate objects of attri- 
butes essentially human, as in, "No longer mourn for me than thou 
shalt hear The surly sullen belT; or, "He carried a sort of suitcase 
made of imitation leather which had long since grown too tired to 
keep up the illusion." 

(b) It may involve the recognition in abstract ideas of concrete 
processes, as in, "Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find 
it after many days"; or, "Silence shall fall like dew"; or, "Goodness 
and mercy shall follow me." 

(c) It may involve the recognition of an object or of a process 
from the mention of a word that suggests the object or the process, 

144 Creative Writing 

as in, "The scepter of Egypt shall pass away"; "Cold steel will solve 
the problem"; "The house of Judah shall perish"; "He keeps the finest 
stable in the county"; "He that lives by the sword shall die by the 
sword"; "The machine he drives is the handsomest in the city"; "The 
whole country was in arms." The difficulty with most of these last, 
however, is that one must be acquainted with them in order to un- 
derstand them; yet if one is already acquainted with them, one finds 
them trite. 

The use of figures of speech can be abused. A writer, especially a 
writer of prose, may produce so many figures that his work sounds 
affected; or (a much more common fault) he may make comparisons 
so far-fetched that his work seems strained. An example of such 
strained figurative writing in verse is this by John Davidson: 

The windows, Argus-eyed with knotted panes 

That under heavy brows of roses blink 

Blind guard, have never wept, with hailstones stung. 

No antique, gnarled, and wrinkled round wood porch 

Whiskered with hollyhocks in this old thorpe 

Has ever felt the razor of the east. 

All these figures, fanciful as they may be, sound forced and un- 
natural, as if the poet were trying hard to be poetic, as if he were 
going out of his way to be metaphoric. 

A third abuse of figures is the over-elaboration of comparisons. 
How much better would the following vivid metaphor of David- 
son's have been if the last phrase had been omitted. The poet is 
describing a battle scene between the Scotch and the English: 

Now they are hand to hand! 

How short a front! How close! They're sewn together 

With steel cross-stitches, halbert over sword, 

Spear across lance, and death the purfied seam! 

Addison severely criticizes Cowley for similar over-elaborations 
of metaphor. Poets, he says, have often "taken an advantage from 
the doubtful meaning of the word fire, to make an infinite number 
of witticisms": 

Cowley observing the cold regard of his mistress's eyes, and at the 
same time their power of producing love in him, considers them as 

Imagery 145 

burning-glasses made of ice; and finding himself able to live in the great- 
est extremities of love, concludes the torrid zone to be habitable. When 
his mistress has read his letter written in juice of lemon, by holding it 
to the fire, he desires her to read it over a second time by love's flames. 
When she weeps, he wishes it were inward heat that distilled those drops 
from the limbec. When she is absent, he is beyond eighty, that is, thirty 
degrees nearer the pole than when she is with him. His ambitious love 
is a fire that naturally mounts upwards; his happy love is the beams of 
heaven, and his unhappy love flames of hell. When it does not let him 
sleep, it is a flame that sends up no smoke; when it is opposed by coun- 
sel and advice, it is a fire that rages the more by the winds blowing 
upon it. 

When the freshman wrote the following, he also was guilty of 
tiresome over-elaboration: 

Life is a game of bridge in which luck is always trumps. [If he had 
left off here, he would have had an interesting metaphor, but he dragged 
out the comparison.] The suits are the different parts of our career, 
Spades being our profession, Diamonds being material fortunes, Hearts 
being our loves, and Clubs being our power to overcome opposition. The 
ace in each suit is our natural ability; the king is our education or train- 
ing; the queen is the wife or mother who helps us; and the jack is our 
closest friend. The other cards are merely our acquaintances. In the game, 
we are matched against other people who have different gifts from those 
of ours, and who try to gain what we gain. Our business is to know our 
own strength and the strength of others, and to play our cards wisely. We 
try to get what we can by means of the small cards, and guard our more 
important cards closely to keep others from overcoming them with their 
superior gifts. 

And so on. Much of this is ingenious, but it soon grows boresome. 

A fourth kind of fault sometimes accompanying the use of figura- 
tive language is the mixed metaphor. Probably few people would 
say, as did the freshman, "I may be up a tree; but I will fight to the 
last ditch." Nor would few people correct the mixed metaphor, "He 
went drifting down the sands of time on flowery beds of ease," as 
did the freshman, who made it read, "He went drifting down the 
sands of time on an oasis." But Oscar Wilde can write: 

To think of that grand living after death 
In beast and bird and flower, when this cup, 

Being filled too full of spirit, bursts for breath. 

H6 Creative Writing 

We may possibly believe that a cup could be filled to the bursting 
point, instead of overflowing; but we cannot believe that it would 
burst for breath. Wilde writes elsewhere of the grave, 

Ah! sweet indeed to rest within the womb 
Of Earth, great mother of eternal sleep. 

He forgets here that a wornb has no relation to a tomb except to 
rhyme with it in the next line. 

4. IMAGINATIVE DETAILS. The subject matter of the artist is not 
the general, as it is with the scientist, but the particular; not the class, 
but the individual. He is not to make us see what horses look like, 
but what a horse looks like and a man, a train-coach, a lawn, a bird. 
Maupassant tells how Flaubert trained him to observe a cab horse 
until he found how that one horse differed from fifty other cab 
horses, and then to express in words the distinctive details of that 
particular horse. Finding distinctive and imaginative details should 
be the chief business of any artist. 

a. Familiar Details. The details need not be garnered from re- 
mote or visionary places, or from marvelous and romantic happen- 
ings. In general, they are more pleasing if they come from the realm 
of the commonplace and the familiar. 

For, don't you mark? we're made so that we love 

First when we see them painted, things we have passed 

Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see. 

Such images as the following, familiar as our own hand, de- 
light us: 

She put down the dish, wiped her palm along the side of her hip, and 
shook hands with the visitor. 

Fantastically, as if ghosts were eating, she heard only the clinking of 
spoons touching glasses, and the low clatter of forks against plates; but 
no voices. 

Putting his thumb to the side of his nose, and leaning far forward at 
the waist, he blew with a loud, fluid snort. 

As she ascended the stairs before him, he noticed her cheap cotton 
stockings with tiny bits of lint sticking out all over them. 


I watched her buy a package of gum, open the end of the cerise wax- 
paper wrapper, and extract a flat stick. 

In preparing lemons for the tea, she first carefully sliced off the pithy 
nipple at the end of each lemon. 

b. Unfamiliar Details. Even when we are describing objects or 
scenes unfamiliar to the reader, we must translate them into terms 
of the familiar. Thus, Kipling gives us: 

Now and again a spot of almost boiling water would fall on the dust 
with a flop of a frog. 

Willa Gather speaks of "the horny backbones of mountains,'* and 
describes sunset on the desert thus : 

The scattered mesa tops, red with the afterglow, one by one lost their 
light, like candles going out. 

In one sentence Ruskin pictures "the heaving mountains rolling 
against [the sunrise] like waves of a wild sea"; glaciers blazing in the 
sunlight "like mighty serpents with scales of fire"; and the "whole 
heaven one scarlet canopy . . . interwoven with a roof of waving 

All these figures make us perceive images beyond our experience 
by recalling to us images within our experience. Much image-making 
proceeds in this way. 

c. Incongruous Details. The matter of old images in new connec- 
tions deserves further comment. We may call up particularly vivid 
images by means of an incongruity between details as they usually 
occur and as they appear in some newly imagined situation. Homer, 
for example, describes one of his warriors as having forgotten his 
whip when he drove out in his chariot, and belaboring the horses 
with the butt of his spear. The incongruity between the object and 
its use makes the incident highly visual. Similar descriptions follow: 

The carpenter took up a sharp wood-chisel, and proceeded to pare his 

As he sat in the chair, he bent over and scratched his shin with a 

Creative Writing 

His arms piled full of books, Dr. Watson gave directions to the li- 
brarian, pointing here and there with his chin. 

She stood at the kitchen table vigorously rolling out biscuit dough with 
a short length of iron pipe. 

Sometimes an incongruity of environment creates visual images: 

The tops of a dozen parked automobiles showed above the parapet on 
the roof of a six-story building. 

A large yellow butterfly had drifted into the room through an open 
window, and was hovering over a vase of cut-flowers at the visitor's el- 

The burro stood motionless, with head down and lower lip drooping, 
full in the blazing sunlight; two or three panting chickens had taken 
refuge in the shadow of his body. 

An incongruity between the object and the thing of which it is 
made may serve the purposes of visualization: 

The front gate was merely the ornamental head-piece of an iron bed 
swung by one side to a fence post. 

The sideboards of the Negro yard-man's small wagon were two green 
Venetian blinds placed on edge. 

The Negro chief had a pierced lower lip through which he had stuck 
a new yellow pencil stolen from the white men's camp. 

He wore a finger ring of braided hair. 

The types of details mentioned in this section do not by any means 
exhaust the possibilities of the imagination. Far from it! They con- 
stitute some of the most vivid types of details, but, after all, they are 
only suggestive. They are guideposts to imagery, not the entire king- 

5. IMAGINATIVE CONSTRUCTION. Often a writer can construct com- 
plete images only by the use of several details, not just one like those 
mentioned above. What these details shall be, and what the writer's 
method of presenting them, depends entirely on the purpose of the 
writer. His first duty, therefore, in trying to create a full and unified 


image is to ask himself what his purpose is in presenting the image 
to the reader. 

a. Purpose in Imaginative Writing. The imaginative writer's pur- 
pose is always one of the following: to paint a picture, to convey an 
idea, or to convey or rouse a feeling. Most of the details cited in the 
last section attempted to paint pictures. This next, a longer descrip- 
tion from Flaubert's Salambo, does the same: 

The heavy mill-stones were revolving in the dust, two cones of por- 
phyry laid one upon the other, the upper, which had a funnel, being 
turned upon the lower by means of strong bars which men pushed with 
their breasts and arms, while others were yoked to them and pulled. The 
friction of the straps had caused purulent sores about their arm-pits, such 
as are seen on asses' withers; and the ends of the limp black rags which 
barely covered their loins hung down and flapped against their hocks 
like long tails. Their eyes were red, the shackles clanked about their feet, 
and all their breasts rose and fell in unison. They were muzzled to pre- 
vent them from eating the meal, and their hands were enclosed in gaunt- 
lets without fingers so that they could not pick it up. 

But some descriptions are meant to convey an idea. Shakespeare, 
in the following song, does not mean to paint a picture, but to con- 
vey an idea of winter's cold by appealing to several senses: 

When icicles hang by the wall, 

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail, 
And Tom bears logs into the hall, 

And milk comes frozen home in pail, 
When blood is nipped and ways be foul, 
Then nightly sings the staring owl, 
Tu-whit, to-who, 
A merry note, 
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. 

When all aloud the wind doth blow, 

And coughing drowns the parson's saw, 
And birds sit brooding in the snow, 

And Marian's nose looks red and raw, 
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl, 
Then nightly sings the staring owl, 
Tu-whit, to-who, 
A merry note, 
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. 

150 Creative Writing 

This next, from George Eliot, is also intended to convey an idea of 
quietness on Sunday morning: 

You might have known it was Sunday if you had only waked up in 
the farmyard. The cocks and hens seemed to know it, and made only 
crooning subdued noises; the very bull-dog looked less savage, as if he 
would have been satisfied with a smaller bite than usual. The sunshine 
seemed to call all things to rest and not to labour; it was asleep itself on 
the moss-grown cow-shed; on the group of white ducks nestling together 
with their bills tucked under their wings; on the old black sow stretched 
languidly on the straw, while her largest young one found an excellent 
spring-bed on his mother's fat ribs; and Alick, the shepherd, in his new 
smock-frock, taking an uneasy siesta, half-sitting, half-standing on the 
grana-y steps. 

And this next, from Keats, does not attempt to give a picture of 
autumn a thing manifestly impossible but to convey an idea of 
what autumn does: 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 

With fruits the vines that round the thatch-eaves run; 
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees, 

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 

And still more, later flowers for the bees, 

Until they think warm summer days will never cease, 
For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells. 

The third purpose an imaginative writer may have, to convey or 
rouse a feeling, is often intermingled with the other two. Thus, both 
the George Eliot paragraph and the Keats stanza just quoted are 
probably intended as much to awaken a feeling of peace and las- 
situde in the reader as to convey an idea. The following passage from 
Daudet, however, is written only with the purpose of conveying a 
feeling of sadness; it gives only the vaguest sort of picture: 

The little Dauphin is ill; the little Dauphin is dying. In all the churches 
of the kingdom the Holy Sacrament remains exposed night and day, and 
great tapers burn, for the recovery of the royal child. The streets of the 

Imagery 151 

old capital are sad and silent, the bells ring no more, the carriages slacken 
their pace. . . . All the castle is in a flutter. Chamberlains and major- 
domos run up and down the marble stair-ways. The galleries are full of 
pages and courtiers in silken apparel, who hurry from one group to an- 
other, begging in low tones for news. Upon the wide perrons the maids 
of honor, in tears, exchange low courtesies and wipe their eyes with 
daintily embroidered handkerchiefs. 1 

This next, from The Tempest, likewise tries to rouse a feeling rather 
than convey a clear-cut image : 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and 

Are melted into air, into thin air; 

And like the baseless fabric of this vision, 

The eloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 

The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve 

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 

As dreams are made on, and our little life 

Is rounded with a sleep. 

Much imaginative writing, however, is concerned with both pure 
imagery and feeling. Poe, for instance, is famous for his passages 
which create pictures, and at the same time rouse emotions: 

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of 
the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had 
been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of 
country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, 
within view of the melancholy House of Usher. ... I looked upon the 
scene before me upon the mere house, and the simple landscape fea- 
tures of the domain upon the bleak walls upon the vacant, eye-like 
windows upon a few rank sedges and upon a few white trunks of de- 
cayed trees with an utter depression of soul. 

Irving's description of evening in Westminster Abbey, already 
quoted, is another excellent example of imagery created and feeling 
roused in the same passage; and the first three stanzas of Gray's 
"Elegy in a Country Churchyard" are another. 

1 From Alphonse Daudet's "The Death of the Dauphin/' in Pastels in Prose, 
copyright, 1890 and 1918, by Harper & Brothers. Reprinted by permission of 
the publishers. 

Creative Writing 

b. Selection of Details. Now, suppose a writer has determined 
definitely the purpose he has in mind in creating an image; his next 
step is to decide just which details of the image he is to use. Obvi- 
ously he cannot possibly use every detail; for if he did, he might, 
like Agassiz's student, spend days describing a three-inch fish, or 
write an encyclopedia on what he sees in walking across the campus. 
He must select, and select rigorously. Selection is so vital a business 
to the artist that it has given rise to many an aphorism that "art is 
but selection"; that a piece of art "is to be judged less by what it 
contains than by what it does not contain"; and that "the genius of 
the artist consists in his knowing what to leave out." 

If, lor example, the artist is trying to give an idea that the weather 
is very cold, he will not tell the reader that the cattle are tucked 
away snug and content in their barn, and that people are cozy on 
the warm hearthstone. If he is trying to give a feeling of sadness, he 
will not tell about the private balls, the parties, the gaiety, and the 
love-making which will occur no matter how many Dauphins die. 
And if he is a criminal lawyer trying to paint a picture of a murder, 
he will paint it far differently from the way the district attorney 
paints a picture of the same murder. 

In all these descriptions, nobody is necessarily falsifying details; 
but each is selecting certain details and omitting others. A man may 
be a regular church attendant, he may be charitable, he may be a 
good husband and a kind father, he may have friends among the 
most honest people in his city but he may falsify accounts in the 
bank of which he is president. A cold morning may be brisk and 
cheerful weather to some people, and it may be bitterly hard to 
others. The Negro yard-man may be a subject of humor to some peo- 
ple, and a subject of tragedy to others. Seldom can any writer paint 
things just as they would appear to the scientist, to the camera, or to 
the impartial observer. Nearly always the image created depends on 
the writer's selection of certain details which affect him, and which, 
he hopes, will affect the reader, and on the omission of certain other 
details. And his selections and omissions depend altogether on his 

This does not mean that the writer should give the impression of 

Imagery 153 

being biased or purposeful. Quite the contrary! The reader must 
never be allowed even to think that other details exist, or that the 
writer is not being scrupulously exact in his description. Neverthe- 
less, the fact remains that the entire responsibility for the image, the 
idea, or the feeling conveyed rests squarely in the writers hands. 
What the image, the idea, or the feeling shall be depnds on him, and 
not on what he is describing. 

c. Arrangement of Details. Up to this point, we have seen that 
the fundamental requirement for good imagery is a certain purpose 
on the part of the writer, which purpose guides him in the selection 
of details. Furthermore, his purpose sometimes guides him in the ar- 
rangement of details after he has selected them. Thus, if his purpose 
is merely to convey an idea that a day is cold or hot, that a family 
lives in squalid surroundings, that a room looks neat, that a certain 
street corner is busy, or other such ideas, he need do no more than 
give a series of details selected for the purpose in mind and arranged 
more or less at random. Shakespeare's winter song, Keats's stanza on 
autumn, and Eliot's description of a Sunday morning (all quoted 
above) are examples of such random arrangement of details. 

The same sort of random arrangement, with usually a more careful 
effort toward climax, is common in description the purpose of which 
is to rouse emotion. 

But when the writer's purpose is to paint a picture, he can seldom 
resort to a mere series of details and depend on their cumulative ef- 
fect. Instead, he must arrange his details with such care that the 
reader will receive a unified and complete image that will satisfy 
Croce's definition of intuition. 

(1) // the subject of description is changing, or if the author's 
point of view is changing, the chronological order of arrangement 
of details is usually best. The description of a butterfly emerging 
from its cocoon, of a tide coming in, of a boat race, of a prize fight, 
of a football game, of the emotion one feels during a battle, of in- 
ward sensations one has when he takes opium, of bodily pains the 
description of all such changing subjects must almost necessarily 
begin with the first thing that happens, and proceed to the next, and 
the next, and so on to the end. 

154 Creative Writing 

Similarly, a description of what one sees during a walk down the 
street, or an automobile ride into the country, or a canoe trip down 
the river, or a tour abroad such descriptions of objects observed 
while the writer's point of view changes must almost necessarily be- 
gin with the first thing that happens, and proceed to the next, and 
the next, and so on. 

( 2 ) Describing changeless objects from a motionless point of view 
requires a more elaborate technique in the arrangement of details. 
Various objects require different methods. But most of the methods 
may be included under one of two sorts of possible arrangements: 
details as they are arranged in space, and details as they are ob- 

As for the first of these objects may be described according to 
their arrangement in perspective. For example, I may describe the 
lawn I see directly under my window, then the hedge on the far side 
of the lawn, then the street beyond the hedge, then the patch of 
woods beyond the street, then the houses beyond the woods, and 
then the fields beyond the houses stretching away to the horizon. 
Thus I should proceed from the nearest objects to those successively 
farther and farther away. Or I may reverse the process, begin at the 
horizon and work inward toward the lawn beneath my window. It 
maKes little difference which method I follow as long as I stick to 
the order I have adopted. 

Somewhat similar to perspective description is description of de- 
tails according to their arrangement in space regardless of perspec- 
tive. In describing a room, for instance, I may begin with objects on 
my right as I enter, and then proceed all around the room until I 
have made a complete circle back to the objects on my left. Or in 
describing a man, I may begin with his head and work downward 
to his feet. In this method, too, an order once adopted ought not to 
be changed without a warning to the reader. 

Now about the other method of arranging changeless objects ob- 
served from a motionless point of view. Details may be presented as 
they are observed. For example, a person pictured as coming from 
the darkness into a brightly lighted room would not notice at first 
a book lying on a small table over in the corner of the room. Instead, 

Imagery 155 

dazzled for a moment, he would see only bright lights and people; 
he would observe next the larger pieces of furniture, the rugs, and 
the hangings; then he would become aware of more subdued colors 
here and there, and of smaller objects in the room; and finally he 
might perceive the book on the table. The same sort of gradual ac- 
commodation of vision would occur if the person went from light 
into darkness, or if he suddenly struck a light or extinguished one. 
The writer must accommodate his arrangement of details to the 
stages of accommodation which the person's eyes undergo. 

But even where there is no change of light, an observer ordinarily 
sees certain aspects of an object before he sees others. Usually, he 
first gets a general impression, forms a large, vague image, and later 
on fills in his outline with particular details. Accordingly, a writer 
should usually follow this arrangement in his work by proceeding 
from the description of general details to the description of particular 
details. If he is describing a man, he says something about "a short 
fat man" ( the general impression ) and then adds details about "rolls 
of fat overhanging his collar," "a deep crease running around his 
wrist between hand and arm," "little dimples on each knuckle," and 
so on (the particular details). He says of a house, "a brick cottage of 
the English type" (general impression) and then adds something 
about "steep gables," "small-paned, casement windows," "a beam of 
timber over the door," and so on (particular details). 

Often the general image may be given first as a type image. For 
example, a type form might be "a horseshoe-shaped bend in the 
river," "an L-shaped house," "an enormous round man." A type color 
might be "a village of red roofs and white walls," "a hillside rain- 
bow-colored with flowers," "the chartreuse green of the shallow sea." 
A type movement might be "rotation," "undulation," "oscillation," 
"convergence," "divergence," "descent," "ascent." A type sound might 

1 f . . 1 u yy yy , i yy 

be clatter, hum, murmur, roar, swish, ring. 

Finding the type image in the other common senses requires a 
little knowledge of physiology. The vaguely defined sense of touch 
is limited to distinguishing between the following sensations: soft or 
hard, smooth or rough, sharp or blunt, wet or dry, large or small, 
adherent or non-adherent, resistant or non-resistant, heavy or light, 

156 Creative Writing 

thick or thin, hot or cold, moving or resting. But we frequently use 
figurative words to express type images of touch: velvety, silky, icy, 
syrupy, glassy, and so on. 

The type images that we can make from the sense of smell are said 
to be confined to the following odors: spicy, flowery, fruity, resinous, 
burnt, and foul. But here again we are likely to use comparisons to 
express the image. 

All images of taste are composed of salt, sour, sweet, or bitter. To 
these, however, may be added irritants or caustics such as peppery 
or burning; textures such as greasy, soft, tough; humidity, or relative 
dryness or moistness; and temperature. 

In expressing type images of any class, we often find it useful to 
bring in figures of speech, as in some of the examples already given: 
L-shaped, rainbow-colored, and silky. 

It is only after he has given his type image that the writer faces 
the problem of filling in with particular details. George Eliot writes, 
for example, "If ever a girl looked as if she had been made of roses, 
that girl was Hetty in her Sunday hat and frock." There is the gen- 
eral picture. Details of the girl's rose-likeness follow: 

For her hat was trimmed with pink, and her frock had pink spots, sprin- 
kled on a white ground. There was nothing but pink and white about 
her, except in her dark hair and eyes and her little buckled shoes. 

Maupassant describes his Two Little Soldiers: "Being little and 
thin, they looked quite lost in their coats, which were too big and 
too long." There is the general picture. The author goes on to present 
particular details arranged in the descending order from the large 
and noticeable to the small and inconspicuous: 

The sleeves hung down over their hands, and they were much bothered 
by their enormous red breeches, which compelled them to walk wide. 
Under their stiff, high shakos their faces seemed like mere nothings 
two poor, hollow Breton faces, simple in an almost animal simplicity, 
and with blue eyes that were gentle and calm. 2 

J. B. Priestley writes, "Miss Potter had a sleek, almost electroplated 
blonde head." This detail describes Miss Potter's general appear- 

2 From "Little Soldier" in The Odd Number, copyright, 1889 and 1917, by 
Harper & Brothers. Reprinted here by permission of the publishers. 

Imagery 157 

ance; we know at once that she is a blonde. Moreover, it is the first 
of a series of details presented according to their arrangement in 
space from the head downward: 

No eyebrows; very round blue eyes; a button of a nose, so small and 
heavily powdered that it resembled the chalked end of a billiard cue; 
and a mouth that was a perpetual crimson circle of faint astonishment. 
The upper half of her, her neck and shoulders and the thin arms ending 
so curiously in little dumpy hands, was poor; but her legs were really 
beautiful. 3 

These three paragraphs of description are enough to suggest the 
varied possibilities of arrangement of details after the type image 
is presented. Rules to cover all images are out of the question; the 
writer must decide for himself what method he is to follow. Yet he 
will find it nearly always safe to begin with the large and the gen- 
eral, and to proceed, by any method that seems fit, to the small and 
the particular. This is a good working principle. 

Nowadays, numerous details and elaborate descriptions of char- 
acters in the Sir- Walter-Scott manner are out of fashion. Conse- 
quently, many writers content themselves with presenting only the 
general type image, followed immediately by one or two short, 
vividly imaginative, particular images. Arnold Bennett presents M. 

Now a fragile, short young Frenchman, with an extremely pale face 
ending in a thin black imperial, appeared at the entrance. 

A little more elaborately, in Great Expectations, Dickens describes 
Mrs. Joe Gargery: 

She was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron, fastened 
over her figure behind with two loops, and having a square impregnable 
bib in front, that was stuck full of pins and needles. 

And Stevenson uses the same method here: 

In the dock, the centre of men's eyes, there stood a whey-coloured, 
misbegotten caitiff, Duncan Jopp, on trial for his life. . . . He kept his 
head bowed and his hands clutched on the rail; his hair dropped in his 
eyes, and at times he flung it back; and now he glanced about the audi- 

3 From The Good Companions, copyright, 1929, by Harper & Brothers. Re- 
printed here by permission of the publishers. 

158 Creative Writing 

ence in a sudden fellness of terror, and now looked in the face of his 
judge and gulped. 4 


6. INTERPRETATIVE DESCRIPTION. The pure image, the way a thing 
looks, is not always sufficient. Croce's definition of art, if we recall 
it, has it that art is feeling made image image symbolizing feeling. 
This definition is perfectly sound, for the best imaginative writing 
passes beyond pure description to interpretative description. That 
is, to description not only of the external appearance of objects, but 
also to the implications which the writer feels lie behind the surface. 
In passages quoted above, the writers read into details of their char- 
acters "faint astonishment," "animal simplicity," "irritable tension," 
"cold lire," and "fellness of terror." And daily people speak of a 
"weak chin," a "malicious smile," and a "brutal mouth." Even inani- 
mate objects or natural scenes may be rendered interpretatively: the 
writer may read into his subject whatever he thinks it means, as 
George Eliot, in the description of Sunday morning already quoted, 
read peacefulness into farmyard objects, and as Poe, in the beginning 
paragraphs of The Fall of the House of Usher, read nameless terror 
and desolation into scenes along the way. What the interpretation 
shall be depends, of course, on the personal feeling and the personal 
judgment of the writer: to one person, a mouth may look "brutal" 
to another, "affectionate"; to one person a smile may look "malicious" 
to another, "mischievous." But all this brings us back to where we 
started: the picture any reader receives from an imaginative descrip- 
tion depends entirely on the writer's purpose, idea, and feeling in 
constructing the description. 


1. Art. 

a. By writing a few sentences on five of the following subjects, try 
to see how many descriptive details you can include and yet give a 
unified impression. Fifteen is a considerable number. 

An old lady. 

A man's (woman's) bedroom. 

4 From Weir of Hermiston, chap. iii. Reprinted here by permission of the 
publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. 

Imagery 159 

Your classroom. 

Small boats tied up at wharves along a riverside. 

A view from a hilltop. 

A cloud effect. 

A house. 

A forest early in the morning or late in the evening. 

A city street at some particular hour of the day. 

A beach. 

b. Do the descriptions you have just written convey any feeling? 
If not, rewrite them in such a way as to make them convey feeling. 
Rewrite one description several times so as to make it convey a differ- 
ent feeling with each revision, but do not add more details. 

2. Kinds of Images. 

Write a description of your breakfast this morning in terms of the 
following senses: 




Sound (include sounds made by yourself and by others at the 


3. Imaginative Words. 

a. Express concretely the following abstract statements: 

It was in the middle of summer. 

He is lazy. 

I feel gloomy. 

The wind is blowing. 

He walked rapidly. 

She is a silly little thing. 

I dislike everything about him. 

The good life is not an easy life. 

He began to take a pride in his appearance. 

The entire nation was distressed about his death. 

b. Find a polysymbolic word or phrase for each of the italicized 
words in the following sentences: 

Her face was pale, 

His eyes were hard. 

The jewels shone in the darkness. 

He put the book on the table. 

He looked out on the soft green of new leaves. 

A cold wind was blowing. 

160 Creative Writing 

The axeman cut off the victim's head. 

He passed me hurriedly. 

He marched stiffly, like a toy soldier. 

He drank tea and ate cookies. 

He turned the pages rapidly. 

He held out a cold hand. 

The roof jell in. 

c. Explain the connotations of the italicized words or phrases in 
the following passage: 

To her right, she saw the shattered array of a dying cornfield. 
The stalks leaned stiffly at infinite angles, fluttering tattered 
brown pennants in the wind. She gave a melancholy shudder as 
she stared at the corn-rows: this same field, only two months 
past, had been gloriously green, flaunting its plumed tassels like 
cloth of gold. Then it had been heavy and pregnant with immi- 
nent fertility, but now it was the graveyard of summer. Life had 
departed from the field. 

M. G. Williams 

d. Use each of the following words in a figure of speech in a sen- 

watchman cloy adorn opulence 

patrolman glut garnish affluence 

sentinel g or g e whitewash competence 

sentry sate bedizen riches 





4. Imaginative Details. 

a. During the course of about two weeks, accumulate from your 
observation a list of forty familiar details like those quoted in Section 4 

b. Examine the descriptions you wrote under Sections 1 and 2 
above to determine where you might have used figures of speech 
effectively. Try to invent figures of speech which could be applied to 
details in the descriptions. 

c. During the course of two weeks accumulate from your observa- 
tion a list of forty details which are imaginative because of some 

Imagery 161 

5. Imaginative Construction. 

a. Write three separate descriptive paragraphs about one of the 
following topics. In the first paragraph, try to paint a picture; in the 
second, try to convey an idea; and in the last, try to rouse a feeling. 

An impatient, pushing crowd. 

A hot summer day. 

The home of a country relative. 

A business office. 

A horse (dog, cat, parrot). 

A preacher in the pulpit. 

A teacher before the class. 

b. By selecting different details, rewrite the descriptive paragraph 
you have just done so as to have it convey an opposite idea; an oppo- 
site feeling. 

Look about the classroom. What details would you select to sug- 
gest that it is efficiently constructed and arranged? Inefficiently con- 
structed and arranged? Cheerful? Cheerless? 

Do the same for some view of the campus and its buildings. 

c. List fifteen or twenty details which you can see from your win- 
dow. Now (supposing that your purpose is to give a picture of the 
scene) arrange these details in all the orders suggested in the text 

Do the same for the details which you can see from the window 
of a train passing through a plains country; or a farming country; or 
a mountainous country; or a flat marshy country; or a forest country. 

Express in a sentence the type-form of each of the following: 

A tree you know. 

A flower. 

Your favorite chair. 

A strange bird in the zoo. 

A building on the campus. 

A lamp. 

A town seen from an elevation. 

An unusual breed of dog. 

Express in a sentence the type-movement of each of the following: 

An odd manner of walking which you have noticed. 
The way a cat walks; runs; creeps. 
The way a fly beats against a window pane. 
The way a mathematics teacher writes a formula on the black- 

16% Creative Writing 

The way someone gets out of bed in the morning. 

The way an orchestra leader calls for a softening of the music. 

Express in a sentence the type-sounds of the next ten noises you 

Tell in a sentence how each of the following feels to your touch: 

Different articles of your clothing. 

Leaves of different plants. 

The ground on a cold day; on a warm day; on a wet day. 

A bunch of keys. 

A bird which you hold in your hand. 

A dog's head when you pat it. 

The steering wheel of an automobile as you drive. 

An electric light switch as you snap it on or off. 

A thin rug as you step on it. 

Try to express the type-smells and the type-tastes of each article 
of food you can recall having eaten during the last day or two. 
Distinguish carefully between the two types of details. In addition, 
list and describe the next ten smells you notice. 

If the class is not too large, the instructor may let each member 
come to the front of the room, one person at a time, and read for two 
or three minutes while the rest of the class writes a thumb-nail de- 
scription of the reader in the manner suggested in Section 5 above. 

6. Interpretative Description. 

Enlarge two of the descriptions just written into longer, interpreta- 
tive descriptions. 

Write an interpretative description of one of the following: 

An automobile. 

A street. 

A house. 

A scene in nature. 

A river. 

An animal (cat, dog, horse, fish, bird, etc.). 


The Writing of Exposition 


The Nature of Exposition 

1. DEFINITION. In trying to distinguish between exposition and 
other forms of writing, we may well parody Coleridge's famous sen- 
tence distinguishing between poetry and science: Exposition is that 
species of prose composition which is opposed to works of narration 
and description by proposing for its immediate object truth, not 
pleasure. That is, exposition conveys ideas for the sake of instructing 
the reader, not for the sake of pleasing him by emotional stimulation 
or imagination. 

To be sure, exposition may avail itself of narration and descrip- 
tion, and may try to stimulate emotion and imagination in the reader; 
but all this will be auxiliary to the main purpose of instruction. It 
will not exist for its own sake. For instance, a plain factual history 
of, say, England under the Hanovers will consist of quite as much 
narrative as any novel; yet the history will be narrative not for the 
sake of any pleasurable emotion it stirs in the reader, but for the 
sake of the instruction it gives him. And an account of the way a 
cotton gin or a cider press works may be almost pure description 
the gleam of metal, the revolution of wheels, the meshing of cogs, 
the motions of the workmen; but the description will exist primarily 
to give the reader instruction, not merely to please his fancy by 
means of vivid imagery. 

2. THE FIELD OF EXPOSITION. An enormous proportion of all writ- 
ing is expository. So vast, indeed, is the field of exposition that any 
attempt merely to outline it is certain to fail. Exposition includes 
news items, news articles, special features, editorials, and advertise- 
ments; it includes magazine articles, book reviews, accounts of 
travel, descriptions of places in the day's news, and descriptions of 
social conditions; it includes political speeches, funeral orations, 


Creative Writing 

sermons, classroom lectures, and a large part of all conversation 
about people and opinions; it includes textbooks, reference books, 
compilations of statistics, criticisms, histories, and biographies; it in- 
cludes laboratory directions, reports of experiments or observations, 
building specifications, auditors' reports, and business letters. Even 
poetry, when it becomes philosophic, is likely to be expository; and 
those portions of fiction which analyze character, explain motives, 
and describe situations are likewise expository. 

3. THE USES OF EXPOSITION. The definition of exposition has al- 
ready implied its use. Exposition is used to instruct. But instruction 
may be of three sorts. First, it may be instruction in facts; second, it 
may be instruction in the meaning of facts; and third, it may be in- 
struction in a certain intellectual or emotional point of view. 

By way of illustration, suppose a writer tells the number of battle 
casualties in the First World War, the value of property destroyed in 
the line of battle, the money spent by all nations conducting the war, 
and the money spent on pensions, hospitals, and reconstruction since 
the war. And suppose that, at the same time, he records the amount 
of profits made by certain businesses in the war, the wages made by 
workers supporting the combatants, the money made by American 
citizens supplying armies with food and clothing, and the millions 
in interest received by American financiers from foreign debtors. If 
the writer does nothing more than this, he will be merely giving in- 
struction in facts. 

But suppose he goes on to interpret his facts. He balances ac- 
counts; he shows how apparent assets are actual liabilities; he ex- 
plains that even nations which profited most by the war during the 
1920's went almost bankrupt in the 1930's. His logical and impersonal 
conclusion, then, may be that the war was unprofitable to all con- 

And now suppose he goes on to argue from the evidence he has 
educed and interpreted that all wars are not only murderous, but 
ruinous. He condemns wars from both the humane and the economic 
standpoints, and he tries to persuade his readers not to listen to 
vendors of war. In doing this, he is giving instruction in a certain 
intellectual and emotional point of view; he is not merely giving 

The Nature of Exposition 167 

facts and trying to interpret them impartially. He is trying to in- 
fluence opinion and inspire action. Mere facts and their clarification 
no longer satisfy him. He has become an agitator in the literal sense 
of the word an individual attempting to stimulate others by in- 
structing them in his own point of view. 

4. THE REQUIREMENTS OF EXPOSITION. Though instruction and not 
pleasure is the immediate purpose of exposition, a writer should not 
feel altogether relieved of the responsibility of trying to be interest- 
ing. Of course, some essays in exposition need no virtues except 
clarity and conciseness. On the other hand, all expositions are not 
mathematics textbooks, building specifications, and scientific articles 
on the chemistry of insect blood. Some expositions are book reviews, 
art criticisms, biography, histories cf literature, articles on current 
social problems, philosophical or moral ecsays, sermons, public lec- 
tures, accounts of true adventure, essays on natural history, and char- 
acter sketches. These expositions require some other virtues besides 
clarity and conciseness: they require to be interesting. 

a. Macaulay censures the historian whose only object is to as- 
semble facts: "While our historians are practicing all the arts of 
controversy, they miserably neglect the art of narration, the art of 
interesting the affections and presenting pictures to the imagination/* 
This art of interesting need not be hostile to truth ( as Macaulay goes 
on to show). Furthermore, history which has made use of this art 
will be read and will exercise influence while quite as scholarly, but 
less interesting, books will be neglected. 

That a writer may produce these effects [Macaulay continues] without 
violating truth is sufficiently proved by many excellent biographical 
works. The immense popularity which well-written books of this kind 
have acquired deserves the serious consideration of historians. Voltaire's 
Charles the Twelfth, Marmontel's Memoirs, Boswell's Life of Johnson, 
Southey's account of Nelson, are perused with delight by the most frivo- 
lous and indolent. Whenever any tolerable book of the same description 
makes its appearance, the circulating libraries are mobbed; the book 
societies are in commotion; the new novel lies uncut; the magazines and 
newspapers fill their columns with extracts. In the meantime, histories of 
great empires, written by men of eminent ability, lie unread on the shelves 
of ostentatious libraries. 

168 Creative Writing 

Macaulay's own devices for achieving interest in this very essay 
are worth study. In the paragraph just quoted, he assumes the ag- 
gressive, controversial tone which is so much more effective than 
mere abstract statement; he gives examples of the sort of history 
which he approves; he uses a set of hammering parallel structures; 
he states the popularity of well-written biographies in terms of vivid 
images; and he concludes with a powerful contrast. 

In succeeding paragraphs he uses paradoxes: "A history in which 
every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false." 
Blunt, hard statements : "No past event has any intrinsic importance." 
Rhetorical questions: If Lord Clarendon had done so-and-so, "Would 
not his work in that case have been more interesting? Would it not 
have been more accurate?" Singles: The merely factual historian is 
like a "gnat mounted on an elephant, and laying down theories as to 
the whole internal structure of the vast animal, from the phenomena 
of the hide." Metaphors: "The upper current of society presents no 
certain criterion by which we can judge of the direction in which 
the under current flows." Analogies: "The effect of historical reading 
is, in rnary respects, analogous to that produced by foreign travel" 
and then an elaboration of the analogy through several hundred 
words. References to or indirect quotations from other authors: 
Bishop Watson, Sir Walter Scott, Hume, Tacitus, Lord Clarendon. 
And throughout the essay full lists of specific details are presented 
to support every large generalization. 

All these devices, together with those mentioned in the first chap- 
ter of this book, the student may well employ to make his own work 
interesting. Occasionally these devices come naturally; but more 
frequently they hide away and must be sought out by conscious ef- 
fort. Being interesting without effort is a gift of few people. 

b. Being interesting is a requirement of all but the most coldly 
scientific sorts of exposition. But being clear is a requirement of all 
exposition. Exposition that is not clear is like a clergyman without 
morals or a teacher without learning. Endeavoring to clarify, it lacks 
clarity; and pretending to instruct, it confuses. Poetry may be ob- 
scure, description may be incomplete or only suggestive, and narra- 
tive may be the record of happenings the reader does not under- 

The Nature of Exposition 169 

stand. But exposition can afford to leave no dark corners in the 
reader's mind, or to trouble the reader with no unexplained ideas and 
half-suggested facts. Exposition must be lucid, logical, complete; 
it must leave the reader with more knowledge, greater understand- 
ing, or new ways of looking at an issue. It must be so constructed 
that it has a clear meaning as a whole, and that each part of it has 
a clear meaning in relation to the whole and in relation to every other 
part. Lacking in either this general or this specific clarity, the exposi- 
tion is, in some measure at least, a failure. 

5. THE SOURCES OF EXPOSITION. To attain clarity in his exposition, 
a writer must have, first of all, knowledge about his subject. Like 
Frank Buck or any other world-traveler or adventurer, he may have 
gained his knowledge from personal experience; like Maeterlinck or 
Fabre, he may have gained it from long and careful observation; 
like Boswell or Trelawney, he may have gained it from associating 
with others; like Kittredge and Lowes, he may have gained it from 
reading; like Plato and Locke, he may have gained it from pure 
thought operating on rather obvious phenomena; or like Darwin, 
William James, and Spengler, he may have gained it from several 
of these processes working together. 

a. Most young students are inclined to distrust their own experi- 
ences as possible sources of subject matter. Asked to write an exposi- 
tion, a college youth who has worked during three vacations in a 
small factory which manufactures fishing tackle will invariably pro- 
pose to write about "Buddhism in China"; and a college girl who 
works in a local library will believe that she must write about "The 
Case against the Sugar Tariff." The youth will not realize that he can 
be more original and interesting, and can convey more valuable in- 
formation about the manufacture of fishing tackle than any other 
subject he might choose; and the girl will not believe that her inside 
knowledge of the way her library functions will be more interesting 
and valuable to readers than anything she could find out about tar- 
iffs. No intelligent person has reached the age of eighteen without 
having acquired some special knowledge about something. The gid- 
diest flirt could write entrancingly on "How to Attract Men"; the 
slowest farm boy could write informatively on "How to Care for 

170 Creative Writing 

Milk Cows"; the most hurried New Yorker could write interestingly 
about "Subways as a Passenger Knows Them"; and the most child- 
like freshman could write a revolutionary exposition on "What I 
Think of My Parents." One of the very first lessons a writer should 
learn, therefore, is this: Value personal experience. 

b. Careful observation and accurate recording of details observed 
makes worth-while exposition. The play of a child, the motions of a 
pole-vaulter, the behavior of a robin looking for worms, the typog- 
raphy of a book, the structure of a blossom simple things such as 
these, if observed closely, can be the subjects of endless, and yet 
extraordinarily interesting exposition. All of us have seen cats beg- 
ging for attention by rubbing about people's legs; but how many of 
us have observed this common occurrence with the minute attention 
that Darwin shows in the following paragraph? 

Let us now look at a cat in a directly opposite frame of mind, whilst 
feeling affectionate and caressing her master. . . . She now stands up- 
right with her back slightly arched, which makes the hair appear rather 
rough, but it does not bristle; her tail, instead of being extended and 
lashed from side to side, is held quite stiff and perpendicularly upwards; 
her ears are erect and pointed; her mouth is closed; and she rubs against 
her master with a purr instead of a growl. 

In another place Darwin describes the act of weeping: 

The corrugators of the brow (corrugators supercilii) seem to be the 
first muscles to contract; and these draw the eyebrows downwards and 
inwards towards the base of the nose, causing vertical furrows, that is a 
frown, to appear between the eyebrows; at the same time they cause the 
disappearance of the transverse wrinkles across the forehead. The orbicu- 
lar muscles contract almost simultaneously with the corrugators, and 
produce wrinkles all round the eyes. . . . Lastly, the pyramidal muscles 
of the nose contract; and these draw the eyebrows and the skin of the 
forehead still lower down, producing short transverse wrinkles across the 
base of the nose. . . . When these muscles are strongly contracted, those 
running to the upper lip likewise contract and raise the upper lip. . . . 
The raising of the upper lip draws upwards the flesh of the upper parts 
of the cheeks, and produces a strongly marked fold on each cheek the 
naso-labial fold, which runs from near the wings of the nostrils to the 
corners of the mouth and below them. ... As the rpper lip is much 
drawn up during the act of screaming, in the manner just explained, the 

The Nature of Exposition 171 

depressor muscles of the angles of the mouth are strongly contracted in 
order to keep the mouth widely open, so that a full volume of sound may 
be poured forth. The action of these opposing muscles, above and below, 
tends to give to the mouth an oblong, almost squarish outline. ... An 
excellent observer, in describing a baby crying whilst being fed, says, "it 
made its mouth like a square, and let the porridge run out at all four 

These passages describe what all of us could see if we would only 
observe; yet despite their commonplaceness of subject, they are 
both interesting and informative. 

c. Contemplation of one's associates may furnish material for half- 
a-dozen kinds of exposition. The simple character sketch may grow 
out of long observation of a roommate, a professor, a janitor, a class- 
mate, or any other individual of no greater importance. Indeed, it 
frequently happens that the most fascinating subjects for character 
sketches are those unobtrusive mouse-like people who so often are 
the bodily framework for a maze of tangled "complexes" and psy- 

The religious youth who is troubled by scientific theories he has 
learned in college; the student leader who seeks popularity at the 
cost of independence; the pretty freshman girl who is in a flutter of 
amazed delight because the campus hero likes her; the girl who as- 
sumes the airs of a countess, though we know she does housework 
to pay her way through college; the handsome elderly lady on the 
faculty who has never married; the awkward, gesticulating, timid 
young professor in the foreign language department such people 
are interesting in themselves. A mere presentation of them as they 
reveal their personalities to their associates would make valuable 

Even more valuable would be exposition attempting to show how 
heredity, early environment, education, certain crucial experiences, 
and certain significant people have worked together to fashion a 
character into the individual we know. 

Yet the exposition derived from one's associations may concern 
no one individual. Instead, it may attempt to give the reader an un- 
derstanding of some racial or social group with which the author is 

17% Creative Writing 

familiar. What are the racial-cultural traits of the German, the Jew, 
the American Negro, the Japanese, the Southerner, or the New Eng- 
lander? What are the ideas and the thought-channels of the common 
sailor, the American banker, the middle-western farmer, the college 
student, the adolescent boy, or the high school girl? A well-con- 
sidered exposition attempting to answer any of these questions 
would be both interesting and valuable. 

The sort of exposition derived from personal associations may 
take a wider field than even a racial or a social group. It may develop 
a generalization which the student has constructed out of his knowl- 
edge of all humanity a generalization which approaches a philoso- 
phy of life. "Most men are fundamentally honest"; "Young people 
are usually sad"; "The way to a woman's heart is to make her laugh"; 
"Women are always dissatisfied" these are typical generalizations 
which may result from observation of people. 

d. Reading is an ever fruitful source of material. Term themes in 
courses of history, literature, economics, and philosophy are usually 
typical expositions derived from the writer's acquaintance with other 
authors. The aim of such expositions is primarily to give information 
to people who have not the time or the opportunity to investigate as 
thoroughly as the writer can. Accordingly, fullness of information 
within certain specified limits, and clarity of expression are the chief 
things to be desired in this sort of exposition. 

At the same time, the writer should remember that mere sum- 
maries or paraphrases, though these have a place in exposition, are 
seldom adequate in themselves for the proper explication of sources. 
Selection, from sometimes numerous possibilities, of sources to sum- 
marize or paraphrase, decisions as to which sources deserve the 
fullest treatment and the greatest amount of space, weighing of au- 
thorities, judgments on seemingly contradictory or conflicting 
sources, organization and arrangement of material all this requires 
initiative and originality on the writer's part. He cannot be a mere 
parrot; he must practically always contribute something of himself. 
His exposition, consequently, though composed of materials taken 
from other writers and though often designed to give purely objec- 

The Nature of Exposition 173 

tive knowledge, will almost inevitably reflect the individual author's 
own personality. It will cover old materials; yet in its standards, its 
interpretations, its objective, and its purpose it will be, and it ought 
to be, a new contribution to recorded knowledge. 1 

e. Some of the very best and most useful exposition ever written 
has come from original thought about well-known facts. Most of the 
philosophers, from Plato to Bergson, have built intricate and fasci- 
nating intellectual systems on the basis of information common to all 
educated men. Burke impressed upon two or three generations his 
theories about beauty, though he had less experience with beauty 
than thousands of people who have walked through the corridors of 
the Metropolitan Museum a couple of times; Rousseau wrote a clas- 
sic in the literature of education, though he had less concrete in- 
formation about his subject than any college senior who expects to 
become a teacher; and Jefferson has influenced the destiny of a na- 
tion for a century and a half, though he probably knew less about 
history than any half-a-dozen college professors you know. These 
men were great because they thought because they could draw in- 
ferences, judge conditions, and construct general laws from com- 
monplace facts of no consequence to people less thoughtful. 

Too much reading and too little thinking often suffocates the crea- 
tive principle. Most good writers have been wide readers; but read- 
ing is no substitute for thought. A little knowledge well used is far 
more valuable than much knowledge never put to work. Schopen- 
hauer, in his volume called Chips and Scraps, has an energetic essay 
on this very subject. He deserves to be quoted at some length: 

Much reading deprives the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping a 
spring continually under pressure. The safest way of having no thoughts 
of one's own is to take up a book every moment one has nothing else to 
do. It is this practice which explains why erudition makes most men more 

1 The collecting of data on bibliographic cards, the use of footnotes and 
bibliography, the conventional symbols and abbreviations employed in footnotes 
and bibliography, and the most acceptable form and arrangement for footnotes 
and bibliography these are matters of importance. Most of the handbooks and 
rhetorics used nowadays in freshman English courses contain information about 
such things. Consequently, they will not be studied in the present work. The 
student is referred to his freshman handbook instead. 

17 '4 Creative Writing 

stupid and silly than they are by nature, and prevents their writings ob- 
taining any measure of success. They remain, in Pope's words: 

Forever reading, never to be read! . . . 

Reading is nothing more than a substitute for thought of one's own. It 
means putting the mind into leading strings. The multitude of books 
serves only to show how many false paths there are, and how widely 
astray a man may wander if he follows any of them. But he who is guided 
by his genius, he who thinks for himself, who thinks spontaneously and 
accurately, possesses the only compass by which he can steer aright. A 
man should read only when his own thoughts stagnate at their source, 
which will happen often enough even with the best of minds. On the 
other hand, to take up a book for the purpose of scaring away one's own 
original thoughts is a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is like running away 
from nature to look at a museum of dried plants or gaze at a landscape 
in copper-plate. 

f. The final source of exposition that is, a compound of all the 
sources previously mentioned doubtless produces more influential 
work than any of the others. We ask a writer not only to think, but 
to know what has already been written on his subject, and to have 
special knowledge gained from experiment or observation, from 
personal associations, or from personal experience. In a word, we 
ask him to have both a wide knowledge and a special knowledge of 
his subject, and in addition we like* to see him organize his knowl- 
edge into a coherent system having a place in the larger system of 
things. If, for example, someone writes about coal strikes in America 
during the last fifteen years, we expect him to have read much on 
the subject, observed much, and (if possible) experienced much 
and known people connected with the strikes. Furthermore, we ex- 
pect him to have thought about the strikes long enough to show us 
how they have fitted into the general social and economic scheme 
during the last fifteen years, and how they have influenced the pres- 
ent and may influence the future. We want learning in our writer, 
special knowledge, and a power to theorize. If he has only the first, 
he is a pedant; if he has only the second, he is a technical expert; 
and if he has only the last, he is likely to be a windbag. 

The Nature of Exposition 175 

An hour or two spent reading the articles in any of the better-class 
general periodicals will show how true it is that our best-known 
contemporary writers derive their materials from all the sources 
indicated. The learning may be neither esoteric nor all-inclusive; the 
special knowledge may be accidental; and the power to theorize 
may be limited. But if the three of them are used for all they are 
worth if they are forced to yield up every droplet of expository 
attar they contain, they may be brewed into a really valuable piece 
of writing. 

How good an essay may be constructed from fairly commonplace 
material many a good author demonstrates every month in the bet- 
ter-class magazines mentioned above. Analysis of an example will 
clarify this statement. In an excellent article called "The Humble 
Female," which appeared in Harpers some time ago, Agnes Rogers 
employs only the following information or theories: 

General Information: 

Women were "emancipated" during the early twentieth century. 

Yet few women occupy high positions in business or in politics. 

The typical modern woman works a while before she marries; then 
she marries and has a small family; then she has to find some other 
occupation when she is in her forties; she never becomes an invaluable 
grandmother, as in previous ages. 

Special Information: 

Example of a woman banker who was more efficient than a man. 

A woman became Treasurer of the United States. 

Example of a woman who avoided jobs where she had to make 

The writer has found, in talking with many college girls, that most 
young women lack self-confidence. 

Mrs. Roosevelt and Senator Margaret Smith did well in public life. 

Two examples of modern men having "glamour-beyond-fifty." 

Thirty percent of the nation's labor force are women. 

All but nine of the census report's 451 job classifications are open to 
women. Even the Harvard Medical School finally opened its doors to 

Quotations or paraphrases from three previous writers. 


Women do not value themselves enough because 
a. They, like the modern man, want security. 

176 Creative Writing 

b. Labor-saving devices deprive them of the dignity of being house- 
wives on a professional scale. 

c. They have heard and read so much about the obligations of the 
modern woman that they are bewildered. 

d. They want to be liked by men. 

The way to make women less humble is for 

a. Women to think of themselves as people, not women. 

h. Women not to consider that all is lost when youth is gone. 

c. Women not to think that marriage automatically ensures an idyl- 
lic existence. 

d. Men not to be jealous of successful business or professional 
women who happen to be their wives. 

The average observant person knows all the general information 
used here; he could substitute personal information of his own quite 
as pointed as some of that listed as "Special Information," and he 
could discover other statistical or quotable items as useful as these 
by an hour's research among the periodical indexes and files of old 
magazines and newspapers; and he could think up theories quite as 
valid as those outlined here. In short, though general information, 
special information, and private theories have gone into this article, 
none of the three is so profound or so esoteric as to discourage 
emulation. Almost any thoughtful and practiced writer could pro- 
duce an equally good article. 


1. Definition. 

a. Write paragraphs describing three of the following in an ex- 
pository style; then write other paragraphs describing the same three 
in a non-expository style: 

Some bird or some dog. 

The house you live in. 

A restaurant you know. 

A friend. 

A classroom. 

A piece of furniture. 

A view of the campus. 

b. Select three brief news items from the daily paper, and retell 
them in a non-expository style. 

The Nature of Exposition 177 

2. The Field of Exposition. 

3. The Uses of Exposition. 

Explain briefly how you could write three different expositions 
having three different uses about each of the following subjects: 

The manners of college students. 
Football and college finance. 
The last ten movies I have seen. 

Conservation measures enacted recently by the federal ad- 

Bird life on the campus. 

Getting a book from the library. 

The freshman's problems of adjustment. 

The pre-medical (pre-law) course in college. 

The English courses at this college. 

Tuition and fees at this college. 

4. The Requirements of Exposition. 

a. Take some unsatisfactory exposition you have written, or let 
your instructor give you some poor expository theme one of his fresh- 
men has written, or select a particularly uninteresting page in a history 
or philosophy textbook and convert it into interesting exposition by 
using the devices mentioned in the foregoing discussion. Do not 
change the fundamental ideas expressed in the original work. 

b. In planning an exposition on "The Political Situation in My 
Home Town," suppose you think of the ideas mentioned below. Show 
how each of these in turn might be made the unifying idea of ten 
different expositions, and show how all the other ideas could be re- 
lated to this central one: 

1. The town is small. 

2. The leading political faction is a group of merchants on 
X Street. 

3. There is a demagogic political boss. 

4. The liquor (or gambling) vote is influential. 

5. Municipal funds have been used to help the trade of the 
leading faction. 

6. The best-paved and best-lighted street is X Street. 

7. The mayor of the town is a tool of the boss and of the 
leading faction. 

8. There is some jealousy between the boss and the leading 

9. There has been corruption in the granting of contracts, in 

178 Creative Writing 

the appointment of officials, and in the administration of the 

10. The reform element is divided into two groups, one of 
which wants merely a transfer of power to itself, while the other 
wants actual reform. 

5. The Sources of Exposition. 

a. Make a list of the experiences which have given you consider- 
able knowledge about certain subjects. If you wish, or if your in- 
structor suggests it, write an exposition on one of these subjects. 

b. Write a paragraph or so describing in detail the appearance and 
the movements of three of the following: 

Your father driving a car. 
A professor giving a lecture. 
Your dog greeting you when you return home. 
A fish moving about an aquarium for a few minutes. 
A baby just learning to walk. 
A baby amusing itself playing on the floor. 
Your mother as she makes a bed. 

A friend eating a sandwich; eating ice cream; drinking; play- 
ing bridge. 

An insect on a plant. 

A sparrow struggling with a large tangle of straw. 

c. Make a list of expository subjects that could be derived from 
your knowledge of people. Try to include subjects of each type men- 
tioned in Section 5, Part c, of the text. Write expositions on any of 
these subjects that your instructor thinks promising. 

(d. The individual interests or the special tasks of every student 
must determine the kind of exposition the student may create from 
reading other writers.) 

e. Write a thoughtful and interesting exposition in which you try 
to answer one of the following questions: 

What is sentimentality? 

What is art? 

What is tragedy? 

What is the difference between a radical and a liberal? 

What is a proper attitude toward sex? 

When is a man (or a woman) educated? 

Of what value are novels? 

Of what value is poetry? 

What should be the chief ideal of every nation? 

How should we let tradition affect us? 

The Nature of Exposition 179 

f . Write an exposition on one of the following topics; include 
general information, personal information, and individual theories: 

Changes in American political philosophy since 1950. 
A recent episode of international misunderstanding. 
Modern comedy. 
College humor. 
Victorianism in your college. 
The drift of modern high school education. 
How your college differs from another in the state. 
Your own moral standards and those of your mother (or 

American poetry since 1945. 


The Types of Exposition 

The previous chapter discussed the nature of exposition. The pres- 
ent chapter describes some specific types of exposition. All the more 
important types are considered except argumentation, for which an 
entire chapter is reserved later in the book. 

I. The Familiar Essay 

Calling the familiar essay exposition is almost an insult. But be- 
cause it states ideas instead of creating images or relating actions, it 
is close kin to exposition. 

The familiar essay states ideas; but these ideas are frequently 
trivial and always personal. They convey little objective instruction, 
and they constitute no philosophic systems. Usually, indeed, the 
ideas in a familiar essay are not expounded in sober earnestness and 
must not be taken too seriously. Consequently, the familiar essay is a 
form of writing so fluid and imponderable as almost to defy analysis. 
Moreover, advice about how to write it is futile. An hour with 
Charles Lamb, Stephen Leacock, Max Beerbohrn, or Christopher 
Morley will teach anyone more about the familiar essay than will a 
month with a textbook composition. 

In style this kind of essay is familiar, but not commonplace or 
vulgar; in structure it is formless, but not incoherent or chaotic; in 
method it may be illogical, but it is never clumsy or stupid. The 
familiar essayist writes about anything nylon stockings, German 
kings, or life in Alaska; but he is seldom in earnest about any of 
them. He is well bred, chatty, gossipy; sympathetic, but often satiri- 
cal; good-humored, but sometimes cynical; he is never solemn. He 
is genuinely interested in everything, but he takes nothing seriously 
himself least of all. He may write about serious subjects, but he 


The Types of Exposition 181 

will write in a whimsical style. Or he may write about trivial sub- 
jects, but he will write in a mock-serious style. He is informal and 
paradoxical irresponsible and amused urbane and playful- 
shrewd and irrepressible. And yet all the while he may be filled 
with quiet emotion and tender sentiment. He is the intelligent and 
cultured man off parade. He laughs good-naturedly at the world 
and at himself, and asks only that the world laugh with him. If, 
sometimes, a tear lurks behind the laugh, it is a hidden tear which 
finds no expression save in a little sigh. 

In Edinburgh in 1863 Alexander Smith wrote about the familiar 
essayist in a style which may well be a model for the style of all 
familiar essays: 

The essayist plays with his subject, now in whimsical, now in grave, 
now in melancholy mood. He lies upon the idle grassy bank, like Jacques, 
letting the world flow past him, and from this thing and the other he ex- 
tracts his mirth and his moralities. His main gift is an eye to discover the 
suggestiveness of common things; to find a sermon in the most unpromis- 
ing texts. Beyond the vital hint, the first step, his discourses are not be- 
holden to their titles. Let him take up the most trivial subject, and it will 
lead him away to the great questions over which the serious imagination 
loves to brood fortune, mutability, death just as inevitably as the run- 
nel, trickling among the summer hills, on which the sheep are bleating, 
leads you to the sea; or as, turning down the first street you come to in 
the city, you are led finally, albeit by many an intricacy, out into the open 
country, with its waste places and its woods, where you are lost in a sense 
of strangeness and solitariness. The world is to the meditative man what 
the mulberry plant is to the silkworm. The essay- writer has no lack of 
subject-matter. He has the day that is passing over his head; and, if un- 
satisfied with that, he has the world's six thousand years to depasture his 
gay or serious humour upon. I idle away my time here, and I am finding 
new subjects every hour. Everything I see or hear is an essay in bud. The 
world is everywhere whispering essays, and one need only be the world's 
amanuensis. The proverbial expression which last evening the clown 
dropped as he trudged homeward to supper, the light of the setting sun 
on his face, expands before me to a dozen pages. The coffin of the pauper, 
which today I saw carried carelessly along, is as good a subject as the 
funeral procession of an emperor. . . . Two rustic lovers, whispering be- 
tween the darkening hedges, are as potent to project my mind into the 
tender passion as if I had seen Romeo touch the cheek of Juliet in the 
moonlight garden. Seeing a curly-headed child asleep in the sunshine 

Creative Writing 

before a cottage-door is sufficient excuse for a discourse on childhood; 
quite as good as if I had seen infant Cain asleep in the lap of Eve with 
Adam looking on. A lark cannot rise to heaven without raising as many 
thoughts as there are notes in its song. Dawn cannot pour its white light 
on my village without starting from their dim lair a hundred reminis- 
cences; nor can sunset burn above yonder trees in the west without at- 
tracting to itself the melancholy of a lifetime. 

II. Exposition of Events 

1. Diaries and Journals are much the same thing. Strictly speak- 
ing, however, a diary is entirely personal; it records matters that 
center about the writer. A journal, on the other hand, need not be 
altogether personal; it may be chiefly concerned with external mat- 
ters, like the daily progress of a ship, the regular meetings of a 
legislative body, the adventures and discoveries of an expedition, 
the course of a scientific investigation, and so on. 

The basic requirements of a journal are few. They are merely 
honesty, completeness, and clarity. But, of course, there is no law 
against a journal's having a pleasing style, good narrative structure, 
interesting character delineation, vivid description, shrewd criti- 
cism, and original comment. 

A good diary is nearly related to the familiar essay. It is not a 
mere listing of a day's events: "Had lunch at Margaret's house to- 
day. Went to see a movie afterward Roland Rogers in Their Only 
Hour. Got home at about 5 P.M. just in time to receive a telephone 
call from Jack. Made a date with him for the Saturday night dance. 
Called Alice after dinner and talked about Jack. Studied French till 
11:15." Such a diary is of no interest to anyone but the writer, and 
will not interest even the writer after six months. A good diary re- 
veals one's emotional and intellectual reactions to daily affairs; it 
describes scenes and recalls images; it sketches and analyzes char- 
acters; it tells little stories or anecdotes; it voices criticisms of books, 
plays, ideas, and people; it records the writer's current philosophical 
and religious opinions; it pictures social life; it reflects history. 

Keeping a diary is good practice for the writer. It will get him 
into the habit of writing something every day; it will train him to 
perceive worth-while material in common life; it will make him 

The Types of Exposition 183 

observe his surroundings more carefully, and value his own passing 
thoughts and feelings more highly; it will give him a kind of rough 
quarry from which he can mine material for more polished work 
later on; and, in after years, it will be peculiarly fascinating to 
himself and to his grandchildren. People still read with delight the 
diaries of Pepys and Boswcll, and with intense interest the diaries of 
Arnold Bennett and H. G. Wells. It is a form of writing that never 
is outdated. 

2. History is narrative exposition; its chief purpose is to instruct; 
its chief requirements are thoroughness, accuracy, and clarity. 

a. History of an event deals with one episode like a traffic ac- 
cident, a great explosion, an assassination, a single battle, a single 
day or a minor action within a battle, and so on. 

b. History of a period deals with many episodes happening over 
a certain length of time like the 1930's, the Victorian Age, the 
Renaissance, and so on. Since recording every detail about such 
periods is physically impossible, the historian must select details. 
His selection depends upon what he considers important. Thus all 
such history is actually interpretative. Good historians keep this fact 
in mind, or actually emphasize it; they do not merely list indis- 
criminate past events without regard for their significance in a gen- 
eral interpretation of history. 

c. Topical history deals with special historical subjects that may 
cut across several chronological periods, and are purposely isolated 
from other subjects. Examples would be histories of the honor sys- 
tem at your college, wedding customs, Unitarianism, the British 
labor movement, the British Parliament, the woman suffrage move- 
ment in America, Franklin Roosevelt's administrations, the Second 
World War, and the like. 

d. What we may call folk history is altogether different. Its pur- 
pose is not to give readers a clearer understanding of large events 
but, rather, to show readers how our ancestors lived, thought, 
worked, and died; to reveal potentialities of human nature that we 
moderns could never have dreamed of; to satisfy a normal human 
curiosity about other human beings who were once alive. Such his- 
tory need be only true and interesting. Without attempting inter- 

184 Creative Writing 

pretation and evaluation, it may recount stirring events, or depict 
fascinating characters, or tell of curious or unusual customs or in- 
cidents. The more vividly all this is done, the better is the history. 
Factual truth alone may not always suffice. Imagination, under- 
standing of human nature, story-telling power, an eye for effect, and 
a keen sensitivity to the strange or romantic these the writer needs 
in addition to strict historical accuracy. Acquiring them is largely 
a matter of wide and tolerant reading. And what reading cannot 
supply, nature must. 

3. Biography may be of either the institutional or the folk type. 
That is, it may tell the story of a man's life as it affected his times 
and the times which came after him; or it may tell the story of his 
life for its own sake for the intrinsic interest of himself and of the 
things he did. Older biographies were, most commonly, of the 
former sort; but modern biographies, yielding to the contemporary 
interest in psychology ( and, perhaps, making concessions to modern 
sensationalism), have drifted toward the personal. This new desire 
to understand historical personages as people, men and women 
undergoing altogether human emotions and having altogether hu- 
man weaknesses, is certainly praiseworthy. It has revitalized biog- 
raphy and brought about a new conception of history; moreover, it 
lias raised the craft of biography into an art demanding the creative 
imagination of a novelist as well as the accuracy of the historian. 
As long as it retains this accuracy, the new art deserves all the 
popularity it has attained. Nevertheless, personal fancy, elaborate 
reconstructions of possible conversations, and bold imaging forth 
of personally invented scenes have no place in sound biography. 
These belong to fiction, not to exposition. 

No biography should be a mere running comment on events 
chronologically arranged. Instead, it should have a definite objec- 
tive, a unifying idea, around which all the events arrange them- 
selves according to a pattern. The pattern is the biographer's own 
contribution to the work. To one biographer, Napoleon was a selfish, 
cold-blooded egoist; to another, he was a dreamer who visioned for 
himself an Asiatic empire of which Europe was to be only a prov- 
ince; and to another, he was an unhappy man who found in activity 

The Types of Exposition 185 

a compensation for youthful frustration and disappointed love. 
Each biographer uses the same facts; but because each has used a 
different pattern, each has created a different Napoleon. 

Before setting pen to paper in writing a biography, the student 
should acquire by reading or by personal investigation as much in- 
formation as possible about his subject. After this, the next step 
should be assimilation and meditation. For a time, the prospective 
writer should leave off research and devote himself to the task of 
expressing in words the dominant trait of his subject's character 
and the main pattern of his life. When this step has been taken, and 
not until then, comes the writing of the biography. This third step 
is now comparatively easy. All that the writer need do is to select 
from his previously gathered information facts and anecdotes which 
illustrate or prove the fundamental idea, and then present them in 
a more or less chronological order. A little additional investigation 
may be necessary, or a little explanation of seemingly contradictory 
facts; but the real work of writing a biography is done when the 
second step mentioned above is taken. 

4. Anecdote is one of the chief instruments of biography. It may 
be a short account of some small incident, or it may be a bit of in- 
formation about someone's personal habits. For example, the story 
of how Coleridge lectured an hour and a half on a subject he did 
not know until the man who introduced him announced the subject 
to the audience this is an anecdote of a particular incident. And 
the information that Dr. Johnson used to touch every post as he 
walked down the street this is an anecdote of personal habit. 

But both sorts of anecdotes serve one purpose: They reveal char- 
acter. They tell us something ( not always to be expressed in words ) 
about personalities; and they tell it more forcefully and memorably 
than could any amount of abstract analysis. Everyone who has read 
Macaulay or Boswell can recall a dozen anecdotes about Dr. John- 
son; but who can recall many actual facts about him? When was he 
born; where was he born; when did he leave Oxford; when did he 
come to London; when did he die? 

Not all anecdotes, however, are personal. Some reveal the charac- 
teristics of races, classes, or professions. The stories about the two 

186 Creative Writing 

Irishmen, about the Scotsman, about the traveling salesman, about 
the absent-minded professor are all anecdotes intended to depict 
the typical traits of certain groups. The scope of the anecdote may 
be even wider. It may reveal traits typical of a people, of an age in 
history, of human beings in general or of dogs, or of parrots, or of 
ants. The anecdote about the medieval French bishop who tried in 
ecclesiastical court and burned for sorcery a rooster which had laid 
an egg reveals to us more about the medieval mind than could 
columns of statistics. And the stories telling how feminine mourners 
( some with onions in their handkerchiefs ) filed past the bier of the 
dead actor Rudolph Valentino reveal to us as much about human 
sentimentality as does a tabloid. 

The requirements of a good anecdote are these: that it reveal 
some characteristic of individuals, groups, or species; that it be 
short; and that, if possible, the incident told be curious, humorous, 
or emotional. 

5. The True-Experience Narrative is expository when its chief 
purpose is to give information. Yet this kind of narrative nearly al- 
ways has the other purposes of exciting the reader's emotions and of 
pleasing by means of a skillful plot. Parkman's The Oregon Trail, 
Theodore Roosevelt's book on his African adventure, Tomlinson's 
The Sea and the Jungle, magazine accounts of explorations, hunting 
caribou in Alaska, catching trout in Colorado these are narratives 
of true experience. 

The first requisite for such narratives is that they be convincing. 
For no matter how interesting or exciting they are, they defeat their 
primary purpose if they do not sound true. To help him achieve 
this convincingness, a writer may use some of the following devices: 

He will write in a direct, simple style instead of in a studied or 
elaborate style. 

He will shun almost every temptation to be impressive by means 
of intensifying words or emotional details. 

He will avoid trying to create artificial effects in climax, suspense, 
description, and alleged humor. 

He will be wary of making statements hard to be believed; and 
when he does make them, he will explain them carefully. 

The Types of Exposition 187 

If he is writing in the first person, he will minimize his own ex- 
ploits and praise those of his companions. 

He will give many specific (even though unnecessary) details 
about the weather, the route followed, the equipment taken, and so 

In addition to making his work convincing, the writer of true- 
experience narrative must make it interesting. His chief source of 
interest will be, of course, the inherent interest of his subject matter. 
Yet a few other sources of interest are worth mentioning. 

Careful accounts of the emotional reactions of people under un- 
usual strains are interesting. So are details of ingenious ways by 
which individuals circumvent difficulties; so are descriptions of un- 
familiar ways of living or thinking among certain peoples; so are 
characterizations and descriptions of typical people. Judicious, non- 
spectacular use of suspense (see the last chapter of this book) will 
heighten the interest of a narrative. And organizing the narrative 
around a central figure will contribute a human interest to what 
might otherwise be too impersonal. This central figure need not be 
the most important person in the story, but some relatively insignifi- 
cant individual such as the cook, the guide, a villainous native, or 
even a dog. Returning again and again to detail the actions and re- 
actions of this individual creates a certain artistic unity which many 
narratives of true experience lack. 

6. Closely related to the narrative of true experience is the Narra- 
tive of Travel. The writer of this latter sort of narrative tells not 
what has happened on one occasion ( as does the writer of the true- 
experience narrative) but what exists permanently that is, what 
other people would find if they went to the same places. Thus the 
narrative of travel borders on the true-experience narrative at one 
side, and on description or factual exposition at the other. 

Articles in the National Geographic Magazine, the journals we 
keep when we go to Europe, the letters we write home when we 
are visiting in other places, the tales we tell when we come home 
from a journey all these are travel narratives. They acquire interest 
through the writer's use of much the same devices as those men- 
tioned in the previous section. And they lose interest when they 

188 Creative Writing 

become a mere list of dates and geographic names, or a mere collec- 
tion of statistical facts about mileage, the height of buildings, the 
names of monuments seen, and the manufacturing resources of 
places visited. 

The first rule for the travel writer is that he make his reader see. 
The reader must see landscapes, buildings, streets, crowds. But most 
especially, he must see people their national physiognomy, their 
costume, their gestures, their daily familiar habits of life. 

Not only must the reader see people; he must know about them 
as well. He must know their religions and superstitions, their cus- 
toms and education, their hopes and desires. In a word, he must 
know how their thinking differs from his, how their understanding 
of the world differs from his, how their ways of getting a living dif- 
fer from his, and how their attitude and actions toward other people 
differ from his. 

And finally, giving the history of places visited makes travel 
narrative interesting. The most unspectacular hillside in Pennsyl- 
vania becomes an object of reverent emotion if it so happens that 
the Battle of Gettysburg was fought there; and the most common- 
place rock on the Massachusetts coast becomes an object of venera- 
tion if it so happens that the Pilgrim Fathers first landed on it. 

7. One final type of expository narrative we may discuss very 
briefly. It is the News Story. Entire books have been written about 
this kind of narrative, but we must dismiss it briefly here. Different 
times, different places, and different editorial policies determine the 
length, the elaboration, the style, and the mood of every story. But 
once these forces have done their work, there remains a certain form 
which the news story usually assumes. 

The story gives the gist of the whole narrative in the first two or 
three sentences of the first paragraph. These sentences are called 
the lead. The next group of sentences ( usually three or four ) restates 
the narrative in fuller detail. The next group ( even longer than the 
second) amplifies the story still further. And still other groups con- 
tinue the process still further. 

The reasons for this structure of the news story are three: (a) 
so that the reader who is in a hurry, or who is not especially inter- 

The Types of Exposition 189 

ested, can find out essentially what happened without having to 
read more than the first two or three sentences of the story; (b) 
so that the story can be logically cut off at almost any point if space 
requirements demand its abbreviation; and (c) so that the work of 
headline writers on the news staff may be facilitated. 

III. Exposition of Fact 

All narrative expositions are expositions of fact, but the reverse 
of this statement is not true. Many expositions convey information 
about things which do not change in time or place, and which, there- 
fore, are not narratives. It is these non-narrative expositions of fact 
which we shall study here. 

1. Definition is both a method and a type of exposition. As a type 
it is common and important. Indeed, it is actually the most impor- 
tant of all forms. If we can only get readers to accept our definitions, 
we can get them to believe and do almost anything. If we can get 
them to accept our definition of right, say, we can get them to risk 
their lives and do murder on bloody battlefields. More arguments, 
disagreements, and misunderstandings in contemporary life result 
from confused definitions than from any other type of thought; and 
more philosophies, criticisms, creeds, and codes of action depend on 
certain definitions than on any amount of sound reasoning. Were 
the agricultural policies initiated by President Roosevelt in 1933 
and 1934 communistic? Does the Republican party stand for pure 
Americanism? When is a person immoral? Is a certain novel realis- 
tic? Is it sentimental? On the way we define any of these terms 
may depend results of large consequence. 

2. Descriptive Exposition differs from imaginative description in 
not attempting to give the reader a unified image, to make him see 
the thing described. Imaginative description is synthetic: it builds 
up an image in the reader's mind. Descriptive exposition is analytic: 
it records the details which constitute the subject under inspection. 
Moreover, descriptive exposition need not concern merely concrete 
objects, but may involve abstract conditions. Indeed, descriptive ex- 
position may be defined as writing which gives informative details 
about any thing, fact, or condition which exists, has existed, or may 

190 Creative Writing 

a. Concrete expository description gives concrete details about 
either specific things or typical things. 

( 1 ) The description of specific things may be some such piece of 
writing as a set of building specifications, notes on the identifying 
marks of a certain criminal, an architect's description of the White 
House, a social worker's description of living conditions in a mining 
town, a surgeon's report on an autopsy, or any other collection of 
concrete details about specific things. 

(2) The description of a typical thing may be a naturalist's de- 
scription of a new species of bird, an architect's description of the 
Tudor manor-house, a psychologist's description of the mental traits 
that distinguish the schizophrenic type, a doctor's description of the 
symptoms which characterize a certain disease, or any other collec- 
tion of concrete details about typical things. 

b. Abstract expository description likewise gives information 
about specific things or typical things. 

( 1 ) The specific things described may be either concrete or ab- 
stract; but the description itself deals with abstract traits of the sub- 
ject. Thus it may be a character sketch of a certain individual ( not 
a description of his physical appearance); or a set of statistics on 
living conditions in a mining town (not a physical description of 
those conditions). It may include descriptions of such things as 
specific organizations (like the United States government), eco- 
nomic surveys of agricultural conditions in Iowa, outlines of a pro- 
posed policy or philosophy, and similar collections of abstract de- 
tails about specific things. 

(2) The typical things are described in abstract terms. A law 
describes a type of case which shall be considered an infraction, or 
describes typical actions that shall constitute legality. The abstract 
description of typical things may have such titles as these: "The 
Introvert," "The Criminal Mind," "The Music of the Future," "The 
Spirit of American Poetry," and "Democracy in the Twentieth Cen- 
tury" all of them indicating that the exposition so entitled is a 
collection of abstract details about typical things. 

c. Classification comes under the heading of expository descrip- 
tion. But once a writer adopts the method of classification and 

The Types of Exposition 191 

divides his subject into its parts, he proceeds in one of the ways 
noted above that is, with either concrete or abstract expository 
description. Classification is discussed at some length in Section 3 
of the next chapter. 

3. Exposition of a Process is what we write when we give direc- 
tions or tell how something acts or works. It is close kin to both 
narrative and descriptive exposition. But it differs from the former 
in concentrating on method rather than on actual events, and from 
the latter in emphasizing the time element rather than static condi- 
tions. Thus an exposition on "How Dr. M. Performed a Cerebral 
Operation" will be a narrative; yet the chief interest will be in the 
methods Dr. M. employed. At the same time, the exposition will use 
descriptive details; but the chief interest will not be in one phase of 
the operation, but in all phases serially connected. 

Expositions of a process usually have titles that begin with "How." 
They may involve concrete processes like "How to Make Chicken 
Dumplings"; or abstract processes like "How We Think." They may 
involve future processes like "How the Next War Will Be Con- 
ducted"; or past or present processes like "How the United Nations 
Operates" or "How Penicillin Was Discovered." And they may in- 
volve specific processes like "How Saipan Was Taken"; or typical 
processes like "How Cotton is Ginned." 

Sometimes a typical process is made specific by the writer's choos- 
ing a single individual of the type, and following this individual 
through the entire process. For example, the last title given above 
could be made specific in some such way as this: "What Happens 
to a Boll of Cotton." 

IV. Exposition of Opinion 

Opinions may be about general laws of life or nature, or about 
specific things. 

1. Expositions of Opinions about General Laws. These include 
reflective or meditative essays such as Emerson's; philosophical spec- 
ulations such as Locke's; discourses on abstract principles of human 
nature and human life such as Montaigne's; and essays giving ad- 
vice on the conduct of life such as Bacon's. Representative titles by 

192 Creative Writing 

the writers mentioned are "Self-Reliance," "Poetry," "On the Nature 
of Human Understanding," "Friendship," "Love," and "Of Great 
Place." Many of the cheap pocket magazines today, and many popu- 
lar "peaee-of-mind" books contain expositions of this type; and mag- 
azines of the better sort frequently contain articles expressing opin- 
ions about general laws. Two or three old copies of Harpers 
Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly contain these articles: "Less 
Money and More Life," "The Tragic Fallacy," "Is America a Chris- 
tian Country?" "The Creative Spirit and the Church," and "The 
American Way." But most magazine articles belong to the next 
group to be discussed. 

.^. Expositions of Opinions About Specific Conditions, Facts, or 
Things. a. Specific conditions often elicit an expression of opinion. 
A lawyer has noted the cruelty and injustice of the "third degree" 
as practiced in America, and, writing in Scribners, expresses his 
opinion about the condition in an article called "The American 
Inquisition." In the same magazine Howard Mumford Jones gives 
his opinion about life in the South in an essay called "On Leaving 
the South." Similar essays in other magazines are "Why Literature 
Declines," "The Curse of Leisure," "Compulsory Chapel" ( all in the 
Atlantic), "The Great God Football," "Our Passion for Lawmak- 
ing," "Is Sleep a Vicious Habit?" and "Is Japan Going Democratic?" 
(all in Harper's). These articles express their authors' opinions about 
certain conditions. 

b. Sometimes an author expresses an opinion about specific facts. 
Scientific and scholarly articles are often of this sort. Some repre- 
sentative titles will illustrate what the group is like: "The Origin of 
the Longbow," "The Dating of Shenstone's Letters," "Thomas 
Mann's Indebtedness to Scandinavia," "The Relation Between the 
York and Townley Plays," and "Emerson's Theory and Practice of 

Many of these articles present new facts, and all express opinions 
about facts old and new. Their chief merit lies not in the interest- 
ingness, originality, and wisdom of their ideas, but in the amount 
and quality of evidence they can muster to support a certain opin- 

The Types of Exposition 198 

ion. Style, which counts for everything in the other expositions of 
opinion, counts for nothing here. All that matters is clarity, factual 
truth, and logical inference. 

c. A not-quite-so-pedestrian sort of exposition giving opinions 
about specific things is criticism. We may criticize the opinions or 
criticize the works of other people. When we do the former, we use 
as measuring sticks those methods of detecting fallacies which are 
outlined in a succeeding chapter; when we do the latter, we use as 
measuring sticks certain standards peculiar to the type of work 
under inspection. 

Other people's works may be classified into two sorts: artistic and 
non-artistic. Since non-artistic work ( unless it be the pointless labor 
of an idiot) is always done for some use or purpose, we must 
criticize it according to the standards of its particular use or pur- 
pose. Accordingly, we cannot very well generalize about such criti- 
cism. Every use or purpose has its own standards, which often have 
no relation to the standards of other uses or purposes as, for ex- 
ample, the use or purpose of a hairbrush has no relation to the use 
or purpose of a plow. We must confine our discussion, then, to the 
criticism which deals with works of art. 

Just what art is may itself be a subject for exposition of opinion; 
and whether a certain piece of work is artistic or not may very well 
be a question for criticism. But we usually understand by the term 
art such things as sculpture, architecture, music, dancing, acting, 
painting, costumery; and style, structure, and imagination in writ- 
ing. Generalizing about such diverse things in a short space is no 
easy task; but two or three generalizations we can make. 

The first is that criticism should be appreciation in the literal 
sense of that word; that is, criticism should be a process of weigh- 
ing, estimating, and setting a value on a piece of work. It should tell 
both the good and the bad; it should tell wherein the work succeeds 
and wherein it fails in its efforts to be good art; it should give credit 
where credit is due, and fix blame where blame is due. Criticism 
should never be mere fault-finding, and never mere extolling. Noth- 
ing is so bad that it has not in it some good, and nothing is so good 

194 Creative Writing 

that it has not in it some bad. It is the business of the critic to see 
impartially both the good and the bad, and to remember that, in art, 
a very little good may outweigh a great deal of bad. 

The next generalization is that we must criticize the artist not on 
the basis of what he has tried to do, but on the basis of his success 
or lack of success in trying to do it. This means that we cannot justly 
criticize a writer, say, for writing novels instead of short stories, for 
being an essayist instead of a playwright, or for being a romanticist 
instead of a realist. To be sure, we may, as individuals, praise or 
deplore the writer's purpose; but as impartial critics, we have no 
business doing so. If a writer wishes to write a detective story, we 
must judge his work as a detective story, and not condemn it for 
failing to be a serious novel. Or if a musician wishes to compose an 
opera, we must judge his work as an opera, and not condemn it for 
f ailing to be a popular song. 

The final generalization is that criticism is never mere arbitrary 
personal opinion. The fact that a critic likes or dislikes a piece of 
art has no more to do with criticism than the fact that he likes or 
dislikes strawberries. We may like to read the comic strips and 
dislike to read Sir Walter Scott; but who would say that our like or 
dislike here has anything to do with the artistic merit of the two 
types of work? We know that Sir Walter Scott's novels are greater 
than the comic strips. Criticism is based on certain standards. What 
these standards are may be difficult to say; but, in general, they are 
the characteristics possessed in common by works which have ap- 
pealed to what are considered the best-qualified judges in many 
places over a great length of time. 

Let us say that Chaucer's writing has characteristics A, B, and C. 

Shakespeare's has A, D, and E. 

Congreve's has A, F, and G. 

Fielding's has A, H, and I. 

Smollett's has A, J, and K. 

These writers have had the universal appeal just mentioned. They 
have many traits which differentiate them from one another, and 
yet all have one trait in common A (perhaps it is the power to 
create convincing characters). We may presume, then, that A is a 

The Types of Exposition 195 

characteristic of all universally appealing literature (though, of 
course, such literature may have many other characteristics). 

Turning to the new work which we are about to criticize, we ask, 
"Does it have characteristic A?" If it has, we may feel safe in saying 
that this piece of work promises to be universally appealing that 
it is great. If it has not characteristic A, we may feel equally safe in 
saying that this particular work gives no promise of being univer- 
sally appealing of being great. In other words, we use the writers 
who have been universally appealing in the past as touchstones by 
which to estimate the work we are trying to criticize now. 

All this means that the best critic of art must be widely read and 
experienced. He must know the art of the past, understand its char- 
acteristics, and be able to make comparisons. He cannot be merely 
an individual with a personal opinion. 

This conception of criticism leaves room for originality at two 
points. First, the critic may have an original opinion as to what 
common trait the great art of the past possesses. He may think, for 
example, that Chaucer, Shakespeare, Congreve, Fielding, and Smol- 
lett possess in common not A ( the ability to create convincing char- 
acters ) but X ( a certain shrewd way of looking at life ) . 

Second, the critic may have an original opinion as to whether or 
not this work he is criticizing really possesses A (or X). Some peo- 
ple may think it does; others may disagree. 

But this conception of criticism has one weakness: It does not 
leave room for absolutely original genius. A new artist (James 
Joyce, for instance ) may appear with a work having some trait never 
before seen in works of that particular kind. The orthodox critic 
would be quite justified in condemning this new work; and yet it 
might happen that the new trait it possessed would turn out to be 
universally appealing ever afterward. The orthodox critic, therefore, 
would find himself altogether wrong in his judgment. But despite 
this weakness, criticism should remain what we have said judg- 
ment based on a knowledge and an understanding of the past. Ab- 
solutely original artistic elements appear daily, but few of them 
have any but a daily appeal. The critic will be right ninety-nine 
times out of a hundred in refusing to recognize them as lasting. On 

196 Creative Writing 

the other hand, if he does have wisdom enough to recognize them, 
and time proves he is right, the critic takes his place among the 
highest critical geniuses. Which chance the young critic should take 
being right ninety-nine per cent of the time, or perhaps being a 
critical genius let his own self-esteem determine. 

In writing a criticism (as of a book, a play, a motion picture, a 
painting, or a statue) the critic should let himself be governed by 
a few elemental principles. 

(1) Remembering that he is writing to give information, he 
should tell something of the nature of the work its length or size, 
its type (whether novel or drama, landscape painting or portrait, 
bronze or marble), its place of production or present location, its 
date, and any other such information as may be helpful. 

(2) Next, he should give a few facts about the artist (or author), 
especially if the latter is relatively unknown, or if a knowledge of 
some details of his life and personality may help the reader to a 
better understanding of the work and the criticism. For instance, a 
review of a book by Thomas Mann would be incomplete without 
some mention of his nationality, and a criticism of a Gauguin paint- 
ing would be unfair unless it revealed that Gauguin worked in the 
brilliant sunlight of the South Seas. 

( 3 ) The critic should tell what the work he is criticizing is about, 
that is, he should give its subject. Ivanhoe is about Richard I and 
England in the Norman-Saxon period; Strange Interlude is about a 
neurotic woman who required four men to make her life complete; 
Rembrandt's The Nightwatch portrays a party of soldiers issuing 
from a gateway; and Cellini's Perseus shows the hero just after he 
has slain Medusa. To say what a book is about does not mean that 
the critic should actually summarize it. And yet a summary may 
often be desirable. In a class report, a talk before a literary club, or 
a comprehensive lecture a summary is almost necessary. But in a 
book review intended for publication, and, in a way, intended as 
an advertisement for the book, a complete summary is hardly fair 
to the author. About all the reviewer should permit himself ( unless 
the book is an unusually important work by an unusually important 
author ) is a very brief sketch of plot and characters. 

The Types of Exposition 197 

(4) After he has said what the work is about, the critic should 
probably tell its central theme ( if it has one ) . That is, he should tell 
what philosophy, point of view, or criticism of life appears in the 
work. Thus the critic would say of most of Hardy's novels that the 
theme is the helplessness of human beings in the grip of an Im- 
manent Will working by means of chance and coincidence to their 
destruction. Often a picture has such a theme, and most sculpture of 
the Rodin tradition has it. To take a single example, the theme ( shall 
we call it ) of Rodin's The Thinker is, doubtless, that man, crude and 
earthy as he is, yet strives to think out the mystery of life, and be- 
cause he is crude and earthy, never succeeds. 

(5) When the theme of the work has been told, the method in 
which the theme and subject are handled deserves attention. Here 
(if the work is a book) the style is analyzed, the characters are 
studied, the inter estingness and the probability of the plot are criti- 
cized, the genre to which the book belongs is made evident, and any 
further opinions of the critic are enlarged upon. If the work belongs 
to another one of the arts (such as painting or sculpture), its com- 
position, its technical method, and its "school" require comment. 
This part of the criticism is more fully and elaborately treated than 
any other. It is here that the writer applies those standards of criti- 
cism mentioned above, and exercises such judgment and originality 
as he possesses. 

(6) Finally, the work is located in relation to other work by the 
same author; its importance as a contribution to its type is estimated; 
its place in the development of certain artistic movements is fixed; 
and, last of all, a brief summarizing evaluation is presented. 

Probably not one criticism in fifty follows the procedure here 
outlined. The order of parts is changed; entire parts are omitted; 
certain parts are given preponderant amounts of space; and certain 
other parts are abbreviated almost to nothingness. Nevertheless, the 
elements of most good critical articles remain about as outlined. The 
following review (by Theodore Purdy, Jr.), which appeared in the 
Saturday Review of Literature some time ago is a good example of 
what the ideal review should be: 


Creative Writing 

(2) Information about 
the author: 

(3) What the book is 
about, with sum- 

(1) Bibliographic facts: AXELLE. By PIERRE BENOIT. Dial. 1930, 


The stories of Pierre Benoit have been 
best-sellers in France for many years. No 
railway book-stall is complete without "le 
nouveau Benoit," and his success has only 
been equalled by the rapidity of his produc- 
tion and the variety of his subjects. "Konigs- 
mark" and "L/Atlantide" have had their thou- 
sands of readers and their millions in the 
world's movie audiences, the latter, in fact, 
had an almost unexcelled popularity as an 
adventure novel, reviving the Jules Verne tra- 
dition. "Axelle" is one of the Benoit's later 
and less popular books, the post-war history 
of a war-prisoner's romance with a fair en- 
emy. In a prison camp near Konigsberg the 
French sergeant Dumaine meets and falls in 
love (after appropriate ponderings and hesi- 
tations) with a local chatelaine, Fraulein 
Mirrbach. In the gloomy castle of Reichen- 
dorf in which she lives the Frenchman seems 
to enjoy unusual liberty of entry while against 
a background of warlike alarums the drama 
of these two pawns in an international strug- 
gle is played out to its obvious conclusion. 

M. Benoit's book is more notable for its 
broad viewpoint and bold admission that in 
spite of propaganda to the contrary the Ger- 
man nation may have contained a few excep- 
tional individuals worthy to rank as human 
beings, than for any great literary merit. It is 
written in a straightforward, serviceable style, 
and some of its descriptions of prison camp 
life seem authentic, though the melodramatic 
character of the Prussian general is in the old 
traditions. Not an important book, nor a par- 
ticularly interesting one, it yet serves to class 
its author among the rapidly increasing party 
in France which tends to advocate a wary, 
but quite definite, rapprochement with Ger- 
many. 1 
1 Reprinted here by permission of The Saturday Review of Literature. 

(4) The theme of the 

(5) The artistic method 
of the book: 

(6) Orientation of the 

The Types of Exposition 199 



Make a list of ten subjects suitable for familiar essays. How many sub- 
jects can you find by looking about you at this moment? Tell the type of 
style you might adopt for each essay (as jocose, mock-serious, whimsical, 
sad, genteel, simple and restrained, familiar and chatty, etc. ) . 


1. Diaries and Journals. 

Keep a diary four days a week for at least two weeks. 
If any of your classes is conducted as a general discussion, keep a 
journal of proceedings for a few days. 

2. History. 

List important events in your life about which you might write a 
detailed history; or list specific events in the history of your state about 
which you would like to do research. 

Do a little research to find the characteristic way in which the fol- 
lowing interpret history: Arnold Toynbee; Charles and Mary Beard; 
Frederick J. Turner; Edward Channing; Max Weber; Oswald Speng- 
ler; Louis M. Hacker; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.; Richard Henry 

Do research for a short history of one of the following: some campus 
periodical or organization; your immediate family for three genera- 
tions; fashions in women's dress since 1910; the body of the automo- 
bile; the Boston Bull Terrier; American domestic architecture since 
1900; the last session of Congress; the game of bridge. 

Write a short history of one of the following: 

A brief period in the early days of your native town; of your 

college; of your family; of your school career; of your first love affair. 

Imagine you could translate yourself to any previous century. Write 
a rather long history on one of the following topics: 

A year with Caesar; Alfred the Great; William the Conqueror; 
Frederick Barbarossa; Edward III; Cromwell; Captain John Smith; 
William Bradford; General Sherman; General Lee. 

3. Biography. 

Write a "modern" biography of one of the following: 

King John of England; Edmund Spenser; Chaucer; Sir Philip 
Sidney; Christopher Marlowe; Ben Jonson; James II; James Thorn- 

WO Creative Writing 

son; Horace Walpole; William Blake; Jane Austen; Patrick Henry; 
Foe; Ambrose Bierce. 

4. Anecdote. 

Find, and write down to hand in, two anecdotes about each of five 
persons selected from those named in the two exercises above. Tell 
what characteristics of the persons each anecdote illustrates. 

5. The True-Experience Narrative. 

Write a rather long account of some true experience you have had, 
or some acquaintance has told you about. Be prepared to tell what 
devices you have employed to make the narrative convincing and in- 

t>. The Narrative of Travel. 

If you have made any extensive journey, imagine yourself repeating 
it. Write a letter home (or an article for the home-town newspaper, 
or an entry in your journal) telling about the trip itself. Then write 
again, telling what you have done and found at the end of the trip. 

7. The News Story. 

Bring to class a copy of the local or campus newspaper. Analyze 
several of the news stories to discover whether they are constructed 
properly. If any seem faulty, try to find whether there is any justifica- 
tion for their being so. 


1. Definition. 

Write paragraphs defining five of these terms: 

Americanism. Progress. 

Culture. Tolerance. 

A gentleman. Morality. 

Love. Modernism (in art). 

Religion. Romanticism (in literature). 

Socialism. Victorianism. 

Democracy. Idealism. 

2. Descriptive Exposition. 

a. Write short concrete expository descriptions of three of the 
following pairs: 

An oak tree you know oak trees. 
Your cat cats. 

The architecture of your home the type of architecture to 
which your home belongs. 

The Types of Exposition 

Your home town the type of town to which it belongs. 
A person you know the physical type to which he belongs. 
A picture by a certain artist the type of picture usually 
painted by the same artist. 

b. Write short abstract descriptions of three of the following: 

The mentality of children about ten years of age. 

A character sketch of an acquaintance. 

Life in any small town (large town; the country). 

Life in the dormitories of your college. 

The administrative organization of your college. 

The inferiority complex. 

Hemingway's philosophy. 

The emotional effects produced by music. 

The stock market situation this month. 

c. Write an exposition in which you classify the members be- 
longing to any of the groups mentioned in the exercises for Section 3, 

3. Exposition of a Process. 

Write an exposition on one of the following subjects. Show how 
you might individualize the general processes suggested: 

How the phonograph works. 

How to study poetry. 

How to study a picture. 

How presidential candidates are nominated. 

How the President is elected. 

How a certain laboratory experiment is performed. 

How the Atlantic was first spanned by air. 

How the Germans were defeated in Africa. 

How to plan and serve a dinner. 


1. Opinions about General Laws. 

Write an exposition on one of the following topics: 

What have we a right to believe? 

Why men fight. 

The art of living. 

The new morality. 

Living one's own life. 


How is freedom possible? 

Creative Writing 


Love as a philosophy of life. 

Can we afford to be rational? 

2. Opinions about Conditions, Facts, or Things. 

a. Write an exposition about one of the following topics, which 
refer to general conditions: 

Why the people elected President Roosevelt in 1932; in 1936; 
in 1940; in 1944. 

Organized labor thirty years ago and today. 

Why home is no longer the center of young people's social 

Good manners and the college student. 

Tendencies in this year's fiction (drama, motion pictures, 
poetry ) . 

b. Write an exposition about one of the following topics, which 
refer to specific facts: 

Is pure mathematics a cultural subject? 

Should college students be regular church members and at- 
tendants? (Movie-goers? Sports enthusiasts?) 
Why do birds migrate? 
Is smoking injurious to the health? 
What was the nature of Cowper's mental derangement? 

c. Write criticisms of some book, picture, example of architecture, 
and piece of sculpture with which you are acquainted. 


The Methods of Exposition 

In this chapter we shall discuss some of the most useful ways by 
which information may be conveyed, ideas clarified, or opinions 
influenced. Not every method here mentioned may be employed in 
every kind of exposition; on the other hand, certain kinds of exposi- 
tion may employ several of these methods. 

1. The Chronological Method is used when we record events in 
the order of their occurrence in time. Obviously it is useless in ex- 
positions about static conditions where events occur neither to the 
writer nor to the thing written about. Just as obviously it is the 
simplest and most logical method for most expositions concerned 
with changes occurring in place or time or form. 1 

Changes depicted in the chronological order may be of two types: 
(a) unique and (b) habitual. For example, if I am telling about 
the events of, say, Gladstone's life, I am dealing with events which 
have happened only once and will never happen again. But if I am 
telling how Golden Plovers migrate up the interior of North Amer- 
ica in spring, and then return to South America in autumn by an 
overseas route from southeastern Canada, I am dealing with events 
which occur habitually. In other words, though I am using the 
chronological method in both narratives, the first employs the 

1 It should be added here that this method ( often combined with the descrip- 
tive method discussed below) is the one we frequently employ in portraying 
cause-to-effect sequences. A cause and its effect do not often exist simultane- 
ously, and even when they do we cannot write about them simultaneously. Con- 
sequently, writing which shows a cause acting to produce an effect later in time 
is actually narrative writing. At the same time the descriptive method may enter 
into the composition by the writer's depicting the nature of the cause and of the 
effect. For example, if we describe how a dog barks at a cat and the latter runs 
up a tree, we shall be portraying a cause-to-effect sequence by means of the 
chronological method, and at the same time we shall be using the descriptive 


04 Creative Writing 

method of particularized narration, and the second generalized 

2. The Descriptive Method may be used with either static or 
changing events. It is the method employed when we wish to give 
facts ( size, color, weight, etc. ) about the physical appearance or the 
construction of things. It differs from the imaginative method by 
not attempting to make the reader see the subject; it gives him in- 
formation about the subject so that he may recognize it if he does 
see it. Like the chronological method, the descriptive method may 
be of two sorts : ( a ) description of particular things like a lost dog, 
a table to be built, a house to be recognized, or a man wanted for 
murder; and ( b ) description of general types like collie dogs, Queen 
Anne tables, gothic buildings, and Cherokee Indians. That is, the 
descriptive method may take the form of either particularized de- 
scription or generalized description. 

3. The Method of Classification involves the division of general 
concepts (concrete or abstract) into particular groups. Each of the 
preceding sections of this chapter, for example, resorts to the method 
of classification by dividing each of the general methods into an a 
and a b part. Cresar begins his Commentaries with the famous dec- 
laration that "All Gaul is divided into three parts," and then proceeds 
to describe each part in turn. Edmund Gosse writes of Swinburne's 
lyrics, "We may well divide them into two large classes: those be- 
longing to a pre-Christian and those belonging to a Christian age." 
And the old proverb classifies great men in the familiar way: "Some 
men are born great; some achieve greatness; and some have great- 
ness thrust upon them." 

The classification may be broad or detailed. For example, Gosse's 
classification just quoted is extremely broad; and the classification 
of expository methods in this chapter is rather detailed. But as long 
as the classification is complete enough to include every member of 
the group under examination, we need not complain. 

We should be critical, however, of classifications which have no 
unified basis of division. If Gosse had divided Swinburne's lyrics 
into those belonging to a pre-Christian era and those written in 
anapestic tetrameter, his classification would have been absurd. The 

The Methods of Exposition $05 

basis for division would not have been unified. The same would have 
been true if the maker of the proverb had said, "Some men are born 
great; some achieve greatness; and some go to Europe." 

Nobody ever commits quite such ridiculous blunders as these 
except for a humorous effect. But young writers have been known 
to divide college students into the groups: "bookish, intelligent, 
friendly, and socially inclined." Having no unified basis for his 
classification, the writer who made this division of college students 
did not form them into mutually exclusive groups. A college student 
may belong to any one of the four groups mentioned, and yet belong 
to all the others as well. Such non-unified standards of classification 
are fatal to clear exposition. 

4. Definition is a fourth method of exposition. A formal definition 
states, first, the general class to which a thing belongs; and, second, 
the way in which it is distinguished from all other members of that 
class. A hawk, by way of illustration, is "any of a family of diurnal 
birds of prey excepting eagles and vultures." A laundress is "a 
woman whose employment is washing clothes." 

Yet definition in this strict sense is not so common as a kind which 
is definition only by a liberal extension of the word's meaning. To tell 
the nature of a thing (like a razor or a political philosophy) to tell 
what its appearance is, what it does, what it resembles, what it 
stands for in our minds ( as a razor stands for shaving, and Fascism 
for a dictator) this is to define. Some of the forms this kind of 
definition may take are briefly discussed in the following paragraphs. 

a. Synonyms are used to define many simple words, especially 
verbs. To mourn, for example, is defined thus: "To grieve for; 
lament; deplore; bewail." And to plague is defined thus: "To vex; 
harass; torment; distress; annoy; tantalize; trouble." 

b. Examples may be used as a means of definition. Thus ungulate 
is defined in Webster's Dictionary as "any of a group consisting of 
the hoofed mammals, as the ruminants, swine, horses, tapirs, rhinoc- 
eros, elephants, and conies." And republic may be defined by refer- 
ence to the United States, France, Ireland, Italy, and the Spanish- 
American countries. 

c. An enumeration of its qualities may define an object or a con- 

W6 Creative Writing 

dition. A greyhound is a "slender dog, remarkable for swiftness and 
keen sight." Shakespeare defines Silvia by telling her qualities: 

Who is Silvia, what is she, 

That all our swains commend her? 
Holy, fair, and wise is she; 

The heaven such grace did lend her, 
That she might admired be. 

And Ruskin thinks that people tell what they are by showing what 
they like: 

Go out into the street and ask the first man or woman you meet what 
their "taste" is, and if they answer candidly, you know them, body and 
soul. "You, my friend in the rags, with the unsteady gait, what do you 
like?" "A pipe and a quartern of gin." I know you. "You, good woman, 
with the quick step and tidy bonnet, what do you like?" "A swept hearth 
and a clean tea-table, and my husband opposite me, and a baby at my 
breast." Good, I know you also. "You, little girl with the golden hair and 
the soft eyes, what do you like?" "My canary and a run among the wood 
hyacinths." "You, little boy with the dirty hands and the low forehead, 
what do you like?" "A shy at the sparrows, and a game at pitch farthing." 
Good; we know them all now. What more need we ask? 

d. A thing may be defined according to its work or uses. A bed 
is "an article of furniture to sleep or rest in or on." A ladybug is "a 
small, roundish, often brightly colored [enumeration of qualities] 
beetle, mostly feeding on insects and insects' eggs." A lady-killer is 
"a man who captivates, or has the reputation of fascinating women." 
H. W. Garrod makes these offhand definitions: A good book is one 
which "addresses a large part of its appeal to imagination and emo- 
tion"; and "the best critic of books, in the long run, is the man who 
brings to the study of them a large charity." 

e. Definition may be by means of an historical survey. No one can 
define the Constitution of England without an elaborate survey of 
history; and no one can define socialism without tracing it clear back 
to Marx. Lager beer ( a name derived from the German word lager, 
a storehouse ) is "so called from its being stored several months be- 
fore use." And the words extrovert, introvert, and libido mean noth- 
ing to us unless we have a knowledge of Jung and Freud. 

The Methods of Exposition 

5. Strictly speaking, Comparison and Contrast may be used as 
means to define. But since they involve other elements than those 
belonging absolutely to the thing defined, they are treated here as 
a separate expository method. 

We may best define communism by showing how it differs from 
democracy; we may best portray political conditions in Wisconsin 
by showing how they differ from political conditions in other states; 
we may best tell something of President Franklin Roosevelt's policies 
by showing how they differed from those of President Hoover and 
Truman. On the other hand, we may explain certain things by show- 
ing how they resemble other things. We may best describe English 
rooks by comparing them to American crows or grackles; we may 
best describe the government of Mexico by comparing it to our own 
government; and we may best describe the Argentine Pampas by 
comparing them to our own Great Plains. 

6. Analogy is close kin to comparison. Indeed, it is comparison. 
But it is comparison between things not at all related in their funda- 
mental natures, and yet parallel in many of their forms or activities. 
Thus a comparison between communism and socialism would not 
be an analogy, but a comparison between communism and a colony 
of ants would be. The purpose of analogy, like that of comparison, 
is to express the unknown in terms of the known, the obscure in 
terms of the clear, and the complex in terms of the simple. For 
accomplishing this purpose the analogy is a highly useful and in- 
teresting device; but if the analogy violates its fundamental purpose 
by becoming long, elaborate, and complicated, it is worse than 
useless. This caution is voiced because even experienced writers 
frequently abuse the analogy by overdevelopment. Carried away 
by their imagination, they wander into mazes of comparison that 
leave the reader confused and breathless. 

7. Presentation of Authority is a method used often, but seldom 
exclusively, in exposition. By using this method, the writer does 
one of two things: He either renounces personal views in favor of 
the views of some authority, or else substantiates and supports 
personal views by reference to authority. The method is extremely 
useful because it gives the weight of important names or convincing 

08 Creative Writing 

workers to an unknown or inexperienced writer's work, because it 
gives the weight of numbers to a single writer's work, and because 
it shows that the writer is not ignorant. The method may take any 
of the following forms: 

a. The simplest is quotation. Here the writer actually quotes 
what his authorities have said. By doing so, he has the very words 
of his authority (not mere interpretation) to vouch for an idea 
expressed. Quotation lends an interesting variety of style to a piece 
of writing, and, if properly selected, may be more effective than 
anything the writer himself can say. Yet no exposition should be a 
mere patchwork of other people's words. If it is, the reader is certain 
to think the writer a pedantic or timid soul who has not the courage 
of his convictions; and if the reader is a professor and the writer a 
student, the reader at once concludes that the writer has been pad- 
ding the paper to avoid labor. In general, no more than one-fifth of 
an exposition, at the very most, should consist of direct quotation 
from other authors. 

b. In place of quotation the writer may substitute paraphrase. 
A paraphrase renders the sense of a passage. It may, therefore, be 
either longer or shorter than the original, in the same or in a 
different language, and in similar or in different words. A para- 
phrase may amplify a terse or cryptic statement by expressing it 
in more familiar terms, or by giving brief illustrations that will 
clarify its meaning. 

Thus the proverb, "Never look a gift-horse in the mouth," may 
be paraphrased, "Do not be too critical of things you receive free. 
For instance, if someone gives you a ride in his automobile, don't 
find fault with the way the motor works." Here the original passage 
has been amplified, and has been illustrated by an example more 
understandable than the original to a modern generation unac- 
quainted with horses. 

Sometimes the authority has written in a foreign language. If 
so, the writer who wishes to use the authority must either trans- 
late him directly (with a note, if the passage is vital, to the effect 
that the quotation is a personally translated version), or may para- 

The Methods of Exposition 209 

phrase him in English. Such a paraphrase as this, however, is more 
likely to be a summary than a strict paraphrase. 

Sometimes a paraphrase may use words much like those in the 
original passage. The proverb just quoted, for example, may be 
paraphrased, "Never look into the mouth to discover the age and 
value of a horse that has been given to you." But, in general, a 
paraphrase should avoid the phraseology of the original passage. 
Suppose the original passage read like this: 

Radical critics of the American press are fond of saying that journalism 
is not, and under existing conditions cannot be, a profession. They point 
out that the American newspaper editor is usually only the hired em- 
ployee of the owner, and that the ultimate authority always rests with 
the latter. 

And suppose the student paraphrases the passage: 

Radical critics of the American press say that journalism is not and 
cannot be a profession. They say that the newspaper editor is only an 
employee of the owner, with whom the ultimate authority rests. 

This paraphrase is unfair to the original authority. It is made up 
almost entirely of his very words, and yet it purports to be an 
original paraphrase. The revised passage should be set in quota- 
tion marks with a row of dots to indicate omitted words. Or else 
it should be reworked to look something like this: 

Radical critics say that since practically every newspaper editor in 
America derives all his authority from the owner of his paper, journalism 
is not and cannot at present be a profession. 

As a rule, more than three or four important words ( not articles, 
prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) quoted in the sequence of their 
occurrence in an original passage ought to be enclosed in quotation 

c. The summary differs from the paraphrase in purpose. Where 
the paraphrase merely tries to give the sense of a passage, the sum- 
mary tries to give the sense in a briefer form than that of the orig- 
inal. Moreover, a paraphrase is always the re-rendering of a mere 
passage, whereas a summary may be a brief statement of the funda- 

810 Creative Writing 

mental meaning of an entire volume. A writer paraphrases a para- 
graph and summarizes a chapter or a book. 

A summary, therefore, requires more originality on the part of 
a writer than does a paraphrase. It requires discrimination, selec- 
tion, judgment about what the original writer considered important, 
and a power to retain the original emphasis within a smaller com- 
pass. The writer who summarizes must discriminate between what 
is essential and what unessential; he must select from a number 
of subsidiary ideas and facts only those cardinal ones for which 
he has space; he must decide which ideas or facts were most im- 
portant in the original authority's mind, and which render the most 
representative picture of that mind; and then he must express all 
this in a properly related and proportioned summary which may 
be a hundred times shorter than the original work. 

To do all this, a writer should first read through the work to 
be summarized in order to find out and express in words its central 
thesis. He should then try to find out the half-a-dozen or so main 
divisions of the work, and express their significance in a sentence 
for each one. And finally he should supplement this bare outline 
with as many subsidiary ideas as he has room for. His summary, 
then, will be little more than a series of points supporting a central 

d. Interpretation demands even more originality of a writer, and 
involves a greater responsibility. The number of lawsuits brought 
to the courts annually, and the number of religious disputes among 
Christians for the last five centuries show how serious and vital the 
matter of interpretation may be. Yet despite all the money spent 
and all the lives lost in support of certain interpretations, few 
would-be interpreters really possess the interpreter's spirit. Too often 
they are concerned with twisting the meaning of their authority 
into something that will harmonize with their own desires. They do 
not try to enter sympathetically into the sense and spirit of an au- 
thority in order to find the absolute truth about that authority. 

A truly honorable interpreter studies the personal conditions un- 
der which his authority wrote, finds out everything needful about 
the period and the place in which the authority worked, correlates 

The Methods of Exposition 

different works by the same authority, and tries to discover what 
motives inspired him what biases he had, what limitations of 
knowledge he possessed, what fundamental desires he worked to 
satisfy. Having done all this, and having resolved to keep an im- 
partial point of view, the would-be interpreter may venture to 
undertake his task. He need not fear that his interpretation will 
lack originality. If it is the result of personal research and inde- 
pendent thinking, it cannot help being original for the simple 
reason that no two human beings see and think alike. All he need 
fear is that the interpretation will not be fair to the original author. 

We have now discussed four ways in which exposition by the 
presentation of authority may be written. Need we add that honesty 
and consideration for others require that all use of authorities be 
documented? Formal expositions require copious footnotes and com- 
plete bibliographies; less formal expositions require at least an 
acknowledgment in a foreword or in the text itself. 

8. We may develop exposition by the Method of Illustration. 
Suppose a lecturer says, "The American dollar is worth less today 
than it was in 1935." His audience looks blank. And the lecturer 
adds, "Let me illustrate. In 1935 you could buy bread at five cents 
a loaf and milk at six cents a quart. Today you pay for these articles 
fifteen and twenty-two cents. That is what I mean when I say 
the dollar is worth less." The lecturer has used the method of illus- 

To employ this method is merely to take the advice already given 
for another purpose: "Convert the abstract into the concrete, and 
the general into the specific/* An illustration makes clear a vague or 
complex idea; it shows how a theory works, or how a general law 
applies to specific facts. This clarifying function of illustration dis- 
tinguishes it from the closely related method to be discussed next. 

9. The Use of Examples is one of the most interesting, convincing, 
and informative of the methods of exposition. Sometimes it overlaps 
the method just discussed. That is, examples may be used to give 
clarity to general ideas; yet examples, properly speaking, are merely 
specific instances. They are subheads under a large division. But 

Creative Writing 

the distinction between illustration and example is largely academic; 
most writers use both terms almost interchangeably. 
The following passage illustrates the method: 

No general strike has ever been even partly successful in this country 
or in any other. In 1919 the Seattle general strike, the first experienced 
in the United States, officially collapsed on its fifth day under the weight 
of its own inefficiency. In the same year the Winnipeg general strike, 
which lasted six weeks, ended in riots, arrests, and trials for seditious con- 
spiracy, with none of the aims of the strike accomplished. Great Britain's 
general strike of 1926 lasted thirteen days, and ended in failure because 
the general public co-operated against organized labor. The great general 
strike in Sweden in 1909 likewise failed because public sentiment and 
public co-operation aligned themselves against the strikers. 

The writer here does not resort to examples to clarify a state- 
ment, for his original generalization is perfectly clear. Instead, he 
resorts to examples as a means of amplifying a statement which 
might otherwise have been unimpressively brief. Or perhaps he 
resorts to them as a means of proving his original statement, or 
as a means of lending interest to a generalized statement, or as a 
means of conveying more specific knowledge. 

Examples may serve any of these four purposes of exposition. 
But to do so, they must necessarily be either (a) single examples 
thoroughly representative of many others like them, or else (b) 
numerous examples which are all relatively short. 

The single example must contain within itself the plain and ob- 
vious proof that it is really representative. By way of illustration, a 
single beetle of a certain species is plainly and obviously repre- 
sentative of all beetles of that species; when we have found out 
about the structure of this one beetle, we have found out about the 
structure of its entire species. 

Numerous examples ought to be individually short. A long illus- 
tration may be read patiently but not a series of long examples. 
If they are individually long, they overshadow the main idea to 
which each should be subordinate. 

As a rule, numerous short examples are preferable to a single 
long representative example. When their number is scanty, exam- 

The Methods of Exposition 

pies do not contribute to interest or variety, or prove much, or 
amplify greatly, or convey much knowledge. 

10. Exposition by the Use of Details is allied to the preceding 
method; but it is more closely allied to definition by enumeration 
of qualities and to expository description. If I say that a bed has 
springs, mattress, a headpiece, a footpiece, linens, and a coverlet, I 
am defining it, describing it, and (at the same time) giving details 
about it. Or if I say that a man is handsome, and then go on to 
mention certain features ( eyes, nose, mouth, and hair ) which make 
him handsome, I am describing him, and yet at the same time I am 
giving details about him. 

Often, however, details are neither definitive nor descriptive. 
They merely give more and more information. Mrs. Malaprop's 
famous speech on feminine education illustrates this use of detail. 
We could find, perhaps, a more solemn illustrative passage, but 
never one more charming in diction: 

Observe me, Sir Anthony. I would by no means wish a daughter of 
mine to be a progeny of learning; I don't think so much learning becomes 
a young woman; for instance I would never let her meddle with Greek, 
or Hebrew, or Algebra, or Simony, or Fluxions, or Paradoxes, or such in- 
flammatory branches of learning neither would it be necessary for her to 
handle any of your mathematical, astronomical, diabolical instruments; 
but, Sir Anthony, I would send her at nine years old to a boarding-school, 
in order to learn a little ingenuity and artifice. Then, Sir, she should 
have a supercilious knowledge in accounts; and as she grew up, I would 
have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the 
contagious countries; but above all, Sir Anthony, she should be mistress 
of orthodoxy, that she might not mis-spell, and mis-pronounce words so 
shamefully as girls usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the 
true meaning of what she is saying. This, Sir Anthony, is what I would 
have a woman know; and I don't think there is a superstitious article 


in it. 

Much (one almost says most) exposition adopts the method of 
using details. A writer blocks off a certain area to be filled, and 
then, by means of detail, proceeds to fill it; he determines the gen- 
eral divisions of his composition, and then, by means of giving 
additional information about each, elaborates on his outline. This 

Creative Writing 

is the method of most textbooks, most newspaper stories, most en- 
cyclopedias, most histories in fact, all types of exposition devoted 
to giving absolute factual information rather than arguments or 

11. Every lecturer and every textbook writer ought to make 
liberal use of the Method of Repetition in exposition. Without being 
cynical, one may aver that a lecturer may depend upon having the 
attention of only about one- third of his audience at any time; and a 
textbook writer may depend upon having about the same proportion 
of attentive readers at any paragraph. (This estimate takes no ac- 
count, of course, of that ten per cent in any audience or any group 
of readers who never do listen and never are alert.) Accordingly, 
lecturers and writers should repeat at least their important ideas 
three times. Such repetition is a recognized method of exposition. 
It helps to inform, to clarify, and to convince and that is all we 
can expect of any exposition. 

As we have already seen in the chapters on style, repetition may 
involve words and phrases. Just now, however, we are concerned 
with the repetition of ideas as a means of developing exposition. 
As with repeated words, repeated ideas serve to intensify and to 
clarify writing. When, in the course of his funeral oration, Shake- 
speare's Mark Antony repeats six times in fifty lines the ironical 
phrase, "Brutus is an honourable man," he repeats in order to in- 
tensify. In the following passage from William Hazlitt's essay, "On 
Going a Journey," repetition serves to clarify. Each sentence repeats 
the idea expressed in the first sentence, and yet each sentence adds 
details which help the reader understand more clearly the basic idea 
in the passage: 

It seems that we can think of but one place at a time. The canvas of 
the fancy is but of a certain extent, and if we paint one set of objects on 
it, they immediately efface every other. . . . The landscape bares its 
bosom to the enraptured eye, we take our fill of it, and seem as if we 
would form no other image of beauty or grandeur. We pass on, and think 
no more of it: the horizon that shuts it from our sight also blots it from 
our memory like a dream. In travelling through a wild barren country I 
can form no idea of a woody and cultivated one. It appears to me that all 
the world must be barren, like what I see of it. In the country we forget 

The Methods of Exposition 815 

the town, and in town we despise the country. . . . All that part of the 
map that we do not see before us is blank. 

Repetition of ideas may serve one purpose in addition to those 
served by the repetition of words. It may amplify. When a writer 
wishes to stress an idea, he cannot usually afford to state it in a 
short space. Taking advantage of the law of proportion, he will 
so enlarge upon his idea that the reader cannot avoid being im- 
pressed. In the following passage, H. G. Wells (having classified 
men into those who look toward the past and those who look toward 
the future) says that most people belong to neither of the types 
he has named. He repeats the idea three times in four sentences 
all for the sake of giving it an amount of space proportional to its 

Now I do not wish to suggest that the great mass of people belong to 
either of these two types. Indeed, I speak of them as two distinct and 
distinguishable types mainly for convenience and in order to accentuate 
their distinction. There are probably very few people who brood con- 
stantly upon the past without any thought of the future at all, and there 
are probably scarcely any who live and think consistently in relation to 
the future. The great mass of people occupy an intermediate position 
between these extremes. 

Naturally the method of repetition may be limited in its appli- 
cation: one cannot say something and then keep on repeating it 
throughout an entire composition. But it is a method too little used 
by inexperienced writers. As an old professor once remarked, "A 
thing worth saying once is worth saying twice/' That is an aphorism 
which every young writer ought to remember. 

12. We may write exposition by means of showing a Cause-and- 
Effect Relationship between facts. We may begin with the fact as 
a cause, and proceed to show the effect it has or may have; or we 
may begin with a fact as an effect, and work backward to show 
its probable cause. In the first of the following passages, Alfred 
Russel Wallace uses the cause-to-effect method to explain why 
the sky is blue, and in the second he uses the effect-to-cause method 
to explain why certain parts of the sky are not blue. 

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We have seen that the air near the earth's surface is full of rather coarse 
particles which reflect all the rays, and which therefore produce no one 
color. But higher up the particles necessarily become smaller and smaller, 
since the comparatively rare atmosphere will only support the very small- 
est and lightest. These exist throughout a great thickness of air, perhaps 
from one mile to ten miles high or even more, and blue or violet rays 
being reflected from the innumerable particles in this great mass of air, 
which is nearly uniform in all parts of the world as regards the presence 
of minute dust particles, produces the constant and nearly uniform tint 
we call sky-blue. 

If we look at the sky on a perfectly fine summer's day, we shall find 
that the blue color is the most pure and intense overhead, and when look- 
ing high up in a direction opposite to the sun. Near the horizon it is 
always less bright, while in the region immediately round the sun it is 
more or less yellow. The reason for this is that near the horizon we look 
through a very great thickness of the lower atmosphere, which is full of 
the larger dust particles reflecting white light, and this dilutes the pure 
blue of the higher atmosphere seen beyond. And in the vicinity of the sun 
a good deal of the blue light is reflected back into space by the finer dust, 
thus giving a yellowish tinge to that which reaches us reflected chiefly 
from the coarse dust of the lower atmosphere. 

The logic of these two passages is unassailable (so far as one 
who is no physicist can tell) because each step of the reasoning 
is based firmly on demonstrable fact. Sometimes, however, the line 
between demonstrable fact and mere presumption is exceedingly 
hard to draw. Sir Oliver Lodge, a great physicist, believes that 
spirit-people are demonstrable facts; Professor Robert Andrews 
Millikan, an equally great physicist, believes that they are not. How, 
then, are we to use the idea of spirit-people to discover logical 
causes, or to argue toward logical effects? The answer is that we 
must rely on inferences. These we shall examine in another chapter. 


1. The Chronological Method. 

Tell how you could use the chronological method in expositions 
on the following subjects: 

The manufacture of brooms. 

The high school curriculum. 

Scenery along the Hudson. 

Social measures enacted recently by the federal government. 

The Methods of Exposition 

The British novel in the twentieth century. 
The natural history of the pelican. 
The exhibits in a certain museum. 
Living conditions on B Street. 

2. The Descriptive Method. 

In three expository paragraphs describe three of the following as 
individuals, and at the same time as representatives of types: 

One of your professors. 

A friend of foreign extraction. 

A railway conductor. 

A prominent building in your town. 

A small residence in your neighborhood. 

A street you know. 

A tree you know. 

A classroom. 

Your dog or cat. 

3. The Method of Classification. 

Name several bases of classification which you could use in di- 
viding each of the following into classes: 

College students. Popular magazines. 

Preachers. Sports in your college. 

Small cars. Native trees. 

Dogs. Dwelling houses. 

4. Definition. 

Define each of the following in at least three of the ways men- 
tioned in the text: 

A dictator. The one-hundred-percent American. 

A lover. The Democratic party. 

Sentimentality. The English long bow. 

A Middle- Westerner. A tabloid newspaper. 

College spirit. A good detective story. 

5. Comparison and Contrast. 

Suggest comparisons and contrasts that might be used in exposi- 
tions on the following subjects: 

Charity. The ideal student. 

Art. Rembrandt's art. 

Poetry. Dickens's characters. 

Communism. Psychology as a science. 

Fear. American imperialism. 

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6. Analogy. 

See Exercise 7e and 7f of Chapter I. 

7. The Presentation of Authority. 

a. Paraphrase the following: 

Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free 
to combat it. Jefferson. 

Ill doings breed ill thinkings. Roger Ascham. 

The Phylosopher teacheth a disputative vertue. Sir Philip 

A man that is young in years may be old in hours. Sir 
Francis Bacon. 

Without an outlet for political initiative, men lose their 
social vigor and their interest in public affairs. Bertrand 

b. Write summaries of the following: 

One of Bacon's essays. 

One of Lamb's essays. 

Gray's "Elegy." 

Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale." 

Arnold's "Literature and Science." 

c. Give your interpretation of the following: 

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be 
like unto him. 

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his 
own conceit. Proverbs xxvi, 4-5. 

But Nature, which is the Time-vesture of God, and reveals 
Him to the wise, hides Him from the foolish. Carlyle. 

Thanks to the human heart by which we live, 
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, 
To me the meanest flower that blows can give 
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. 


"Love seeketh not itself to please, 

Nor for itself hath any care, 
But for another gives its ease, 

And builds a heaven in hell's despair." 

So sung a little clod of clay, 
Trodden with the cattle's feet, 

The Methods of Exposition %19 

But a pebble of the brook 

Warbled out these metres meet: 

"Love seeketh only self to please, 
To bind another to its delight, 
Joys in another's loss of ease, 

And builds a hell in heaven's despite/* 

William Blake. 

8. The Method of Illustration. 

Explain each of the following topics by means of an illustration: 

Why the United States went to war in Korea. 
Why England retains a king. 

What some domestic policy of the United States government 
has meant to poor people; to rich people; to the middle class. 
Why men have more (or less) artistic originality than women. 
Why like seeks like. 

9. The Use of Examples. 

Develop the following ideas (or their negatives) by means of 

Our House of Representatives is unworthy of a great people. 

The legislative and the executive branches of our government 
live lives antagonistic to each other. 

American women are spoiled, and American men have spoiled 

Interest in a subject is derived from knowledge of that subject. 

Most salesmen are high in the scale of integrity. 
Among the examples you have just mentioned, which seem to be 
representative enough to stand alone? 

What are the functions of the other examples to amplify, to 
prove, to lend interest, or to convey new knowledge? 

10. The Use of Details. 

Develop the following ideas by the use of details: 

The first rule, then, for a good style is that the author have 
something to say. Schopenhauer. 

A sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plough 
instead of a pen, could have drawn a furrow deep and straight 
to the end. Thoreau. 

The first duty of the writer is to make the path easy for the 
reader. Brander Matthews. 

Logic compels us to throw our meaning into distinct proposi- 
tions, and our reasonings into distinct steps. John Stuart Mill. 

<2<20 Creative Writing 

If your language be jargon, your intellect, if not your whole 
character, will almost certainly correspond. Quiller-Couch. 

11. The Method of Repetition. 

a. See the Exercises for Chapter I, Section 6. 

b. By means of repetition, amplify each of the following state- 
ments into a single paragraph: 

No law can be sacred to me but that of my own nature. 

Either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconscious- 
ness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul 
from this world to another. Plato. 

The more confidence a man has in himself, and the more 
thoroughly he is fortified by virtue and wisdom, so that he is in 
need of no one . . . the more noteworthy is he for the friend- 
ships which he seeks. Cicero. 

Education is the instruction of the intellect in the laws of 
Nature, under which name I include not merely things and their 
forces, but men and their ways. Huxley. 

It is certain, to begin with, that the narrowest trade or profes- 
sional training does something more for a man than to make him 
a skillful practical tool it makes him also a judge of other men's 
skill. William James. 

L2. The Method of Cause-and-Effect Relationships. 

In the following pairs of phrases, the first member is a cause and 
the second an effect. Plan short expositions in which you move, 
first, from cause to effect, and then from effect back to cause. 

Harsh parents dishonest children. 
Indulgent parents selfish children. 
Indifferent voters corrupt officeholders. 
Prosperous times indifferent voters. 
Prosperous times religious indifference. 
Religious indifference corrupt officeholders. 


A rgumentation 

Argumentation is a form of exposition. Like other exposition, it 
gives instruction in facts, in the meaning of facts, or in certain in- 
tellectual or emotional points of view. To accomplish its purpose, 
it must convince readers both of the Tightness of certain facts, in- 
terpretations, or points of view, and of the wrongness of others. Its 
nature is thus both positive and negative. Since other chapters in 
this book deal with the positive aspects of exposition, this chapter 
deals mostly with the negative aspects that is, means of refuting 
other people's arguments. 

1. THE FALLACY OF RATIONALIZATION. Let us comment briefly 
here on the psychological source of most fallacies. The greatest 
deceptions practiced by most people are self-deceptions. A college 
student may sincerely believe that his college is the best in his state; 
but he believes it not because he has investigated and compared, 
but only because it is his own college. A patriot may believe that 
his own national anthem is the most beautiful of all national anthems 
not because he is a competent musical critic, but because the 
anthem is his own. A boy may believe his dog the most intelligent, 
most loyal, best-natured dog on the street not because he has care- 
fully compared all dogs on the street, but because his dog is his. 
Student, patriot, and boy are rationalizing. They find grounds for 
believing what they want to believe. Likewise, when an American 
cattle-raiser argues (quite sincerely) that government's placing a 
ceiling on meat prices, or lowering tariffs on Argentine meat, is un- 
American, communistic, and dangerous to the nation's economic 
structure he is very likely to be rationalizing. On the other hand, 
when the city consumer argues (equally sincerely) that govern- 
ment's not putting a ceiling on meat prices, and not lowering tariffs 


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on Argentine beef is a sellout to the vested interests, capitalism at 
its worst, and greedy isolationism he too is very probably ra- 
tionalizing. Unfortunately, not much can be done about refuting 
such fallacies. All that the writer can do is to point out how self- 
interest distorts judgment . . . and to try to avoid rationalizing in 
his own mind. 

2. FALLACIES DUE TO DICTION. Mr. A. E. Mander, in the first 
chapter of his Logic for the Millions ( 1947 ) , clearly analyzes certain 
fallacies that are due to verbal confusions. 

a. Confusion, or seemingly invalid argument, may result from an 
actual misunderstanding of the words used. Thus Time magazine 
onre graphically described a smoky torchlight procession through 
blacked-out wartime London. The incident seemed very odd until 
one remembered that what Englishmen call torches, Americans call 
flashlights. Obviously, Time's London correspondent had cabled 
news of the incident, using the word torches; then the American 
rewrite man, not knowing the British meaning of the word, and 
wishing to do some vivid reporting, manufactured the rest. Many 
words have different meanings or implications in different English- 
speaking countries; and many words mean very different things to 
different people in the same English-speaking country. Thus, the 
word passion to a religious person means suffering; to a psycholo- 
gist, it implies strong emotion; to many people, it implies sexual 
desire. To a linguist, romance means "derived from the Latin lan- 
guage"; to a literary historian it may mean "a tale of adventure, 
particularly one written in the Middle Ages"; and to a schoolgirl 
it means love. 

Sometimes, indeed, the most violent disputes and what may seem 
to be the most perilous fallacies develop because different people 
understand good English words differently. Is a certain economic 
measure socialistic? Is a certain point of view communistic? Does a 
certain college give its students a good education? What is the 
American way of life? Is a certain action of an individual or of a 
state moral? Probably no two people understand any of these words 
in exactly the same way; and some people understand them in 
diametrically opposed ways. The first thing to establish in any 


argument is a precise definition of the principal terms to be used. 
And the first point to be examined in criticizing any argument is 
the writer's use of certain terms. 

b. What Mr. Mander calls unfinished terms (usually adjectives) 
are another source of confusion and fallacy in argument. "Is Eng- 
lish A a better course than English B?" Better for what or for whom? 
The word better cannot be made to stand alone without further 
explanation. "What good will this course do me?" Good in what 
way financial, moral, intellectual, recreational, technical, profes- 
sional, academic, or what? "It is dangerous to change horses in 
midstream." Dangerous to whom? Precisely what danger is involved? 
"Life in communistic Russia would be intolerable." Intolerable to 
whom to Russian laborers, or American millionaires, or South 
African Negroes, or Chinese communists? "Conditions have much 
improved." Improved for whom? For what groups? For what na- 
tions? In relation to what? Precisely how? "The lower classes pro- 
duce too many children." In what way are they low? They are low 
in relation to what, or to whom? How many is "too many"? Too 
many children for what, or for whom, or in relation to what? An 
extraordinarily large part of all the talk one hears everywhere now- 
adays about politics, economics, and international relations involves 
use of unfinished terms by people who cannot or will not think 
problems through to the end. 

c. Colored terms constitute a third source of confusion and fallacy. 
Words colored by associations have come into practical use on 
every side in this day of the advertiser and the publicity man. 
Editorialists, columnists, feature-writers, commentators on the radio, 
and politicians have not been slow to learn the ways of these words. 
To see how devastating an effect the colored word may have, let us 
manufacture some shocking examples : 

Jesus wept. 
Jesus blubbered. 

Jesus took his disciples apart and said unto them. . . . 

Jesus went into a huddle with his gang, and harangued them. . . . 

Suffer the little children to come unto me. 
Let the little brats come in. 

884 Creative Writing 

Anyone who wishes to see this sort of writing at its best (or worst) 
has only to read the political and international columns of this na- 
tion's most popular newsmagazine. Almost any common idea can be 
expressed in terms colored to make the naive and unsuspecting 
reader feel exactly what the writer wants him to feel without the 
reader's ever being aware that he is being subtly influenced. Thus 
we can speak of a "well-meaning man" or a "goody-goody man"; 
of a "good and faithful servant" or a "time-serving flunkey"; of a 
"firm expression on his countenance" or a "hard look on his face"; 
of "the people" or "the mob"; of "freedom" or "license"; of "desperate 
courage" or "fanatical resistance"; of a "smile" or a "smirk"; of 
"eating heartily" or "cramming gluttonously." Every reader and 
writer should learn to recognize such terms in other people's ex- 
positions, and (if he wishes to beat the modern world at its own 
game) to use them in his own arguments. 

3. INFERENCE. Logic, in its essence, is based altogether on in- 
ference. We speak to a person in the same room, and infer that he 
will hear; we write a sentence, and infer that other people will un- 
derstand what we mean; we read in the newspaper that the Congress 
has passed a bill, and we infer that it is true. All these are simple, 
direct inferences. But sometimes we lengthen the step between 
demonstrable fact and conclusion. We look about our room for a 
book, do not find it, and infer that we have left it at the college; 
we see our friend dressing in his best clothes after dinner, and infer 
that he is going out for the evening; we notice that another friend is 
sneezing and sniffling, and infer that he has a cold. 

Any inference may be wrong. That is why it is only an inference. 
The person in the same room with us may be so absorbed in reading 
that he will not hear us; the sentence we write may be unintelligible 
to others; and the newspaper account of the action of the Congress 
may be false. Likewise, we may have lost our book on the way 
over from the college; our friend may be dressing to receive a caller; 
and the other friend may be sneezing and sniffling because the 
pepper-shaker emptied itself in his plate at dinner. Any inference 
may be wrong yet we spend our lives making inferences. 

a. We make them on the strength of evidence. Now, evidence 


is of two sorts: evidence from authority, and evidence from ex- 
perience. The first is what other people tell us, and the second 
is what we observe or experience for ourselves. Reading in the 
newspaper or listening to someone talk about a murder is obtain- 
ing evidence from authority; seeing the murder is obtaining evi- 
dence from experience. 

If we merely present the evidence we have obtained, we are 
writing exposition according to the method of description or the 
method of presenting authority. But if, in addition to presenting 
the evidence, we try to decide for ourselves and others just who 
committed the murder, why he committed it, and whether or not 
he was justified in the deed, we are using the method of inference. 
We are making inferences, and we hope other people who read or 
listen to us will make the same inferences. 

We move from evidence to inference along either of two roads. 
The first is called induction, the second deduction. 

b. We use inductive reasoning when we collect a certain amount 
of evidence from authority or from experience, and then make an 
inference based on our evidence. This is the scientific method of 

Suppose the President of the nation is confronted with an un- 
desirable economic situation in the country. Wishing to remedy 
it, he begins collecting evidence. He accumulates statistics, he 
makes comparisons, he learns what various authorities believe, he 
investigates what other nations have done to relieve similar situa- 
tions, and he studies the effect certain remedies have had in the 
past. Then he makes an inference: he decides that a certain gov- 
ernmental policy will relieve the situation. He has worked in- 
ductively by making a generalization based on a very large amount 
of evidence. His generalization may be wrong, his inference false; 
but the error will be due to some fallacy in his judging the evidence. 
His method has been scientific. 

Some inferences may be based on no such large amount of evi- 
dence, but on a single fact. If my newspaper tells me that the 
President of France is seriously ill, I accept that authority without 
demanding further evidence, and infer that he really is ill. If at 

$88 Creative Writing 

night I hear what sounds like rain pattering on the roof, I accept 
that evidence, and infer that it really is raining. If I taste an olive 
on a dish and find it palatable, I infer that all the olives on the 
same dish are equally palatable I need not taste them all. True, 
my single bit of evidence may be insufficient on each of these occa- 
sions, and my inference may be wrong. But the method is our main 
interest just now it is inductive. We shall discuss the fallacies later. 

A third kind of induction is inference from comparison or analogy. 
Suppose that we have two things which, evidence has shown, are 
alike in many ways. We often infer, therefore, that they are alike 
in a certain other way about which we do not have evidence. We 
have found, for example, that one of a pair of twins likes the color 
red; and we infer that the other one also will like it. Or we have 
found that a certain drug is fatal to monkeys, and we infer that it 
will be fatal to human beings as well. Or we have found that a 
horse works more efficiently if he is allowed to rest three minutes 
every half hour, and we infer that an automobile likewise will work 
more efficiently if it is allowed the same amount of rest. All of these 
inferences are based upon observed resemblances between two 
things: twins, monkeys and human beings, horses and automobiles. 
Some of these inferences may be right and some (like the last) 
altogether wrong. But the method is inductive. It proceeds from 
particular instances by means of inference to a conclusion. 

c. Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, shows how a general 
principle applies to a particular instance or how a particular in- 
stance illustrates a general principle. A hoary example (put in the 
form of what is called a "syllogism" ) will illustrate: 

Major Premise: All men are mortal. 
Minor Premise: Socrates is a man. 
Conclusion: Therefore Socrates is mortal. 

Here the reasoning works downward from the general principle 
to the particular instance ( Socrates ) . 

Deductive reasoning, unlike inductive reasoning, always begins 
with an assumption. If the assumption has evolved from the in- 
ductive process, it may be justifiable. For example, the general 


principle that "All men are mortar has been proved over and 
over again by inductive experience. But if the general principle 
were some such statement as this: "All millionaires are dishonest/' 
the assumption that, since Mr. X. is a millionaire, Mr. X. is dis- 
honest would not be justifiable. The major premise has not been 
proved inductively. But even if the major premise were true and 
yet the minor premise were untrue (if Mr. X. is really not a mil- 
lionaire ) , the conclusion would still be unjustifiable. 

In any event, therefore, deductive reasoning must depend ulti- 
mately on evidence derived from particular instances; that is, on 
inductive reasoning. 

Inductive reasoning, in turn, always involves making inferences. 
In the rest of this chapter we shall discuss the most common reasons 
why some inferences are invalid, and, by implication, why some are 

fails when the final inference is unjustified by the evidence. It will 
be recalled that inductive inference may grow from one of three 
sources: many bits of evidence, one representative or conclusive 
bit of evidence, or comparison. Accordingly, inductive reasoning 
may break down along any of these three avenues of inference. 

a. The number of examples brought forward may be too small 
to justify generalization. Suppose my two cats like chocolate candy. 
From these two examples, would I be justified in saying, "All cats 
like chocolate candy"? By no means. The number of examples is 
too small to justify generalization. Or suppose ten people are in 
this room. I inquire how old each person is, but somehow manage 
to skip one of the ten. None of the nine people I have asked, how- 
ever, is less than twenty years old. Would I, then, be justified in 
declaring absolutely, "Everybody in this room is over twenty years 
of age"? By no means. Anything less than the total number of ex- 
amples here is insufficient to justify generalization. 

All this does not mean, of course, that we must account for every 
single example in every group before we can safely generalize about 
it. We may safely generalize about thousands of individual birds or 
insects or flowers from examining a dozen specimens belonging to 

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one species. Just why so minute a percentage is satisfactory here, 
whereas ninety per cent of the people in the room was not satis- 
factory, it is difficult for us to say. Experience alone (that is, in- 
ductive evidence ) acquired almost unconsciously through a lifetime 
tells us when a number of examples is too small. That is a vague 
statement, but it is the only one possible. 

b. But what about generalization from a single bit of evidence? 
From eating one olive, are we justified in concluding that all the 
olives on a dish are good? Again the answer must be vague. Only 
experience we have had with other articles on other dishes will 
tell us whether we should trust the sample olive to be a representa- 
tive example. 

c. The same thing is true when the basis of generalization is 
an analogy or a comparison. Experience has shown us that we can- 
not treat horses and automobiles alike, even though the function of 
each is the same. Experience has shown likewise that we may treat 
one horse more or less as we treat another. A comparison is involved 
in each illustration; but only by experience can we know how far 
to carry the comparison. 1 

Experience, then, is the final authority, whether we argue from 
many examples, from one example, or from analogy or comparison. 
But experience itself (as the term is used here) is merely a rough 
generalization based on many years' accumulation of evidence. That 
is, experience is merely induction. 

5. FALLACIES OF THE DEDUCTIVE METHOD. Fallacies in a syllogism 
are nearly always due to untruth in major or minor premise. This is 
equivalent to saying that most deductive fallacies are due to the 
inductive fallacies just discussed. For example: All Presidents of the 
United States are great men; Mr. X. is President of the United 
States; therefore Mr. X. is a great man. The major premise here is 
unsound; it has not grown out of a valid inductive process. Suppose 
the argument read: All birds have feathers; bats are birds; therefore 
bats have feathers. Here the defect lies in the minor premise. Bats 
are not birds. 

1 As a matter of fact, all analogies and almost all comparisons are false if 
carried to extremes. The proper use of analogy is for clarification, not proof. 


Though many types of syllogisms ( involving the use of words like 
"some," "no," and "all") exist, the fundamental syllogistic pattern is 

A=B A<B 

C = A or C = A 

.'.C = B .'.C<B 

Any other arrangement of the elements in the syllogism creates a 
fallacy. The following syllogisms contain fallacies which the student 
may analyze for himself: 

All horses are quadrupeds. 
Fido (the dog) is a quadruped. 
Therefore Fido is a horse. 

All Frenchmen are Europeans. 

Hitler was a European. 

Therefore Hitler was a Frenchman. 

6. FALLACIES OF INCLUSION. Some arguments are faulty because 
they include more than logic justifies. They are closely related to 
some of the fallacies discussed in the previous section, and are some- 
times indistinguishable from them. 

a. Some of these fallacies involve the use of too-inclusive words. 
Writing in 1749, a woman correspondent of Samuel Richardson 
remarked of the word sentimental: "Everything clever and agree- 
able is comprehended in that word." Today "everything clever and 
agreeable" seems to be comprehended in the words "democratic" 
and "American"; and everything stupid and disagreeable is com- 
prehended in the words "communistic" and "un-American." To be 
sure, most of us prefer democracy and Americanism to communism 
and un-Americanism (if the terms are at all comprehensible). But 
when politicians persuade great numbers of people to dislike a 
thousand things (from public health measures to social security) 
by calling them "communistic" and "un-American," the terms are 
being applied in too broad a sense, and the people who are seriously 
influenced by them are victims of a logical fallacy. In the same way, 
though the open shop, untaxed inheritances, wages and prices ar- 
rived at by the natural laws of supply and demand, and the entire 

%30 Creative Writing 

profit system may be altogether advisable for the country's general 
prosperity they do not deserve support simply because certain 
persons cloak them with the terms "American" and "democratic." 
Those words are too broad, too inclusive. Using them to evoke praise 
or blame for a project is no substitute for logic. Other terms of the 
same sort are "the American way of life/' "progress," "science," 
"liberalism," "reaction," "freedom," "unity," and "appeasement." It 
is one of the more melancholy traits of the twentieth century that 
such words have been so universally forced to do the work of fact, 
logic, and common sense. 

b. Not only do certain words of the kind just mentioned include 
anything we happen to like or to dislike; in addition, they may in- 
clude a considerable number of imprecisely defined ideas. Thus, 
few people would object to the statement, "Our freedom must be 
preserved." But whom does the word "our" refer to? Does it refer 
to convicted criminals, to labor unions, to millionaire industrialists, 
to middle-class American citizens? And what does "freedom" mean 
freedom to murder, freedom to take other people's property, 
freedom to say what we wish when we wish (even to crying "Fire!" 
in a crowded theatre), freedom from taxes, freedom from poverty, 
freedom from foreign oppression or political oppression at home, 
freedom to deprive other people of freedom or what? Many (per- 
haps most) other abstract terms are equally unprecise and all-in- 
clusive. We may write fervently of "beauty"; but the term itself is 
only a generalization referring to specific beautiful things. "Beauty" 
does not exist separate from beautiful things. "Truth" does not exist 
either; only true statements exist. "Righteousness" does not exist; 
only righteous persons and righteous actions exist. When we use 
such terms, we should remember what they include their specific 
and concrete manifestations. To use them in any other way is 

c. Sometimes a statement may contain no such vague word, but 
may include so much as to be fundamentally fallacious. Someone 
writes: "I like children." Does he mean that he likes all children 
even the ones who are impertinent, disobedient, loud, stupid, and 
malicious? Someone writes: "As a teacher, he is a failure." The state- 


ment is broad. Did the man teach nothing, or nobody, at any time? 
Someone writes: "That administration was socialistic." Even if we 
know the precise meaning of "administration" and "socialistic," can 
we say that everything that administration did was socialistic? Did 
it do nothing merely negative, not socialistic or anti-socialistic, or 
perhaps actually capitalistic? These are examples of statements 
that are unprecise and illogical because they include too much. 
The writer of argument is to look for them in other people's work, 
and to avoid them in his own. 

7. FALLACIES OF CONFUSION. Some fallacies are due to thinking 
that actually misunderstands or ignores the subject. These fallacies 
may be wilfully perpetrated by dishonest people in order to cloud 
an issue, or they may be innocently deceitful. 

a. A common fallacy of confusion results from the writer's ignor- 
ing the question. Every teacher is familiar with this sort of thing. 
He puts the problem: "Compare Swift and Addison as satirists." 
Half the students taking the examination will at once begin writing 
down everything they know about Swift and Addison dates, life, 
character, names of chief works; they will ignore the real question. 
Or a politician may be asked what he intends to do about higher 
taxes; and he may answer by saying that he has never approved of 
higher taxes than are necessary, thinks that the present administra- 
tion has wasted tax money, and believes that greater economy in 
government could save the people's money. But he has never said 
whether or not he will fight actively against higher taxes. 

b. Much like ignoring the question is argument beside the point. 
A student fails to make a passing grade in a course. "But I was sick 
for five weeks," he says, "and could not attend lectures or hand in 
the daily assignments." That may be true, and the professor may 
feel very sorry; but the fact remains that the student did not hand 
in his work or know enough about the course to pass his examina- 
tions. He is answering questions that nobody asked him; he is argu- 
ing beside the point. 

c. A subtle fallacy is that of assuming a truth which involves 
the point at issue. For example, a sincere and earnest old minister 
once advertised that, in his next sermon, he would prove from 

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historical evidence that Jesus arose from the dead. But in the sermon 
the only evidence he educed was a series of references to passages 
in the New Testament. He assumed that the New Testament is 
historically sound, though that is exactly the point at which doubters 
would have taken issue with him. Another speaker, this time a 
politician, tried to prove that he was a fit person for office because 
his policies were in accord with those of Thomas Jefferson. He 
assumed that Jeffersonian policies were wise for all occasions, though 
that is exactly what doubters might not grant. 

These two instances involve an inference which has not been 
justified inductively. Often the inference is made subtly in the 
use of vague or ambiguous words. "Why should a business man 
waste his time with literature?" "The Presidents reactionary policies 
should be discouraged by the voters." "The radical notions of the 
Senator from Wisconsin will not mislead this august body." Each 
of these italicized words or phrases assumes as true that which, if 
it really were true, would necessitate no further argument. ( In pass- 
ing, it should be noted that another name for this kind of fallacy is 
"begging the question/') 

d. A somewhat uncommon fallacy of confusion is that due to 
argument in a circle. Here the writer assumes something is true, 
reaches a conclusion on the basis of that assumption, and then 
doubles back to prove the original assumption on the strength of 
the conclusion just reached. An illustration will clarify. Lincoln once 
remarked, "God must have loved the common people, for He made 
so many of them." The implied assumption here is that whatever 
God has created in numbers, He loves. He has created a large num- 
ber of common people. Therefore He must love the common people. 
And the fact that He loves them has made Him create them in large 
numbers. Another illustration: The Victorian Age, surveying its 
miserable and wicked industrial population, argued thus: God pun- 
ishes the wicked by making them miserable. These people are miser- 
able. Therefore God must have punished them. And the fact that 
God has punished them shows that they are wicked. 

e. The fallacy of improper classification (see Section 3 of Chap- 
ter X) may result from an incomplete classification or from a non- 

Argumentation $33 

unified basis of classification. The former is the more common. 
Here a writer sets out to classify a set of items, but does not include 
all possible classifications. "The nations of Europe are monarchistic, 
democratic, republican, or communistic/' At the present writing, 
this classification does not take account of the Spanish and Portu- 
guese governments. More dangerous than this mere incomplete 
series is the classification that reduces a problem to an "either or" 
basis. "It will either rain or shine" but it may do neither; it may 
snow. "France will go either democratic or communistic" but she 
may do neither; she may go fascist. Only very cautiously may a 
writer venture to commit himself to absolute alternatives; most of 
the time there is a third possibility or item that he has not con- 

Classification on a non-unified basis is uncommon. But when 
someone declares, "All voters may be divided into three classes: 
the stupid, the self-seeking, and the patriotic," he is obviously iising 
a confused basis of classification. The three categories are not mu- 
tually exclusive. 

f. Very different is the fallacy which substitutes humor, emotion, 
or prejudice for logic and fact. It is always easy to get a laugh at 
somebody else's expense, especially in addressing a crowd. But it is 
a cheap device. An honest person will not trade fact and logic for 
laughter, and listeners, even though they laugh in public, will not 
be convinced when they go home and think about the matter in 
private. Appeals to emotion are more effective and more permanent. 
Indeed, emotions (such as compassion, indignation against oppres- 
sion, a sense of justice, and gratitude) are greater and finer than 
all the fact and logic in the world. Nevertheless, appeals to emotion 
must not be confused with fact and logic. In the first chapter of 
this book a passage was quoted in which Macaulay answered with 
sound fact and logic those who would forgive the sins of Charles I 
on mere emotional grounds. And in our own time America witnessed 
an occasion in which emotion was substituted for fact and logic. 
It was when General MacArthur returned from Japan. The policies 
which he advocated were involved and specialized; very few people 
in America understood the fundamental issues, or had any right to 

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have an opinion on the matter. Yet admiration for the man by some, 
and dislike by others, made all America choose sides noisily and 
acrimoniously. Emotion was being substituted for fact and logic. 
Appeals to prejudice are very similar. They make our local preju- 
dices (for the South, New England, our own state, our city, our 
college, our team) blind us to fact and logic. Or it may be our na- 
tional prejudices ("Right or wrong, my country"), or our racial 
prejudices (German, Jewish, Negro, Latin), or even our own tiny 
personal prejudices ( against certain foods, red-headed people, black- 
headed people, people who speak with a broad 0, people who part 
their hair in the middle) we are all likely to be victimized by 
theje prejudices. But, in the name of fact and logic, we must com- 
bat them by recognizing them in ourselves and in others. 


the most difficult kinds of fallacies to recognize, and to fall into, 
involve arguments from cause to effect, or from effect back to cause. 
In a loose sense, all argument, all logic, involves the cause-and-effect 
relationship. When we understand this relationship, we understand 
the basis of all argument. 

a. We often make fallacies when we infer that a certain cause 
will produce only certain effects. Exposing these fallacies is diffi- 
cult, for no one can read the future. Any action of ours, however 
well considered, may produce tremendous effects for which we never 
bargained. Most writers, however, are guilty of excluding from con- 
sideration the possible effects which may result in addition to those 
desired. Yet every cause is like a two-edged sword; it works both 
ways. It has a certain effect, and also the opposite of that effect. 
Thus the hope of becoming a member of Phi Beta Kappa encourages 
students to work hard in their courses, and yet it also encourages 
them to take easy courses in order to make good grades. A writer 
interested in exposing fallacies in the cause-to-effect argument can 
usually do no better than to study other possible effects his opponent 
has failed to include in the argument. 

b. Fallacies in an argument from effect back to cause are easier 
to detect. Perhaps the most deceiving of them is the post hoc, ergo 
propter hoc ( after this, and therefore because of this ) fallacy. Since 

Argumentation 35 

an effect usually follows a cause, many people are led to think that 
any fact that invariably follows another is an effect of that other. 
For example, we have an ailment, are treated by a doctor, and get 
well. We think the doctor cured us. Yet the doctors themselves say 
that ninety per cent of their patients would recover successfully 
without medical attention of any kind. Or we elect a man to office; 
certain things happen in the country; and the man is defeated at 
his next candidacy on the strength of the things which have occurred 
even though he is in no way responsible for them. Post hoc, ergo 
propter hoc, reason the voters. They forget that Monday always 
follows Sunday, but that Monday, nevertheless, is not an effect of 
Sunday. They forget to include in their reasoning other possible 
causes besides the immediately preceding event. 

c. The opposite kind of fallacy is that in which a cause is assigned 
for a condition, though the condition existed before the cause as- 
signed. People often say, for example, that the "modern" move- 
ment in American poetry was a result of the First World War. As a 
matter of fact, however, the movement began in 1912 and 1913, 
before the outbreak of war. The critics have failed to include that 

d. Sometimes we mistake an effect for a cause. We say that an 
instructor gives a bad grade because he dislikes a student; but 
perhaps the instructor dislikes the student because the latter has 
made a bad grade. Or we say that city politics are corrupt because of 
a certain mayor; but perhaps that mayor obtained office because 
city politics are corrupt. 

e. In much the same way, two effects of the same cause, or dif- 
ferent causes, may be taken for a cause and an effect. I build a 
house on a vacant block, and immediately someone else builds a 
house on the same block. Is the first fact a cause, and the latter an 
effect? Perhaps not; perhaps we both build because times are pros- 
perous. Or hot weather comes, and the wheat ripens. Is the former 
a cause, and the latter an effect? Perhaps not; perhaps the first is 
due to the northward movement of the sun, and the second to the 
age of the wheat. If we argue otherwise, we are failing to include in 
our discussion two important causes. 

236 Creative Writing 

L The last fallacy we shall consider in studying arguments from 
effect back to cause is the fallacy of mistaking for a sole cause that 
which is only an influence. "Governor X was elected because I con- 
tributed one hundred dollars to his campaign fund." The sum con- 
tributed was only an influence, not a sole cause. Fallacies in real 
argument are not often so simple as the one just given. But existence 
is so complex that every effect usually has more than one cause. Ac- 
cordingly, a writer wishing to refute an argument which tries to 
show the cause of a certain effect can nearly always do so by finding 
another influence which operated at the same time to help produce 
the effect. 

9. FALLACIES OF EVIDENCE. Sometimes a writer errs by admitting 
as evidence that which is really inadequate or unreliable evidence. 
He states as true that which is not the truth, or else not the whole 
truth. "The utility interests have contributed ten thousand dollars to 
the campaign fund of my opponent," shouts a candidate. That 
sounds bad but is it true? "The President has delivered the coun- 
try into the hands of a visionary bureaucracy," shouts a Congress- 
man. That is enough to condemn the President but is it true? "Mr. 
X. is a very wealthy man," says the gossip. "To my certain knowl- 
edge, he has fifty thousand dollars in cash in the bank." This last 
may be true, but is it the whole truth? Perhaps Mr. X. owes a hun- 
dred thousand dollars. Unsound reasoning is not nearly so common 
as the use of unsound evidence. 

As we have seen, we may use two kinds of evidence: that from 
authority and that from experience. 

a. Before venturing to use evidence from authority, we should ask 
ourselves three questions: 

Has the authority had the opportunity to know the truth? 
Has he the desire to tell the truth? 
Has he ability to tell the truth? 

Suppose, for example, that we are trying to find out from a states- 
man something about today's European politics. We ask at once, 
Has he been to Europe recently? If so, did he stay long enough and 
travel widely enough to find out anything of importance? Did he 
talk to Europeans who really knew the situation? Has he had access 

Argumentation 837 

to reliable documents? In other words, Has he had the opportunity 
to find out the truth? If not, we must not use him as an authority. 

Even if he has had the opportunity, is he reliable? Is there some 
motive of self-interest, fear, patriotism, or prejudice which may make 
him desire to conceal some of the truth or distort it all? Perhaps the 
statesman is a Senator who desires reelection. Will he not be tempted 
to play up alarming theories in order to have a sensational campaign 
topic? Or perhaps he is writing a series of articles for a rabidly 
jingoistic chain of newspapers. Will he not be tempted to bow to 
the policy of the papers, and make European affairs look as danger- 
ous as possible? Or perhaps he has a large interest in a factory that 
makes tanks. Will he not be tempted to be as alarming as possible in 
order that his factory may continue making tanks uninterruptedly? 
Any number of such considerations may influence our authority to 
try to obscure the real truth, and so make his evidence invalid. 

But even if he has had the opportunity to know the truth, and if 
he honestly desires to tell the truth, he may still be an untrustworthy 
authority. He may be incompetent. He may not understand Euro- 
pean politics, European psychology, or European economics. He 
may not know how class reacts to class, how historical alliances and 
animosities influence national politics in spite of logic, how much 
weight the opinion of the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury car- 
ries in men's minds, how much credence is to be given to French 
newspapers, and so on. In a word, though he has the best intentions 
in the world, he may not have the ability to tell the truth. He is not 
a good authority. 

b. The other kind of evidence that taken from our own experi- 
ence or observation involves a similar questioning of our own op- 
portunity, desire, and ability to tell the truth. We say that seeing is 
believing. But we see smoke vanish into nothingness and yet we do 
not actually believe that it has become nothing: we know that if we 
had the opportunity we could catch the smoke by means of certain 
apparatus, collect its particles, and even weigh it. We see a magician 
take money out of the air and yet we do not believe that he does 
it: we know that we merely have not the ability to see through his 
trickery. And we see a close friend of ours do a questionable deed 

88 Creative Writing 

and yet we do not believe he is wicked: we "simply don't want to 
believe anything bad about him." Seeing, then, is not believing un- 
less we, like the authority we have questioned, have the opportunity, 
the ability, and the desire to see straight. 


1. The Fallacy of Rationalization. 

a. Read Chapters 3 and 4 ("Various Kinds of Thinking" and 
"Rationalizing") of James Harvey Robinson's The Mind in the 

b. Analyze your views on the following subjects; then set down 
in one column some possible reasons that may be causing you to 
rationalize about your views, and in another column some reasons 
that are obviously not the result of rationalizing: 

Your political views campus, municipal, state, national, 
and international. 

Your religious views including your church membership, 
your ideas of immortality, and your conception of God. 

Your ethical views such as your ideas about cheating on 
examinations, stealing melons from a farmer, stealing money 
from a bank, slipping into a show without paying, sex, kill- 
ing a fellow citizen, killing in war. 

Your social views such as your ideas about capital pun- 
ishment, old age pensions, inheritance taxes, income taxes, 
cosmetics, the broad a, boy-crazy girls, girl-crazy boys. 

Your personal views about your ancestors, your immedi- 
ate family, your roommate, the person who sits beside you 
in some class, your professors. 

2. Fallacies Due to Diction. 

a. Tell what the following words would mean to the persons 

complex to an ordinary reader and to a psychologist. 
progressive to an ordinary reader and to an educator. 
mechanism to an ordinary reader and to a philosopher. 
maturation to an ordinary reader and to a biologist. 
old-fashioned to an ordinary reader and to a heavy 

density to a physicist and to an electrical engineer. 
basilisk to a classical scholar and to a herpetologist. 

Argumentation 839 

escape to a prisoner and to a botanist. 

book-maker to a publisher and to a gambler. 

young to a person of twenty and to a person of seventy. 

American to a citizen of the United States and to a 
citizen of Brazil. 

socialist to most Englishmen and to most Americans. 

private enterprise to a communist and to an American 

God to an Italian peasant and to a Unitarian minister. 

b. Point out fallacies of diction in the following sentences: 

Taking this English course should be of great value to you. 

He is an undesirable alien. 

You cannot afford to say what you really believe. 

What Senator Blank thinks is of no importance. 

We shall be much better off without him. 

His arguments are quite unconvincing. 

The human race is being weakened because modern civili- 
zation permits the unfit to survive. 

You ought not to listen to such trash. 

The government's grandiose ideals have ended in socialistic 

Shall we pay taxes to support those ne'er-do-wells who 
will not make a living for themselves? 

The loud-lowing senator from the Deep South called a 
press conference. 

The witness told some sensational yarn of no consequence* 

When asked a direct question, the Secretary of State mum- 
bled an answer of sorts. 

The President admitted under questioning that at least a 
billion dollars annually was being spent on production of 
atomic bombs. 

Congressman Jones lolled expansively in a plush, flower- 
filled hotel suite far from home. 

3. Inference. 

a. Describe the kind of evidence you would use in expositions 
on each of the following topics: 

Chinese porcelains. 

Tennyson's poetic art. 

The honor system (or the proctor system) at your college, 

Social philosophy in Galsworthy's plays. 

What a man (or a woman) loses by going to college. 

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b. Which of the following generalizations would require many 
bits of evidence for proof? A single bit of evidence? A comparison? 

Crows are black. 
Dogs naturally hate cats. 

Shakespeare is more read in Europe than is Dante. 
A newly discovered species of cedar will remain green all 

Hitler is dead. 

Small babies are not conscious. 

Make a list of your opinions about certain individuals, people in 
general, politics, religion, etc. Discuss the evidence upon which 
you arrived at these opinions. 

c. Invent syllogisms to fit the following conclusions: 

Mary loves John. 

Times will get better. 

Times will get worse. 

Women should take an interest in politics. 

Public school teachers deserve higher salaries. 

Professors should be more "human." 

4-8. Exposing Fallacies. 

Analyze and name the fallacies in the following statements: 

He should be elected President, for he is a thoroughly 
honest man. 

He would make a great President, for he was a great 

I am sure he has no will power, for he is a confirmed 

Art should enter into the life of everyone, for it is beauti- 
ful and interesting. 

I know he is intelligent, for I never saw a more intellectual 

A radio is not worth having; it is merely an advertising 

Gentlemen of the Jury: How could anyone believe that 
this sweet and gentle little lady would murder her husband? 

No one should obey prohibition laws; they are foolish re- 
strictions on personal liberty. 

As I thought my job was too good to last. 

You must know Greek and Latin in order to be cultured. 


You are so much interested in writing that you should 
become an author. 

He will continue on his course because he is too stupid to 

He must love her; for if he didn't, he wouldn't send her 
flowers every week. 

I can never win at cards, for I'm just not lucky. 

This must be an oak tree; it has lobate leaves like an oak 

This book is certain to be clever; Bernard Shaw wrote it. 

He must be a good man, for he is very kind to his mother. 

My wife and my daughter are afraid of mice, and so I 
suppose all women are afraid of mice. 

People never have flown at the rate of five hundred miles 
per hour, and they never will. 

I had a bad accident once in driving a car, and so I sup- 
pose I am incapable of driving. 

There's no use in your doing the outside reading; you can 
pass the course without it. 

This bird is blue; it must be a bluebird. 

The veterinary said this medicine would cure dogs of 
rouiidworms; so it will probably cure them of tapeworms as 

I left my raincoat at home and sure enough! it rained. 
I'll take my raincoat next time. 

He is such a good scholar that I know he will make a 
good teacher. 

He is a grouch; the only time I ever spoke to him he nearly 
bit my head off. 

My friend Rip van Winkle over here in the corner hasn't 
yet got the birds' nests out of his hair; don't pay any atten- 
tion to what he says. 

There is gold in sea-water. It only waits for the enterpris- 
ing chemist to extract it and grow rich. 

One of the good things the Soviets have accomplished is 
the abolition of serfdom in Russia. 

Ducks have acquired the habit of living on or near water 
because their webbed feet and squat bodies make them 
awkward on land. 

My mother used to hang a little bag of asafoetida around 
my neck to protect me from diphtheria. And since I never 

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took diphtheria, the old precaution was probably of some 
value, after all. 

You should be ashamed of reading a book like that! What 
would your father say if he were alive? 

Both the United States and Mexico would benefit ma- 
terially if the United States would take over Mexico and 
give it a stable and honest government administered from 
Washington. Consequently, we ought to absorb Mexico. 

President Wilson tried to negotiate the Versailles Treaty 
personally, and so the Treaty was a failure as far as Amer- 
ica was concerned. 

I argued with the professor too much, 'and so he failed me 
in the course. 

Cats are so destructive of birds that it would pay us to do 
away with cats entirely. 

Cats like to hunt at night because they can see in the dark. 

People are hoarding their money, and that's why times are 
so hard. 

He is taking almost every course I am taking in college. 
I think he is just imitating me. 

9. Fallacies of Evidence. 

Would the individuals in the following situations be trustworthy 
authorities? Why? 

A man whose home was robbed while he was out of town. 

A charwoman who felt sure the blood she mopped up was 
human blood. 

A child of four telling what time of day an event occurred. 

A private soldier telling the strategy of a great battle in 
which he participated. 

A student giving a bad report of a course in which he had 

The same student giving a good report of the course. 

A woman suing for divorce, and testifying about her hus- 
band's character. 

A mother testifying in court about her son's character. 

A district attorney trying to convict the son. 

A defense attorney trying to have him acquitted. 

An alienist telling about the mental condition of the son. 

A scientist telling about a cure for cancer he thinks he has 

Another scientist criticizing the first one's work. 


Ourselves explaining how we made a large sum of money. 
Ourselves explaining how a surgeon operated on us. 


Some of the best places to find subjects for argumentation 
and debate are the contemporary journals and magazines. 
Compare, for example, the editorials of your local newspaper 
with the articles and editorials in magazines like the Nation 
and the New Republic. Look in the American Mercury for 
articles expressing controversial points of view on popular 
subjects. Examine College English for articles on teaching 
methods, and ideas about what college English courses 
should contain. Most of the scientific, political, and economic 
magazines contain articles and expressions of opinion about 
which there is certain to be controversy. And several weekly 
radio forums deal with controversial topics habitually. Any 
of these sources will suggest many subjects for argument. 

Perhaps it would be well to classify certain fields of 
thought, and let each student work in the field that interests 
him most. Examples follow: 


Can the government establish a stable economy (without 
inflations or depressions) by fixing wages, prices, and work- 
ing hours? 

Does the safety of the American form of government de- 
mand a stable economy? 

Would most people in America have a higher standard of 
living than at present if America had a stable economy? 

Should a super-planning commission (something like the 
Supreme Court) with almost unlimited economic powers be 
set up as a means of forestalling economic depression and in- 


Would labor (or farmers, or business men, or salaried 
workers) be economically better off under the Republican 
(or Democratic) administration of your state (or the federal 
government, or your local government)? 

Should all law-enforcing powers against criminals be taken 

Creative Writing 

from the states and handed over to the Federal Bureau of 

Would law enforcement be more just and certain if twelve 
impartial federal judges, instead of twelve jurors, tried all 

Would government function more smoothly and efficiently 
if all county offices were abolished? 


Should divorce be automatically granted, after a waiting 
period of ninety days, at the request of either husband or 

Should architectural plans for all proposed buildings be 
passed on by a committee of artists and architects who 
would study the plans not only for their individual artistic 
merit, but also for their fitness to the locality where the build- 
ing is to be erected? 

Should local committees of parents and educators be set 
up to pass on the suitability for children of all motion pictures 
shown in local theatres? 

Should old-age pensions be paid to every person over 
sixty -five (or seventy) regardless of proved need? 


Should the government pay small salaries to all needy 
young men and women who are capable of profiting by a 
college education, and who will go to college? 

Do women's colleges serve any educational function that 
cannot be served by coeducational colleges? 

Should all college students be required to take a course in 
trigonometry (or calculus, or chemistry, or physics, or Ameri- 
can history)? 

Should college teachers be compelled to sign a loyalty 


Did the seventeenth Earl of Oxford (Edward DeVere) 
write the plays attributed to Shakespeare? 

Do the novels of D. H. Lawrence show that he was a 

What is immorality in literature? (Or is some specified 
literary work immoral?) 


Was Hamlet's tragedy due to the fact that he was a de- 
layer who could not make up his mind? 

Historical and Biographical: 

Was King Arthur a real person? 

Did Byron have an affair with his half-sister? 

Did the Incas invade America from Polynesia? 

Did the government of Chiang Kai-shek succumb to the 
communists because it lacked supplies and funds that could 
have been furnished by the United States? 


Do fixed moral standards result in unhealthy and unhappy 
mental states for the majority of people? 

Does laughter arise from a feeling of triumph or superi- 

Is it "a crime to believe on insufficient evidence"? 

Does the state exist for the benefit of its citizens of today or 
its citizens of tomorrow? 


Writing the Exposition 

1. THE SUBJECT. People often wonder why so many poor articles 
and bad books are published. Their number is due to the popularity 
and interestingness of their subjects. A bad exposition on a vital sub- 
ject will find ten publishers willing to buy it before a good exposition 
on an uninteresting subject will find one. Young writers often fail to 
realize this fact. They write excellent essays on "The Mountains and 
the Sea as Vacation Resorts," "How I Spent My Vacation," "Types 
of Razors," "English Ceramics in the Eighteenth Century," "The 
Typical Landlady," "Why Television Has Developed so Rapidly," 
and similar subjects. But who wishes to read them? No one but some 
patient professor ever hopeful of discovering somewhere in the 
weekly wilderness of such subjects at least one paper which shows 
that its writer has been willing to attack a vital problem. 

A man's reach should exceed his grasp and a student's efforts 
should exceed his ability to achieve. Young people perceive the 
elemental issues of life far more vividly and feel them more keenly 
than do their elders. If the young people would only write sincerely 
about these issues, if they would only have the courage to grapple 
with the problems presented to them as growing men and women 
problems of authority, religion, sex, immortality, marriage, family 
relations, fear of life, ambition, dreams, hopes, despairs, and all the 
rest of them if students would only write about such problems in- 
stead of "How to Build a Boat" and "The Typical Sophomore," they 
w<3uld produce something worth reading. But they won't. They will 
continue to attack small problems and decide unimportant issues 
until the boat is rotten and the sophomore has grandchildren. 

2. AIMS. When a writer has chosen his subject, he should ask 
himself what his aims are in writing about it. First, he must decide 


Writing the Exposition 

what his expository purpose is whether to give mere information, 
or to interpret facts, or to try to change the readers point of view. 

If, for example, the subject involved the conservation of wild life 
in America, the writer could merely catalogue facts about the steps 
being taken by the government to conserve wild life. Or he could 
go on to interpret: He could say that certain measures are unsatis- 
factory or insufficient, that the prospects of new and better measures 
are remote, and that though certain results have been achieved, 
much remains to be done. Or, finally, he could devote his work to at- 
tempting to influence his readers to take conservation more seriously 
and work for it more energetically. What his purpose is will deter- 
mine what the exposition is to be. 

Next, the writer should determine the kind of readers whom he 
wishes to reach. 1 The type of readers he expects will often determine 
the purpose of his work. Thus ( in the example just given ) a report 
of a government official to a superior interested in wild-life conserva- 
tion would be purely factual and statistical. A report of the president 
of a conservation league to the members of the league would be 
interpretative. An article by the same president in a magazine of 
general circulation would endeavor to change the public's point of 
view toward conservation. 

Even when the purpose of the exposition is fixed, a writer must 
know what type of readers he will have. For example, a surgeon 
trying to explain to a patient the nature of a prospective operation 
would use simple terms, comforting reassurances, and careful analy- 
sis of the results which might occur if the operation were not per- 
formed. But if the same surgeon were trying to explain the same 
operation to a group of other surgeons, he would use technical terms, 
would convert the personal reassurances into mortality statistics, 
and would probably omit as well known the analysis of what might 
happen if the operation were not performed. The type of readers ad- 
dressed may determine, then, the purpose, the language, the persua- 
sive elements ( see Section 7 below ) , and the nature of the facts pre- 
sented in the exposition. 

1 Determining this often involves a consideration of the organ of publication. 
Practically all magazines, newspapers, and publishing houses have certain edito- 
rial policies which a writer must know and conform to if he expects publication. 

Creative Writing 

Finally, the writer must decide how long his exposition will proba- 
bly be. Only when he has done so can he select his material in- 
telligently and organize his exposition with due regard for the laws 
of proportion. A newspaper paragraph, a magazine article, and a 
book on, say, wild-life conservation would require altogether dif- 
ferent materials, different structures, and different methods of ap- 
proach. Many a young author, inexperienced in handling papers of 
much length, writes the first half of his term paper in great detail, 
and then, discovering that he will have neither time nor space to 
finish the paper in the same detail, will hurry to his conclusion in a 
manner quite inconsistent with his early leisureliness. And writers 
even less skillful will do the opposite that is, hurry through the first 
half of the paper, discover that at such a rate they will finish the 
work before filling the required number of pages, and then conclude 
with a wealth of unnecessary detail and deliberate padding. A well- 
planned paper commits neither of these errors. It is consistent and 
well balanced throughout. 

3. THE TITLE. Specialized exposition requires only a descriptive 
title in order to attract the readers for whom the exposition was 
written. Titles such as the following automatically select their own 

"The Physiology of Digestion" 

"Mural Painting in America" 

"Milton's Use of Du Bartas" 

"Carlyle and German Thought" 

"Color in Advertising" 

"The Lewis and Clark Expedition" 

But general exposition is different. In these days of intense com- 
petition when a thousand titles a week in newspapers, magazines, 
and bookstores clamor for the average reader's attention, every 
writer of general exposition must find attractive titles for his works 
if he expects to be read. Some articles and some books, indeed, sell 
and are read for no other reason than that they have irresistible titles. 
Little Man, What Now? is no better book than it should be, but with 
such a title its popularity was assured even before it was written. 

Writing the Exposition 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Hard-Boiled Virgin are older 
novels with irresistible titles. Beer's The Mauve Decade, Bowers's 
The Tragic Era, and Allen's Only Yesterday are expository works 
with almost equally effective titles. Seeing them in a bookstore, al- 
most any browsing reader would pick them up and look into them 
which is the most important step in the sale of a book. 

Just what makes a title attractive it is difficult to say. But a few 
general principles hold true: 

a. The subject itself may be so interesting or unusual that the ex- 
position requires no other advertisement in its title than a descrip- 
tion of its contents. Such descriptive titles are these: "Probabilities of 
War in Europe" (Atlantic), "The Assassination of McKinley" 
(American Mercury), "Safer Childbirth with Less Pain" (Parents' 
Magazine), and "How to Marry Well" (House and Garden). A spe- 
cial form of such titles is that which proclaims superlatives, unusual 
magnitudes, or sensational ideas. Examples are: 20,000 Years in Sing 
Sing (by Lewis E. Lawes), "$50,000,000 Can't Be Wrong" (Satur- 
day Review of Literature), "Money by the Ton" (Asia), and "In 
Search of the Smallest Feathered Creatures" (National Geographic). 

b. Often the diction of a title may catch the reader's eye irrespec- 
tive of the subject indicated. Devices which thus attract attention are 
the following: 

( 1 ) Alliteration is often effective in fixing the reader's wandering 
glance. Examples of alliterative titles are these: "The Reputation of 
Rommel" (Yale Review), "Feats of Our Flying Foresters" (Ameri- 
can Forests ) , "The Rise of the Rubber Railroad" ( Fortune ) , "Pros- 
pects for Peace" (Harpers), and "The Great Galilean" (Atlantic). 

(2) Antithetical ideas expressed in titles attract attention. Exam- 
ples are these: "Ladies and Lawlessness," "Less Money and More 
Life" (both from Harpers), "New Armies for Old" (Current His- 
tory), "The Awful English of England," and "Insurance that Doesn't 
Insure" (both from American Mercury). 

(3) Incongruous words have much the same rather startling ef- 
fect that antithetical ideas have, and tempt the reader's curiosity to 
delve further into the exposition. "Fra Angelico and the Cabin Pas- 

850 Creative Writing 

senger" (Harper's), "Socrates Up to Date" (Atlantic), and "A Phi- 
losophy of Pith-Balls" (Atlantic) are good examples of such incon- 

(4) Parodies of well-known sayings attract attention, though 
often, it is true, the attention goes no further than the title. Exam- 
ples are these: "The Trap that Jack Built" (Colliers), "Nature Says 
It with Flowers" (American Forests), "For Whom the Bell Clanks" 
( Atlantic ) , "Trial by Ice" ( Life ) . 

(5) Made-up or unusual words, such as those in the following 
titles, may pique the reader's curiosity and lure him to read the ex- 
position: "Shirahama" (Atlantic), "'Cheapies' Threaten Chain 
Sto-es" (Forbes), "Capeadores of Wall Street" (Atlantic), "Punnet 
sive Pundigrion" (Atlantic), and "Bonanzas in Blue-Collar Jobs" 
( U.S. News and World Report). 

(6) Single-noun titles also excite curiosity. Yet unless the word 
used can touch a live spot in most readers, this sort of title is not 
satisfactory. In the following group, probably only the first and the 
last titles listed can meet the test: "Professor" (Atlantic), "Rio 
Grande" (American Mercury), "Conclusions" (Atlantic), "Paradise" 
(American Mercury), and "Earthquake" (Scribners). Variations 
of this kind of title are single nouns preceded by an article ( like The 
Jungle by Upton Sinclair), and single nouns followed by a noun in 
apposition ( like "Lincoln the Lover" in the Atlantic ) . 

(7) More common and, perhaps, less impressive is the single- 
noun-and-single-adjective title such as "The American Way," "The 
Larger Agnosticism," "Our Lawless Heritage" (all three in the At- 
lantic), "Hospital Night," "Burnt Offering," "Half -Told Tales," and 
"This Hard-Boiled Era" (all in Harpers). Titles like these have little 
to recommend them unless they include some unusual word or idea 
like the last one given, or excite curiosity like the two which precede 
the last. 

c. Many titles draw attention by means of their grammatical 

(1) Titles beginning with How, Why, Where, What, The Story 
of, The Future of, etc., appeal to every reader's desire to enlarge 
his information: "How Not to Buy" (Consumers' Research), "Why 

Writing the Exposition %51 

the Business Man Fails in Politics" (Nation's Business), "Why Lit- 
erature Declines" (Atlantic), "How Charles Dickens Wrote His 
Books" (Harpers), "What a Man Loses by Going to College" (Sat- 
urday Evening Post), and "How to Stay a Bachelor" (This Week). 

( 2 ) Very closely related is the title stated as a question. In order 
that the question be effective, however, it must be pertinent to some 
universally interesting topic. In the following list of titles probably 
only the first and the two last meet this requirement: "What About 
Mixed Marriages?" (Woman s Home Companion), "How Good Are 
Your Schools?" ( American ), "Why Hold Back the Children?" 
(Harper's), and "Is Sleep a Vicious Habit?" (Harper's). 

(3) Titles containing an active verb suggest a narrative, and are 
therefore more likely to encourage a reader than are mere static 
words. Note the hint of action or story in each of the following titles: 
"Emerging from One Other Depression" (Catholic World), "My 
Brother Commits Suicide" (New Republic), "Building a Futile 
Navy" (Atlantic), "Justice Comes too Late" (This Week), and 
"America Discovers Itself" (Vogue). 

(4) Of late years, what we may call and-titles have been popu- 
lar. They are titles containing two words or phrases joined by and. 
They have no special virtue unless the two members so joined are 
alliterative, antithetical, paradoxical, or incongruous. Examples fol- 
low: "Sound and Sense" (Vogue), "America and the Russian Mar- 
ket" ( Current History ) , "Juries and Justice" ( Atlantic ) , "Logic and 
the Ladies" (Harpers), "The Cat and the Pain Killer" ( Wall Street 
Journal), and "Four Boys and a Piano" (Life). 

( 5 ) The last sort of title we shall mention is that which contains 
a prepositional phrase. For some reason, such phrases run trippingly 
on the tongue and stick in the memory. Examples are these: "From 
Chicago to the Sea" (Atlantic), "Planks without Platforms" (Atlan- 
tic), "Miracles of Healing" (Ladies Home Journal), "Elected for 
Oblivion" (Life), "Czar of Song" (New Yorker), "Man with a Mis- 
sion" (Time), and "Australia on the March" (Fortune). 

4. THE INTRODUCTION. Though short expositions seldom require 
formal introductions, long expositions would often lack clarity with- 
out some preliminary explanations. The following scheme is custom- 

Creative Writing 

arily used in the introductions to formal debates and arguments. It is 
presented here as a suggestion of what may be done, rather than as 
a rule stating what must be done. The writer of an argument will 
probably follow the scheme rather closely; the writer of an informal 
exposition will use only such parts of it as seem to him suitable to the 
occasion. The latter writer, furthermore, may not use the parts in 
the order here given, and may place before any of them ( at the very 
beginning of the exposition) some device for catching the reader's 

I. The immediate reason for the present discussion. 
II. The origin and history of the question. 

III. The definition of terms. 

IV. The exclusion of 

A. Irrelevant matter. 

B. Waived matter. 

C. Admitted matter. 

V. The statement of the main contentions made by opponents. 
VI. The statement of the actual issues to be discussed. 
5. THE ARRANGEMENT OF IDEAS. The arrangement of ideas in an 
exposition practically always follows one of the methods named be- 
low. Since these methods are discussed in most freshman textbooks 
of composition, they will be only mentioned here: 

a. The chronological order. 

b. The order of procedure from simple to complex. 

c. The order of procedure from known to unknown. 

d. The order of procedure from particular to general (the in- 

ductive order). 

e. The order of procedure from general to particular (the 

deductive order). 

f. The order of climax. 

g. The order of alternation when two things are being com- 


h. The order of simple enumeration. 

The order to be adopted is often determined by the method and 
the type of the exposition. But not always. For example, suppose a 
student is trying to explain to his parents what his curriculum will 
be during his four years of college. The type of exposition will be 

Writing the Exposition 53 

"Abstract Description" and the method will be "Descriptive/* But 
the student may arrange his details chronologically by telling what 
courses he will take in each year from the first to the last. He may 
arrange them by proceeding from the simple to the complex that 
is, he may begin by explaining that his courses will all be either 
majors or minors, and then go on to explain more and more com- 
plicated details about these majors and minors. He may proceed 
from the known to the unknown by saying something like this: "As 
you know, I am specializing in Biology. You know, too, that Biology 
is based on Physics, Chemistry, and Geology. Consequently, I must 
take courses in those subjects. In addition, I must take French and 
German to help me read what foreign biologists have done. And 
finally, the administration requires me to take certain other subjects 
which I shall now tell you about" and so on. He may proceed from 
the particular to the general by listing his courses, and then adding, 
"You see, I am specializing in science, and in Biology most of all." 
He may proceed from the general to the particular by saying the 
same thing, and then proceeding to list his courses. He may proceed 
in the order of climax by listing his courses in the order of their im- 
portance in relation to Biology. And he may content himself with a 
simple enumeration of the courses he will take in his four years at 

The writer should decide on some arrangement he will give to 
his ideas, and then stick to that arrangement. Making this decision 
requires initiative and originality on his part; it does not come natu- 
rally as a result of the subject. 

6. DIVISION. Division in exposition is of two types logical and 
mechanical. Good exposition consists of a few major thought-groups, 
under each of which are collected subordinate thoughts. These 
groups are distinct from one another, and yet are linked together by 
means of transitional devices and logical relation. If they are too few 
in number ( say two or three to every five thousand words ) , they re- 
quire too long-continued concentration by the reader, and therefore 
weary him. If they are too many (say ten or twelve to every five 
thousand words), they confuse him with their diversity and make 
him lose sight of the main objective of the exposition. Of these two 
sins of division, however, the latter is more forgivable. Indeed, it is 

854 Creative Writing 

a sin only in informal exposition where the writer attempts to secure 
an easy and flowing continuity. In more formal exposition, where 
ideas in a series may be plainly numbered or lettered (as in this 
book) the use of many thought-groups is quite permissible. The 
mechanical numbering or lettering makes for clarity even though it 
does detract from beauty of style. 

This numbering or lettering of the different parts of an exposition 
is the other means of division mentioned above. If done with the 
slightest comprehension of the thought-groupings, mechanical divi- 
sion of this sort makes the exposition easy to 'follow and to un- 
derstand. It appears commonly and elaborately in formal technical 
discussions, and it appears on a limited scale even in informal exposi- 
tions. In the latter type of writing divisions are customarily indicated 
by Roman numerals. These have a double effect: They indicate a 
division of thought, and at the same time they break up the solid 
printed page in such a way as to rest the reader's eye and promise 
him relief from concentration too prolonged. The writer of exposi- 
tion should nearly always avail himself of these devices for helping 
and encouraging the reader. They are tricks, but they are useful and 

7. PERSUASION. Writers seldom address sympathetic and enthu- 
siastic readers. Usually they must overcome a dead inertia, and 
sometimes they must refute directly hostile opinions. For the accom- 
plishment of either of these purposes clear logic is not always suf- 
ficient. It must be supplemented by persuasion. 

Conviction involves intellectual approbation; persuasion involves 
emotional approbation. Most people will resist the former unless 
conquered by the latter, and many people do not require the former 
if they have been conquered by the latter. No writer can afford, 
therefore, to neglect the art of persuasion. It usually requires of him 
a double ability: to make the reader like him, and to make the reader 
like his arguments. 

a. Being likable is an art that cannot be taught in textbooks; but 
perhaps a writer can be taught to make the best use of whatever 
likable traits he happens to possess. A few hints, stated as brief com- 
mandments, follow: 

Writing the Exposition $55 

( 1 ) Work toward persuasion in the first part of your exposition, 
and toward conviction in the latter part. 

( 2 ) Keep an air of sincerity and frankness throughout; but unless 
the occasion or the subject is unusually grave or sad, confine your 
most solemn earnestness to the latter part of the exposition. 

(3) In the average exposition written for general reading, begin 
with some bit of humor, wit, whimsicality, or cleverness. Such a 
beginning need not, and usually should not, be a funny story. It may 
be only an idea expressed playfully, an amusing remark incident 
to the occasion, a witty paradox, or some other such bid for the 
reader's good humor. People are more tolerant when they are in a 
good humor than when they are solemn. 

(4) Make some not-too-serious comment on your own lack of 
qualifications to write about the subject you are explaining. The 
average reader does not like for the average writer to take himself 
too seriously. 

( 5 ) Flatter the reader by praising some custom, habit of thought, 
point of view, or opinion which you know he holds. Appeal to his 
sense of local or racial pride. Pay tribute to his ancestors, to his in- 
dividual enterprise, to his known efficiency and goodness of heart. 

(6) Concede many virtues to those who believe differently from 
you, and even explain those virtues at some length if you intend to 
be particularly aggressive later on. 

(7) Unless you know your readers will be unintelligent, never, 
never resort to vituperation, passion, and name-calling. Do not forget 
to be a gentleman. Nothing is quite so persuasive as a self-possessed, 
well-mannered gentleman. Remember Chesterfield's epigram: "A 
man's own good breeding is his best security against other people's 
ill manners." 

(8) Do not write down to the reader. Act as if you were address- 
ing a person of equal or superior intelligence. When technical details 
that the reader could not possibly know much about are to be ex- 
plained, be modest and casual rather than ostentatious. Act as if you 
thought that the reader might be as well off, after all, without know- 
ing such details. 

b. The writer's next problem is to make the reader like the in- 

Creative Writing 

formation given and the opinions expressed in the exposition. Here 
are a few suggestions worth considering: 

( 1 ) Relate your information and opinions to the higher impulses 
and emotions of the reader. Nearly all people, though not very in- 
telligent, are fundamentally good and well meaning. If you can show 
how your ideas may satisfy their higher impulses, or if you can use 
your ideas to stir their higher emotions, you can persuade your read- 
ers to believe almost anything. 

( 2 ) Try to show how your reader's acceptance of your ideas will 
help him as an individual physically, intellectually, or materially 
or how it will help his children, his community, or his nation. 

(3) As much as possible refer to authorities whom you know 
your reader views favorably. And when you must use authorities of 
whom you know the reader is suspicious, admit that he has some 
right to his suspicions, but that, for this once at least, you can show 
that the authorities used are reliable. If you must refute a well-liked 
authority, appear to do so with regret, and at the same time pay 
tribute to the authority in a way that will partly compensate for 
your showing that he has been wrong. 

(4) Use a simple, direct style; have a clear and easily followed 
organization in the exposition; refer to familiar instances that "come 
home to men's bosoms" rather than to remote or specialized in- 

(5) Finally, if you know your readers are hostile, try to appeal 
to their sense of fairness. Try to show them that even people in the 
wrong (like you) deserve a hearing from fair-minded readers. But 
do not try to do so by pleading the justice of your cause. Instead, 
point out that you are depending on the reader's customary broad- 
mindedness, and are venturing to impose on his well-known charity 
and tolerance. It is not sufficient that the reader believe you have a 
right to be heard; he must be made to consider himself magnani- 
mous for listening to you. 

8. SOME STRATAGEMS. In these days when there is such a tremen- 
dous amount of competition for both reader attention and editorial 
attention, a writer must sometimes resort to stratagems to get him- 
self read. This is not as it should be but it is a fact. Few things in 

Writing the Exposition 857 

the world are as they should be. In the following paragraphs certain 
means of attracting attention are discussed, even though they may 
be superfluous to the actual writing of good exposition. 

a. As was said previously, the title may attract attention because 
it suggests information that certain people, or all people, are auto- 
matically interested in. Thus the title (by Isabel Mann) "The First 
Recorded Production of a Shakespearean Play in Stratford-upon- 
Avon" automatically selects and attracts certain readers. On the 
other hand, there are expositions that the writer would like for every- 
one to read, that are, indeed, written to attract as many readers as 
possible. Such expositions must have titles that tempt all readers. 
To fabricate these titles the writer must resort to all the stratagems 
he knows for constructing attractive titles. Some of these stratagems 
have been mentioned in Section 3 of this chapter. 

b. The beginning, the first sentence or two, must be attractive. 
It may be phrased so as to shock, amuse, or perplex the reader. It 
may appeal to his self-interest, contradict a statement usually ac- 
cepted as true, state a bold generalization or paradox, or make some 
other sort of startling observation. Lamb begins an essay, "I have no 
ear." A student begins an essay, "Life is never what it seems to be. 
It is usually worse." Laura Spencer Portor begins an essay, "I have 
a definite, decided taste in taxi drivers/' Will Durant begins an essay 
on Schopenhauer's philosophy, "Consider, first, the absurdity of the 
desire for material goods." John Fischer begins an article in Harpers, 
"Fifteen years ago I knew a nice revolutionist named Peter." Fred 
Schwed, Jr., begins an essay in the same magazine, "I was born, so 
far as this chronicle is concerned, at a large and famous boys' prep 
school at the age of sixteen." It should be added that Mr. Schwed 
then appends a footnote, saying that someone has just told him that 
Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah had everyone born at the age of 
seventeen; Mr. Schwed comments sadly: "In this business it is harder 
to be original than you might think." All these beginnings are meant 
to startle the reader a bit, to catch his attention, and to tempt him 
to go on reading. A somewhat modern variation, noted in about one- 
third of the popular articles today, is to quote somebody directly or 
indirectly in the first one or two sentences. Quotation implies char- 

%58 Creative Writing 

acter and drama, and ( as was pointed out in the first chapter of this 
book) is always likely to seem more interesting than mere straight 
writing by the author. Even if the quotation, and the character who 
allegedly said it in the first place, must be made up out of whole 
cloth, quotation is an excellent stratagem for creating a good begin- 

Sometimes very serious and important articles on serious and im- 
portant topics at serious and important occasions, or by serious and 
important people, do not need beginnings of the kind just discussed. 
They need only to present in a clear way some serious and impor- 
tant problem to be solved. Huxley begins an essay, "What is edu- 
cation? Above all things, what is our ideal of a thoroughly liberal 
education?" Woodrow Wilson begins an essay, "What is liberty?" Wil- 
liam James begins an essay, "Of what use is college training?" Alfred 
Russel Wallace begins an essay, "The majority of persons, if asked 
what were the uses of dust, would reply that they did not know it 
had any." All these beginnings set a problem before the reader in 
such a way that he is tempted to read further to find out the solution 
of the problem. 

A third kind of beginning is that which states the theme or princi- 
pal idea of the exposition. Professor Alexander Meiklejohn begins 
an essay, "One of the greatest dangers of the American college is 
that it will be drawn into the common life, that it will conform to 
that life, will take the common standards as its own." Benedetto 
Croce begins an essay, "I will say at once, in the simplest manner, 
that art is vision or intuition'' Henri Bergson begins a chapter, "Com- 
edy begins with what might be called a growing callousness to social 
life.'' Beginnings such as these are clear (a recommendation of no 
mean worth ) ; they give the reader a vigorous intellectual jolt; they 
put him at once on his intellectual mettle; they make him feel that 
he is plunging directly into the heart of the subject; they give him 
confidence that this writer really has something to say. 

Finally, the beginning sentences may outline the ideas to be dis- 
cussed in the exposition. Lamb begins an essay, "The human species 
... is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow, and 
the men who lend." Arthur Twining Hadley begins an essay, "The 

Writing the Exposition 

three faults most commonly charged against our national character 
today are materialism, lawlessness, and unwarranted self-assertion/' 
Louis Untermeyer begins an essay, "The poetry produced in America 
in the last decade has been distinguished by three outstanding fea- 
tures. These three dominating qualities are ... its vigor, its vivid- 
ness, and its variety/' Beginnings of this kind are closely related to 
those which state the theme, and possess the same kinds of advan- 
tages in attracting the reader's attention. 

c. Writing in The Review of English Studies (XVI: 116-121; 
1940), the late R. B. McKerrow, editor, advised writers of research 
papers to give their articles a "boost" This boost, which should come 
early in the paper, should magnify or explain the tremendous im- 
portance of the discoveries or arguments revealed in the paper, tell 
what a revolution they will cause in thinking, tell how new and 
superior they are, and never reveal the slightest doubt that the 
writer considers that all the work he has spent on his research could 
not possibly have been spent to better advantage. In a way, Mr. 
McKerrow is being facetious. But he adds seriously, "In the first 
place, unless you yourself believe in what you are doing, you will 
certainly not do good work, and secondly, if your reader suspects 
for a moment that you do not set the very highest value on your 
work yourself, he will set no value on it at all." 

d. Mr. McKerrow adds that a paper should end with a "crow* 
that is, a summary or restatement of the main point of the paper, 
and a reassertion of the writer's conviction that he has given "com- 
plete and unshakeable" proof to back up his very important facts or 

e. Finally, the writer of exposition (even more than any other 
kind of writer) should learn to apply the "Fundamental Principles" 
outlined in the first chapter of this book. 


1. The Subject. 

Make a list of the personal problems (both specific and general) 
which have troubled you most during the last year. By making use 
of the "sources of exposition" mentioned in Chapter VIII above, de- 

Creative Writing 

velop at least one of these problems into an exposition of considerable 
length. Hand your list in to the instructor. When he has examined all 
lists, let him classify the problems of the class members, and tell what 
kinds of problems are of most general interest. 

2. Aims. 

Turn back to the topics given under the exercises for "Definition" 
(Section 1, Division III, in Chapter IX) and try to show how three 
different purposes could lead to the development of three altogether 
different expositions from each topic. 

Show how your method of developing each topic would be changed 
if you were writing to be read by (a) a radical labor agitator; (b) a 
conservative Vermont farmer; (c) a liberal-minded, thoughtful col- 
lege professor. 

Tell how your methods of exposition would differ if you developed 
each topic in (a) a paragraph, (b) two pages, and (c) ten pages. 

3. The Title. 

Try to find attractive titles for subjects mentioned in the exercises 
for the preceding chapter. Consider as many of the subjects as your 
instructor thinks necessary. 

4. The Introduction. 

Outline formal introductions for six of the expositions mentioned at 
the end of the exercises for Chapter XI. 

5. The Arrangement of Ideas. 

Set down more or less at random all the items of information you 
have about one of the following subjects: 

Student self-government on your campus. 

Student organizations on your campus. 

The administration of your college. 

Show how these items could be successively arranged in all orders 
(except the order of alternation) mentioned in Section 5 above. 

6. Division. 

Refer again to the topics mentioned in the exercises for "Defini- 
tion" in a preceding chapter. Show how long, informal expositions 
(5000 words) on five of these topics might be divided. 

7. Persuasion. 

Refer again to the topics just mentioned. Suppose your exposition 
on each of the topics is addressed to readers whose ways of thought 
are completely hostile to the subject and what you believe about it. 

Writing the Exposition 61 

Outline methods of persuasion you would use in writing each exposi- 
tion. Write a complete persuasive exposition on one of the topics. 

What methods of persuasion would you use in the following exposi- 

A plea for governmental control of railroads before a group of 
railroad owners; a group of railroad employees; a group of Congress- 
men; a group of average citizens. 

A plea for reforestation before a group of farmers; a group of city- 
dwellers; a group of sportsmen; a group of lumbermen. 

A plea before Southerners for social equality for the Negro. 

A plea for liberal education as opposed to professional education 
before a group of poor parents; before a group of engineering 
students; before a group of business men being asked to contribute 
sums to a liberal college; before a group of working men being asked 
to vote funds for a liberal college. 

8. Some Stratagems. 

Bring to class several types of magazines (scholarly, scientific, 
popular of various kinds) and examine the articles in them to dis- 
cover the different stratagems the authors have used (or could have 
used) to make their work more tempting to the reader. 


The Writing of Fiction 


The Nature of Fiction 

I. Imagination and Fiction 

1. WHAT is FICTION? Essentially, fiction is narrative and all 
narrative tells about changes taking place in time. Fiction is not 
necessarily untrue; historical fiction may be quite true, perhaps 
more fully true than history itself. 

A second characteristic of fiction is that its chief concern is not 
merely with to hat happens, but with what happens to somebody. It 
is narrative that centers around a personality. 

Finally, most good fiction is descriptive. Poor writers believe that 
merely telling a story, without trying to make the reader see the 
action, constitutes good fiction. Pick up any of the magazines of 
confession, and notice what an overwhelming percentage of each of 
its stories consists of the simple recounting of incidents without a 
particle of imagination to enliven the account. Here is an example: 

My friend went inside to phone a few more men in his effort to get 
an escort for me, and I waited outside with his "date." When he came out, 
I knew that he had failed. I figured there was no use in my spoiling his 
time for the evening; so I told the two to go ahead without me. I said 
that I wasn't feeling very well, and that I thought I would go home and 
get some rest. He was very gallant and polite, but finally I persuaded him 
to take me to my rooming house, where he left me with a promise to call 
the next night. 

Compare this bare account of happenings with a truly imaginative 
bit of writing from Stevenson: 

All three peered covertly at the gamester. He did not seem to be en- 
joying his luck. His mouth was a little to a side; one nostril nearly shut, 
and the other much inflated. The black dog was on his back, as people 
say, in terrifying nursery metaphor; and he breathed hard under the 
gruesome burden. 


%66 Creative Writing 

"He looks as if he could knife him," whispered Tabary, with round eyes. 

The monk shuddered, and turned his face and spread his open hands 
to the red embers. It was the cold that thus affected Dom Nicholas, and 
not any excess of moral sensibility. 

"Come now," said Villon "about this ballade. How does it run so 
far?" And beating time with his hand, he read it aloud to Tabary. 1 

The first of these passages merely tells what happened, whereas the 
second makes us see what happened. The first creates no images; the 
second is filled with images is literally imaginative. 

Fiction, then, is of two sorts: that which may be called non- 
imaginative, and that which should be called imaginative. In this 
book we shall disregard the first sort completely, and shall concern 
ourselves with the second alone. For our purposes, fiction shall be 
imaginative narrative. 

2. IMAGINATIVE NARRATIVE. Short stories, novels, and dramas are 
all alike in being scenic; that is, each of them is made up of a series 
of scenes imaginatively presented with short passages of necessary 
exposition sandwiched here and there between scenes. When the 
fiction writer has learned this elementary law, and has learned how 
to abide by it in his own work, half his task toward writing good 
fiction is done. 

An examination of any well-written piece of fiction will reveal 
that it is made up of scenes sometimes one or two, as in some of 
Poe's stories; sometimes several, as in dramas; and sometimes a 
great many, as in novels and most short stories. 

The intervals between scenes are passed over, as was suggested 
above, with the least possible ado sometimes with the mere skip- 
ping of a line, sometimes with a row of asterisks, sometimes with a 
new chapter heading, sometimes with a few transitional phrases 
(such as, "On the following day . . ."; "It was three months later 
that . . ."; "He met her on the street a week later . . ."; and so on), 
and sometimes with a brief expository passage conveying necessary 

3. DRAMA. In this book we shall not consider drama separately 
from other fiction. Drama differs from other kinds of fiction only in 

1 From "A Lodging for the Night," in New Arabian Nights. Used by permis- 
sion of Charles Scribner's Sons. 

The Nature of Fiction 867 

the limitations imposed by the physical restrictions of the stage and 
the theater. The principal limitations are these: 

a. Intervals between scenes are indicated in the program in the 
hands of the audience. 

b. Necessary exposition must appear either in the program or in 
the dialogue of the actors on the stage. 

c. The number of scenes must be limited so that scene-shifting 
will not be too frequent or too costly, and so that the total number 
of scenes will not hold audiences in their seats for more than two or 
three hours. 

d. The nature of the scenes is determined by the physical restric- 
tions of the stage; for example, an airplane battle could not be pre- 
sented on the stage, nor could psychological changes which do not 
affect the actions of a character, nor could stories which hinge on 
meaningful looks passed between characters, nor could very short 
scenes which would not be worth the trouble of scene-shifting, nor 
could stories in which animals or very small children act or think, 
and so on. 

Reason and experience assist a writer in determining whether a 
contemplated story may be good dramatic material; but once a 
writer satisfies the requirements of dramatic presentation, the meth- 
ods of play-writing are the same as those of story-writing or novel- 
writing. All consist of a series of scenes imaginatively presented. 

II. Truth in Fiction 

1. HISTORICAL TRUTH AND POETIC TRUTH. It is not uncommon for 
a critic to tell some young writer that a story written by the latter 
is improbable only to be answered by the triumphant author, "But 
it really happened!" The fact that something really happened does 
not make it credible, probable, or suitable for good fiction. Indeed, 
just the opposite is almost always true: incidents or stories from 
real life usually make the poorest sort of art. The fact that a thing 
has really happened is almost proof positive that no writer should 
attempt to record it as fiction. 

Anything is possible; accidents do happen; rich uncles do die and 

268 Creative Writing 

leave a million; lightning does strike villains meditating the ruin of 
worthy folk. But as Aristotle avers, the business of the writer is not 
to record the merely possible but, rather, to record the probable. 
Historic truth is one thing; poetic truth another. Scott's famous ex- 
ample of killing off six people ( one of them by lightning ) in a final 
chapter so that the hero may live happily ever afterward is not an 
example to be emulated. It might have happened, but it probably 
would not. 

Narrative having historical truth tells what actually did happen; 
narrative having poetic truth tells what would probably have hap- 
pened under a given set of circumstances. It is the latter sort of 
narrative that is the sole concern of the fiction writer (unless he 
happens to be a writer of historical fiction). Fiction writing is like 
playing a game of cards. The writer decides whether he is going to 
play bridge, poker, whist, hearts, or anything else; he decides the 
conditions of play. He is not compelled to play any one of the games 
instead of some other. But once he has decided on the conditions, 
he cannot change the rules in the middle of the game. In the middle 
of a bridge game he cannot suddenly decide that deuces outweigh 
aces, or that clubs are worth more than spades. He must play out 
the game according to the conditions selected. 

Likewise, if a fiction writer decides that his story is to be about 
colonial America, he must not bring in a helicopter to help his hero 
rescue the fair damsel from the redskins. To do so would make the 
writer guilty of what William Archer calls improbability on the 
external plane. If the hero succeeds in rescuing the damsel by some 
more plausible device than a helicopter in colonial America, and if 
he is fleeing with her along a mountain trail, with the redskins in 
close pursuit, and if an avalanche suddenly descends and erases the 
redskins, the writer is guilty of creating an improbable event. It is 
not impossible that such a timely landslide would occur, but it is 
excessively improbable. Finally, if the bloodthirsty redskins should 
actually capture the hero and heroine, tie them to the stake for 
burning, and then suddenly decide to release them after all, and let 
them go free with the tribe's gifts and blessing, the writer portray- 
ing such a happy conversion is guilty of psychological improbability. 

The Nature of Fiction 869 

It is possible that Indian character would change in such a manner, 
but it is not probable. 

These three types of improbability are the ones the fiction writer 
must ever guard against. 

2. IMPROBABILITY IN FICTION. In spite of what has just been said, 
improbability may, under certain circumstances, have a place in 

a. It is an old aphorism that readers will strain at a gnat of im- 
probability in the course of a story, but swallow a camel at the very 
beginning. In other words, the reader will go along with the writer, 
play almost any kind of game that the writer wishes under what- 
ever rules or conditions the writer specifies; but once the game is 
started, the reader expects it to be played according to the an- 
nounced rules and conditions. Thus, the reader might balk at having 
a story end with a couple unexpectedly inheriting a fortune; but he 
would readily accept a story that began with a couple just having 
inherited a fortune. The reader might balk at a story that ended 
with an unannounced call from a radio station telling a woman she 
had just been selected by lot to make an all-expenses-paid trip to 
Paris; but the reader would accept such a condition readily enough 
as the preliminary condition of a story. Indeed, an improbable situa- 
tion existing at the beginning of a story furnishes one of the best of 
all starting points for a story. 

b. Improbability is acceptable in a story when the story is im- 
possible. For example, fantasies such as Andersen's fairy tales, 
Alice in Wonderland, the Arabian Nights, and so on, which are 
fundamentally impossible, may be improbable without shocking 
the reader. That is, miracles may happen in them, sudden rescues 
may come, animals may learn to speak, storm and lightning may 
destroy the old witch, or anything else not specifically bargained for 
at the beginning may occur. 

c. Improbability is acceptable when the main charm of the story 
lies in its improbabilities. Many of the comedies and farces one sees 
on stage or screen contain this type of improbability. There are hair- 
breadth escapes, incredible encounters, sensational accidents, as- 
tonishing strokes of luck, and vast misunderstandings. For example, 

870 Creative Writing 

the whole story of W. S. Gilbert's The Pirates of Penzance turns on 
the fact that someone was told to apprentice a boy to a "pilot" and 
was thought to say "pirate" instead. The situation is utterly im- 
probable, yet that is its chief charm. 

3. CHANCE AND COINCIDENCE. Technically, chance may be defined 
as an unexpected and simultaneous happening of two related events; 
and coincidence may be defined in the same way except that three 
or more events are involved. Actually, however, the distinction is 
of hardly more than academic interest. It is true that chance and 
coincidence happen in real life. Many people say, therefore, that 
chance and coincidence are justifiable in fiction. But fiction, it must 
be remembered, is not a picture of what could happen in life, but 
of what would probably happen under a given set of conditions. 
Chance plays a part in all lives; but few people regulate their lives 
according to chance. Most people make plans according to what 
will probably happen. Nevertheless, as with improbability ( of which 
chance and coincidence are only one aspect), chance and coin- 
cidence may sometimes have a place in fiction. 

a. Long ago Aristotle mentioned as permissible in tragedy that 
kind of chance that seems to imply design. And he told the story of 
the murderer who, happening to lean against the statue of the man 
he had murdered, was himself killed by the statue unexpectedly 
tumbling down and crushing him. The accident seems to imply 
design; and Aristotle doubtless approved it because of the old Greek 
belief in destiny or fate existing superior to the gods themselves. 

A similarly intense belief in destiny forms the basis of that neat, 
almost tricky, unity of O. Henry's stories. The O. Henry ending is 
perfectly satisfying, not because it is a surprise, but because ( when 
we take time to reflect) it is the only ending which, under the cir- 
cumstances, could possibly have happened. His "Double-Dyed De- 
ceiver" is of exactly the pattern of Aristotle's illustration mentioned 
above. A young man kills another young man; the murderer becomes 
a refugee from justice; through one chance after another he finally 
becomes the foster son of the parents of the young man he had slain. 
Here is destiny working itself out. The ending is a surprise; but 
under the circumstances ( if we only believe in the inevitable right- 
ness of things) it is the one ending possible. 

The Nature of Fiction 

The same thing is true of another story of O. Henry's, "Roads of 
Destiny." A weak young man leaving home comes to a branching 
of the road. He takes one branch, has certain adventures, and comes 
by his death in a certain way. Then the story is recommenced: he 
takes the other branch, has certain other adventures, and comes by 
his death in the same way. And then the story is recommenced: he 
goes back home, has certain adventures, and comes by his death 
in the same way. The idea behind the story is that a man of a certain 
character will come eventually to an inevitable end, no matter what 
he does in the meantime that a man's destiny lies within himself. 
This is an advancement over the old Greek idea of an external des- 
tiny, but the effect in fiction is the same. 

b. Destiny and chance are close kin. Perhaps they are the same 
thing. In any event, a story may justifiably use chance or coincidence 
when the author wishes to show that chance ( or destiny ) governs 
men's lives. Many of Thomas Hardy's novels have coincidence piled 
on coincidence because the author wishes to show that mankind is 
the plaything of the Immanent Will, and is not the master of his fate. 
In a similar way, Joseph Conrad writes an entire novel, Chance, to 
show that man's fate is determined by chance alone, not by anything 
sane or rational in the universe or in his own nature. 

c. Finally, chance is justifiable in fiction under certain technical 
circumstances. When chance complicates the difficulties of the 
author and of his characters instead of solving them, chance is for- 
givable in a story. If, for example, a character has made careful 
plans to escape from a prison-camp through a tunnel he has dug 
under the fence, and if a small dog chasing a rat uncovers the tun- 
nel and reveals it to the guards, the reader will accept the chance; 
it makes matters more difficult for the author and for his character. 
But if, just as the prisoner is about to escape and a guard is coming 
to investigate a suspicious noise, the dog runs up and bites the 
guard's leg, and distracts his attention while the hero escapes, the 
reader will balk; the chance has made matters easier for the writer 
and for his character. 

4. SURPRISE. Despite popular opinion to the contrary, outright 
surprise in fiction is seldom used nowadays by great writers. A plot 
built up with any reasonable regard to probability, to natural law, 

Creative Writing 

to consistency of character, to philosophic necessity, to cause and 
effect, can usually surprise only in its externals, not in the plot itself. 
Real surprise is prima facie evidence of poor structure. For this 
reason, the deus ex machina the unforeseen and accidental force 
appearing at the critical moment to decide the issue of the action 
the strawberry mark on the left shoulder the dying of a rich uncle 
the appearance of the hero just in the nick of time to save the 
heroine from the clutches of the villain this is bad art. 

Even worse (and dreadfully amateurish) is the story that leads 
the reader to believe through several pages 'that a certain thing is 
happening, and then brings the reader up abruptly at the end with 
the revelation that something altogether different has been happen- 
ing. For example, a freshman wrote that a burly, ill-dressed man 
approached the young thing as she stood trembling in a corner; her 
hair was falling in her eyes, she was quaking with terror; her breath 
came in great gasps; she saw a rope in the man's hands; she could 
see the hard look in his eyes; yet she could not move or cry out. 
The man reached out for her, seized the hair at the back of her 
head, tied the rope fast about her neck and led her over to a 
stall where he bridled and saddled her! Once in a lifetime, perhaps, 
one may write such a story, but no more than that. It is deliberate 
deception, outright lying. It can hardly be forgiven. 

Any surprise in a story must be a surprise in method. "Give the 
reader the ending he expects in a way that he doesn't expect/' It is 
ancient advice, but is good. Perhaps it would be still better if it 
were written: Never give a reader an ending that he has had no 
reason to expect, but always bring about the ending in an original 
and unexpected way. Actually, the original and unexpected ending 
may sometimes border on chance or coincidence. But the chance 
or coincidence is not vital in the story itself; it involves only a method 
of ending, not the real ending. For example, the ending of Hamlet 
is destined to be tragic from the beginning; it is impossible that it 
could have avoided being tragic for all the figures most concerned. 
But the actual methods by which their deaths are brought about at 
the end involve accidentally exchanged swords and a poisoned cup 
(accidentally?) used by the Queen. Only the method here is origi- 

The Nature of Fiction 

nal and unexpected. Tragedy would have arrived somehow, in any 
event. What would have been inexcusable would have been a happy 
ending to the play with all the villains deciding to reform, Hamlet 
forgiving everyone, Ophelia proved to have been not drowned after 
all, her and Hamlet marrying, and everybody living happily ever 
afterward. Shakespeare does have certain plays ending in such a 
way, it is true; but nobody thinks they are the greater for such end- 
ings. These particular plays are great in spite of their plots, not be- 
cause of them. 

Stevenson says that if a story is going to end tragically, it ought to 
begin ending tragically with its very first sentence. At any rate, we 
do not want characters to undergo sudden conversions; we do not 
want characters to act "out of character"; we do not want to be 
prepared through four-fifths of a story for one kind of ending, and 
then get the opposite kind; we do not want the laws of nature and 
of probability suspended. If our hero is to rescue the heroine, he 
must do it in an original and unexpected way; if our hero is to be 
elected to Congress, he must get himself elected in some original 
and unexpected way; if our hero is to marry the heiress, he must 
win her hand in some original and unexpected way. 

In conclusion, two special "don't's" must be expressed: 

Don't have a character escape from his difficulties by waking up 
and finding that it has all been a dream. 

Don't kill off a character at the end just because the story has to 
be finished somehow. Whenever you feel inclined to kill off a char- 
acter, be suspicious of yourself. Don't kill him unless there are 
excellent reasons for doing so besides the necessity of bringing the 
story to an end. 


1. What Is Fiction? 

Take a few sentences or a paragraph from some history or historical 
article, and convert it into imaginative writing. (For your present 
purposes, historical accuracy is unnecessary.) 

Creative Writing 

2. Imaginative Narrative. 

Into what scenes would you crystallize the actions outlined in the 
three following paragraphs? 

A barber longs for the romance of faraway places and high ad- 
venture; he joins the Marine Corps; and then he finds himself 
stationed permanently at a military post in Massachusetts as the 
company barber. 

An unsuccessful poet commits suicide because of his failure to 
find a publisher for his work. As a result of his suicide, public in- 
terest is aroused; and a book of the suicide's poetry is published 
and is successful. 

A young wife gradually loses faith in her husband's omniscience, 
but finds that she loves him just as well after she has lost her faith 
in him as she did before. 

3. Drama. 

Could any of the stories you have just worked with be presented 

Read a few stories in current magazines or in one of the annual 
collections of the year's best short stories or in the works of one of 
the older writers and try to convert one or two of the stories into 
short dramas. Perhaps the campus dramatic organization will be 
interested in presenting your play. 

1. Historical Truth and Poetic Truth. 

Which of the following situations are impossible? Which are merely 
improbable? Which of the three types of improbability is involved? 

A band of gorillas attacks a hunter in the Amazon jungle. 

A villainous agent of some foreign government is preparing to 
murder the hero on a ship in mid- Atlantic; but a storm washes him 

The same villainous agent talks with his intended victim, and 
decides to leave the service of the foreign country and become an 
American citizen. 

A freshman in his first term is elected president of your col- 
lege's student association. 

The sixty-year-old Professor of Bible Studies announces that he 
has become an atheist. 

A young woman goes backstage to meet a world-famous pianist; 
they fall in love immediately and elope that night. 

A literary critic who has been asked to speak at a memorial 

The Nature of Fiction 275 

service honoring a just-dead novelist, makes a speech in which he 
declares that the novelist was a very bad writer. 

A gang of criminals kidnaps a little girl; but her sweet nature 
and religious admonitions persuade the criminals to return her to 
her home, submit to arrest, and join the church. 

A cat learns to talk, and makes some indiscreet revelations about 
what he has seen of the morals and manners of certain human 

A beggar in a city at night fears that he will freeze to death be- 
fore morning; but he finds a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk and 
rents a room for the night. 

A Negro ardently supports the theory of "white supremacy." 

Every time a man has a difficult problem to solve, the ghost of 
his grandfather appears and advises him. 

A seventeen-year-old girl is in love with a seventy-year-old man. 

A man has a pet grasshopper which flies to him whenever he 
goes to the door and whistles. 

A man invests money in a Florida orange orchard; but a severe 
freeze in April kills all his trees. 

2. Improbability in Fiction. 

In your opinion, which of the improbabilities and impossibilities 
mentioned in the preceding exercise might be used in a good story? 
Why, and under what conditions? 

3. Chance and Coincidence. 

Make a list of all the coincidences that have happened to you or 
to acquaintances of yours. Which of these might seem to imply de- 
sign? Which might be used to show that chance (or destiny) deter- 
mines men's lives? Which made your life, or the life of your ac- 
quaintances, more difficult or complicated? If you cannot recall any 
original coincidences, use the following: 

A medical student finds that he is dissecting the body of a man 
whom he once knew. 

A man misses a train, which is wrecked, with many casualties, a 
few hours later. 

A man's shoelaces become untied on the street; he stoops to tie 
them, and finds an expensive diamond ring lodged in a sidewalk 
crack right at his toe. 

A man in a sawmill is called to the telephone; just as he steps 
out, a large band saw breaks and swishes through the air where the 
man had been standing an instant before. 

Creative Writing 

The same man has just stepped over to the side to get a drink of 
water when the saw breaks. 

A* Surprise. 

Think up surprising, yet probable, endings for stories about the 

A man who, the doctors say, can live only two weeks. 

A public official who is dishonest. 

A pair of lovers who are angry with each other. 

An escaped convict. 

A student competing for a literary prize. - 

A woman on trial for shooting and wounding her husband. 

A pair of lovers whose different religions seem to prevent their 

An inquisitive person who reads, in the "personal" column of the 
paper, about arrangements for a meeting between a man and a 
woman, and who goes to their place of meeting. 


Types of Fiction 

Critics have classified fiction into many types and according to many 
bases of classification. But for the practical purposes of the creative 
writer it may be sufficient for us to classify fiction into two groups 
the story and the novel. A story is short (from 500 words up to 
20,000 words); a novel is long (from 60,000 words up to 300,000 
words or more ) . For works of intermediate length ( 30,000 words to 
50,000 words ) the term novella is frequently used; but we can afford 
to disregard this type here, and treat the novella as only a long story 
or a short novel. Except for differences in length, there seems to be 
no valid distinction between the story and the novel. 

I. The Story 

1. BROAD TYPES. Somerset Maugham has pointed out that the 
modern short story has developed into two branches that may well 
be named after the two masters who established them Maupassant 
and Chekhov. 

a. The Maupassantian Story has a plot and often a tricky ending. 
It is the stuff out of which a newspaper story might be made an 
action that is unusual, but not surprising like a theft, a drowning, 
a desertion, a murder. Most stories of this type could be analyzed 
according to the old Aristotelian formula of "beginning, middle, and 
end." By way of illustration, Maupassant has a story about a man 
who picked a quarrel with another man and challenged him to a 
duel, who then became mortally afraid, and who finally committed 
suicide to avoid facing his enemy the next day. Then there is the 
other story by Maupassant in which a woman's adored maidservant 
turns out to be a man in disguise, a criminal wanted by the police. 
And there is the very well-known story by Maupassant in which a 


78 Creative Writing 

woman borrows an expensive necklace, loses it, spends many years 
paying for it, and then discovers at the end that the necklace she 
lost was only paste, after all. 

We read these stories for the sake of the plot, the action, the narra- 
tive element. Character, if it matters at all in them, matters only as 
something that stands for human nature in general, without indi- 
viduality. Furthermore, many of the stories could have happened 
anywhere at any time; there is little relation between background 
and action. 

The Maupassantian influence affected Kipling (who added to it 
Bret Harte's local-color contribution), and reached a certain kind 
of climax in O. Henry. The influence still persists, especially in the 
more "popular" magazines designed for readers who expect a story 
to be a story, to have action and plot. It is still a respectable, attrac- 
tive ( and sometimes lucrative ) field for the young writer. 

b. The Chekhovian Story is very different from the Maupassantian; 
Katherine Mansfield perfected the Chekhovian story in English; and 
a great many modern stories of the "quality" level belong to the 
type. These stories have little or no real plot; they may have no 
suspense; whatever action occurs in them is of no great interest in 
itself that is, it would seldom be considered worthy of space in a 
daily newspaper. 

These stories deal more with psychological states, or with psy- 
chologically peculiar or interesting characters, than with unusual 
happenings. If they do record such happenings, they focus attention 
on the effect of the happenings on the mind and personality of as 
character; the happenings are not recorded for their own sake. 

Besides presenting a psychological state, these stories may pre- 
sent merely an interesting situation. Thus, a Maupassantian story 
might begin or might end with the marriage of a seventeen-year-old 
girl to a seventy-year-old man an occurrence that might well be 
the subject of a newspaper item. But the Chekhovian story would 
merely present the situation as it exists, and reveal, probably by 
means of passing thoughts and insignificant daily happenings, the 
psychological state of the married couple. 

The Chekhovian story tells of the impulses, the inner terrors, the 

Types of Fiction 279 

unconscious motives, the perversions, the scars left by early influ- 
ences, the mind in confusion, the inwardly violent effects of certain 
minor events on sensitive personalities, the personality trying to 
understand other personalities, or to grapple with the bewildering 
problems of modern civilization. And, more often than not, all this 
is done, not by actual expository analysis, but by recording small 
gestures, looks, tones of voice, scraps of conversation, involuntary 
exclamations, tremors of emotion, fleeting images, brief sense im- 
pressions. The effort is to render a complete psychological experi- 
ence. Of course, the effort is certain to fail. To record everything 
that constitutes the psychology of any person for even an hour would 
require at least a volume. James Joyce, in Ulysses, tried to render 
a complete psychological experience of a mere twenty-four hours, 
had to write a very long book to do it, and then did not succeed in 
being absolutely complete. Thomas Wolfe tried to do it, wrote 
billions of words, and found at last that he could use only a small 
part of what he had written. This effort to be true to the complete 
consciousness has resulted in what has been called the stream-of- 
consciousness type of fiction. The type is extraordinarily important 
in modern fiction; and every modern writer who hopes to create 
anything more than potboilers ought to practice it to a certain 
extent. On the other hand, it cannot possibly tell all. Under the cir- 
cumstances, the young writer might do well to remember Schiller's 
aphorism: "The artist may be known by what he omits" and to 
reconcile himself to omitting much that passes through the con- 
sciousness, the subconsciousness, and the unconsciousness of his 

Sometimes the Chekhovian story is not content to reveal a mere 
individual situation or a psychological experience; in addition, it 
may reveal an underlying social culture that has produced the situa- 
tion or the psychological experience. In Chekhov himself, this cul- 
tural context is most commonly the Russian peasant's life, his prob- 
lems, and the influence of his environment on his personality. In 
various American writers (Marquand, Faulkner, Saroyan, for ex- 
ample) the cultural context may be the bloodless life of aristocratic 
Boston, or the decaying and decadent world of the Old South, or 

880 Creative Writing 

the artificial and overstimulated life of wealthy New York, or the 
simple virtues of the very low economic classes. 

Or sometimes the chief interest may lie in some unusual person- 
ality; or in some typical personality (child, old person, teen-ager, 
illiterate, immigrant, Negro, college student) not usually under- 
stood; or in some latent or concealed conflict within a personality, or 
between personalities. Or it may lie in a scene or place which itself 
has "personality" or in an insignificant event which has intricate 
and manifold meanings to different people or in the revelation of 
truths ( usually about human relations ) that have been lying deep- 
hidden beneath surface appearances. 

The sole function of the Chekhovian story is to reveal. 

To be sure, the Chekhovian story may have a plot; it may tell 
about sensational events that the daily newspaper would also record. 
But plot is not an essential, as in the Maupassantian story. Plot, or 
action, may be reduced to a mere time sequence: things that happen 
successively in an hour, a day, a week a breakfast of a married 
couple; an encounter with a street beggar; a walk in the country; 
the few minutes of a wedding; a conversation of a young man and 
a young woman who happen to occupy adjoining seats in a train; a 
child spending a day with his grandmother; the way an employer's 
character is revealed during the first week that his stenographer 
works for him. 

But though these stories may have little plot, they seldom merely 
end in mid air. Their revelations are arranged more or less in the 
order of climax; or the end of the story is some especially revealing 
or convincing detail, or some new development that verifies the 
previous revelation, or some summarizing conclusion reached by a 
character, or some odd twist of circumstance, or anything else that 
gives a slight lift, novelty, or "whiplash" at the end. 

2. SPECIAL TYPES. Short stories may be classified in another way 
that is, according to their length and structure. 

a. The Short Story is both a general type and a special type. As 
a special type it is a fictional narrative that does not belong to any 
of the three special types discussed below. As a rule, it covers a 

Types of Fiction 81 

relatively few days or weeks in the life of a person; and nearly al- 
ways it deals with a single climax or crisis in the life of that person. 
The novel, in contrast, may sometimes cover the lifetime of a person, 
or even several lifetimes; and it deals with a series of climaxes and 
crises in the lives of people. 

b. The Long Short Story is not so much a paradox as its name 
implies. It is merely a fictional narrative that deals with a single 
climax or crisis in the life of a person, and that is from about 15,000 
words to 25,000 words long. Conrad's "The Secret Sharer/' "Ty- 
phoon," and "Heart of Darkness" are well-known examples of the 

c. The Short-Story ( with a hyphen ) is one of the oldest and best 
recognized types of short fiction. The young writer should remem- 
ber, however, that he is under no compulsion to write short-stories 
any more than a poet is under compulsion to write sonnets, Or 
pastorals, or anything else. As a matter of fact, the short-story has 
some very arbitrary restrictions that may make it a dangerous play- 
thing for the young writer. It may lead to slavish rule-following, 
artificiality, and sterility. On the other hand, it is an interesting form, 
and it can be a worth-while exercise. 

The ideal short-story (according to the standards set by the 
originator of the type, Poe ) is something more than a story which is 
short. Instead of attempting to create a multiplicity and variety of 
effects, instead of trying to analyze character, instead of presenting a 
theme, the short-story attempts to create a single emotional effect, 
a single mood in the mind of the reader grief, fear, horror, pity, 
mirth, hate. Characters, setting, action emotion displayed, places 
described, deeds told about are selected and emphasized only as 
they contribute to the single emotional effect. 

To accomplish its purpose, the short-story limits itself in every 
direction. It deals with moments or hours, not years: in "The Cask of 
Amontillado" an hour or two; in "The Pit and the Pendulum" an 
afternoon; in "The Masque of the Red Death" an evening. It begins 
at the latest possible moment, as close to the climax as possible, and 
with as little exposition as possible; and it ends as soon as the effect 

88% Creative Writing 

has been made on the reader. It has only one or two important 
characters. And the action occurs in the fewest possible places 
usually in only one. 

Nowadays one hears more about the short-story in critical works 
than one sees it in actuality. For though it is neat and effective, 
and though any writer may learn from it the value of compression, 
it is artificial in an age which has come to respect primitive natural- 
ness rather than cultivated artistry. Paradoxically, however, the 
short-story's artificiality is its chief asset. Writing it, like writing a 
sonnet, is an aesthetic exercise. Its limitations, its strict requirements, 
and its singleness of purpose tempt the writer's skill and offer a 
challenge to his literary power. At the same time, these definite 
standards make it possible for connoisseurs in literature to read 
the short-story with a keenly discriminating and appreciative taste. 
Accordingly, the form will doubtless persist, much as the sonnet has 
persisted, despite all conflicting tendencies. 

d. The Short Short-Story is even more restricted and artificial 
than the short-story. At its best, the short short-story is only about 
1000 words to 2000 words long; it has all the limitations of time, 
place, and characters that typify the short-story; and it must end with 
a surprise, a sudden change of direction, a "whiplash." This last is 
the writer's chief difficulty. Too many writers solve it in a way 
mentioned in the previous chapter by deliberately deceiving the 
reader, misleading him, lying to him by implication if not in fact 
through nineteen-twentieths of the story, and then undeceiving him 
at the very end. This sort of thing is inexcusable. The writer must 
avoid it, and yet achieve a surprise ending. 

II. The Novel 

1. BROAD TYPES. Though novels have been classified in many 
ways, they may be viewed by the creative writer as belonging to 
only two types. 

a. The Vertical Novel tries to depict the heights and the depths 
of individual human character. It need not be naturalistic in its 
details, or even possible; it may be poetic (like Paradise Lost), or 

Types of Fiction 

allegorical (like Pilgrim's Progress), or fantastic (like some of 
CabelTs novels ) . It is a fiction of intensity, not breadth; of emotion, 
not truth to the outward appearances of life. Hawthorne's novels 
belong to this class; so does much of Faulkner and of Conrad. 
Reading this type of fiction, one does not say, "How lifelike!" One 
says instead, "How wonderful is the human heart! Of what passions 
is it not capable! What can it not suffer! What evil can it not dream! 
What grandeur and nobility can it not achieve!" 

As a rule, this field of fiction is suited as much to the young writer 
as to the old; for the young writer has had intense, profound, and 
elevating experiences of his own, if only for a few minutes and he 
can transfer these episodes of passion to imagined fictional charac- 

b. The Horizontal Novel, in contrast to the preceding, might al- 
most be called panoramic. It is more worldly, less individualistic, 
more broad and various, less intense and passionate than the vertical 
fiction. It is the wide-angled lens, not the microscope. It deals with 
many types of people, many different emotions, many years, and, 
if not many places, one place in full detail. It shows human nature 
in its many guises; its subject is not the intricacy or the marvel of 
the individual personality, but the incredible variety of the human 
race at large. 

Chaucer belongs to the school of horizontal-fiction writers; so 
does Shakespeare in some of his historical and Roman plays; so do 
Defoe, Fielding, and Scott; Dickens and Thackeray are the greatest 
of the group; Arnold Bennett is, perhaps, the greatest of the twen- 
tieth century in England; John Dos Passos is the most outstanding 
in modern America; Sinclair Lewis is a member of the group; and 
so is Hemingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls, if in nothing else. 

To deal with life in its variety and multiplicity, the horizontal- 
fiction writer usually needs a plot. "What the devil does the plot 
signify, except to bring in fine things?" asked George Villiers. A 
plot exists as a scaffold upon which to display the infinite variety of 
human nature. Without the plot, the variety would not hang to- 
gether. Plot is somewhat under a cloud in the most advanced criti- 
cism today. And, to be sure, plot for its own sake, however thrilling, 

884 Creative Writing 

has implications of naive primitivism. But plot used in horizontal 
fiction as a binder for variety and multiplicity is almost necessary 
unless the story is to seem quite formless. Of course, some of the 
more advanced critics might ask, Why should a story have form? 
To which the proper answer is, Why should it not have form? At 
any rate, it is noticeable that the writers mentioned above as be- 
longing to the horizontal-fiction group are also plot-makers. 

The young writer is seldom able to create fiction of the horizontal 
type. Usually, he has had no opportunity to learn how various 
human nature can be. Accordingly, the field 'belongs, for the most 
part, to the older writer. 

2. SPECIAL TYPES. For the last two centuries, and more, novels 
have been so widely written and so universally read that they have 
achieved an almost unclassifiable variety. But the young writer 
should be familiar with the names, at least, of certain types even 
though these types are not mutually exclusive. 

a. The Picaresque Novel, which deals with the adventures of a 
none-too-moral character ( picaro is Spanish for "rogue" ) , consists of 
a series of adventures that befall an individual trying to make his 
fortune by his wits. The adventures seldom add up to a unified plot, 
but are only a disconnected series interesting in themselves individ- 
ually, but not as a whole, or as a unit. Defoe and Smollett are the 
two principal picaresque novelists in English. 

b. The Character Study is less concerned with the adventures that 
happen to an imagined character than with the character himself. 
The interest in this kind of novel lies in the intricacies a character 
reveals within himself, in his growth and development, in his mental 
and emotional reactions to the things that happen to him and in 
the world about him. Richardson was the first English novelist who 
wrote this type of novel exclusively; some of the greatest novelists 
(Jane Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, 
Thomas Mann, Henry James ) have written mostly character studies 
and the type is still one of the most popular both with writers 
and with readers. 

c. The Historical Novel came into its own with Sir Walter Scott, 
was popular during the first half of the nineteenth century, ceased to 

Types of Fiction 285 

be popular in America during most of the later nineteenth century, 
had a brief revival in the years about 1900, dropped back again, 
was revived in the 1920's, and has been extraordinarily popular ever 
since. The interest here is usually in a historical period rather than in 
character. Nevertheless, some of the modern historical novels have 
shown as much concern for character as the character study, and 
for thrilling adventures as the picaresque novel. 

d. Biographical Novels are related to the historical; but here the 
emphasis is on a historical character rather than on a period as a 
whole. This type of novel has been written chiefly in the twentieth 
century (as a companion to the modern personalized biography), 
and is still very popular. Very likely the young writer will not wish 
to try his hand at either the historical or the biographical novel until 
he is older. They require an amount of research that the young 
writer is not usually prepared to give. 

e. Romantic Novels may be historical, and frequently are. "Ro- 
mantic" is a hard term to define; but it implies remoteness ( in time 
or in place or in both) and beauty. The romantic novel deals with 
faraway, strange events; and it pictures them idealistically, glamor- 
ously, seductively, beautifully "in a light that never was on sea 
or land." Stevenson's Treasure Island is romantic; so is Cabell's 
Jurgen; so is McCutcheon's Graustark; so is Tarkington's Monsieur 
Beaucaire. Lately, in the motion pictures, certain classes, remote 
because of their wealth from the popular audience, are pictured 
romantically; and the "Western" is almost always romantic. Unless 
the young writer has an exceptionally fanciful, beauty-loving, and 
creative mind, he should not attempt romantic writing. It usually 
turns out to be merely very bad escape writing. 

f. The Naturalistic Novel is the opposite of the romantic. By 
means of many details it pictures, or tries to picture, life as it really 
is. By custom, if for no other reason, these details usually add up to 
a more or less sordid picture of the world. Furthermore, this kind 
of fiction usually involves a philosophic naturalism that is, a will- 
ingness to dispense with the spiritual in man and the supernatural 
in the universe, and an inference that man's actions are determined 
for him by the laws of heredity and, especially, environment. Zola* 

86 Creative Writing 

Maupassant, Stephen Crane, Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, 
and James T. Farrell are some of the best-known practitioners of 
naturalism. (Perhaps the Realistic Novel should be considered as a 
separate type; in general, however, it lies close to the naturalistic 
novel, and differs from the latter in degree rather than in nature. 
In America, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, and John 
P. Marquand are typical realists.) 

g. The Novel of Social Criticism is a realistic novel that points 
out the evil or the folly of certain laws, customs, popular beliefs and 
standards, popular methods of speech and behavior, and well- 
known social types. This kind of novel actually has its origin in the 
dramas of Ibsen; H. G. Wells and John Galsworthy popularized the 
genre in the novel; Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, and some of 
the naturalists brought it to a high point in America. 

h. The Novel of Locality tries to give a realistic picture of life as 
it is lived in some rather restricted region or province. It depicts the 
landscape, the effect of the landscape on the character of the people, 
the typical people, their language and behavior and ways of thought, 
the principal occupations and interests of the region, and so on. 
Individual characters may be important in the novel, but the region 
is more important. This kind of novel started with the local color 
story writers of the nineteenth century ( Bret Harte, Charles Egbert 
Craddock, Constance Woolson, and others), got into the novel 
through Edward Eggleston and George W. Cable, and has been 
prominent in American fiction ever since. 

This type of novel and the two preceding types (naturalistic and 
social criticism) are usually well within the scope of the young 

i. Numerous Other Types of novels exist, but cannot be treated 
here. The reader will find them catalogued under the heading "Fic- 
tion" at the end of the annual volumes of the Book Review Digest, 
found in most large libraries. These types include, among many 
others, Allegorical Novels, Family Chronicles, Fantasies, Ghost 
Stories, Humorous Novels, Love Stories, Mystery and Detective 
Novels, Philosophical Novels, Psychological Novels, Religious Nov- 
els, Satirical Novels, War Novels, Westerns. 

Types of Fiction 287 


In doing the exercises for this chapter, consider the lists of stories 
and situations suggested in the exercises for the preceding chapter, 
and also the following suggested exercises and stories: 

A poor boy wants a violin. 

A beggar goes to a cheap lodging house for the night. 

A German family living next door have two interesting children. 

A man runs past the house. 

A lover gives a costly amber necklace to his sweetheart. 

A dog bites a man. 

A couple marry. 

A ship's captain gets a new first officer. 

A man wins a fortune in the stock market. 

A man falls heir to a fortune. 

A woman is deeply interested in national politics. 

A child throws a cup at his mother. 

A brutal army officer is shot in the back by some of his own men 
during a battle. 

A child gets a long-desired toy for Christmas. 

A man wounded in a brawl is brought to a hospital. 

A young husband gets a new son. 

A family with a grown daughter moves next door to a college 
boy's home. 

A youth finds that he is in love with his best friend's sweetheart. 

A college boy from a good family finds that he is in love with a 
waitress in a cheap restaurant. 

A college graduate gets a new job. 

A young man goes to live with a rich aunt. 

A young woman notices that for several days a man has been 
following her wherever she goes. 

A sixteen-year-old country boy who has been left an orphan 
goes to live with his grandparents in the city. 

An idealistic, pure-minded young man gets a job as a common 
sailor in order that he may work his way to Europe. 

1. Find at least three items in the list that might be developed into 
short-stories. Briefly summarize or describe the story as you might 
write it; tell the scenes into which you might mold your story, and 
give a rough idea of the characters involved. Do the same for short 
short-stories (with particular attention to the endings). For Maupas- 
santian stories. For Chekhovian stories. For vertical fiction (but 

288 Creative Writing 

differentiate from Chekhovian stories). For horizontal fiction (list 
characters, places, and social strata you might bring in, and tell the 
kind of plot you might use to thread them together). 

2. Could any of the stories or situations in the list be developed into 
various kinds of novels discussed in the text? 

3. Look back over the text of this chapter, and list the types of fiction 
that are not recommended for young writers. 

4. Which of the types of fiction appeals to you most as a reader? Which 
do you think would appeal to you most as a writer? 

5. If you are not acquainted with some of the authors and works men- 
tioned in each section of the chapter above, go, to the library and read 
some of them. Be sure to become acquainted with the authors or 
works mentioned in Sections 4 and 9. 


The Writer's Approach 

The two preceding chapters have tried to introduce the would-be 
fiction-writer to the general nature and the large possibilities of 
the field he has elected to enter. Beginning with the present chapter, 
we start working toward the actual process of creating fiction. 

One of the commonest sounds that the teacher of writing hears 
from his students is a despairing wail: "I want to write, but I don't 
know what to write about!" On first thought, the remark seems 
ludicrous, but actually it is quite natural. The young writer feels 
within him "an instinct that reaches and towers," a creative urge, a 
desire to express something that he vaguely feels. But he has so 
little self-confidence that he does not trust himself to say anything; 
he sees so much to express that he does not know what to choose; 
his training in the recognition of good subject matter for fiction has 
been vague; and he has had so little experience with writing that 
he does not know how or where or upon what to begin. This chapter 
is intended to help the student over these first hurdles of the young 

I. The Writer as a Person 

1. EGOTISM. First of all, a writer should be something of an 
egotist, and he should not be ashamed of it. "I am clever," said the 
great and honest La Rochefoucauld, "and make no scruple of de- 
claring it. Why should I?" One writes to be read; every other kind 
of writing is dilettantism. And unless a person thinks he can write 
something worth reading, something so good, indeed, that other 
people ought to pay money to read it he has no business writing. 
If he writes what he knows is trash, and asks other people to buy it, 
he is being a cheat. He can sometimes make a living, or even get 


890 Creative Writing 

rich, by such writing but then people have got rich, too, by selling 
worthless oil stocks or shares in played-out gold mines. The differ- 
ence between these latter and the writer of self-acknowledged trash 
is quite academic. Like Ben Jonson, the writer should be able to say 
honestly of his work, "By God, it's good!" 

The young writer may cry at once: "That lets me out! I am not an 
egotist." Yet Hazlitt long ago observed that, though we may wish 
ourselves different, we have never seen anyone with whom we 
should like to change existences. "We had as lief not be, as not be 
ourselves." Even St. Paul, one of the greatest writers, not only did 
not wish to be anyone else, but was egotist enough to wish that 
other people were like him: "I would that all were even as myself." 
One asks of a writer only that he be himself, insist on being himself, 
and request that others recognize him as a unique self. Everyone 
has that much egotism, and should cultivate it. 

2. HUMILITY. At the same time, the writer should have humility 
in certain directions. First, he must be humble enough to think 
that he does not already have a God-given power to write immortal 
literature. He must be humble enough to try to learn; to consider 
well-meant criticism even if he does riot always take it; to admit he 
has made mistakes, and to try to profit by them; to study the art 
of other writers; to keep trying to perfect his own work by con- 
tinual revision and polishing; to be never completely smug and satis- 
fied with only one success. 

Next, the young writer must be humble enough to try to adjust 
his work to his readers. After all, readers are the final goal; and the 
young writer must not declare to himself, "There is one way to say 
what I have to say; I shall say it that way; I shall not lower my 
standards." The author of this book, though he thinks that a writer 
should always be somewhat ahead of his reader, leading him on 
with new and difficult ideas, and introducing him to new and radical 
methods and points of view, does not think that the writer should 
be so engrossed in private symbolism, private associations of words 
and images, private techniques, and private references as to be 
largely incomprehensible. Much "advanced" poetry belongs to the 
school of incomprehensibility, and has therefore removed modern 

The Writer's Approach 291 

poetry from all but a tiny handful of readers. The writer of this 
book hopes that fiction-writers will never commit that crime against 
civilization. Discussing a flower with a group of children, one would 
use a certain language; discussing it with a college class in botany 
one would use a different language; and discussing it with a group of 
professional botanists, one would use still different language. No 
lowering of linguistic standards is involved here; only common sense 
is involved and the determination that nobody shall be deprived of 
knowing the marvel and the beauty of a flower. 

Likewise, the proud young writer ought not to feel that he is 
lowering his literary standards by writing so that nearly all normally 
intelligent and well-educated people can understand nearly all of 
what he writes. He need not worry if, occasionally, he puzzles his 
readers; but he should remember that crossword puzzles do not 
make literature. Browning remarked wisely of his own poetry: "I 
have never purposely written obscure poetry; but neither do I wish 
my poetry to be a substitute for an after-dinner cigar or a game of 
dominoes/' One can be highly individual and original by standing 
on one's head in church; but who would want to be original in such 
a way? There is a happy medium between grotesque individualism 
and stupid conventionality. The young fiction-writer should be 
humble enough to try to find that happy medium. 

3. CHARACTER. Every teacher of writing knows that it is not al- 
ways his best students who, later on, make names for themselves in 
fiction-writing. The brilliant student without character will never 
go so far as the fairly good student with character. Too often the 
former (perhaps partly spoiled by his delighted and admiring 
teacher) depends on his natural talent alone, whereas the latter, 
knowing his weaknesses, depends upon something besides natural 
talent. Even writers with the greatest natural gifts must work at their 
writings as an examination of their messy, worked-over manu- 
scripts, their many revisions, and their frequent rewritings will 
show. They must have self-discipline, patience, an "infinite capacity 
for taking pains/' tenacity of purpose, ability to sit writing at a desk 
many hours every day, self-confidence enough to continue working 
in spite of discouragements, humility enough to keep learning all 

Creative Writing 

the time, shrewdness enough to gauge editorial desires and public 
receptivity, steadiness enough to keep going in spite of private and 
personal distractions, and enough understanding of the world to 
know that the heights of Olympus are seldom scaled in a single 
effort, or in a few years, or by many writers in their early twenties. 
Writing is serious work like law, medicine, or teaching; and, if it 
is to become one's profession, it demands, like other professions, of 
all but a very fortunate few, a long and diligent apprenticeship. 

II. The Writer s State of Mind 

1. DE-EDUCATION. The word mind in the phrase just above does 
not mean intellect. It means what the psychologists would call the 
psyche the totality of conscious and unconscious, intellectual and 
emotional, activities of the individual. 

It should be understood at once that this totality is only about ten 
percent conscious, willed intellect, and is about ninety percent emo- 
tion, mood, sensation, subconscious memory, suppressed impulse, 
anxiety, desire, and much besides. Our schools, from kindergarten 
through college, are concerned almost exclusively with developing 
the intellectual ten percent of our personality, and pay very little 
attention to the other ninety percent. Students are taught that the 
ideal is to be entirely intellectual and rational, and to judge all 
things by intellectual and rational standards. As a matter of fact, 
they seldom realize that any other standards exist. The vast mass 
of the submerged ninety percent of human personality they ignore, 
or deny, or try to suppress. 

But the student cannot afford to adopt the intellectual and rational 
approach to fiction-writing. He must come at it by an entirely differ- 
ent road. He must abandon the scholastic methods to which he has 
been accustomed all his life, and the purely intellectual and rational 
standards of value with which he has been indoctrinated. "Education 
has not made great writers," observes Lafcadio Hearn. "On the 
contrary, they have become great in spite of education." The entire 
imaginative faculty, he says, "must be cultivated outside of educa- 

The Writer's Approach 

For the student to abandon abruptly the intellectual and rational 
values that he has been taught so thoroughly for so many years will 
not be easy. Many students can never accomplish it. But until the 
student learns that by merely taking thought, by being merely 
intellectual and rational, he cannot add one cubit to his creative 
stature, he cannot be a good writer of fiction. He must, in a sense, 
become de-educated. A Phi Beta Kappa key is not the passkey to 
creative writing; more often than not, it is a ball-and-chain. It repre- 
sents an intellectual and rational triumph by an intellectual and 
rational personality when what is wanted is creativeness. 

2. FEELING. So completely intellectual and rational has been the 
ideal of the schools that no generic term exists to describe a deep 
and lasting emotional attitude of a personality. We may say that a 
personality is "pessimistic" (like Hardy), or "optimistic" (like Dick- 
ens ) , or "brash" ( like Kipling ) , or "disillusioned" ( like Dos Passes ) , 
or "cynically melancholy" (like Conrad), or "hypersensitive" (like 
Proust), or "gloomy" (like Dreiser), or "satiric" (like Lewis), or 
"flippantly unmoral" (like Oscar Wilde) but even the word "feel- 
ing" ( used at the head of this section ) is inadequate to include these 
attitudes. The only reason the word is used here is that it is the 
least inaccurate of all that might be chosen; the reader must not be 
misled into thinking it implies a mere temporary or single emotion. 

The fiction-writer's approach to his work must always be that of 
feeling "a deep and lasting emotional attitude" toward his subject. 
It cannot be merely intellectual and rational. Unless the young 
writer feels, unless he is totally possessed by feeling about his sub- 
ject, unless he overwhelmingly desires to make his reader feel the 
same way (have the same deep and lasting emotional attitude) 
toward the subject, he can never write good fiction. 

Often the feeling cannot be described, or certainly not described 
in a single word. The feeling back of Hemingway's "The Killers" 
was doubtless a horrible fascination with the cold-blooded business 
of gangsterism. In Katherine Mansfield's "Her First Ball" it was a 
sense of the poignancy and the quick-passingness of youthful joy. 
In Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" it was a sad, fierce, bitter aware- 
ness of the awful evil of which the human heart is capable. In Saki's 

94 Creative Writing 

"Tobermory" it was amused contempt for a certain section of Brit- 
ish society. Without comparable feeling ( or perhaps several related 
feelings ) about his own subject, the young fiction-writer will fail. 

3. THOUGHT. It is widely taught that intellect and emotion are 
natural enemies. In a sound mind, however, they are friends and 
allies. For example, the more one reasons about the folly, waste, 
and cruelty of war, the more one loathes war; the more one reasons 
about certain social and economic injustices, the more intensely one 
feels about them; the more one reasons about a person one loves ( if 
he is really worthy of love ) , the more one loves that person. Certain 
types of minds act as if feeling were not a value worth cultivating; 
and certain types of minds act as if thought and logic were not 
worth cultivating. But the fiction-writer belongs to neither type. He 
knows that both must be cultivated. 

Feeling weighs more than thought in fiction, as in life. But the 
fiction- writer (especially in the twentieth century) must be some- 
thing of a philosopher, a critic of life, a theorizer about life, a scien- 
tific observer of life, sometimes a satirist, sometimes a promoter of 
ideas, sometimes a revealer of hidden truths, sometimes a solver of 
social problems or moral problems or economic problems or political 
problems or psychological problems or racial problems. Indeed, the 
very greatest fiction has always been interfused with what has been 
called "fundamental brain-work." Nevertheless, a caution must be 
reiterated: thought, intellectuality, is desirable, perhaps necessary, 
in good fiction; but it is not so vital as feeling or even the faculty 
to be mentioned next. 

4. IMAGINATION. The fiction-writer must have the kind of mind 
that can, or will, convert feeling and thought into concrete imagery. 
An earlier chapter of this book has discussed imagery at some length. 
All that need be said here is that the fiction-writer expresses his 
feeling and his thought in concrete images: ( 1 ) in words and phrases 
whose sounds create patterns and rouse feeling; (2) in descriptive 
details appealing to the sight, sound, taste, and other senses; (3) in 
concrete characters; (4) in entire scenes with characters visualized 
as speaking and moving against an imagined background; and (5) 
in large works conceived in terms of certain forms. 

The Writer's Approach 895 

III. Cultivation of Values 

Because of our characteristic intellectualized education, easy 
habit, or mere utilitarian living, most people do not possess the 
values that enter into good fiction. Yet many of these values can 
be cultivated in any personality. The following sections, and the 
exercises that succeed them, suggest values which the young fiction- 
writer should have in approaching his problem, and means by which 
those values may be cultivated. 

1. FEELING. The fiction-writer must view everything with feeling; 
if he does not do so already, he must cultivate the habit of doing so. 
As a matter of fact, he already has the habit everybody has it. 
But in his pursuit of intellectual and external goals, he has permitted 
his emotional attitudes toward the world to be ignored, neglected, 
and allowed to die at last. As a child he experienced these emotional 
attitudes continually; and that is what so many critics have meant 
when they have said that the great artist is the one who recaptures 
the fresh vision of a child. But "shades of the prison-house begin 
to close about the growing boy"; utilitarian considerations smother 
the elemental emotions. It is the fiction-writer's task to get out of his 
prison-house, and get in touch once more with his long-neglected 

For practice, wherever he goes and whatever he does, he should 
train himself to explore minutely, to follow doggedly, his faint and 
disregarded feelings about the world around him. Suppose he en- 
ters a classroom and sits down to hear a lecture. What is his emo- 
tional reaction to the room itself? Does it depress him? Does it 
seem coldly businesslike? Does its lightness and orderliness cheer 
him? Does it have unpleasant associations from the past? Does his 
chair welcome him? As he settles into it, does he feel as if he were 
returning to an old, familiar friend? Or does he feel like a prisoner 
returning to his cell? Or does he feel repelled and unwelcome be- 
cause of the chair's hardness and moroseness? Does the chair, sit- 
ting year after year in this same room, seem tired and unhappy? 
And the people around him? Does the perfume of the young woman 
sitting on his left make him dream pleasantly of springtime and 

896 Creative Writing 

flowers and open spaces and love? Or does it nauseate him? What 
does he feel about the young man on his right? Does he feel happier 
because of the young man's bright expression, or unhappier because 
it looks so vapid? Is it a face to admire or a face to pity? Does he 
feel that he might like the young man if he knew him better, or 
does he feel that he never wants to know him any better? To ex- 
plore the emotions suggested by such questions, to learn to draw up 
from the depths of the subconscious one's emotional reactions to 
every detail of daily life, is to be on the highroad to writing good 

Not only must the young writer have feelings about concrete 
details; he must have them about abstract ideas as well. It was a 
powerful feeling about the injustice of the law that inspired Gals- 
worthy's Justice; a powerful feeling about the absurdity of artificial 
knight-errantry that inspired Don Quixote; a powerful, and probably 
unconscious, feeling for the interestingness of an adventuress's life 
that inspired Moll Flanders; a powerful feeling for the amusing and 
heartily lustful life of rural England that inspired Tom Jones; and, 
as Arnold Bennett himself has said, a powerful feeling for the 
changes wrought in human beings by time that inspired An Old 
Wives 9 Tale. The young fiction-writer almost certainly has feelings 
about a hundred such matters; but he probably hasn't realized it. 
His business as a writer is to discover and cultivate those feelings. 

2. OBSERVATION. Most people are such victims of habit, or so 
accustomed to regarding all objects for their utilitarian value alone, 
that they seldom observe anything. They do not know how the 
color of the sky at the horizon differs from its color at the zenith; 
they cannot reproduce the general shape of an oak leaf; they can- 
not describe the wrapper of their favorite gum or candy-bar; they 
do not know the eye-color of their history professor, and cannot 
describe his voice; they cannot describe the difference between a 
meadowlark's song and a redwing blackbird's; they cannot remem- 
ber the size, color, and shape of buildings they can see from their 
study window; they use a chair or a desk or a book or a pen or a 
knife or a pencil-sharpener, and do not know what it looks like or 

The Writer's Approach 

feels like or sounds like or smells like. Yet it is of just such details 
as these that fiction largely consists. 

The young fiction-writer can do much to cultivate the observa- 
tional powers that are probably undeveloped within him. First, he 
can deliberately exercise his observation at all odd moments when 
his mind is not otherwise occupied as when he is riding a bus, 
waiting to keep an appointment, walking along a street, or listening 
to a dull lecture. He can note precisely, and state to himself in words, 
details that he carefully or casually observes. Second, he can keep a 
notebook in which he sets down four or five brief concrete images 
every day. And finally, if he has the inclination, he can sketch or 
paint. It is not an accident that very many creative writers have 
also been artists, after a fashion, with pencil or brush. To draw or 
paint, one must observe details with a fresh and careful eye; and to 
write imaginatively, one must do the same thing. 

3. PEOPLE. Perhaps those who are not interested in people do 
not even desire to write fiction. Yet many of those who get into 
fiction-writing classes have only a slight interest in people. Some- 
times, however, they possess one saving grace: they are profoundly 
and intensely interested in themselves. This interest may make them 
boresome in conversation; but it is certainly no barrier, but actually 
a lift, on their road to becoming fiction-writers. To understand 
oneself is no mean accomplishment and besides, it is one way to 
understand other people. 

But the writer who appreciates only himself is capable of writing 
only vertical fiction, and perhaps very little of that. To write hori- 
zontal fiction, or much fiction of any kind, the writer must appreciate 
other people as well. He does not need to love them (Dos Passos* 
immense U. S. A., with its hundreds of characters, has not one quite 
lovable or admirable character), or even understand them; he need 
be only intensely aware of people. If he is not aware of them already, 
he can deliberately cultivate awareness. 

He can cultivate it on three planes. First, he can be industrious 
in merely noting, remembering, or recording external details about 
people: their face and body, their dress, their gestures, their voices, 

%98 Creative Writing 

what they say, what they do. He can do this by a mere process of 
non-participating observation, as suggested in the preceding sec- 
tion. He can watch them in the bus, on the street, in the classroom, 
at social gatherings and when he gets home, he can jot down in a 
notebook some of the details he has observed. 

Next, he can react emotionally to people. He can dislike them 
(and he should certainly observe the unlikeable people quite as 
carefully as the likeable ones); he can like them; he can feel con- 
tempt for them, or disgust, or admiration, or pity, or respect, or 
fear, or any other emotion, definable or indefinable. Most of the 
great nineteenth-century novelists, and many in the twentieth cen- 
tury, got no further than this in their reaction to characters. The 
feeling we have about people is usually quite different from the 
feeling we have about things. Our feeling about the latter comes 
entirely from ourselves; and even when we endow things with cer- 
tain emotions, as when we speak of "an unfriendly room," "a merci- 
less sun," "an unhappy flower," 1 we are fully aware that it is our- 
selves who endow these things with feeling. But when we have a 
feeling about a person, we are very likely to have done a little in- 
terpretation, a little unconscious character-reading. We know that 
a person may very well be unfriendly, or merciless, or unhappy 
and we react with certain feelings in return. If it is a small child 
who is unfriendly, we react by behaving and feeling almost ex- 
cessively friendly; if it is a salesman in a shop who is unfriendly, 
we react by being even more unfriendly, and walking out of the 
shop; or if it is a bus driver who is unfriendly, we react by ignoring 
and forgetting him. The point is that our own feelings about people 
are often a function of what we think people are; we think we 
understand them, and our understanding makes us have a feeling 
about them. 

Writers of what is considered the best modern fiction, however, 
seldom react by mere feeling to their concepts of people. Instead, 
the modern fiction-writer often assumes a scientific detachment, 

1 Endowing things with feelings which are actually our own is what Ruskin 
condemned as the "pathetic fallacy." But we need not take Rnskin too seriously. 
The pathetic fallacy is entirely respectable; it is as old as poetry itself, and has 
been used in great literature from the Bible down to today. 

The Writer's Approach 899 

and tries to find out what makes people have certain characteristics. 
If a person seems unfriendly why? Is it an inferiority complex 
working on him? Is he frightened? Has he been dominated so much 
by parents and others that he feels hostile to everybody? Is he a 
sensitively organized person who is hurt by close contact with the 
world? The modern fiction-writer delves into all these matters 
and usually comes up with only one feeling for a character: sym- 
pathy. The villain is not so common in modern fiction as he formerly 
was; and when he does appear, he is treated quite objectively no 
effort is made to understand him completely. "To understand all is to 
forgive all'*; if we understood the villain in fiction, we should not 
have a villain. 

All this leads up to a very important recommendation for the 
young fiction-writer. He should be familiar with the principal mod- 
ern psychological theories involving personality; he should be es- 
pecially familiar with the elements of Freudian psychology, both 
in Freud's own work and in the work of Freud's disciples and critics. 
And he should look into sociological-psychological works recording 
case histories of juvenile delinquents, criminals, and other socially 
maladjusted people. Acquaintanceship with these books is quite as 
important to the fiction-writer as acquaintanceship with books on 
the art of writing. 

4. INFORMATION. What has just been said leads straight into 
the matter of being well informed. Readers nowadays expect to 
get information from fiction, especially from novels; they expect to 
be told something about "how the other half lives/' or about some 
locality that they do not know or do not know so well as the writer 
knows it, or about some historical period, or about some other 
specialized field of knowledge ( sailing ships, Egyptian archaeology, 
life on a submarine, dogs, mining coal, building dams, or the like). 

The amount of information demonstrated by most great writers 
about a variety of subjects is amazing. Everything, literally every- 
thing, is grist for the writer's mill; and everybody, literally every- 
body, can make a contribution to him. He should read the news- 
papers and magazines (every type of magazine), books of science 
and books of history, books of criticism and biographies about 

800 Creative Writing 

every conceivable subject, idea, place, or person. He should try 
consciously to acquire knowledge about different varieties of toma- 
toes and the latest theory about the expanding universe, about the 
way a helicopter works and the poetry of T. S. Eliot, about the 
principal wild flowers of his region and the newest economic pro- 
posals about rehabilitating the world. In particular, he should culti- 
vate a nodding acquaintance with art in all its aspects (painting, 
sculpture, architecture, music, writing, dancing, acting ) ; natural his- 
tory, especially in its local aspects (botany, zoology, meteorology); 
the most important local businesses or ways that people have of 
making a living; modern psychology; and (apparently more and 
mots necessary nowadays) sociology and politics. 

Much of the knowledge just mentioned the writer can get from 
reading. Much more he can get from observation of the world about 
him nature, architecture, social classes, slum districts and wealthy 
districts, the work that people do, and people themselves. Most 
people have a special knowledge about something about babies, 
cooking, pruning trees, digging a ditch, repairing a car, ancient his- 
tory. When a writer meets a new person, he should try to draw 
him out, to suck him dry like an orange. (The remarkable thing is 
that the person himself is delighted to be drawn out.) Of course, 
some people can be sucked dry in a few minutes or a few hours 
after which they may become bores. But there is nobody from a 
baby in its cradle to a professor of physics, from a teen-age boy to an 
octogenarian tenant farmer, who cannot contribute something valua- 
ble to the writer. The writer must learn to cultivate them all. He 
cannot afford to be snobbish, to hold himself aloof from people. 
The dirtiest, loudest, poorest, most ignorant, or most boorish people 
are the ones who can contribute most of all. 

5. IDEAS. The fiction-writer should observe life, read about life, 
accumulate facts, gather data from many sources, and then gen- 
eralize about it all. He should have theories, ideas, philosophy 
about motivations of human behavior, morality as distinguished 
from conventionality, facts as distinguished from ideals in men's 
conduct, man's relation to the unknown, the essential nature of 
male and female or child and adult, the influence of environment 

The Writer's Approach 301 

and of heredity in forming character, economic and social abuses 
and means of correcting them, the deep implications of certain 
political theories, and much besides. 

If the writer does not already have ideas on such matters, he 
can cultivate them in several ways. First, he can do much reading 
in books and magazines devoted to economics, politics, philosophy, 
and the arts. Every library has more of these than any person can 
ever read. Just which of them the student reads makes little differ- 
ence, provided he reads more than one on the same subject, and 
chooses those that interest him most. Next, he should cultivate the 
habit of deliberately disagreeing with the theories he reads, es- 
pecially if those theories are conventional and generally accepted, 
and of trying to find sound arguments or specific examples that 
refute them. This habit of questioning the commonplace is a health- 
ful and mentally stimulating practice, as well as a means of acquiring 
a stock of ideas that actually belong to oneself. Third, the writer 
should approach the problem from a more personal direction. When 
someone he knows acts in a certain way, or when he reads in the 
paper that someone has done or said something newsworthy (per- 
haps it is a murder, or a confession, or a public statement by an 
official, or an editorial, or the introduction of a bill in the legislature ) 
the writer should try to think out the reasons behind it all. It is 
not enough to say that the murderer is cruel why is he cruel? 
It is not enough to say that an acquaintance acted thus-and-so be- 
cause he is arrogant why is he arrogant? It is not enough to say 
that the legislator does what he thinks is best for the people why 
does he think this particular bill is best? Who are the people he 
wants to benefit? Could it be that he is rationalizing? All that is 
ever required for cultivating a large crop of ideas is to ask a diligent 
why of everything. 

6. DELIGHT. For the honest fiction-writer, writing should be a 
delight not a constant delight or a delight in every detail, but an 
overall delight, and a delight in at least some of the details. It does 
not matter that writing is work; creative work and accomplishment 
is almost the most satisfying activity that a person can engage in. 
When a writer becomes excessively bored with his work, it is due 

Creative Writing 

to the fact that he needs a short vacation, is not actually creating, 
or is not cut out to be a writer. As a rule, the writer, with a little 
help, can dispose of the first of these troubles; nobody can take 
care of the last; and the writer himself, by listening to a little good 
advice, can take care of the middle one. 

The writer can cultivate delight in his work by giving more and 
stricter thought to (a) the general architecture of his work: scenes, 
transitions, space requirements, exposition, contrasts, plot compli- 
cation, movement, and so on; (b) the more minute, jewel-cutter's 
details of apt, brief, clear, suggestive, and beautiful sentence, phrase, 
and word; (c) the elaboration of sensuous appeal, the creation or 
re-creation of concrete images; (d) emphasis on the idea, theme, 
or philosophy for which the writer is trying, like a lawyer, to build 
up a case; ( e ) an increased attempt to view the subject, as a whole 
and in detail, emotionally, and to make the reader have the same 
emotion about it; and (f) the deep and intricate motivations that 
make his characters act as he has them act. In addition, the creative 
writer may consider himself as a kind of god taking delight in 
creating and peopling worlds or he may consider himself a kind 
of emissary of God in revealing to others the marvels of the created 
universe. Browning expressed this idea dramatically in "Fra Lippo 

T o* 

Lippi : 

You speak no Latin more than I, belike; 
However, you're my man, you've seen the world 
The beauty and the wonder and the power, 
The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades, 
Changes, surprises, and God made it all! 
For what? Do you feel thankful, aye or no, 
For this fair town's face, yonder river's line, 
The mountain round it and the sky above, 
Much more the figures of man, woman, child, 
These are the frame to? What's it all about? 
To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon, 
Wondered at? oh, this last of course! you say. 
But why not do as well as say, paint these 
Just as they are, careless what comes of it? 
God's works paint any one, and count it crime 
To let a truth slip. Don't object, "His works 

The Writer's Approach 80S 

Are here already; nature is complete: 

Suppose you reproduce her (which you can't) 

There's no advantage! you must beat her, then." 

For, don't you mark? we're made so that we love 

First when we see them painted, things we have passed 

Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see; 

And so they are better, painted better to us, 

Which is the same thing. Art was given for that. 

If none of these devices can prevent the writer from being bored 
with the task he has set himself, he has probably set himself the 
wrong task. It is too big for him; it is too difficult for him; he does 
not know as much about it as he thought he did; he is not able to 
be so original, creative, or self-expressive in it as he had hoped. 
He had better drop that task and undertake a new one. 

7. IN CONCLUSION. No writer possesses, abundantly or com- 
pletely, every desirable characteristic mentioned in this chapter. 
All writers are weak in one or more of them. The student need not 
feel that he is born to be a failure because he cannot live up to the 
standards outlined here. Furthermore, it is quite likely that the 
student has several of these characteristics without knowing it. For 
example, he may have observed without being conscious of it; 
images may have registered in his mind automatically. Or he may 
have an insight into the characters of people, and an understanding 
of their motive forces, without being aware of it. He has no way of 
knowing the truth about such matters till he has tested himself in 

It should be mentioned, moreover, that the suggestions already 
given in this chapter, as well as the exercises below, should be 
chiefly regarded as exercises. They are like the finger exercises 
of a pianist. Everybody knows that finger exercises do not constitute 
good music, and that a pianist who is very proficient in finger exer- 
cises is not necessarily a great musician. But they may help the 
pianist become a great musician. In the same way, the suggestions 
and exercises of this chapter are not guaranteed to produce great 
writers. But they can help. They can open the eyes of the young 
writer to certain possibilities he may not have recognized previously; 
they can call attention to certain values that he did not know were 

304 Creative Writing 

values; they may acquaint him with an approach that he may have 
stumbled past without noticing. In a word, this chapter is not meant 
to carry the student all the way along the road to perfect fiction- 
writing. It is meant only to show him, by persuading him to explore 
in certain directions, where the road to fiction-writing lies. 



1. Egotism. 

a. List the ways in which you think you differ from most other 

or your five or ten outstanding traits as a person; 

or several specific ambitions (perhaps about very minor mat- 
ters of the next few days or weeks) that you have; 

or some opinions of yours that differ from the opinions of 
your parents or of your best friend; 

or your private emotional attitudes toward the town you live 
in, the college you attend, the group of friends you go with, or 
some particular course you are taking. 

b. Briefly characterize eight or ten people whom you know much 
better than any of your friends or the people in your writing class 
know them. 

c. List private emotional experiences of yours (pride, humiliation, 
grief, despair, love, pity, terror, hatred) that have had a deep or 
permanent effect on you. 

d. List specific experiences of yours (sickness, travel, receiving 
honors, making speeches or acting in plays, visiting certain buildings 
or rooms or landscape features, fights, quarrels, accidents) that other 
people have not had. 

2. Humility. 

a. If possible, the writing class should be organized into a Writing 
Club where students can read their work, or have it read, and where 
other students criticize. If a club is not feasible, papers should fre- 
quently be read aloud in class, and the students allowed to criticize. 
But the students should remember five rules: Never be content with 
saying merely, "I like that'* or "I don't like that" be prepared to tell 
why; always say something good as well as something bad about a 
work to encourage as well as to correct the writer, and to train your- 

The Writer's Approach 305 

self to be generous and humble about other people's work; never be 
personal or make personal inferences or act as if you thought some 
story were autobiographical stick to the work itself without getting 
outside it to make personal remarks; never criticize a work for not 
being or not doing what the writer did not want it to be or do; never 
spend much time finding fault with minutiae like anachronisms, slight 
inaccuracies of fact, minor inconsistencies, or debatable probabilities 
merely point them out, and then drop the subject. 

b. Read some of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, T. S. Eliot's Waste 
Land, and some of the poetry published in the 1940's and 1950's in 
Poetry, The Sewanee Review, and the Kenyan Review, and try to 
determine for yourself whether the writers were always sufficiently 

3. Character. 

a. During at least a week, write for an hour at exactly the same 
time every day, regardless of what happens or how you feel. 

b. Resolve never to let yourself get behind in your work in the 
writing class and keep the resolution. 

c. Recopy three times (revising each time) the first page of at 
least the next five manuscripts you hand in. 


1. De-education. 

a. Make a list of occurrences in your life that have pleased you 
most; that have disturbed you most; that would please you most if 
they should happen; that would disturb you most if they should 
happen. What percentage of them have an entirely intellectual or 
rational basis, or are closely related to intellectuality or rationality? 

b. Read over the section on "Rationalization" in Chapter XI, and 
do some of the suggested exercises. Do you think many of your 
opinions, your parents' opinions, your professors' opinions, or your 
friends' opinions are altogether intellectual and rational or are they 
products of rationalization? 

2. Feeling. 

a. If you are reading stories in connection with your class in writ- 
ing, try to express in words the feeling (the overall emotional at- 
titude) of the writer of each story to his subject. 

b. Analyze some of your own stories in the same way. 

c. What are your two or three basic emotional attitudes toward 
people in general; the world in general; children; your contem- 
poraries; your elders; animals; your own life? 

306 Creative Writing 

d. Turn to the lists of story subjects suggested in the exercises of 
the two preceding chapters, and tell of the feeling with which you 
might approach several of them. 

3. Thought. 

a. Turn to the lists of story subjects mentioned just above, and 
see which ones might be used as vehicles for some more-or-less 
philosophical ideas of yours about human nature, environment, he- 
redity, modern morality, economics, and so on. 

b. Probably you have often in life implied that you have a general- 
ized philosophy about human nature by saying: "People are like 
that!" "Isn't that just like a man or a womanK' "What else could you 
expect of an Englishman a Negro a white man a Jew a Chris- 
tian a Protestant a Catholic a carpenter a college professor!" 
"After all, we shouldn't be surprised because a child acts like a 
child." Write down more precisely some of the ideas implied in these 

c. Do you have any specific economic, educational, or social 
theories that you hold by very firmly? Write them down as briefly, 
but precisely, as possible. 

d. Do you have any specific theories about men's duties or obliga- 
tions to one another? To their country? To their class? Write them 

e. Do you have any specific theories about God's relation to man, 
or man's relation to God? Write them down. 

f. Could you plan a story illustrating the truth of some of these 
theories? (The characters and action would probably be symbolistic 
as described in Section 8 of Chapter XIV.) 

4. Imagination. 

Turn back to some of the exercises (not previously done) that were 
suggested in connection with Chapter VII. 

1. Feeling. 

a. Briefly describe the following so as to show the feeling you have 
about them, or to make the reader have a feeling about them: 

a pencil; a pair of shoes; an automobile; your classroom; the 
building in which your classroom is located; an insect; a fish; 
a cat; a cow; a flower; a lawn; a hedge; a tree. 

b. What is your feeling about the following: 

college life; some job you have once held; the city or locality 
where you live; the maturity and old age that will come to you; 
marriage; the single life; private charity; America's present 

The Writer's Approach 307 

foreign policy, or domestic economic policy, or some aspect of 
either; orthodox morality; immortality. 

2. Observation. 

a. Write a brief descriptive sentence about each of at least twenty 
details that you can see in the room you are now in. 

b. Write a careful and considerably longer description of one of 
these details. 

c. Write careful descriptions of the following: 

some bird's song; the noise in a classroom before the in- 
structor appears; a particular flower; a particular insect; smells 
in a kitchen, or in a restaurant, or in a grocery store; your cat 
asleep; your cat stalking a bird; your cat reacting to a dog; 
your cat wanting to be fed. 

d. Turn back and do some more of the exercises (not previously 
done) that were suggested in connection with Chapter VII. 

3. People. 

a. Watch some lecturer for an hour or so, and, as he talks, jot down 
a list of specific details about his dress, his facial expressions, his 
gestures with hands and arms and head, movements of his body, his 

b. Do the same for one of a group of children playing outside your 
window; or for a young man and young woman sitting together; or 
for your mother as she goes about her housework. 

c. Look about at the students in one of your classes, or at people 
passing a street corner, or at any other group of people, and write 
down your feeling about each individual. You need not try to be fair 
to the individual; just blurt out your first feeling in looking at him. 

d. Read any of the books on the psychology of personality, and 
books or magazine articles recording psychological or sociological 
case histories, that your library contains. Be sure to include Freud's 
work, or commentaries on it, and probably Jung's work. Learn the 
Freudian concept of dreams, and the meaning of the following terms: 
libido, the unconscious, mental conflict, repression, sadism, masoch- 
ism, Oedipus complex, extrovert and introvert, ambivalence, defense 
mechanisms, phobias, projection, sublimation and substitution. Learn 
the symptoms of paranoia, dementia praecox, manic-depression, 

4. Information. 

a. Go to your library and discover the major classifications in its 
system. Note the ones in which you feel yourself totally ignorant, 
and then read elementary books on those subjects. 

308 Creative Writing 

b. The next time you are thrown with a stranger, try to draw him 
out. When you get home, jot down in a notebook what you have 
learned from him. 

5. Ideas. 

a. Do what is suggested in the second paragraph of this section; 
that is, read some recent magazine or newspaper (choose a notori- 
ously conservative or notoriously radical one) and then deliberately 
try to prove to yourself that its point of view is false. 

b. Do the same for some popular professor. 

c. Can you put up a good argument for disagreeing with any- 
thing you have read in the present chapter of this book? 

d. Consider the last time you took offense at someone's actions or 
remarks. Can you imagine any reason why the offender acted or 
spoke as he did? 

5. Delight. 

Which of the methods of cultivating delight (suggested in this 
section) do you consider most applicable to your own problems and 
your own character? Which sorts of delight predominated when you 
wrote your last story? 


The Substance of Fiction 

Up to this point, we have discussed fiction somewhat as we might 
discuss an automobile. We have told the general nature of the 
fictional automobile, have mentioned the chief types of automobiles, 
and have outlined the requirements of drivers. In the present chap- 
ter we shall point out, one by one, the different parts that compose 
the automobile and make it work. 

1. FEELING. The word feeling keeps bobbing up incessantly when 
we talk about fiction. Feeling is like steel in our automobile; prac- 
tically everything in fiction is feeling. It takes many forms, but the 
elemental substance is the same. The one indispensable substance 
the writer must put into fiction is feeling, because the one indis- 
pensable substance the reader requires in fiction is feeling. It is 
the substance which is molded into character, setting, action, idea, 
and style. Before an automobile can exist, there must be steel; and 
before fiction can exist, there must be feeling. 

2. SUBJECT. Fiction must be about something. Unlike some forms 
of modern painting or sculpture, in which design exists abstractly, 
like an algebraic equation, fiction is representational. The repre- 
sentation may be either "lifelike" or distorted. But fiction is about 
something. It has subject matter consisting of people, events, ideas, 
background, and perhaps much more. 

In general, the young fiction-writer should follow four rules, or 
commandments, about the subject: 

a. Write about a world with which you are familiar. The word 
here is a world, not the world. Every person is familiar with many 
worlds. A college student, for example, is familiar with the world of 
youth as a whole, the high-school world, several geographical worlds 

(city, section of city, county, section of country, country) where 


310 Creative Writing 

he has lived or visited, several economic worlds ( rich, poor, middle 
class) that he has observed, church world, the racial or professional 
world to which his parents belong, any world where he has ever 
held a job, his intimate family world, any world ( sports, army, night 
clubs, shipboard, airplane) where he has ever had an experience, 
the private world of his own dreams and fantasies, and (if he has 
ever studied any one topic intensively ) the world of that particular 
topic. With all these worlds to choose from, the fiction-writer need 
never be at a loss for a subject. He need not write about British 
royalty, the antebellum South, Chicago gangsters, or pirates in the 
Malay seas. 

It should be remembered, moreover, that familiarity with any 
world is a relative matter. Nobody ever knows everything about any 
one of his worlds; and if the young writer waits until he is very 
thoroughly informed about any world before writing, he will never 
write. One need not have lived in a place all his life in order to 
write about it; for example, O. Henry never lived in Nashville, but 
his "A Municipal Report," set in Nashville, is a superb story. One 
need not have been a rancher to write about roundups; seeing one 
roundup is enough. One need not be a gardener in order to write 
about roses, or a mother in order to write about children, or an 
ornithologist in order to write about birds. What a writer usually 
does in actual practice is to conceive the idea of writing about one 
of the worlds with which he is more or less acquainted, and then 
accumulate more precise details about it by means of specifically 
directed observation, inquiry, or reading. Of course, if one already 
knows enough about the subject to write from his memory or knowl- 
edge of it, so much the better. 

b. Choose for subject matter anything in one of your worlds that 
has stirred a feeling in you joy, amusement, grief, anger, pity, 
wonder, delight, bliss, adoration, admiration, horror, indignation, 
hatred, contempt, bewilderment, frustration, disappointment, dis- 
illusionment, or anything else. The feeling need not be strong; it 
need only be pervading and real. It may be a feeling, as already 
suggested, for a character, a place, an idea, an action, or a situation. 
You are delighted with a fine play in a crisis on the football field; 

The Substance of Fiction 311 

that is a subject for fiction. You are amazed that two such persons 
as A and B should be married; that is a subject for fiction. You 
recall the pain of some of the disillusionments you have suffered in 
college; that is a subject for fiction. You feel sorry for a child beg- 
ging on the streets; that is a subject for fiction. 

c. Prefer the unusual to the customary and commonplace as a 
subject. Actually, everything, if looked at in a certain way, is out 
of the ordinary for the simple reason that every character is a 
unique individual, every situation involving such a unique character 
is therefore unique, and every incident is unique because it happens 
at a time that never has been before and never will be again. More- 
over, some writers (like Jane Austen and Arnold Bennett) have a 
genius for charming the reader with the fascination of the com- 
monplace; and some ( like Chekhov, Virginia Woolf , Thomas Wolfe, 
and sometimes even Maupassant) can make high drama out of the 
ordinary by revealing the emotional tensions, or perhaps the social 
significances, lying beneath the surface. Nevertheless, the student 
would probably do well to start his fiction-writing career by dealing 
with an unusual subject. Later on he may experiment to see whether 
he is a new Jane Austen or Arnold Bennett. 

But the word unusual is also relative. One kind of unusual subject 
is that which would make a newspaper headline or "stop a crowd in 
a street." It might be a war, a riot, a fight, a murder, a pursuit, a 
celebrity, a freak, an experience with the supernatural, an accident, 
a convict, an exploration, some far-off and little-known place like 
the Arctic or central China or islands of the South Seas, a strange 
group of cultists, a little-known pocket or stratum of our own society, 
or the like. On the other hand, unusual subjects may be nothing 
more than unsensational out-of-the-ordinary incidents in the lives 
of rather ordinary characters: a broken doll in the life of a little 
girl, a chance meeting of two former lovers, a college student's inter- 
view with his draft board, the birth of a baby, a quarrel with one's 
lover, a love affair, a marriage, an operation, going to the circus, 
and so on. The interest of such stories (Chekhovian stories they 
would be) would lie in the characters revealed, the psychological 
states suggested, the emotional conflicts implied, certain types of 

312 Creative Writing 

society or of character presented, a setting created or represented, a 
fanciful world invented. 

d. A subject should always be at least two subjects. In the nine- 
teenth century the fiction-writer could tell a story of a love affair 
between characters, with various misunderstandings, false accusa- 
tions, and other obstacles to the happy consummation of the love 
and that was all there was to it. Indeed, a great many stories in the 
"popular" magazines today require nothing else but a story nothing 
but an interesting subject (usually love or adventure) worked into 
an interesting plot. But the modern story with any serious preten- 
sions to literary merit exists on two levels. If it is a war story, it 
will not only recount war adventures, but will illustrate some feel- 
ing or philosophy of the writer's concerning war or men at war. 
If it is a love story, it will try to reveal the intricate nature, the 
curious sources, the odd manifestations of the emotion of love 
broadly conceived. If it is a story about a child, it will not be a 
story about one child, but about all children about their problems, 
their struggles, their griefs, their joys, the fundamental nature of 
child psychology, the difficulties an adult has in getting into the 
child mind or child point of view. Alice in Wonderland could prob- 
ably not be written today, and neither could Robinson Crusoe. 
Neither the authors nor the readers of those books would be satisfied 
to have them remain what they are: pure studies in fantasy; modern 
authors and readers would want all the characters and events to 
have a deeper meaning, a symbolic significance. When books of pure 
fancy (without deeper meaning) such as these are written today, 
the critics slight them and they are soon forgotten. One out of a 
thousand or so of them (Anthony Adverse, Gone with the Wind, 
Forever Amber) may become a popular best seller, usually for a 
very short time; but then they are forgotten. Serious fiction in the 
twentieth century must nearly always have more in it than appears 
on the surface; its subject is both individual and general. 

3. THEME. What has just been said about the dualism of subject 
overlaps the topic of theme in fiction. The theme is the essential 
idea, or intellectual concept, of which the characters and action are 
specific illustrations. It is the generalized abstraction covering the 

The Substance of Fiction 313 

concrete instances of the story. Fiction is not philosophy and it 
does not philosophize or preach, but good fiction is always philo- 
sophic. It generalizes about life, expresses ideas about life, comes 
to some intellectual conclusion about life (even if the conclusion 
is that no conclusion is possible). Professor J. W. Mackail, of Ox- 
ford, once expressed the idea thus: "Life, as it presents itself to us 
as we pass through it, has no pattern, or at least none (except to 
some people of very simple and fervid religious belief) that is cer- 
tain and intelligible. It is multiplex and bewildering; its laws are 
confused; it does not satisfy our hopes or our aspirations: some- 
times it seems purposeless. ... It makes no pattern." Good fiction 
makes out of life some intelligible pattern, draws some kind of 
meaning out of the multiplex, bewildering, and confused world. 
Good fiction has theme. Indeed, says David Masson, "the value of 
any work of fiction, ultimately and on the whole, is the. worth of 
the speculation, the philosophy, on which it rests." Of course, it 
by no means follows that a piece of fiction having the deepest philo- 
sophic or moral import, one expressing the profoundest truths about 
human life, is necessarily great or even good fiction. But really good 
fiction cannot exist without philosophical content, without theme. 

The theme may be trite and painfully obvious, as in certain Sun- 
day-School stories; it may be highly original and thought-provoking, 
as in Shaw, Wells, and Galsworthy where also the theme is often 
too obvious; or it may be subtle, something merely suggested or 
implied or vaguely felt by the reader and perhaps not clearly under- 
stood by the writer, as in Conrad, Bennett, Faulkner, Hemingway, 
Thomas Wolfe, and Virginia Woolf . But even in these last, a theme 
is present, and is profound. 

4. CHARACTERS, a. Perhaps the first, and most obvious, thing 
to be said about characters in fiction is that, in general, the narrative 
should be centered about one character. But this advice should be 
taken with reservations. Sometimes a group of people ( a family or 
a squad of soldiers, for example) may constitute the central "char- 
acter." Sometimes it may be a house, or a locality, or an animal, or 
even a half -personified force in nature like a storm, a sea, a moun- 
tain, or a drouth. 

314 Creative Writing 

Furthermore, in a very long narrative ( like Bennett's Old Wives' 
Tale) the central character may change from part to part, or even 
from chapter to chapter. Finally, in some chapters, or parts, or 
even entire works, the interest may be focused on no one character, 
but may be divided among many though such a scattering of 
interest is very unusual. 

As a general rule, however, the young fiction-writer should decide 
from the beginning that his work will be centered about one char- 
acter, or two at most. This means that the one character will be 
given most space; his actions, thoughts, and emotions will be re- 
corded in greatest detail; little or nothing will be narrated if it 
does not concern him or does not happen in his presence; and the 
world in which he lives will be seen as through his eyes and no- 
body else's. As in a photograph, he will be in sharp focus constantly, 
and all the other characters will be more or less out of focus except 
as they move very close to him. 

b. Some characters are highly individualized, and exist because 
they are intrinsically interesting like the designs in a kaleidoscope, 
or a three-legged duck, or a midget. Many of Fielding's and 
Dickens's minor characters are of this type, as are some major char- 
acters in other authors (Silas Marner, Quasimodo, Becky Sharp, 
the Mayor of Casterbridge ) . Such characters are likely to pre- 
dominate in stories of the Maupassantian type. 

c. Typical characters have always appeared in fiction, and are 
more common today in serious fiction than are individualized char- 
acters. A character may be typical in several ways. He may be 
typical of a period of life (childhood, the teens, youth, and so on), 
of a sex, of a time in history, of a geographical region, of a race, 
of a trade or profession, of a social class, of a manner of thinking 
or acting or feeling (the ambitious person, the religious person, 
the wastrel, the disillusioned, the person maladjusted in any num- 
ber of ways, the coward, the melancholic, and so on ) . Furthermore, 
he can be typical in several of these ways at once; for example, he 
could be a happy-go-lucky peasant boy of teen age in fifteenth- 
century England ( manner of feeling, class, sex, age, time in history, 

The Substance of Fiction 315 

geographical locality) or he could be a grouchy old aristocratic 
landowner in Virginia today. Oddly enough, if one gives any char- 
acter a large number of typical traits, the character becomes in- 

Typical characters are in demand nowadays because this is a 
scientific age and a typical character gives the reader solid in- 
formation about some group of people, and seems to be the in- 
ductive result of extensive observation on people. 

d. Static characters prevail in most short stories and many novels. 
They are characters ( like those in Chaucer's Prologue to the Canter- 
bury Tales) that do not change while we know or observe them; 
they remain throughout a piece of fiction just what they were at 
the beginning. Most love stories in the popular magazines have 
such characters; so do stories of sports and outdoor adventure; so 
do most humorous stories; so do certain analytical stories whose 
chief concern is to reveal a psychological condition that exists. 

e. Developing characters, those that change, are usually more 
interesting than static characters. They are more interesting because 
they indicate more skill and understanding on the part of the author, 
and because they are more true to Me than are static characters. 
In the real world, our mannerisms vary from year to year; our 
opinions, our habits of action, our customary reactions change as 
we change places of residence, grow older, and learn more from 
experience. When a teacher is young, he wants to fail all his stu- 
dents; as he grows older, he wants to pass them all. When he is 
young, he believes he knows a good deal; as he grows older, he 
doubts whether he knows anything. When he is young, he tries to 
help people with good advice; as he grows older, he knows that 
nobody ever takes advice. 

A writer who can trace the growth of such differences in char- 
acter, can account for them by the experiences he allows his char- 
acter to undergo, and can present them convincingly, always has 
a higher place among the critics than does a writer who portrays 
merely static characters. Nearly all the greatest works of fiction 
show the development of characters: Macbeth shows it; Hamlet 

316 Creative Writing 

shows it; Julius Caesar shows it; Antony and Cleopatra shows it; 
f Les Miserables shows it; Crime and Punishment shows it; The 
DolFs House shows it. 

The words "development" and "change" as used here are meant 
to signify growth. The mere changing of a character's nature from 
good to evil or from evil to good, or from wisdom to folly or 
from folly to wisdom, and so on, is easily portrayed. Moreover, 
such out-and-out transformations may, at first glance, seem quite 
plausible. A man's son dies and the father, grief-stricken, resolves 
to be sober thereafter. Or a respectable woman cannot retain her 
lover, and so, in vexation, resolves to be bad. Or a man who has 
intervened to help settle a family quarrel gets into difficulties with 
the entire family and so resolves never again to be so foolish as 
to interfere in a family quarrel. 

It is easy to project such changes, mere transformations as they 
are, into fiction. But if we regard character development not as 
mere change, but as growth, we must ask ourselves, "What did 
this new phase of character grow from? What was the seed within 
the character which was only waiting the proper encouragement 
to unfold?" Before a writer can venture to attempt the portrayal of 
character growth, he must ask himself, Have I planted the seed 
for such growth? If Macbeth had not had the seed of ambition 
within him, the witches could never have egged him on into crime; 
if Hamlet had not had the seed of strength in him, he could never 
have grown into the resolute courage which was his after his re- 
turn from England; if Brutus had not had the seed of personal honor 
and affection in him, he could never have become the sad and re- 
morseful man he was on the eve of Philippi. Sudden conversions 
do not indicate character growth: they are always unwarranted in a 
well-constructed plot, and they are not true to life. 

Moreover, it is not character growth when, under the pressure 
of extraordinary circumstances, some hitherto reliable bulkhead 
of character gives way. For example, when, in the almost notorious 
play Rain, the woman's wickedness at first gave way, and then the 
preacher's virtue, there was no real change in either the woman or 
the preacher. Neither had before been subjected to such a strain 

The Substance of Fiction 317 

as both encountered on the island; if they had been, they would 
have given way before. On the island they underwent new ex- 
periences; but after those experiences the woman was actually no 
better and the man actually no worse than they had been before. 
Their true characters were merely exposed by the new incidents. 
But character exposure and character development are not the 
same thing. 

5. BACKGROUND. The background against which characters move 
and within which the action occurs was only incidental in the very 
earliest fiction. But beginning with the historical novel of the early 
nineteenth century (Scott and his followers), background became 
very important. A little later (with Kingsley, Dickens, Thackeray, 
and Eliot) the social background was introduced. Still later, what 
may be called the geographical background began to take preced- 
ence over the other types. It was extremely important in Wuthering 
Heights (1846) and became all-important in the "local colorists" of 
America ( Bret Harte, George W. Cable, Charles Egbert Craddock, 
Thomas Nelson Page, Mary Wilkins Freeman). Today all these 
types of background figure in fiction, sometimes all together, and 
usually much more exact and circumscribed in scope than pre- 
viously. Thus, today we should probably not have a book like Scott's 
Ivanhoe about medieval England in general; we should have in- 
stead a book about persons belonging to the armorer's trade in a 
certain section of London in 1202. 

Probably the majority of stories published in most of the maga- 
zines of our time have little important background material; the 
stories could have happened almost anywhere in modern America 
to almost any generalized class of people. On the other hand, some 
of the best stories (one thinks of Faulkner, Steinbeck, Welty) are 
built solidly into a background without which the story could not 
exist. And practically all of the best novels depend similarly on 

The ideal (which, of course, cannot always be attained) is to 
have background, actions, and characters so interdependent that no 
one of them could exist without the others. What happens in New 
Orleans could not possibly happen in Chicago; what happens in 

318 Creative Writing 

1875 could not possibly happen in 1925; what happens in the Mex- 
ican section of San Antonio could not possibly happen in the wealthy 
Anglo-American section of the same city. Narratives written as if 
they happened vaguely somewhere at approximately some time to 
people who make their living at some vaguely suggested business 
may not always be bad; but they might be better if they used back- 
ground creatively. 

6. INFORMATION. The serious reader of modern fiction expects 
it to give him information. That is one reason why background is 
so important. The serious reader may expect fiction to teach him 
something about history but not vague, generalized history. Prob- 
ably he has a pretty good idea of the American scene in 1875, say; 
but he expects his fiction to give him a precise view of Memphis, 
Tennessee, or of Bangor, Maine, or of Portland, Oregon, in 1875. 
Moreover, he would like to have his fiction teach him a little about 
social classes and the means by which certain groups of people 
make a living. He would want to know exact details about cotton 
buying in Memphis in 1875, or the lumber trade in Bangor, or the 
fishing industry in Portland; and he would want to know what 
races of people, economic classes, social groups, and intellectual 
types made up the population of Memphis, Bangor, and Portland 
in 1875, 1900, or today. If he did not get this historical, social, and 
economic information, he would ask, at any rate, for a picture of 
the landscape, details of costume, manners of speech, and other 
external details. If he were denied this, he would wish for some 
new philosophical idea in his fiction, or some large truth about God 
or mankind, or some analysis or criticism of society, or some revela- 
tion about certain moral or political theories. And if he were denied 
all this, he would wish, at least, for some increased knowledge of 
child psychology, or the psychology of elderly people, or the psy- 
chology of love, or abnormal psychology, or the psychology of the 
college student, the college professor, or the college president. 

One of the most significant distinctions between poor fiction and 
good fiction today is that the former is almost barren of information, 
and the latter is rich in it. 

7. CHANGE. The fundamental element of all narrative is time. 

The Substance of Fiction 319 

A genuine narrative does not merely reveal or describe a static 
situation; it tells what has occurred in time. Now, time is conceived 
and measured by means of change. Accordingly, the first question 
the fiction-writer must ask himself about his prospective story is, 
What kind of change is to be effected in my story? The change may 
be of various kinds: 

a. It may be a change in the relationship of characters to one 
another. A couple may be unmarried when the story opens, and 
married when it closes; the hero may be a victim of oppression at 
the beginning, and a victor at the end; he may be loved by others 
at the beginning, and hated at the end. 

b. The change may be in the relation between a character and 
his environment. Robinson Crusoe is apparently at the mercy of 
nature when he is shipwrecked, but as the story progresses he 
becomes master; in the old Alger books the poor boy would come 
to the city, where he would be duped and cheated on every hand 
until he at last became knowing in the ways of New York; in the 
old-fashioned picaresque novel, the hero would start life as a foot- 
ball of fortune, and would end as a successful and wealthy man. 

c. The change may be within a character himself a change 
brought about by environment (as in Conrad's Heart of Dark- 
ness), by other characters (as in Silas Marner, where Silas's whole 
nature is softened by the presence of little Effie), or by deep 
physical or spiritual experience (as in The Scarlet Letter and Mac- 
beth). This type of change has always appealed most strongly to 
critics, not only because it requires the most consummate skill on 
the writer's part, but also because it is creation in the process, human 
personality in the crucible, the actual labor throes by which all that 
is significant in character comes into being. 

d. The change may be in the reader's knowledge. On the most 
elementary plane, this knowledge may involve nothing more than 
knowing what happened. Did Robinson Crusoe get off his island at 
last? Did the hero find the buried treasure? Did the detective ever 
find out who committed the murder? Or it may involve elements in 
character, in which there is a gradual revealing (as in Hamlet) of 
the depths and complexities of a character. Or it may involve ele- 

320 Creative Writing 

ments of human nature and of society as in Vanity Fair or Babbitt 
where the reader discovers, in the course of the story, some char- 
acteristics of society at a certain time and place. Or it may involve 
the reader's increasing insight into the laws of life, or his introduc- 
tion to a new philosophy. 

e. Finally, though this should probably be included under the 
change in the relationship of characters, the change may be in the 
knowledge which some characters in the story have about other 
characters. In Tom Jones, for example, most of the action centers 
about the way various people misunderstand Tom, but eventually 
come to know him. 


that occurs in every narrative may occur steadily, without interrup- 
tion or obstruction from any source. Thus a boy and a girl may fall 
in love at first sight, resolve to marry, and get married with never 
any doubts, misunderstandings, jealousies, quarrels, parental ob- 
jections, or financial difficulties. But that is not what usually hap- 
pens, nor would it make a very interesting story in itself. Straight 
narratives of this sort (for example, stories of travel, accounts of 
hunting trips, newspaper stories, narratives about unusual experi- 
ences ) derive any interest they may have from the intrinsic interest 
of their subject, or from the subtlety and skill of their portrayal of 
character, or from their descriptions or their style, or from the curi- 
ous or unusual nature of the events they record. They are not in- 
teresting just as narratives. 

For the purposes of the fiction-writer who wishes to tell a story 
that readers will enjoy for its own sake, obstructed narrative is es- 
sential. The boy and the girl who fall in love do not immediately 
become engaged and get married straightway, without doubt, dif- 
ficulty, question, self -question, objection, delay, or obstruction from 
any source; and their story would not be interesting if they did. The 
fiction-writer makes their story interesting by throwing in all sorts 
of obstructions, and letting the characters struggle to remove these 

This kind of narrative may be conceived as a series of incidents 
some of them tending toward a certain conclusion or result, and 

The Substance of Fiction 3%1 

some of them tending toward a different conclusion or result. Thus, 
there is an interplay of what may be called positive and negative 
forces. The positive forces have a common direction or movement 
toward a certain end; the negative forces run counter to this trend, 
or obstruct it. Suppose, for example, I leave my home to go to a 
theatre downtown. I go out, get in my car, ride to the theatre district, 
park my car, walk to the theatre, present my ticket, and go in. This 
is straight narrative. But suppose the story went like this: I leave 
my home in my car, but halfway to the theatre I discover that I have 
forgotten my ticket, and must return home for it. Here is a positive 
force moving in one direction, and a negative force obstructing it. 
Suppose I go back and get my ticket, and start out once more and 
run out of gasoline on the way. The positive force is obstructed by 
another negative force. Then I get gasoline and start out again - 
and before I have gone two blocks I find that I have a flat tire. Posi- 
tive and negative again. The story might go on endlessly thus. All I 
need to do is to think up more and more obstructions : an arrest for 
speeding, a train blocking a street, a fire to be gone around, a minor 
traffic accident, no parking place available near the theatre, and 
so on. 

Joseph Conrad's "Youth" uses this method in a very simple and 
obvious form: the ship bound for the East is delayed by a whole 
series of accidents that fall as obstructions to its successful voyage. 
"Heart of Darkness" uses the same device, but a little more subtly. 
The picaresque novel of the eighteenth century consisted almost ex- 
clusively of this obstructed narrative; and most romantic novels of 
the early nineteenth century consisted of very complicated obstruc- 
tions to a main character's reaching rather simple objectives. Most 
of Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth, for example, is an account 
of an ingenious variety of obstructions that the young Erasmus met 
in attempting a journey from Holland to Italy. 

9. QUEST AND CONFLICT. Most books on fiction-writing say a great 
deal about "conflict" in a story. But perhaps Miss Eudora Welty 
came very near the whole truth when she said in the Atlantic for 
March, 1949: "On some level all stories are stories of search." Per- 
haps, however, "Quest" is a better word than "search." In most sto- 

Creative Writing 

ries, at any rate, someone is in quest of something. Someone is in 
quest of a wife, a fortune, an honor, a murderer, a victory, truth, 
righteousness, knowledge, power. Whenever anyone starts in quest 
of anything, a story is begun. 

Sometimes the quest is initiated out of a character's own desires 
as when a character wishes to marry someone, or to find a buried 
treasure, or to graduate from college, or to escape from prison or 
from a desert island. And sometimes a quest, like greatness, is thrust 
upon a character as when the necessity of avenging his father is 
thrust upon Hamlet, or the necessity of saving the Roman Republic 
is thrust upon Brutus, or when the necessity of making adjustments 
to a new kind of world is thrust upon "The Daughters of the Late 
Colonel" in Katherine Mansfield's story of that name. The quest may 
be deliberate and self-conscious (as in Treasure Island), or it may 
be unexpressed by the author and unrecognized by the characters 
(as in Ellen Glasgow's Vein of Iron, in which the quest of all the 
characters is to live a reasonably happy and decent life ) . Most sto- 
ries and novels end with the quest either attained by the seeker, or 
denied to him. But there are variations on the pattern. For example, 
a story may be largely concerned with the fate of a character after 
he has succeeded or failed in his quest; much of Shakespeare's Julius 
Caesar is this sort of story, and so is that portion of Faulkner's The 
Sound and the Fury which tells what happened to the boy Quentin 
after the failure of his impossible love. Or a story may bring a char- 
acter up to the point where he realizes that a quest, a hopeless quest, 
lies before him and leave him there; Katherine Mansfield's "Miss 
Brill" does this by letting us see the little old lady quite happy and 
contented, and ending with an incident that makes her lose her hap- 
piness and content forever. The same author's "Bliss" shows a wife 
exquisitely happy in her marriage but realizing at the very end of 
the story that her husband is in love with another woman. In both 
these stories the quest is implicit in the end; the women in both sto- 
ries thought they were securely anchored, but henceforth they must 
drift without anchorage, though seeking one. 

When a character pursues a quest, certain incidents show him on 
the way to attaining it, and certain others may show him having dif- 

The Substance of Fiction 

ficulty in moving toward it. These are the positive and the negative 
elements already mentioned. Sometimes the interplay of these two 
elements does create a conflict. But to apply the word conflict to a 
situation like that ( outlined previously ) in which a person going to 
the theatre runs into various difficulties and delays, or even like that 
in Conrad's "Youth," is employing the word rather loosely. Conflict 
implies strife, and strife implies opposing wills. 

Conflict may exist on one of three planes: (1) The action may de- 
rive from the conflicting wills of two people ( or groups of people ) , 
as when police try to capture a criminal and the criminal tries to 
prevent them from capturing him, or when one body of soldiers tries 
to take a hill and another body tries to hold it, or when one person 
tries to keep a secret and another tries to discover it, or when one 
man tries to marry a girl and another man tries to marry the same 
girl. (2) The action may derive from the conflicting wills of several 
people ( or groups of people ) , as when a criminal is trying to escape, 
the police are trying to capture him, another person is trying to make 
an innocent person seem to be the criminal, and the innocent person 
is trying to prove his innocence; or when one man is trying to marry 
a certain girl, another man is trying to marry the same girl, and the 
girl herself is trying to marry a third man. ( 3 ) The action may derive 
from the conflicting wills within one person, as when a man is at- 
tracted to two women at once, or a man wants to be honest but is 
tempted to be dishonest, or a man wants to be brave but is afraid, 
or a man is so incapable of making a choice between two objectives 
that he chooses a third. 

Many books and many stories have used conflicts such as these; 
indeed, many people think that a story cannot exist without conflict. 
To be sure, conflict does intensify interest in fiction, and is almost 
a necessity in the "popular" stories and novels. But a story or a novel 
may be very fine literature, and yet have no conflict in the literal 
sense as Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf have proved re- 

10. PLOT. The commonest statement any teacher of writing hears 
from his students is, "Oh, I can't invent plots!" The first answer to 
that exclamation is, "You can write good stories without plot." And 

Creative Writing 

the second answer is, "Creating a plot is the simplest thing in the 

A writer creates a plot when he sets a character on a quest. That 
is the essence of plot. 

The quest may be for something insignificant; but if it is to hold 
the reader's interest very long it must be for something that the char- 
acter involved, or the reader himself, considers important. 

The story of the quest may be told as straight narrative; but in any 
story that hopes to attract willing readers, the^ story must be told as 
obstructed narrative with positive and negative elements. 

All the incidents in the story should have some relation (positive 
or negative) to the central quest. (But sometimes, in a novel or a 
very long story, irrelevant incidents may be included for the sake of 
humor, character revelation, their intrinsic interest, the creation of 
a certain emotional atmosphere, or conveying necessary exposition. ) 

If a writer can be sure that his narrative fulfills the four require- 
ments just listed (Change, Obstructed Narrative, Quest, Conflict), 
he can be sure that it has plot. 

Perhaps it would be wise to mention here certain kinds of writing 
that do not constitute plot-narrative. ( 1 ) Interesting characters who 
talk together and do things, but who do not pursue some quest, do 
not make a plot. (2) An interesting scene with typical characters 
moving and speaking in it backstage in a theatre, on the bridge of 
a ship, around a campfire on a cattle ranch, in a college classroom 
does not make a plot. (3) An interesting situation in which char- 
acters are depicted a married couple who are ill-matched, an oil 
well just brought in on the place of an ignorant farmer, a blind stu- 
dent at college, a child whose father has been murdered does not 
make a plot. (4) An interesting incident that befalls a character 
the sort of thing one might read about in a newspaper: a holdup, an 
automobile accident, a fire, a drowning, an attack by a mad dog 
does not make a plot. (5) A series of unrelated incidents that happen 
to a single character as in the picaresque novel, where the hero 
wanders about and runs into various adventures and misadventures 
does not make a plot. (6) A quest for one thing that is attained, 
only to be followed by a quest for another thing, and so on, does not 
make a unified plot, but may make a series of plots. 

The Substance of Fiction 385 

11. COMPLICATIONS. Complications of plot are not a necessary 
substance of fiction; but they are worth striving for in a narrative of 
any length. Some devices for creating complications are the follow- 

( 1 ) One device has already been mentioned; it is to have several 
people with mutually conflicting objectives No. (2) in Section 9, 

(2) A writer may create two or more objectives, instead of just 
one, for the main character to seek. Thus the hero may be trying to 
marry a certain girl, gain a fortune, serve his country, and vindicate 
himself of a false accusation all at the same time. 

(3) There may be two or more persons, or groups of persons, 
with different sorts of quests in the same story. In other words, a 
story may have a plot and subplots. Thus a love affair of one young 
woman might be interesting; but adding the story of her sister's love 
affair going on simultaneously might make the narrative still more 
interesting. Shakespeare includes subplots in many of his plays; 
Midsummer Night's Dream consists of at least five series of actions 
running along together, and having characters crossing over from 
one to the other. Some skill is required, of course, for the several 
plots to be knit together by having characters in one be important 
or influential in the others. 

(4) An apparently insignificant or unimportant character, inci- 
dent, or object introduced early in the story may turn out to have a 
tremendous importance later on. Thus, in A Tale of Two Cities, the 
nurse and Jeremy Cruncher are apparently insignificant characters 
throughout much of the novel yet they play an absolutely essential 
part at the crucial moment. In Romeo and Juliet the comparatively 
trivial incident in which an illiterate servant asks a bystander to read 
a note for him results in the entire tragedy of the play. And in Lady 
Windermere's Fan the fan is indispensable at the turning point of 
the action. 


1. Feeling. 

Turn back to the exercises suggested for Divisions II and III of 
the preceding chapter, and do some that you have not already done. 

386 Creative Writing 

2. Subject. 

a. In the text, certain generalized worlds of the college student 
were mentioned. For each of these general worlds, mention specific 
worlds of your own. 

b. What is your predominant feeling about each of the specific 
worlds that you have just mentioned? 

c. Which of your specific worlds seem to you rather more un- 
usual than others? Have you had any unusual experiences (physical, 
mental, emotional) in the last week or so? What are they? Would 
any of them be an interesting subject for a story? 

d. Could any of the worlds or the experiences you have just men- 
tioned furnish subjects for stories on "two levels"? Turn back to the 
story topics suggested in the exercises of preceding chapters, and 
decide which ones might become stories on "two levels." 

3. Theme. 

a. In one rather long but precisely worded sentence, express at 
least one of your fundamental ideas (not feelings) about each of the 

women; men; small girls; small boys; some course you are 
taking or have taken in college; the principal defect of your 
college; the students of your college; the principal weakness of 
the home training you have received; the principal defect of the 
career you have planned; patriotism; sexual morality; why most 
people go to church; destiny; war; socialism; communism; the 
profit motive in business; private charity; public charity; ideal- 

b. Turn back to the exercises on p. 306, and reconsider them. 

c. Find subjects for the following themes (all taken from the 
Maxims of La Rochefoucauld ) : 

Passion often makes able men foolish, and foolish men able. 

The constancy of wise men is only the art of suppressing the 
agitation of their hearts. 

In order to establish oneself in the world, one must do all 
one can to seem established. 

In the business of life we please more often by our faults 
than by our virtues. 

Great names lower instead of elevating people who do not 
know how to support them. 

People often do good in order to be able to do evil with 

The Substance of Fiction 327 

We are so accustomed to disguising ourselves from others 
that at last we disguise ourselves from ourselves. 

There are people who would never have loved if they had 
never heard of love. 

It is not enough for one to have good qualities; one must 
make use of them. 

Weak persons cannot be sincere. 

4. Characters. 

a. For about twenty of the stories suggested in the lists, tell who 
the central characters would be. 

b and c. Characterize about ten of your acquaintances (choose 
those who are least similar to one another) and try to express the 
types to which they belong. In characterizing the ten, use for each 
one all the types mentioned in the text (period of life, sex, ge- 
ographical region, race, occupation, social class, manner of thinking 
or feeling). 

Which ones of these characters seem most individualized? 

d. Which ones of the characters you have just described seem to 
be interesting in themselves, just as they are that is, which ones 
might be better left as mere static characters? 

e. How might the personal traits of the people mentioned below 
grow into quite different (not necessarily opposite) traits under the 
circumstances mentioned? 

A rebellious girl is forced to suffer hardships. 
The same girl falls into a life of wealth and luxury. 

A gay but foolish man marries a phlegmatic woman. 

The same man marries a serious, ambitious woman. 

The same man marries a foolish, vain woman. 

Any of the women just mentioned marries the same man. 

A wise and thoughtful author becomes a popular success. 
The same man is never able to become a popular success. 

A somewhat stupid girl goes to college. 
The same girl stays at home on the farm. 

A very kind man goes to war. 

The same man becomes a social service worker. 

5. Background. 

From the lists of stories suggested in this book, choose about five 
that might profit by having their backgrounds developed fully. 
Briefly describe the backgrounds that you might use. 

328 Creative Writing 

6. Information. 

List several fields of information that you have and that you 
think your teacher probably does not have. 

See also the very first exercises given for Chapter XV. 

7. Change. 

Plan five different stories showing five different kinds of change 
which may grow out of each of the following situations: 

A young preacher from the city goes to take charge of a church 
in a small village. 

Because of poverty and ill health, an old farmer has to go to 
the city and live with his daughter, whose husband is well-to-do. 

8. Straight Narrative or Obstructed Narrative. 

a. Plan straight narratives (that would be interesting because of 
their emotional, psychological, social, philosophic, or imaginative ap- 
peal) about each of the following: 

Two hours at a dance; half an hour in a doctor's waiting 
room; a conference with a professor; a scene with your 
mother (if you are a young woman) after you have come 
home late at night; a scene with your father after you have 
done something that displeased him; half an hour shopping 
in a grocery store; meeting an old lover on the street; making 
a decision to do something that you know you shouldn't do; 
a night in a sick-bed; a conversation with a fellow passenger 
on a bus or train; a conversation with a classmate whom you 
do not know well. 

b. Make a list of the imagined obstructions which might delay the 
smooth progress of the straight narratives suggested below: 

A love affair between college students. 

A six-day voyage. 

A one-day train trip. 

A new job. 

An interview with a celebrity. 

Finding a boarding place. 

A girl trying to marry a man for his money. 

A man trying to escape the unwelcome attentions of a young 
woman who has taken a fancy to him. 

The problems of a young man who has just been elected to 
office on the reform ticket. 

The problems of a young man who has graduated from an 

The Substance of Fiction 3%9 

agricultural school and gone back to his native county to start 

c. If the narratives just listed are unsatisfactory, choose narratives 
suggested in any of the other lists in this book. 

9. Quest and Conflict. 

a. Choose several of the characters you have worked with in 
Exercise 4, above, and give them quests. Can you think of several 
simultaneous quests for any one of them? Can you imagine a story 
in which two or three of the characters would have the same quest? 
conflicting quests? 

b. From any of the narratives suggested anywhere in this book, 
choose two or three in which each of the three types of conflict 
could be used. 

c. Choose two or three in which all three types of conflict could 
be used in a single story. 

10. Plot. 

a. From one of the quests you have mentioned in Exercise 9, 
above, work out a plot that would satisfy the requirements out- 
lined in the text. 

b. Analyze the plot, or lack of plot, in each of ten stories that 
you have read in your life. 

11. Complications. 

a. Try to remember stories, plays, or novels which use one or 
another of the four types of complication mentioned in the text. 

b. Choose several stories that you have written or planned, and 
try to give them complications. Do the same for stories that your 
classmates, or other people, have written. 


Composing the Narrative 

Before an author comes to the actual moment of starting to write 
his narrative, he must do a good deal of thinking about it. Perhaps 
he will not work out every detail, or even make an outline; but he 
will almost certainly compose, in his mind, a generalized picture of 
what he is going to do. He is like a painter who cannot predict every 
detail he will make in a contemplated picture, but who knows be- 
forehand what his general compositional structure will be. 

The present chapter deals with that very critical period between 
the time when a writer says to himself, "I want to write a story" or 
"I want to write a story about that" and the time when he actually 
writes the first sentence of the story. It is granted that no two writers 
compose in the same way. It is granted, furthermore, that writing fic- 
tion is not a process for which recipes can be given like recipes for 
making a cake; something else is required of a writer in addition to 
the ability to follow directions. It is granted, finally, that the process 
of composition is not always a step-by-step affair, as it must be 
treated in the following pages; it is more often a simultaneous, almost 
intuitive, juggling of several elements all at once. Nevertheless, the 
advice given here may be serviceable if only by way of suggestion. 

1. TWO METHODS OF COMPOSING. It must be admitted at once that, 
from reader standpoint, there are three kinds of fiction: fiction for 
intelligent, critical, thoughtful people who have imagination and 
good taste, and who want to read fiction of depth, sincerity, origi- 
nality, and imagination; fiction for people who want merely to be 
amused, who want something to pass the time without their having 
to think; and fiction that appeals to both the first and the second 
group, that the thoughtful people can enjoy and the other people (in 
their various gradations down to the mere barber-shop reader) can 


Composing the Narrative 331 

use as a method of escape. Some fiction ( the kind that gets into the 
collections of "Best" stories annually) exists for a very small group 
of the so-called intelligentsia; some fiction (the kind that gets into 
the great "slick-paper" magazines ) exists for the great masses of peo- 
ple who do not care to think, ever; and some ( like that of Heming- 
way, Steinbeck, Lewis, Dreiser, Bennett, Dickens) exists for all 
levels of readers. We might say that the first type of fiction consists 
of ingredients A, the second type of ingredients B, and the third type 
of ingredients A and B. 

The chief elements in A are feeling, idea, and imagination; the 
chief elements in B are incident, plot, and character ( though not the 
subtleties of character that serve to compose the psychological ideas 
of the first type). The writer should learn which of these types of 
ingredients appeal to him most. If he likes A, he will start composing 
from a feeling, a thought, or a background; if he likes B, he will 
start composing from a character, a situation, an incident, or a plot. 

2. STARTING FROM A FEELING. One can have feelings about con- 
crete things about a person, a scene, a town, a community, an ani- 
mal, a machine; one can have a feeling about something equally real 
but less concrete about a time in history, a class of people, a profes- 
sion or way of life, a war, an economic depression, old age; and one 
can have a feeling about abstractions about destiny, chance, man's 
relation to God and to his fellow man, democracy, communism, so- 
cialism, poverty, justice. Even if he thinks he has no feeling about 
some of these matters, a writer should carefully analyze himself and 
his reactions ( as advised in a previous chapter ) ; the chances are at 
least ten to one that he will discover he does have a feeling about 
them, after all. The feeling need not be intense and passionate; it 
need only be real and recognizable. 

Having discovered his feeling about some subject, the writer may 
begin composing his narrative in the following way: 

a. First, he translates the feeling into terms of theme, or idea. 
For example, if his feeling could be expressed in words like this: "I 
feel the mechanical, efficient coldness of most hospitals," he trans- 
lates the feeling into an idea: "Most hospitals are mechanical, ef- 
ficient, and cold." If he can say, "I feel the romantic glamour of the 

332 Creative Writing 

Middle Ages," he translates the feeling into an idea: "The Middle 
Ages were a time of romantic glamour." Or if he can say, "I feel that 
a destiny must be shaping men's affairs," he translates the feeling 
into an idea: "Destiny shapes men's affairs." Feeling must become 
philosophical in at least this elementary way before it can become a 
good starting point for fiction. That was the implication of Section 
3 of the preceding chapter, where it was said: "Really good fiction 
cannot exist without philosophical content, without theme." 

b. Next, if his feeling concerns, not some concrete thing, but a 
condition or an abstraction, he must express the condition or the ab- 
straction concretely. For example, if he has a feeling about war, he 
must visualize war in terms of some specific war, and of some specific 
theatre of that war. If he has a feeling about destiny, he must visual- 
ize destiny in terms of some specific and concrete case, some person 
or incident. If he has a feeling about some way of life, he must visu- 
alize that way of life in terms of certain people practicing it. Art is 
concrete; it deals with abstractions only when they can be made 

All this means that the writer must decide very early what the 
background of his narrative is to be. He must decide its time and 
place. (Here the writer should re-read and try to apply what was 
said in Section 2 of the preceding chapter. ) 

c. Next, the writer should recall what was said about change in 
the preceding chapter. Presumably, the main change that occurs will 
be in the way the reader, or some character in the narrative, feels 
about the subject. The writer's purpose is to make the character or 
the reader change from having no feeling, or a mistaken feeling, 
about the subject, and adopt the feeling that the writer has about it. 
This may be accomplished in several ways: (1) The writer can 
gradually accumulate details that eventually make the reader feel 
as the writer wishes. (2) The writer can begin by allowing the 
reader, or the main character in the story, to feel a certain way on 
the subject, and then gradually have him change to feeling the op- 
posite way as a youth may go to war feeling that it is romantic but 
gradually change to feeling that it is brutal. (3) The writer may take 
his reader, or his main character, through a whole series of feelings 

Composing the Narrative 333 

until the writer's own feeling is reached as when a youth goes to 
war feeling that it is romantic, and then comes to feel that it helps 
build heroic characters, and then that it is a necessary evil, and then 
that it is a wholly unnecessary evil, and finally that it is downright 
brutal and murderous. 

d. About this time the writer should choose or invent a character 
who will be the central figure of the story. This character may be 
one of three types: (1) He may be a person who is conceived as 
merely human, and who excites human feelings of sympathy, ad- 
miration, contempt, pity, and so on just as would any real person. 
Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Tom Jones, Becky Sharp are such 
persons. (2) He may be a person who symbolizes some abstraction 
or some condition, and who attracts to himself the feeling the reader 
is expected to have about the subject itself as Sister Carrie rep- 
resents all poor working girls in the city, as George Babbitt repre- 
sents the enthusiastic American businessman, or as Tom Sawyer rep- 
resents the American boy. (3) Occasionally the main character is 
only an emotional intermediary whose feelings about the subject are 
supposed to be reflected in the reader as with George in Heming- 
way's "The Killers," and Nick in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. 

e. The central figure must be started on a quest. Almost any kind 
of quest will do; it need not be closely related to the feeling the 
writer is trying to create. In Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, for 
example, the writer's main purpose is to give the reader a certain 
feeling about aristocratic New York society; but the quest of the 
main character is merely to marry a certain girl. 

f. Obstructions must be invented so that the main character will 
not reach his goal, or fail to reach it, too soon. 

g. Meanwhile, the writer should be inventing characters to typify, 
or personify, various aspects of the subject. Suppose, as in an ex- 
ample already given, a writer is trying to give a feeling, or convey 
an idea, about the mechanical and efficient coldness of hospitals. He 
will invent a nurse, a house doctor, and an orderly who are mechani- 
cal, efficient, and cold. Or suppose he is trying to give a feeling about 
poverty in some city. He will invent characters who typify the pov- 
erty-stricken child, the poverty-stricken woman, and the poverty- 

334 Creative Writing 

stricken man; perhaps he will invent several types of each say, the 
pitiful poverty-stricken child and the poverty-stricken juvenile de- 
linquent; the honest and hard-working poverty-stricken woman and 
the hard and immoral poverty-stricken woman; the man who is a 
victim of hard luck, and the man whose own vices have brought him 
misfortune. Obviously, some of these characters will be used to rouse 
a feeling in the reader; some will be used to further the main char- 
acter's quest; and some will be used to obstruct the main character's 

By the time the writer has invented such characters, chosen a 
central one, given him a quest, thought of obstructions that will 
hinder his quest, located the scene precisely, and decided what 
method of accomplishing a change in the reader's feeling he is going 
to use the story begins to write itself. 

h. The writer should consider the possibility, or the advisability, 
of introducing conflict and complications (see Sections 9 and 11 of 
the previous chapter ) into the story. 

3. STARTING FROM A THEME. Sometimes one has an idea ( a philo- 
sophic concept, an intellectual judgment, a critical analysis, a gen- 
eralization about some aspect of life) that he wishes to express in 
fictional form. Most of Hawthorne's short stories were originally con- 
ceived ( as his notebooks testify ) as philosophic ideas; Galsworthy's 
novels and plays are usually based on some sociological idea; so are 
Sinclair Lewis's; so are John Dos Passes' and so on. Since ideas and 
feelings are so closely related (see Section 2 "a" above) a writer 
may compose a narrative around a theme by following the procedure 
just outlined in Section 2. As a special bit of additional advice, the 
writer starting from a theme will often do well to let the reader begin 
by believing the negative of the theme. If the theme is to be, for ex- 
ample, that "People may repent, but they do not change," the writer 
would begin by making the reader think that some character who 
repents early in the story has really changed; then, gradually, by the 
accumulation of evidence, the reader would be brought to see the 
falsity of his original belief. This device is usually helpful, but is not 
essential; the devices mentioned under 'V of Section 2 above are 
also useful. 

Composing the Narrative 335 

4. STARTING FROM BACKGROUND. Some places or times or social 
groups or ways of life cry aloud for stories to be written about them. 
The plains of North Dakota, many places in China, Mexico, the 
Middle Ages and the eighteenth century, gangsters and cowboys, 
doctors and nurses, scenes of war these are the kinds of back- 
grounds that demand stories for themselves. 

The process by which a narrative is composed from a setting is 
much the same as that outlined above for feeling or theme. In par- 
ticular, the writer should: 

a. Have a feeling about the background. 

b. Develop the feeling into a theme. 

c. Invent characters typical of the background or in contrast to it. 

d. Perhaps decide that the change that is to occur in the narrative 
will involve the relationship between character and background. 
Possible changes that might occur in such a relationship are these: 
( 1 ) The main character begins by being out of harmony with the 
background, but adjusts himself to it; (2) the character begins by 
being out of harmony with the background, and changes the back- 
ground to make it more harmonious with himself; ( 3 ) the character 
begins by being out of harmony with the background, and is de- 
stroyed by it (literally or figuratively); (4) the character begins in 
harmony with the background, but ends out of harmony with it; ( 5 ) 
there are alternations of all these situations, with the character in 
harmony and out of harmony again and again, or in harmony or out 
of harmony with certain aspects of the background. 


1. Two Methods of Composing. 

a. Study the stories in The Best American Short Stories collection 
for some recent year, in Harper's and Atlantic magazines, in the 
Partisan Review and Kenyon Review, and in the Saturday Evening 
Post and Ladies Home Journal. What ingredients of these stories 
Were probably of most concern to the writers? 

b. Omitting financial considerations, tell which of the publica- 
tions just mentioned you would most like your work to appear in. 

336 Creative Writing 

2. Starting from a Feeling. 

Following the plan outlined in the text, compose a story on one 
or more of the following subjects: 

The town or community you live in. 

Your cat or dog or horse or other pet. 

A relative. 

College life. 

Some job you have held. 

The time of your parents' childhood. 

True Christianity. 

True morality. 


3. Starting from a Theme. 

Following the plan outlined in the text, compose a story on one 
or more of the following subjects: 

Any of the subjects mentioned in the preceding exercise. 
Any of the following ideas: 

Before a man marries, his love belongs to his parents; after 
he marries, it belongs to his wife. 

A man who has gold but no knowledge has little. 

What one fool spoils, a thousand wise men cannot repair. 

Lies uttered in order to make peace are not forbidden. 

The thief becomes law-abiding when he can steal no more. 

4. Starting from Background. 

a. Following the plan outlined in the text, compose a story on 
one or more of the following subjects: 

Your college campus. 

Your community. 

The rural area with which you are best acquainted. 

The poorest social class which you know fairly well. 

The richest social class which you know fairly well. 

Some job you have held. 

Your parents' childhood. 

b. Outline the four or five kinds of changes that might occur in 
the relationship between character and environment in the follow- 
ing situations: 

A country boy (or girl) comes to live with well-to-do (or 
poor) relatives in a large city. 

A city boy (or girl) comes to live with well-to-do (or poor) 
relatives in the country. 

Composing the Narrative 337 

The daughter of a wealthy city family marries the son of 
a small businessman in a country village, and goes to live in 
the village. 

A foreign student (young man or young woman) comes to 
an American university as an exchange student. 


Composing the Narrative (Continued) 

The suggestions in the preceding chapter dealt with the problem of 
composition when the narrative-basis is a generalized subject. The 
present chapter deals with composition when the subject is more 

Furthermore, the kind of story discussed in the preceding chapter, 
if handled with technical skill, is likely to belong to the Chekhovian 
type of story, and to appeal to the more discerning elements of 
modern criticism. The kind of story discussed in the present chapter 
is more likely to belong to the Maupassantian type, and it may or 
may not be good literature. It is the kind of fiction that may have no 
higher ambition than to help the reader pass away the time. On the 
other hand, the two kinds of fiction may unite in one narrative, which 
will be all the better for the union. 

5. STARTING FROM CHARACTER. Some people a writer meets, or 
dreams of, or invents, seem designed purposely to go into fiction. 
The difficulty comes when the writer tries to make a narrative out of 
the mere character. The following suggestions may help solve this 

a. The writer should decide whether his character is interesting 
primarily because he is typical, or because he is unique. 

b. If he is primarily typical, of what is he chiefly typical? Of a 
period of life, a sex, a time in history, a geographical region, a race, 
a trade or profession, a social class, a manner of thinking or acting 
or feeling, or what? 

c. When the answer to the question just asked is found, the next 
step is to discover what one feels or thinks about the general subject 
of which the character is a typical example. From here, one proceeds 


Composing the Narrative 339 

along the steps outlined in the preceding chapter for generalized 

d. But if the character is unique, not typical, the writer's first step 
should probably be to determine the one or two chief character traits 
of the fictional character. Is he romantic, idealistic, egotistical, selfish, 
religious, mercenary, ambitious, lustful, courageous, cowardly, gen- 
erous, or what? Sometimes the chief characteristic is that there is no 
chief characteristic or there may be several equally strong char- 
acteristics in conflict with one another. Meredith has a novel in 
which he names the chief trait of his chief character: The Egoist. 
Maupassant has "The Coward" and "The Enthusiast"; Hawthorne 
has "The Ambitious Guest"; Mansfield, "Such a Sweet Old Lady"; 
D. H. Lawrence, "The Lovely Lady." 

e. Next, the character should be placed in one of the following 

( 1 ) He may be placed in a situation (or environment) where his 
chief trait will have an opportunity to operate extensively, and so re- 
veal itself. This is a particularly useful device when the chief trait is 
admirable. Thus a young woman who has a way with children may 
be made a teacher of elementary grades; a scholarly young man may 
become a college teacher; a generous man may become a millionaire; 
a mercenary man may go into some shady business; a courageous 
man may join the Marines. The narrative problem here is to create 
interest by means of plot, obstructed narrative, conflicts, and com- 
plications ( see pp. 319-325 ) . Perhaps the suggestions given at the 
end of the preceding chapter, concerning relation of character to 
environment, may also be helpful. 

( 2 ) The character may be placed in a situation ( or environment ) 
out of harmony with his chief trait. This is, perhaps, an easier solu- 
tion to the problem than the preceding. Shakespeare put the thought- 
ful Hamlet in a situation where he had to act, not merely think; he 
put the proud and egotistical King Lear in a situation where he was 
humiliated; he put the ambitious Macbeth in a situation where he 
was called on to exercise the highest loyalty that Shakespeare knew, 
loyalty to the king. Stephen Crane took a coward to war in The Red 
Badge of Courage; George Meredith had his egoist in love in The 

340 Creative Writing 

Egoist. Here again the narrative problem is to create one of the kinds 
of change outlined on pp. 318-319, and to make the narrative inter- 
esting by plot, obstructed narrative, conflict, and complications. 

6. STARTING FROM SITUATION. Sometimes a writer comes across, 
in real life, a situation which strikes him as having narrative possi- 
bilities, or he invents such a situation from a hint or suggestion in 
real life. The situation should be considered as a static condition that 
has resulted from previous action, and that may result in succeeding 
action. Any of the following may be regarded as a situation: A 
woman has married a man she does not love; a man is in love with 
a woman of another race; a man knows he has only two months to 
live; a wealthy old lady finds her fortune suddenly gone; a girl is in 
love with a man to whom her family intensely objects. 

To make a story out of this sort of material, the writer may take the 
following steps: 

a. He should decide whether the situation he has in mind is a be- 
ginning, a middle, or an end of a narrative. Shall he tell how the 
situation came about? Or shall he tell what results from the situa- 
tion? Or shall he do both? For example, shall he use a good part of 
his narrative to show how the wealthy old lady mentioned above 
lost her money? Or shall he concentrate on what happens to her, now 
that she has lost it? Or shall he do both? Precise answers to these 
questions are impossible here. The writer's tastes, abilities, and pro- 
spective readers, and the nature of the situations themselves, will de- 
termine the answers. 

b. Next, the writer may proceed (as directed in the preceding 
chapter) to build a narrative from feeling, theme, or background; 
or he could concentrate on one or two of the characters involved 
in the situation, and then proceed as suggested in the preceding sec- 

7. STARTING FROM INCIDENT. Sometimes a writer may happen 
upon an incident or event in his daily life which, he thinks, has in it 
the elements or the possibilities of a story. It may be an item in the 
paper, a chance remark heard on a street corner, a significant look 
passed between a man and a woman, a "personal" in the advertising 
column of a journal, or some other such contribution to the writer's 

Composing the Narrative 841 

store of observations and experiences. As he waits on the corner, he 
may see a little girl come up to the old woman selling papers nearby, 
and tell her something, whereupon the old woman begins to weep. 
Sitting in the subway, he may see a burly gentleman slowly lift a 
long blonde hair from his coat-sleeve, deposit the hair in the aisle of 
the car, and smile. Walking along the street, he may see an urchin 
suddenly assume a pitiful expression, sidle up to a well-dressed gen- 
tleman, beg for money and, on being refused, run back and start 
laughing and romping with other urchins on the street corner. Every 
person with eyes in his head and senses alert notices a dozen such 
incidents every day. 

But how to make them into a story? More lively inventive power, 
more intuition about character, more vision to perceive a whole 
situation in a minor incident are required for the writer starting with 
an incident than starting from any other point. Perhaps the best 
thing the writer can do is to try to translate the incident into terms 
of character or situation, and proceed from that point, as advised in 
the first sections of this chapter. For example, he may see as chiefly 
important in the incident of the newspaper woman and the little 
girl, the character of the woman or the character of the child. Or he 
may invent details of the situation: What are the broad aspects of 
the situation under which the woman and the child live, and what 
specific happening has the child reported to make her mother weep? 
Or what are the broad aspects of the situation under which the 
gentleman in the subway acquired the long blonde hair on his 
sleeve? Did the hair belong to his wife, a sweetheart, a mistress? 
And, if either of the latter two, who is she? And who is he? And 
where is he going now? All this boils down to two questions that the 
writer must practically always ask himself when he tries to start a 
story from an incident: ( 1 ) What is the general situation of which 
this incident is a part? (2) What immediately preceded, and what 
will immediately follow, the incident? 

comes to a writer almost full-blown. For example: Parents work, 
slave, and deprive themselves of necessities in order to send their 
son to college; then he dies a month after he graduates. Or the prodi- 

31$ Creative Writing 

gal son returns home, but soon leaves on account of his father's too 
'officious solicitude about him. Or a politician has a mistress who, on 
the eve of an election, threatens to denounce him; he has her killed. 

These are complete stories in themselves. About all the writer 
need do is to visualize each of them as a series of scenes. If he wishes, 
in addition, to bring in obstructions, conflicts, and complications, he 
may do so; if he wishes to develop characters, portray a feeling, or 
present a theme, he may do so. But essentially his work is cut out 
for him already. 

9. THE ACTUAL START. Even though the writer has composed in 
his mind the general scheme of his narrative, a major problem re- 
mains. It is to know exactly how to begin, how to trigger the story 
off, how to get it in motion. 

a. One must visualize story-writing as something like using a 
microscope. One starts out with a low-power lens covering a large 
general field; then one switches to a high-power lens concentrating 
on a small part of that field. Certain general circumstances surround 
( or constitute ) every story. They include time, place, general condi- 
tion or situation in which characters find themselves, interrelation- 
ship of characters, interrelationship of characters and environment, 
and the like. By and large, these general circumstances represent 
a virtually static condition, or at least a condition that has been mov- 
ing along in the same direction for a considerable time. 

b. Into the midst of these large, general, static circumstances 
comes a spark of provocation, an inciting force, something new after 
which something else new is bound to happen. Or, to change the fig- 
ure, the relatively static general situation visualized as fiction mate- 
rial is given a shove, an impulsion, that sets it moving forward or, 
if it has already been moving, changes the direction of its move- 
ment. This is the real beginning of any story. For example: Three 
cats are in one room, a dog is in an adjoining room, and a closed 
door stands between them. These are general circumstances, a static 
situation that may remain unchanged indefinitely. But someone 
opens the door, and lets the dog into the room with the cats. This is 
the initial shove, or impulsion, or inciting force, or spark of provoca- 

Composing the Narrative 31$ 

tion, or something new after which something else new is bound to 
happen. This is the beginning of the story. 

Or you are going to college routinely in a normal and unspectacu- 
lar way. This is a generalized, relatively static situation. But suddenly 
both your mother and your father are killed in an automobile wreck. 
This again is the beginning of a story. 

A recent number of the Saturday Evening Post has stories that 
begin thus: 

An ordinary American family is seen relaxing after dinner [gen- 
eral circumstances]; then the wife suddenly tells her husband that 
the ladies in the neighborhood have decided that he must run for 
president of the local Parent-Teachers Association, a position nor- 
mally reserved for women [shove or spark that starts the story]. 

A wealthy rancher in Oregon has working for him a young cow- 
boy who is in love with the rancher's daughter, who is also more or 
less in love with the cowboy [general circumstances]; then, in a sud- 
den fit of pique, the foreman of the ranch fires the cowboy and makes 
him leave the ranch [shove or spark that starts the story]. 

A young American naval attache in Istanbul is living a fairly nor- 
mal life there [general circumstances]; then a mysterious Turkish 
girl whom he has never seen before accosts him on the street and 
pleads with him to meet her at the public fountain next day so that 
she can give him some very important information [shove or spark 
that starts the story]. 

The shove or spark of a story grows out of one of the following: 

(1) An accidental happening to the character (or characters) 
meant to be central in the story. The shipwrecks that initiate the real 
stories in Robinson Crusoe and in the Lilliput adventure of Gullivers 
Travels are accidents of this sort. So is Silas Marner's finding the 
child Effie; so is Mowgli's escape from the tiger to the wolf's den in 
the Jungle Book. 

( 2 ) A new happening that results from a more or less natural de- 
velopment, growth, or change. The death of the old colonel in "The 
Daughters of the Late Colonel" is an example; so is the return of 
the young couple to America in The Silver Cord. One can think of 

844 Creative Writing 

many examples in real life: A depression comes, and a character 
begins to suffer hardships; old age comes, and a character has to ad- 
just his life to it; a war comes, and a young man has to join the 
armed forces; a couple marry and have a baby. Sometimes a writer 
has trouble with this kind of beginning because the developments 
( as with the depression and old age in the examples just mentioned ) 
occur too slowly to be represented as dramatic narrative scenes. 

(3) An action by a character. Sometimes a character virtually 
outside the story may give the initial shove that sets the action 
going as does the ghost in Hamlet. Or sometimes an important 
character within the story may give the shove that starts the story 
as do the rebellious Percies in Henry IV. 

(a) A character may initiate action because he has developed a 
desire ( or sometimes a mere whim ) to bring about a change in his 
life, the lives of other people, or certain conditions or situations 
about him. It is such a desire that moves the murderer in Poe's "The 
Cask of Amontillado" and the good citizens who chase out the 
riffraff in Harte's "The Outcasts of Poker Flat." 

(b) A character may initiate action out of no actual desire, but 
from a sense of moral obligation as with Don Quixote who sets out 
to do what he conceives his knightly duty, or the king and his court 
who renounce love at the beginning of Love's Labour's Lost, or 
the convict who aids the boy who was kind to him in Great Expecta- 

( c ) A character may initiate action by having it forced upon him, 
often in the form of a decision he must make. But here it may be 
that the forcing is being done through the desire or the moral obliga- 
tion of other characters, so that this means is really not valid. It is 
the Hamlet situation, or the situation in The Silver Cord, where four 
people have action forced upon them because of the selfish desires 
of old Mrs. Phelps. 

( d ) A character may initiate action by continuing to behave in an 
ordinary and habitual way that suddenly becomes vitally significant. 
But here too the narrative significance will usuallv depend upon 
some very unusual ( or accidental ) circumstance. Thus, in Maupas- 
sant's "A Piece of String," the old man's picking up a piece of string 

Composing the Narrative 

(ordinary behavior) would not have resulted in a story except that 
a rich man had that very day lost a purse with a large sum of money 
near the place where the string was picked up. 

To see how these generalizations about beginnings may be ap- 
plied to almost any commonplace situation in order to make it into 
the beginning of a story, let us take this situation: "A girl is a senior 
in college." From this situation the following eleven different begin- 
nings may be developed. 

1. Her parents are both killed in the same automobile wreck. 

2. She graduates from college and has to face the problem of 
getting a job. ( Natural development. ) 

3. She desires to marry a certain young man. (Action derived 
from a characters desire. ) 

4. She would like to marry, but feels obligated first to pay. off a 
debt that her father has contracted in order to send her to college. 
( Moral obligation. ) 

5. Just when she graduates and is about to marry the young man, 
she is offered a lucrative and glamorous job in Paris. (Some sort 
of action forced upon her, a decision to be made. ) 

6. She is studying in the library, happens to be seated by a young 
man she has never noticed before, gets to talking with him, goes 
with him to get a cup of coffee, finds him likable, falls in love with 
him. ( Ordinary behavior leading to a significant event. ) 

All these situations but the first could be varied by having the 
action initiated, not by herself, but by someone else: 

1. Just as she graduates from college, her mother dies, and the 
daughter automatically takes over management of the household. 
( Natural development. ) 

2. Her parents desire her to marry a certain young man. (Action 
derived from a character's desire.) 

3. Her father insists that she help him pay off his debt before she 
marries. ( Moral obligation. ) 

4. She is strongly urged by her parents to take one of the jobs 
offered her, in preference to the other. (Action forced upon her.) 

5. The young man by whom she happens to study in the library 

346 Creative Writing 

starts a conversation, asks her to go have coffee with him, asks for a 
date, falls in love with her, persuades her to marry him. ( Ordinary 
behavior leading to a significant event. ) 

Though none of the eleven stories suggested here may be really 
remarkable for originality, the point should be obvious. It is that 
the most ordinary of situations imaginable has in it the beginnings of 
a story. 

10. ENDING THE NARRATIVE. The problem of endings was dis- 
cussed in Chapter XIII, where recommendations of the probable or 
inevitable ending, and warnings against the surprise ending, were 
given. We should consider the ending here in connection with what 
we know about obstructed narrative. In simple terms, the obstructed 
narrative consists of an alternating series of pleasant-unpleasant- 
pleasant-unpleasant things happening to the characters in whom the 
reader is most interested. If the story stops on a pleasant happening, 
with no unpleasant happenings in the foreseeable future, the story 
is said to have a happy ending. If it stops on unpleasant happenings, 
with no important pleasant happenings within the foreseeable fu- 
ture, the story is said to have an unhappy ending. 

Happy endings are most common, best liked, and, as a rule, the 
most advisable for the writer. Indeed, so fine a critic, philosopher, 
and scholar as Joseph Wood Krutch remarks, "All works of art which 
deserve their name have a happy end/' Still, it would be very diffi- 
cult to find anything resembling a happy end in some of Conrad's 
work ( "Heart of Darkness" and Lord Jim, for example ) , in some of 
Hardy's, and even in so fine a work of art as The Old Wives' Tale. 
On the other hand, there is little excuse for the deliberate killing off 
of characters, or deliberately bringing disaster on characters, just to 
win a tear from the reader, when there is no sense of inevitability 
or probability leading straight through the story to the unhappy end. 

If one cannot have a happy ending to his narrative, he may strive 
for the more difficult happy-unhappy ending. This is an ending in 
which disaster overtakes the characters whom we most like, but in 
which there is some element of consolation. This consolation derives 
from one of several sources: (1) A spiritual triumph of the individ- 
ual despite his physical disaster (as with the thief hanging on the 

Composing the Narrative 347 

cross to the right of Christ's, and the death of Carton in A Tale of 
Two Cities). (2) A compensatory defeat of those who have defeated 
the people the reader most likes in the story ( as in For Whom the 
Bell Tolls). (3) A feeling by the reader that the situation has become 
so irredeemably bad that death for all concerned is the most merci- 
ful solution (as in the story of Samson and King Lear). (4) An 
accomplishment of some good result through the sacrifice of some 
character the reader likes (as in Kipling's "The Miracle of Purun 
Baghat" and Romeo and Juliet). Sometimes several of these sources 
of consolation exist in the same ending. The ending of Hamlet, for 
example, contains the consolation of (1), (2), and (3); so does 
King Lear; and A Tale of Two Cities ends with the consolations of 
(1), (2), and (4). 


5. Starting from Character. 

The instructor may have each member of the class write on three 
sheets of paper short character sketches of three different people. 
All these papers may then be jumbled together, and afterward 
redistributed so that each student gets three character sketches 
different from the ones he wrote. At least two of these should be 
worked into stories in the manner outlined in the text. 

Or the student may take two characters of his own invention, 
and work one of them into a story by placing him in a congenial 
environment, and the other into a story by placing him in an un- 
congenial environment. 

6. Starting from Situation. 

Following the plan outlined in the text, construct a story from 
one of the following situations: 

A young farmer must always leave his sweetheart just at night- 
fall in order to go home and attend to his cow. 

Of twin sisters, one goes through college successfully, and the 
other has refused to go to college. 

A brilliant and forceful young wife adores her husband with- 
out realizing that he is shallow and weak. 

A wife thinks constantly of the man she could have married. 

One of your classmates, who has seemed to be quite worldly, 
has stopped school suddenly and entered a convent. 


Creative Writing 

Starting from Incident. 

Following the plan outlined in the text, construct a story from 
one of the following incidents: 

You go out at night to put your car in the garage, and find a 
strange woman sitting in the car. 

You go out on your front porch at night, hear a scuffling on 
the doorstep, and see a man coming up the steps on all fours. 

At the Public Library you notice across the table from you a 
young woman with the most beautiful hands you have ever seen. 

In a restaurant a person who has been .eating at another table 
and staring at you while you eat gets up when you get up, and 
follows you (or seems to follow you) out. 

Someone gives you a strange red-eyed tree-frog which has 
been taken from a bunch of bananas just shipped in. 

8. Starting from a Complete Story Idea. 

Following the plan outlined in the text, construct a story from 
one of the complete story ideas suggested below: 

A rich man who has been poor, and who knows the hardships 
of poverty, has a daughter (or a son) who is thoughtless and 
inconsiderate of the poor. The father influences the younger per- 
son to be more sympathetic. 

A preacher who entered the ministry as a youth fired with zeal 
finds in his mature age that he no longer has his early enthusiasm 
and belief. 

A farm woman engaged to be married to a farmer is called 
away to live in the city for a year. When she returns to the farm, 
her sense of values is so changed that she cannot bring herself 
to marry the farmer. 

Or the farmer may not be able to care for her as she now is. 

Or she may hate the farm which she loved before going to 
the city. 

As a child, a man sees (or thinks he sees) a ghost with a hor- 

rible face. Years later he sees the same face on a ship in which 

he has planned to sail. He refuses to make the voyage on that 

j ship. A week later he learns that the ship sank on the voyage 

' he had intended to make. 

9. The Actual Start. 

Examine all the suggested starting points for stories suggested 
in the exercises for this and the preceding chapter, and try to de- 
cide what and where the inciting spark of each story might be. 

Composing the Narrative 349 

Take any one of the suggested stories, and make several differ- 
ent inciting sparks for it; include an accidental happening, a new 
happening resulting from natural development, action by a char- 

10. Ending the Narrative. 

Show how several of the story ideas mentioned in Exercise 8 
above might have either happy or happy-unhappy endings, and 
tell what kind of consolation the reader would have in the stories 
with the latter type of ending. 


Writing the Narrative 

This chapter supposes that the writer has his narrative fairly well 
composed in his head. He knows the dominant feeling and theme; 
ho has visualized the general nature of his chief characters; he 
knows what kind of quest is to be followed in the narrative; he has 
planned an obstructed narrative that is to have an ending that has 
been predetermined; and he has considered the use of possible con- 
trasts, conflicts, and complications. Now he must get down to the 
practical work of writing. 

I. Some Preliminary Decisions 

1. LENGTH. The writer has probably thought already about the 
probable length of his narrative. If not, he should begin thinking 
about it now. The length depends upon the medium of publication 
which the writer hopes to use. A novel is about 70,000 to 200,000 
words long. Sometimes novellas, or short novels, or long short stories 
(like some of Conrad's) of about 25,000 to 50,000 words are pub- 
lished separately in book form. Magazines are to be studied in- 
dividually if one is to know their preferred lengths: some use 
stories of 1000 to 1500 words; the large slick-paper magazines use 
them up to 6000 words long, and occasionally much longer. 

2. QUANTITIES IN FICTION. In all fiction, certain decisions about 
quantities and proportions must be made; often they can be made, 
roughly at any rate, before the actual writing begins. The question 
of length has just been discussed. Knowing the approximate length 
of the total work helps the writer decide many other quantitative 
problems. In a very short story, exposition and description must 
often be reduced almost to the vanishing point; in a long novel they 
may occupy much space. Accordingly, the writer who is chiefly con- 


Writing the Narrative 351 

cerned with imagery and backgrounds will be unwise to attempt to 
write very short stories. Likewise, the writer who is chiefly con- 
cerned with the slow development of character will not attempt to 
write very short stories. 

Since it often happens that the same idea could be developed into 
a short story, a novella, or a novel, the writer must decide early 
which of these forms he will write. If he determines on one of the 
shorter forms, he will need to invent only a few obstructions to be 
put in the path of the positive movement of the narrative. If he 
determines on a longer form, he will have to invent more obstruc- 
tions. Thus, one or two obstructions to the happy ending of a love 
affair would be enough for a short story; but dozens of obstructions 
would be required for a novel. 

A very important, and often neglected, consideration in fiction is 
that implied in the proverb, "One swallow does not make a summer." 
This is actually the expression of a scientific point of view. The doc- 
tor who administers a certain kind of medicine to only one patient, 
and seemingly effects a cure, would never convince his brother 
physicians that the medicine is so wonderful as he says; he would 
be forced to administer it to a whole series of patients, and cure 
most of them, before he could produce a really convincing argument. 
It is much the same in fiction. If one wishes to show that a fictional 
character is culpably weak, one cannot show him being weak in 
merely one instance everybody is occasionally weak. One must 
show him being weak in instance after instance. Or (to return to a 
situation already mentioned ) if one wishes to show that a hospital is 
cold, mechanical, and heartless, one will not show merely one nurse 
being cold, mechanical, and heartless cold, mechanical, and heart- 
less people are found occasionally everywhere. One must show sev- 
eral nurses who are cold, mechanical, and heartless, and a supervisor 
of nurses who is the same way, and an intern or two who are the 
same way, and people in the business office who are the same way: 
the many instances constitute proof, whereas one instance would 
mean little. In Galsworthy's Justice, there are two accumulations of 
instances to prove the actual injustice of so-called legal justice; one 
is the collection of condemned criminals in the prison who are all 

35 Creative Writing 

mentally or emotionally sick characters whose personalities are being 
still further distorted by prison, and the other is the gradual con- 
version of all the people who really know anything about the cen- 
tral crime in the play to the belief that legal justice is really injustice. 
Were it not for this accumulation of numerous instances, we might 
feel that the injustice worked on the central character of the play is 
just one of those unusual and unfortunate exceptions to a general 
rule that are bound to occur occasionally. The writer must know 
from the beginning, in a general way at least, how he is going to 
accumulate convincing details provided, of course, that he is writ- 
ing the kind of story that requires an accumulation of convincing 

3. STYLE. Just as the prospective medium of publication deter- 
mines length, the same medium determines style. Some magazines 
like long sentences, some short; some are not averse to big words, 
some are; some do not object to long paragraphs, some do; some 
like crisp details of action with much dialogue, some do not object 
to deliberate psychological analysis or description. The writer must 
find his medium of publication, and try to fit his style to it; or else 
he must try to find the medium of publication that would be recep- 
tive to the kind of style he likes to write. 

To be sure, the nature of the subject often determines the style, 
and the writer should remember this. The writer should remember, 
furthermore, that adjusting his style to fit different kinds of readers 
is not a prostitution of his art. As has already been remarked in this 
book (p. 291), mere common sense dictates that one kind of lan- 
guage and style be used with small children, another kind with 
average adult readers, and another with readers of very specialized 
knowledge or tastes. Novels find their own readers and may have 
any sort of style that a publisher thinks will make them saleable. 
Some of the literary, or "advanced/' magazines may use fiction 
written in an original or experimental style, particularly the stream- 
of-consciousness style, or some derivation or approximation of it, 
together with descriptive and psychological material of some length. 
The more popular magazines tend to shun such style, as well as such 

Writing the Narrative 353 

4. POINT OF VIEW. Most fiction is written from the mental, emo- 
tional, and physical point of view of one character. The action is told, 
character portrayed, and setting constructed as they appear to one 
character. If thoughts or feelings are analyzed, they are the thoughts 
and feelings of one character. In other words, the author tells his 
story as it appears to one of his characters, and the author enters 
the mind of only one of his characters. 

Deviation from this general rule does occur. Sometimes the author 
takes an omniscient point of view ( see below ) from which he sur- 
veys the entire field of his work the minds and emotions of all the 
characters, things that happen simultaneously in several places, 
things that no one character could possibly know about. Sometimes 
the author changes the mental point of view from scene to scene, or 
from chapter to chapter. For example, a story may begin with our 
being shown a man and what he is thinking, and then his daughter 
and what she is thinking, and then the daughter's lover and what he 
is thinking. But seldom would all points of view be taken at once; 
that is, in the scene where the daughter, say, is the central figure, the 
author will seldom skip back and forth between the mind of the 
daughter and the mind of her father. Each scene belongs psycho- 
logically to one character. As a matter of fact, the tendency in most 
of the best fiction is to keep an entire story or an entire novel in one 
mind's experience. 

Just whose mind shall be the center of the web is a rather impor- 
tant problem that the writer must solve before he begins writing. 
Two main points of view are possible: the personal, in which the 
author, or ostensible narrator, enters into the story as a character; 
and the impersonal, in which the author, or ostensible narrator, never 

a. The personal point of view is that in which the narrator is a 
character in the tale he tells. The advantage of this point of view is 
that it always gives a look of veracity to any story in which it is used. 
The disadvantage is that the adoption of this point of view prevents 
the author's showing events occurring in different places at the same 
time, or events kept secret from the supposed teller of the tale, or the 
thoughts and intentions of anybody in the story except the teller. 

354 Creative Writing 

(1) The principal character point of view intensifies the chief 
advantage of all personal points of view, that is, it makes the nar- 
rative seem altogether credible unless the narrator obviously has 
some axe to grind, some benefit to be gained by lying. But it prevents 
the narrator from making himself out a hero or a witty person; for 
obviously he could not, in good taste, tell the fine things he did or 
the clever things he said. Moreover, if the principal character hap- 
pens to be an illiterate person, a spirit, or an animal, he could not 
plausibly be pictured as writing down his experiences. 

( 2 ) The minor character point of view is that in which the action 
is performed in the presence and with the knowledge of the narrator, 
who himself participates in the action but plays an inconspicuous 
part in the events he narrates. This is one of the most effective, but 
one of the least used, of the personal points of view. It has the ad- 
vantage of plausibility, as does the principal character point of view, 
and, in addition, it has the advantage of impartiality, since the nar- 
rator here is telling what he saw happen to other people, rather than 
what happened to him. Moreover, the minor character here is a kind 
of emotional intermediary through whose personality we ourselves 
experience emotions about the action narrated the fact that he feels 
the emotions makes us feel them. The minor character point of view 
does not have the disadvantages peculiar to the principal character 
point of view. But one serious disadvantage that it does have is the 
fact that the character may seem to the reader an undignified and 
ridiculous tag-along ( as Mackellar seems, for example, in The Master 
of Ballantrae). And another is that he cannot very well appear in 
love scenes, or know anything about love scenes which involve the 
principal character. The latter would not make love in the presence 
of the minor character; and if the minor character overheard the 
other making love, he would appear to the reader as nothing better 
than a gossiping eavesdropper. 

(3) The reportorial point of view is that in which the author re- 
ports (as does Kipling in Soldiers Three) stories told to him by 
other people in the language of the other people. We may say at 
once that this point of view is usually to be avoided. From a dramatic 
point of view it is bad, for it first interests the reader in one series of 

Writing the Narrative 355 

actions (the reporter's meeting one set of characters and getting 
them started on a story ) , and then it starts all over again and begins 
interesting the reader in another set of characters; and finally, it must 
end with a flat, expository conclusion in which the reporter brings 
the reader back to the first scene once more. It is bad from the stand- 
point of plausibility, for the reader wonders how the reporter could 
remember all the words, expressions, and accents of the teller of the 
story, and then write them down accurately. And it is bad from the 
standpoint of psychology, for it keeps a third party constantly be- 
tween the reader and the teller of the story. Yet the point of view of 
the reporter has one advantage; it permits the reader to get a story 
in the colorful and amusing language of people who are witty or 
picturesque, but who are too illiterate to write their own stories. 

(4) The point of view of a non-participant is that in which the 
narrator tells a story as he saw it, though he himself did not par- 
ticipate in it. It is the point of view of Conrad's Marlowe. The 
advantages and the disadvantages which accompany its use are very 
much the same as those which accompany the point of view of the 
minor character already discussed. But the non-participating point 
of view does not endanger the dignity of the narrator as does the 
minor character point of view. On the other hand, to have a non- 
participant tell a long story does not make for plausibility: the 
reader asks how the narrator knows so much without being a prying 
individual. Furthermore, the introduction of the non-participant is 
sometimes as awkward as is the introduction of the narrator in stories 
having the reportorial point of view; and the quoting of what the 
non-participant said is sometimes as unreal as quoting from the 
reportorial point of view. In general, therefore, this point of view is 
dangerous. It has its uses, and it has very real advantages; but when 
it is misused, it is chaotic and unreal. Even Conrad would have done 
well to avoid it more often than he did. 

b. The impersonal point of mew is that in which the narrator of 
the tale never enters into the action, or names himself, or uses the 
first personal pronoun. 

(1) The omniscient point of view is that in which the writer 
knows everything that happens to all his characters at any time in 

856 Creative Writing 

any place; he knows their thoughts, their hearts, their purposes; he 
may skip from England to the Holy Land in an instant; he may 
overhear all secrets; he may pry behind all doors; he may look in at 
all windows. He knows the characters better than they know one 
another, and better than they know themselves. The advantages of 
this point of view are too obvious to deserve comment. The chief 
disadvantage is that it loses a certain flavor of veracity which the 
personal points of view have. Yet this disadvantage may be ignored 
because of the fact that long traditions of tales told from the omnis- 
cient point of view have made it acceptable to readers. They are 
willing to bow to convention and not ask the author, How do you 

(2) The dramatic point of view (such as is used in all plays) is 
certainly the most natural and convincing point of view. The spec- 
tator of a play does not have to take anybody's word for anything; 
he himself sees the action progressing under his eyes. He sees the 
villainy of the villain and the heroism of the hero; he interprets 
character, reads his own meaning into speeches and actions, and 
works out the implication and involvement of events. Obviously, 
this is the perfect point of view. Yet it is not always practicable. 
For reasons stated in the first chapter of this study of fiction ( reasons 
which need not be repeated here), authors can profitably avail 
themselves of the dramatic point of view only occasionally. Gen- 
erally they must make a choice from the other five points of view. 

5. SYMBOLISM. From earliest times, fiction has had characters 
and has narrated events that have significance beyond the mere 
surface appearance. The fables of Aesop and the parables of the 
New Testament are examples of symbolic fiction. In the first, the 
various animals represent people acting in certain ways, and what 
happens to them represents what would or should happen to people 
acting in the same way. Thus, the lion letting the mouse go free 
symbolizes a great person acting with magnanimity, and the mouse 
helping the lion to escape from a net symbolizes both gratitude and 
the dependence of the great on the small. Likewise, the good 
Samaritan of the parable is more than just a good Samaritan; he 

Writing the Narrative 357 

symbolizes all good men who do, or should, help their fellow men 
in distress. 

Sometimes the characters are symbolic. Thus, in Ibsen's An Enemy 
of the People Dr. Stockmann represents the liberal-minded, well- 
meaning man who is too impractical to deal with the corrupt world 
around him; his brother, the Mayor, represents the well-to-do con- 
servatives; his wife's grandfather, Morten Kiil, represents the old- 
fashioned reactionaries; Aslaksen represents the lower middle 
classes; Dr. Stockmann's daughter represents the new enlightened 
woman and so on. 

Sometimes many details of action, speech, and image are sym- 
bolic. For example, Dr. Stockmann goes out in his best morning 
clothes to address a public meeting; a riot ensues and the Doctor's 
trousers are torn and muddied. At home he remarks ruefully, "A 
man cannnot afford to wear his best trousers when he goes out to 
fight for truth." The symbolism is clear: Dr. Stockmann has failed 
because he has tried to act on too high a plane of conduct. In the 
same play, the pollution of the city's profitable baths comes from 
old Morten Kill's tanyard. Again, the symbolism is clear: the town 
makes its living out of polluted sources, and the origin of the pollu- 
tion is the older generation's mistakes or misdeeds. 

Since the 1920's, at least, most serious novels and stories in English 
have contained a large element of symbolism. And the young writer, 
before he beings his story, might do well to see where he could use 
symbolism. Characters need not exist just for themselves (as in 
nineteenth-century fiction ) but they may represent types; and action 
need not be merely a plot spun out for its story-interest, but it may 
be a symbolic representation of the social, moral, and intellectual 
struggles of a social group. 

II. The Beginning and the Ending 

1. EXPOSITION. One of the major problems of beginning is that 
of finding a way to tell the general situation (see p. 340) prevailing 
when the inciting spark of action occurs. This situation includes 

358 Creative Writing 

information as to the place where the action happens, the time when 
it happens, the historical setting, the identity and the relationship of 
the characters, the past careers of the characters, and the like. There 
are four ways in which this exposition may be given: 

a. Retrospective exposition summarizes what happened before 
the story commences. It is a resum6 of action, a narration told with- 
out benefit of scenes or of imagination. Nearly always it is com- 
pletely and unforgivably bad. If the action leading up to the be- 
ginning of the story is so important, the reader is tempted to ask, 
why doesn't the story begin with that action? Why is the beginning 
postponed until so late a time? When a story is begun, the reader 
expects it to go straight ahead, not to drop back and talk about 
events that happened long ago. The only exception to this rule is the 
flashback which the motion picture has made popular. The flash- 
back, however, is not exposition; it is fiction that is scenic and 
imaginative. The flashback exists for its own sake; retrospective ex- 
position exists for the sake of the story being told. The former is 
quite legitimate; the latter is not. 

b. A lump of exposition at the beginning was characteristic of 
many novels of the nineteenth century, in which the first chapter 
was an interminable mass of description, history, and characteriza- 
tion. Short story writers also used this method of exposition well into 
the twentieth century; even Maupassant would write many long 
paragraphs of exposition before he got the story started. This sort 
of thing eventually went quite out of fashion. On the other hand, 
there has lately occurred a reversal of fashion, and many modern 
stories ( instead of having obviously arty beginnings ) start off with 
a plain and unvarnished, but very brief, passage of pure exposition. 
If not over-extended (one hundred words, at the outside, for the 
average short story, and about a page for a novel ) , exposition given 
in this manner makes a perfectly sound and rational beginning. The 
young fiction-writer need not be afraid of it. But he must be sure 
to make it true exposition of a situation existing at the start of his 
story not a summary of a narrative leading up to his story. 

c. A lump of exposition given after the story is well under way is 
an attempt to make a compromise with the quick beginning and the 

Writing the Narrative 359 

slow beginning just described. Again, if the exposition is not too 
long, so that it delays the progress of the story beyond the bounds 
of the reader's patience, exposition given in this manner is quite 
acceptable. If it were divided into small pieces so that it could be 
dropped into the story almost without the reader's having to break 
step in his progress with the narrative, it would be even better. 

d. Exposition given piecemeal by means of casual hints dropped 
unobtrusively is the most natural, most dramatic, and least obvious 
type. Suppose, for example, one began a story thus: 

The girl stood at the top of the library steps and looked out over the 
campus. She breathed deeply, and caught the odor of pollen from a 
thousand trees and flowers just coming to life again in the warm May 

Another girl came out of the library and stood beside her. "The campus 
is lovely this time of year/' she said. "Do they have scenes as pretty as 
this in Arizona?" 

"I don't mind going back," said the first girl. "Virginia has its good 
points but four years here is long enough. I'm not sorry I'm graduating." 

"I'm not either," said the other girl. "But I don't have Arizona waiting 
for me I've only got Detroit." 

The first girl laughed. "I'm not worried about you, Jane," she said. 
"You'll probably end up with your name in lights that high on Broadway." 

"Don't be silly, Nan! I'd be happy to get a job teaching school. Do you 
think your dad could wangle a job for me out in Arizona?" 

"Are you serious?" 


"It might be managed at that. Do you want me to write to him?" 

This passage contains no exposition. Yet it tells us all these facts: 
the names of the two girls, the hcmes of both, that they have been 
going to college in Virginia, that they are about to graduate, that 
one of them is perhaps somewhat restless, that the other has had 
experience with dramatics, that the father of the Arizona girl is 
probably influential, that the other girl needs a job. Furthermore, 
with the last two or three speeches in the dialogue, a story gets 
started, a new situation is imposed on the general situation. This is 
exposition and beginning as they should be. 

2. THE FIRST SENTENCES. In a praiseworthy attempt to avoid the 

360 Creative Writing 

old-fashioned long expository beginning, many story writers of a 
generation ago would begin stories with dialogue, or with some bit 
of startling action, as in these first sentences: 

"The baby is dying/* the doctor whispered. 

"I would never marry you," she said. "Never." 

The stranger fell heavily. A hole in his forehead gushed blood. 

The ship was going down swiftly by the bow. 

Though such beginnings have an undeniable attraction, they have 
given way, for the most part, to something less melodramatic. The 
latest volume of "Best" short stories has only one story beginning 
with dialogue, eight with description, nine with some detail of 
rather insignificant action, and ten with brief exposition. Of twenty- 
eight stories in recent numbers of the American Magazine, American 
Mercury, Atlantic, Harpers, and New Yorker, five begin with 
dialogue, five with description, seven with details of action, and 11 
with exposition. In other words, the modern short story may have 
almost any kind of beginning that does not delay the start of the 
narrative itself more than fifty to one hundred words. 

The main thing for the writer to remember is that the writing 
should begin as close as possible to the beginning of the narrative 
itself. The less preliminary material, the better. 

Ideally, description in the first few sentences should set the tone 
of the story, or indicate the large feeling that transfuses it; action 
should be interesting in itself, or it should help reveal character, or 
it should get the story started; dialogue should reveal character, or 
have expository value, or get the story started. Furthermore, exposi- 
tion or description at the beginning can often be best conveyed 
dramatically. For example, "He remembered with impatience that 
his train was not due for another half hour" is better than the blunt 
statement, "His train was not due for another half hour." "He 
looked up at the bats flickering about the cathedral spires in the 
gray evening sky" is better tiian, "He stood before the cathedral in 
the early evening." 

Some negative rules for beginnings follow: 

Dont make the first paragraph extremely long. 

Writing the Narrative 361 

Don't overload the beginning with many expository details that 
the reader must absorb in a short space. 

In particular, don't introduce by name more than one or two 
characters or one or two places in the first few paragraphs; too many 
proper names all at once confuse the reader. 

Don't introduce any detail in the first few paragraphs unless you 
can convince yourself that it has some usefulness in setting the 
tone, revealing character, giving necessary information, or getting 
the story started. 

Dont use long or bookish words in the first few sentences. 

3. THE LAST SENTENCES. The novel of the nineteenth century often 
had a final chapter called "Conclusion." This chapter contained a 
quick summary of what happened to the main characters after the 
story itself ended. It was like an extended "They lived happily ever 
afterward/* Early short stories sometimes had a similar, but neces- 
sarily briefer, conclusion appended as a paragraph or two after the 
story itself was finished. Later on, there was a tendency to end the 
story with dramatic suddenness the instant the final scene or episode, 
the climactic denouement, was finished. That tendency is still ap- 
parent in many modern stories; yet most modern writers seem to 
feel that the abrupt ending, like the abrupt beginning, sounds 
studied and artificial. Consequently, a very large proportion of 
modern short stories, and of modern novels also, continue for a 
few sentences after the denouement; they do not end with a shock. 
The shock, if there is to be one, comes a little earlier than the end 
of the writing. 

More often than not, the last sentence in the modern short story 
or novel is a bit of dialogue. Sometimes it is a description; some- 
times it is an action that marks an end of the narrative (like a de- 
parture, or a greeting on arrival at a destination, or the closing of 
a door, or a separation); and sometimes it is a semi-philosophical 
comment on the preceding action, or a summary of its meaning. But 
it is never an outright moral. In the typical happy-ending story of 
the popular magazines, it is often a kind of licking-of-the-chops, a 
smug self -congratulation by some character in the story over an 
action well finished. 

362 Creative Writing 

III. The Body of the Narrative 

1. SUSPENSE. Most people have glanced through a story or a 
novel so bad that it actually hurt, and have muttered, "How on 
earth did this ever get published?" The answer, more than likely, is 
suspense. The bad writers who continue to be published and the 
good writers who continue to be read have it. Why readers love to 
feel suspense is a mystery, for suspense is painful. Milton put it 
bluntly: "Suspense is torture." Perhaps there, is something of the 
masochist in all readers that makes them court suspense, just as it 
mokes people ride on roller coasters. At any rate, the writer must 
be something of a sadist; he must be willing to torture his reader 
with suspense, torture the hero of the story by piling mountains of 
miseries upon him, and tantalize hero, heroine, and reader by snatch- 
ing from them, time after time, the cup of bliss. 

As has been said already in this book, suspense consists of three 
parts: a hint or suggestion that something important is likely to hap- 
pen, a long wait for it to happen, and then the happening itself. The 
hint is vital, and the wait is vital; for if the reader does not know 
that something is going to happen, he does not know that he is 
waiting for anything, and he is not in suspense and if the reader 
does not have to wait, but gets satisfaction immediately, he is not 
in suspense. Amateur writers often prefer the minor virtue of brief 
surprise to the greater virtue of long suspense; and they like to get 
a story told without delay, without making the reader wait. They 
do not realize that people appreciate a thing only after they have 
waited and longed for it. If they have not waited and longed, the 
thing comes to them "stale, flat, and unprofitable." 

Suspense may be studied under three headings: the general con- 
ditions or requirements of suspense, methods of giving the necessary 
hint, and methods of making the reader wait. ( The final happening 
may be taken for granted if the writer has composed his story well. ) 

a. The conditions of suspense are likewise three: 

( 1 ) Uncertainty is one of the conditions of suspense. We endure 
suspense when we are uncertain about the winning of a football 
game or of a battle or of a war, about an election, about the recovery 

Writing the Narrative 363 

of a sick child, about the success of a love affair. Often the uncer- 
tainty involves a conflict an actual physical conflict between in- 
dividuals or groups, as in war stories, western stories, and sports 
stories; a conflict of wits, as in tales of intrigue and crime; a conflict 
between individual and environment, as in adventure stories about 
outdoor life and in certain modern sociological stories; a conflict 
within the individual himself, in which opposing desires or emotions 
within a character war against one another, as in most serious fic- 
tion. But the uncertainty does not necessarily involve conflict. There 
may be uncertainty as to whether a storm is going to strike a coast, 
or whether rain will come in an area suffering from drought, or 
whether a sick person will recover, or whether love will develop 
between two people, and so on. 

(2) The next condition required before there can be suspense is 
that the issue at stake must seem important. We may be uncertain 
about whether the sun will set at 5:15 or 5:35 this evening; but we 
feel no suspense about it because the matter is of no importance to 
us. But if, like James Corbett in his fine tales of hunting man-eating 
tigers, we knew that being out after sunset would probably mean 
death, we should be much concerned about the sunset hour. Or we 
may be uncertain as to whether rain will come this week; and if we 
were living in the city, we would probably feel no keen suspense 
about it. If, however, we were living in the country, and we knew 
that our crops and our cattle could not live another week without 
rain, and that without rain this week we should lose all the money 
we have ever saved, and our land, and our home we might be in 
considerable suspense as to whether this week will bring rain. 

There are several ways in which the writer can make the issue at 
stake seem important: (a) He may make the issue some matter 
which has acquired importance by the mutual consent of our civiliza- 
tion: life, love, honor, country, fortune, the welfare of the innocent. 
( b ) If he shows that the characters within a narrative regard some 
matter as extremely important, or feel intensely emotional about it, 
he will make the reader likewise regard the matter as extremely im- 
portant through the reader's mere fellow feeling. ( c ) If he gets the 
reader interested in a character, anything that happens to that char- 

364 Creative Writing 

acter from a broken finger to a broken neck will seem important 
to the reader. ( d ) If the writer deals with an issue that is typical of 
the issues that confront some whole class of people, or group, or 
place, or time in history, the issue will seem important to the reader. 

(3) The uncustomary may be a source of suspense. Thus, we may 
be certain that a condemned criminal will be executed at promptly 
the announced moment; but if we are to witness the execution, we 
feel suspense about it nevertheless simply because it is not custom- 
ary for us to witness executions every day. Still, there is some ques- 
tion as to whether the uncustomary is a necessary ingredient of 
suspense. Hardy once wrote that the aim of fiction is "to give pleas- 
ure by gratifying the love of the uncommon in human experience." 
And again, "We tale-tellers are all Ancient Mariners, and none of us 
is warranted in stopping Wedding Guests (in other words, the 
hurrying public) unless he has something more unusual to relate 
than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman." 
The realists among us would not agree with Hardy; they would in- 
sist that "the ordinary experience of every average man and woman" 
is exactly what should most concern the tale-teller. Perhaps a com- 
promise, in which the word important could be substituted for 
Hardy's unusual, would satisfy the realists. What the realists are 
trying to show is that certain common, usual, and ordinary experi- 
ences (a child's grief, a workman's resentment, a youth's frustra- 
tions) when viewed understandingly and sympathetically, are im- 
portant enough to halt any Wedding Guest. The whole problem 
may boil down, then, to this: Is the subject important? Are the issues 
at stake important? 

b. Once the conditions of suspense are satisfied, the next ques- 
tion the writer must answer for himself is this: How can the hint be 
given that something important may happen? 

( 1 ) The title may give the hint. Some stories in recent magazines 
have these titles: "The Lynching," "Check for $90,000," "Night of the 
Execution," "Wedding Night." All these titles convey a hint that 
something extraordinary and important is in the air. 

(2) The first sentence may give the hint. The following are ex- 
periments with such sentences; they are easy to make: "His chances 

Writing the Narrative 365 

of escaping alive and unhurt were small, and he knew it"; "Against 
his better judgment, he decided to yield to his impulse"; "It was too 
late now for Gerald to go back"; "He was certain that he would die 
before morning." As first sentences, these would almost certainly 
start a chain of suspense that the reader could hardly resist. 

( 3 ) Putting a character in a new environment or a new situation 
creates suspense. Balzac has said, as a matter of fact, that the best 
way to start a story is to take an ordinary character and put him 
in an uncustomary situation. Think over the last few novels and 
stories you have read, and the last few motion pictures you have 
seen, and you will be struck by the frequency with which this de- 
vice is used. It creates suspense because it hints automatically that 
adjustments must be made and conflicts must occur in the rest of the 

(4) Starting a character on a journey is an easy and always- 
effective means of creating suspense; it is as old as the Canterbury 
Tales and as new as the last war story about a voyage, an invasion, 
or a raid. A journey creates suspense even when the reason for it is 
unimportant. This device is close kin to the next device. 

(5) A meeting or encounter planned early for central characters 
is an excellent suspense-creating device. It is used in Moby Dick, 
in "Heart of Darkness," in "The Killers," in many scenes and episodes 
of many plays and novels. 

(6) Concealed identity was a stock-in-trade device of most drama 
and most fiction up, to almost the twentieth century. All of Oscar 
Wilde's plays in the 1890's pivot upon a concealed identity; it is 
hard to remember a single novel or long narrative poem by Sir 
Walter Scott that does not use the device; and it appears often 
nowadays in detective and crime stories. It is still an effective device, 
provided the reader is in on the secret. 

Here follow three rather specialized methods for creating sus- 
pense by hinting at important action to come: 

( 7 ) Foreshadowing is hinting vaguely at coming events, creating 
an emotional tone to fit the anticipated ending, or introducing sug- 
gestive signs, premonitions, portents, predictions, and the like. Haw- 
thorne's "The Ambitious Guest" is a model of a story gaining 

366 Creative Writing 

suspense by foreshadowing. The student should read it, noting 
^carefully how disaster is suggested so skillfully in the midst of 
rather tiresome characterization that the reader finds himself tense 
with excitement even though practically nothing happens in the 
main body of the story. 

( 8 ) Preparation is literally a build-up talk about important char- 
acters before they appear, or important events before they happen. 
It is the standard method of advertisers of coming events (like 
circuses), and many dramas and motion pictures use it. A classic 
example is the introduction of Cyrano in the first act of Cyrano de 
Berverac; and another is the talk about the heroine of A Farewell to 
Arms before the reader is permitted to meet her. This device is par- 
ticularly useful when a meeting of important characters is planned. 

(9) Anticipation is the actual description of what is going to 
happen before it happens. The play-within-the-play in Hamlet is an 
example: the little play is completely outlined for us before it hap- 
pens. The device is most commonly seen in fiction nowadays when 
the narrative begins with a concluding scene, and then resorts to a 
flashback to show how the big scene came out. The Bridge of San 
Luis Rey is an example. 

c. Suppose now that we have put the reader into suspense by any 
of the devices just discussed. Our next problem is to make him 
wait. It is a relatively simple problem. The principal thing to remem- 
ber is that creating high suspense cannot be done in an instant. 
Suspense is allied, at least, to emotion, and it may be an emotion. 
Emotion is produced by hormones released into the blood stream by 
certain glands; these hormones cannot bring about an emotion in 
less than about thirty seconds. In that time a reader can cover about 
150 to 200 words; that is to say, it is physiologically impossible for 
the reader to work up any kind of emotion in less than about one- 
third to one-half a page of reading after the initial hint is given. For 
him to work up a really intense emotion, he must wait much longer. 
Suspense and emotion are not created in an instant; the writer must 
go slow. 

( 1 ) He can invent a long series of obstructions, or obstacles, to 
the progress of a narrative toward its inevitable conclusion. When 

Writing the Narrative 367 

the hero starts out for his objective, or on his journey, or to his meet- 
ing, or toward adjusting himself to his new environment he must 
not be allowed to succeed all at once. Logs must be thrown across 
his path; he must be compelled to overcome difficulty after difficulty. 
Like England, who loses all her battles but the last, the hero must 
fight through many battles before he comes to victory at last or, 
if the story is to end unhappily, he must fight through many battles, 
now losing and now winning, until he comes to the last battle and 
loses that too. Almost any story can be lengthened to whatever 
dimensions the writer desires, provided the writer can invent enough 
obstructions to the positive course of the action. This is the secret of 
the perpetual popularity of Alexandre Dumas. 

(2) In addition to placing obstructions in the way of the action, 
the writer may delay matters by temporary distractions in the form 
of descriptions, psychological analysis, some accidental interruption, 
or even exposition. While the hero is riding toward an ambush that 
we know is waiting for him, the writer will prolong the suspense by 
describing the scene as it appears to the hero riding along; or he will 
let the reader glimpse what is passing through the hero's mind; or he 
will have the hero pause to say a few words to a friend or a stranger 
whom he encounters on the way. Under no circumstances will he let 
the hero ride straight and quickly to the ambush. 

Sometimes an action may occur so quickly and unexpectedly that 
the writer may have no time to build up suspense. For example, an 
automobile accident, or a snake biting a character, or a sudden fall 
may happen so quickly and unexpectedly that building up to them 
by means of any of the devices listed here would be unnatural and 
unconvincing. On such occasions, however, the writer can still get 
an emotional reaction in the reader by pausing to describe, psy- 
chologize, or even explain affairs after the event has occurred. All of 
us have had the experience of narrowly missing an accident, and then 
having a strong emotional reaction within the next minute after the 
accident, or sometimes hours or days after it. This post-accident 
period is a time for creating emotion in fiction. 

(3) One way to insure obstacles being present, if there is a con- 
flict in the narrative, is to have the conflicting elements evenly 

868 Creative Writing 

matched. A one-sided conflict never pleases anybody; it contains too 
little torture. A good story is hardly more than a hero prevented 
through five pages, or fifty pages, or five hundred pages, from getting 
what the reader wants him to have. When all is said, it is essentially 
an experience in slow torture for the reader, and an exercise in de- 
liberate sadism for the writer. No writer can afford to be merciful 
until his last page, or last chapter. 

2. CREATING CHARACTERS. If one could tell writers how to create 
characters, one could tell writers how to be geniuses. If a writer of 
fiction can portray interesting characters, he will be remembered; 
if he cannot, he is likely to be forgotten. We can forgive an author 
almost anything if only he is able to create well-rounded, convincing, 
memorable characters. Though there is no rule that will tell a 
writer how to create characters, there are some hints that may help. 

a. A fictional character may be lifted directly from life. Balzac, 
Daudet, Maupassant, Dickens, Maugham, D, H. Lawrence, and 
many others have confessed to having picked a large number of 
their characters ripe off the tree of life. On the other hand, says 
Maugham, "Nothing, indeed, is so unwise as to put into a work of 
fiction a person drawn line by line from life"; the writer, he adds, 
"takes only what he wants of the living man" so that the fictional 
character is "the result of imagination founded on fact." Sometimes 
a fictional character is a combination of several characters the author 
knows in real life; sometimes he is a personification of only one or 
two traits from a person the author knows in real life. Actually, one 
does not have to know well a character whom one transfers from 
life to fiction. Joseph Conrad, for example, saw the original of Mr. 
Jones, in Victory, for only about five minutes; Mr. Jones is a result 
of Conrad's imagination founded on this five minutes of fact. Indeed, 
the attempt to put into fiction an exact portrait of some person whom 
we know well is likely to make difficulties; real human beings are 
much too complicated and inconsistent for the simplified artistic 
purposes of the writer. 

b. As was pointed out in Section 5 of Chapter XVI, one may con- 
ceive a character as being typical in several ways of a period of 
life, of a sex, of a time in history, of a geographical region, of a 

Writing the Narrative 369 

race, of a trade or profession, of a social class, of a manner of think- 
ing or acting or feeling. Out of characters typifying such things an 
author can sometimes create individualized and convincing charac- 
ters in several ways: 

(1) A character who is conceived as typical of many things at 
once becomes individualized, and is convincing. 

(2) A character who is exaggeratedly typical of anything is in- 
dividualized and convincing. For example, a character who is exag- 
geratedly youthful, or exaggeratedly masculine, or exaggeratedly 
Texan, or exaggeratedly middle class, and so on, makes an excellent 

(3) On the other hand, a character who is incongruously non- 
typical is individualized and convincing. Thus, an elderly person 
who acts too youthfully, a woman who acts too mannishly, a Texan 
who acts like a Beacon Street Bostonian, a middle-class person who 
acts like a millionaire all these make good characters. 

(4) Exaggeration of some trait (that is, caricature) makes inter- 
esting, if not quite convincing, characters. The old comedy of humors 
(by Jonson, Steele, Gibber, Sheridan, and others) had this kind of 
character as in Miss Lydia Languish, Sir Lucius O'Trigger, Sir 
Anthony Absolute, Lord Lovelady, Lady Comfortable, and others 
whose names tell their dominant trait. 

( 5 ) A superficial but sometimes effective device is to give a char- 
acter some obvious external peculiarity, like a wooden leg or a 
patched eye (as in Treasure Island), or a characteristic gesture or 
tag-line, like Mrs. Micawber's "Nothing can ever persuade me to 
desert Mr. Micawber," or Jeremy Cruncher's continual peeling of 
his hands, or Uriah Heep's constant writhing. 

c. A character seems convincing when the reader has several 
conflicting emotions about him. A character who is all goodness is 
not convincing, and neither is one who is all badness. A character 
whom we merely admire is not convincing, and neither is one whom 
we merely despise. To be convincing, he must make us admire him 
and despise him; pity him and dislike him; think him false and yet 
true; understand why he does something in the narrative, and yet 
deplore his doing it; regard him as fundamentally intelligent and 

370 Creative Writing 

yet sometimes inexcusably foolish. In general, he will be a character 
whose fundamental traits will make us sympathize with him under 
certain circumstances, and make us condemn him in others. Thus, 
under certain circumstances, we admire the patriotism of Brutus, in 
Julius Caesar; but under other circumstances we deplore it. In Ham- 
let thoughtfulness and studiousness could be admirable in normal 
circumstances; but in abnormal circumstances such traits make him 
not admirable. And in any event, both the good and the evil, the 
strength and the weakness, of a character must be presented frankly 
and unapologetically; neither of them is to be ignored or glossed 
over by too casual treatment. Bret Harte's miners, gamblers, and 
strumpets are false characters because their creator, though ad- 
mitting their immorality, minimizes it by neglecting to portray it; 
at the same time he magnifies their goodness by dwelling on it. In 
contrast, the villain of the contemporary motion picture, of the 
melodrama and melodramatic novels of the last century, of the 
average boy's book and comic magazine, is a creature of unmitigated 
depravity who is not convincing. When the fiction writer feels that 
his reader may have only one emotion about a character the writer 
has created, the character is probably not well conceived. 

(At the same time, it must be confessed that, in the first place, a 
character may be so unimportant in the narrative that the writer 
may have no desire to waste time trying to make him too convincing; 
and in the second place, the writer may sometimes wish to stack 
the cards for or against a certain character just to make him perform 
the function in the story for which he was originally designed. ) 

d. Perhaps the fiction writer's best friend is the sensitive charac- 
ter the character who is almost abnormally alive to the world 
about him, keenly perceptive, emotionally responsive, intensely im- 
pressionable the person who understands quickly, is easily sus- 
ceptible to being emotionally touched by the world, reacts intensely 
to persons, nature, society, situations. A character such as this 
creates that almost exaggerated atmosphere of taking-things-seri- 
ously which is the essence of drama; and he is a mirror in whom the 
world as the fiction-writer conceives it can be reflected. 

3. PORTRAYING CHARACTERS. The actual method of character por- 

Writing the Narrative 371 

trayal in any narrative is either direct or indirect. An author who 
uses the first method may tell his reader, either by blunt character 
analysis or by interpretative description, exactly what sort of person 
a certain individual is as Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore 
Cooper have a habit of doing at the first introduction of any prin- 
cipal character. A variant of this method, though actually identical 
with the device just mentioned, is the portrayal of character by 
means of reports of other characters about him. Ca3sar characterizes 
Antony several times in Shakespeare's play; King Henry character- 
izes Hotspur early in / Henry IV; and Hotspur's ambassador returns 
to his chief with glowing tributes characterizing Hal. Such direct 
character portrayals have the virtue of informing the reader, from 
the very first, about some person who is to figure in the story. Yet 
this virtue can hardly compensate for the fact that this direct method 
halts the action and is unnatural. People in real life do not bear 
labels, nor do they subject themselves to immediate and full analysis 
when we first encounter them. 

Much more natural is the indirect method of character portrayal. 
A writer using such a method introduces his characters by name or 
business, and then allows them to reveal themselves just as new ac- 
quaintances reveal themselves to us in real life. 

a. Sometimes a man's conversation exposes his nature to the lis- 
tener much better than could any studied analysis of his character. 
Coleridge tells of a banquet at which a mysterious and interesting- 
looking guest ate and said nothing during a large part of the meal. 
Coleridge conceived that the man must be a man of genuine im- 
portance. But at length, when the potatoes were passed, the stranger 
reached for them and cried out, "Them's the bullies for me!" That 
one remark characterizes the man completely. 

b. Sometimes the actions, impulsive, deliberate, or habitual, of 
a person will reveal his character: 

At the height of that fearful tempest, with Mrs. Johnson hysterical and 
the children dumb with fright, Mr. Johnson stood by the door methodi- 
cally tamping down the tobacco in his pipe, and trying to strike one wet 
match after another on the door-facing. 

Creative Writing 

We need no more analysis of Mr. Johnson: we know him already. 
This next shows habitual actions which thoroughly characterize a 

He had worked as a section-hand on a railroad for fifteen years; he had 
never married; he had denied himself all luxuries and many comforts, 
even necessities; and he had done all this in order to send back to his 
home in Greece a yearly sum to support a disabled father and an aged 

What else need be told of this man? 

c. Habitual environment is a third means of portraying charac- 
ter. We understand Don Quixote much better when we see his 
untended and dilapidated paternal estate; we understand Gerald 
(in The Old Wives Tale) better when we see the expensiveness 
of his surroundings in Paris; and we understand Miss Prittle when 
we read the following description of her surroundings : 

Miss Prittle's gate clicked behind him. A clean-swept, glistening brick 
walk, red with white mortar, led straight to a clean-swept front step be- 
tween two rows of straight zinnias. The door-knob gleamed in the sun, 
and the bell buzzed sharply when he touched it. 

d. Finally, a description of the effect one character has on others 
is an excellent means of depicting character. For example, we might 
be tempted to take Glendower's sentimentality seriously if we did 
not see the skeptical Hotspur ridiculing the Welshman. Or we 
should miss half the humor of Don Quixote's folly if we did not see 
the effect of it on the unimaginative Sancho. 

The child had been playing with her dolls on the sofa; but as soon as 
her father entered the room, she collected her toys and disappeared. 

We know now both the father and the daughter. 

4. CREATING A BACKGROUND. A complete background for a piece 
of fiction includes time, place, and social group. To create such a 
background, and a sense of it to the reader, the writer may do one 
or several of the following things: 

a. He may describe the physical setting of his story as Kipling 
describes the Himalayas in "The Miracle of Purun Baghat," or as 
George W. Cable describes New Orleans in Old Creole Days. 

Writing the Narrative 373 

b. He may present typical characters of a region, a time, or a 
social rank as Sarah Orne Jewett presents typical characters of 
New England, as Scott in Ivanhoe presents typical characters of 
England in the twelfth century, and as O. Henry presents typical 
characters of the lower working classes of New York. 

c. He may introduce typical dialect as does Charles Egbert 
Craddock in her stories of the Tennessee mountaineers, and Joel 
Chandler Harris in his stories of the Southern Negro before the 
Civil War. This typical dialect (as well as the other typical details 
to be mentioned immediately ) may be typical, of course, of a place, 
a time, or a social rank. 

d. The writer may describe typical costumes as does Scott in 
all his historical novels (Carlyle says that he "describes his char- 
acters from the skin outwards" ) . 

e. He may describe typical customs as Synge does in Riders 
to the Sea and as Flaubert does in Salammbo. 

f. He may describe typical mental attitudes as Maupassant de- 
scribes the cold and selfish cruelty of the typical Norman mind, 
as Hawthorne describes the narrow and austere Puritanism of the 
typical New England mind, as Oscar Wilde describes the impudent 
and cynical sophistication of the typical aristocratic mind in London 
of the nineteenth century. 

IV. Incidentals 

1. DIALOGUE. Dialogue is not absolutely necessary in fiction; yet 
most writers of fiction use dialogue because it helps create an illusion 
of reality, because it is more vivid and direct than a mere round- 
about summary of what people in the story say, because it helps in 
characterization, because it may sometimes advance the action 
swiftly, and because it affords variety. Though dramatic writers 
must necessarily give information through dialogue, writers of other 
sorts of fiction ought to be a little wary of purely expository dialogue. 
They ought to take it as a rough rule-of -thumb that dialogue has no 
place in a story unless it serves one of two purposes to illustrate 
character, or to advance action. If it serves neither purpose, or some 
other purpose, it should give place to another sort of writing. 

374 Creative Writing 

The chief problem of most writers is to make dialogue sound 
natural. As a matter of fact, however, readers will readily accept 
even very unnatural dialogue provided it is consistent. That is, 
readers will accept stilted and artificial dialogue if this sort of 
dialogue is consistent with the tone of the work as a whole, and if 
it is consistent within itself. For example, if a writer pictures a 
character as using modern slang, he could not have him talking in 
well-rounded Johnsonian periods; or if he pictures the character 
working in a realistically conceived contemporary setting, the writer 
could not have the character talking in the more elaborate fashion 
of our grandfathers. The point is that readers will accept dialogue 
just as the writer wishes to present it if only he remains consistent 
in his own presentation. Nobody objects to the poetic speeches of 
Lord Dunsany's characters; nobody objects to the inhuman wit and 
glitter of the speeches of Oscar Wilde's characters; nobody objects 
to the impossible distortions of grammar, pronunciation, and logic 
in the speeches of Dickens's characters; and nobody objects to the 
oracular and philosophic disquisitions in the speeches of Bernard 
Shaw's characters. All these speeches are consistent within them- 
selves and within the author's work as a whole; and accordingly, all 
are acceptable to the reader. 

But though naturalness of dialogue is not all-important, it is 
often desirable and necessary. Naturalness will come if the writer 
has conceived his characters perfectly, and has entered completely 
into their imagined existence. Nevertheless, a few suggestions about 
writing dialogue cannot come amiss; they are short cuts to the 
knowledge which the writer would eventually come to through ex- 
perience even if he had never read a textbook on writing. 

The first of these suggestions is that long passages of uninter- 
rupted dialogue do not make good writing. This is a general rule 
to which almost anyone can find many notable exceptions in litera- 
ture. But it is a good rule, nevertheless. If the young writer finds 
himself reporting over a page of uninterrupted dialogue, he should 
catch himself up and ask himself if a paragraph or so of description, 
comment, exposition, or straight narrative should not be inserted in 
order to break up the dialogue. 

Writing the Narrative 375 

The next suggestion is that dialogue should usually be mixed 
with a good measure of detail from the author's own imagination. 
In the following passage from Arnold Bennett, for example, notice 
how large a proportion of the words are Bennett's, and not Con- 
stance's, Sophia's, or Mr. Povey's: 

The tension was snapped by Mr. Povey. "My God!" he muttered, 
moved by a startling discovery to this impious and disgraceful oath (he, 
the pattern and exemplar and in the presence of innocent girlhood 
tool). 'Tve swallowed it!" 

"Swallowed what, Mr. Povey?" Constance inquired. 

The tip of Mr. Povey's tongue made a careful voyage of inspection all 
around the right side of his mouth. 

"Oh yes!" he said, as if solemnly accepting the inevitable. "I've swal- 
lowed it!" 

Sophia's face was now scarlet; she seemed to be looking for some place 
to hide it. Constance could not think of anything to say. 

"That tooth has been loose for two years," said Mr. Povey, "and now 
I've swallowed it with a mussel." 

"Oh, Mr. Povey!" Constance cried in confusion, and added, "There's 
one good thing, it can't hurt you any more now." 

"Oh," said Mr. Povey. "It wasn't that tooth that was hurting me. It's an 
old stump at the back that's upset me so this last day or two. I wish it 
had been." 

Sophia had her teacup close to her red face. At these words of Mr. 
Povey her cheeks seemed to fill out like ripe apples. She dashed the cup 
into its saucer, spilling tea recklessly, and then ran from the room with 
stifled snorts. 

"Sophia!" Constance protested. 

"I must just " Sophia incoherently spluttered in the doorway. "I shall 
be all right. Don't" 

Constance, who had risen, sat down again. 1 

These two suggestions about dialogue are of prime importance; 
those which follow are only suggestions about minor devices which 
make for naturalness. 

Dialect should not be reproduced accurately, but should be 
merely suggested. The distortions of spelling necessary for the ac- 
curate transcription of Negro dialect, Irish brogue, broken English 

1 From The Old Wives' Tale, by Arnold Bennett, reprinted by permission of 
Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc. 

376 Creative Writing 

spoken by foreigners, and so forth, are confusing to the reader. A 
few words or constructions written in the manner of the dialect 
are enough to suggest the entire dialect to the reader's imagination. 

Speeches by individual characters ought to be fairly short 
seldom over fifty or a hundred words in length. Sentences in dia- 
logue ought not to be always grammatically complete; there should 
be elliptical constructions, self-interruptions, exclamations, phrases 
suggesting whole sentences ( like "You don't say!" "What for?" "Why 
not?" "And me not there!" etc. ) . 

Above all, dialogue should not consist of mere questions and 
answers. If one character asks a question, the other character may 
ignore it ( as Mr. Povey ignores Constance's question in the passage 
quoted above), or answer an anticipated or implied question, or 
ask another in return. For instance: 

"Are you going to town?" 

"I must finish this book before I go anywhere/' 

Here the question asked is not answered, but a question anticipated 
( "Why aren't you going to town?" ) is answered. 

"What are you doing?" 

"We are to have an examination tomorrow, and so I have to finish this 

Here the question "What?" is answered as if it had been 'Why?'* 

"What are you doing?" 
"Why do you ask?" 

Here one question is answered by another. 

By such slight devices as these an author can often give the breath 
of life to his speaking characters. 

2. TITLES. Sometimes a writer has a title in mind from the be- 
ginning of his work on a piece of fiction, and keeps shaping his 
story to fit the title. More often, perhaps, he thinks of a title when 
he is halfway through his work, and then goes back over the work 
and revises it to fit the title. And most often of all, a writer finishes 
his story, and then wonders what to call it. 

If one is seeking professional publication for his work, titles are 

Writing the Narrative 377 

extremely important. A good title can attract editorial attention 
when a manuscript first arrives in a publishing office, and it will 
attract readers after the story or the novel is published. As a matter 
of fact, it frequently happens that publishers do not like the title 
the author has given a narrative, and (if the work is accepted) 
publish it with a title of the editor's own devising. It might be said 
in passing that the editor's title is often worse than the author's; 
but the editor has the privilege of being wrong if he insists, and the 
author can do little about the matter. 

The general form and diction of titles have been discussed on 
pp. 248-251 of this book. The student should look back over what 
was said there, and apply it to the following remarks that concern 
fiction specifically. 

a. A title should perform at least one of the following services: 

(1) A title may attract attention by being unique, surprising, 
or pleasing. Cry, the Beloved Country and Reflections in a Golden 
Eye are examples from novels, and "The Shame of the Man on the 
Egg" and "Fists of an Afternoon" are examples from stories. 

(2) Titles that attract attention may also excite curiosity. Some- 
times a reader will pause to read a story just to satisfy the curiosity 
the title has aroused in him. This baiting of readers, and trying to 
catch them on the hook of a suspenseful first few paragraphs, is 
quite legitimate in these days when so much is being published 
that readers must be lured to read even good literature. Examples 
of titles, from novels and from stories, that excite curiosity are those 
quoted just above and others like Fandango for a Crown of Thorns; 
Run, Mongoose; ".007"; "Thomasina Disparue"; "The First Death 
of Her Life." 

( 3 ) The title may indicate the type of the story, and thus appeal 
to specific groups of readers. For instance, "Sandra's New Hat" 
would attract women readers, but "Action at Salano Bay" and 
"Amphibious Operation" would probably repel women. The lover of 
mystery stories would eagerly inspect The Bahamas Murder Case, 
and the more romantic-minded person would read "Summer Ro- 
mance" and "Late Summer Idyl." 

(4) Sometimes a title may give the general emotional tone of the 

378 Creative Writing 

story. This is particularly true of the quality and "little" magazines. 
One need not read the story to know that "Shut a Final Door" is 
not humorous, but that "Antlers to the Alpenrose" is likely to be. 
"Years Brought to an End" is likely to be serious and moody; "Treat 
the Natives Kindly," ironic; "A Little Girl Named I," nostalgic; and 
"Son of the Sea," romantic. Titles like these attract readers (and 
editors) who are looking for stories having the emotional tone im- 

(5) Once in a great while the title may serve to clarify the 
writers meaning. Conrad's Victory, for example, ending as it does 
with the death of all the important characters, takes on a special 
meaning because of its title; so does his "Heart of Darkness." In 
Sherwood Anderson's "The Door of the Trap," the title calls atten- 
tion to the fact that conventions are a trap. But such titles are un- 
common because stories so subtle as to require this kind of title 
are uncommon. 

b. Though the writer may know what functions a title may serve, 
he still has the problem of finding a title. The following suggestions 
may help: 

(1) The title may be the main characters name as so often 
happened with the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel: Tom 
Jones, Roderick Random, Adam Bede, David Copperfield. Two re- 
cent stories, both in Mademoiselle, were called "Jerry" and "Charles," 
and three in Harper's Bazaar were "Victoria," "Dibly," and "Mr. 
Bonebreaker." Names of women are usually more glamorous than 
those of men as in Kitty Foyle, Peg Woffington, "Carmencita," 
"Miss W." But unless it can excite curiosity, as "Mr. Bonebreaker" 
does, or unless it can be used with other words ( as in Forever Am- 
ber, "Cleve Pikestaff, Senator," and "Pastor Dow at Tacate") the 
name-title is not advisable. 

(2) Sometimes a title may be manufactured out of some main 
characteristic of a chief character his dominant trait, his profession 
or office, his situation in life, his relationships to other characters: 
The Cardinal, The Egyptian, The Kings Cavalier, "The Old Maid," 
"The Lovely Lady," "The Man of the House," "The Mother," "The 
Man Who Could Work Miracles." 

Writing the Narrative 379 

(3) The title may designate some object, place, or time that 
figures prominently in the story. Here are some examples naming 
an object: A Bell for Adano, Lady Windermere's Fan, The Wall, The 
Cherry Orchard, "The Birth Mark," "The Black Cat," "The White 
Hound," "The Shared Bed/' A place: Tobacco Road, Oklahoma, 
The Sea and the Jungle, "Home," "In the Park," "At Paso Rojes." 
A time: In Old Creole Days (which also implies a place), When 
Knighthood Was in Flower, "One Rainy Night," "A Summer Day," 
"In the Good Old Summertime." 

(4) The title may name the main situation or outstanding event 
in the story: The Light that Failed, Of Human Bondage, Lady on 
the Lam, "The Courting of Dinah Shadd," "The Temptation of 
Emma Boynton," "My Brother's Second Funeral." 

( 5 ) Quotations from poems, the Bible, proverbs, and other works 
have become very common in modern fiction. Examples are Gone 
with the Wind, For Whom the Bell Tolls, And Tell of Time, "Edge 
of Doom," "Hail Brother and Farewell," "Take Her Up Tenderly," 
"Brother's Keeper." A few minutes with almost any good book of 
quotations in any library will suggest dozens of titles for almost 
anything one has written. 

3. HUMOR. In these days humor is valued (and paid for) more 
highly, it may be, than at any other time in history. Nearly all novels 
have, or should have, humor; many stories have it; and some stories 
are almost entirely humorous. This universal demand for humor 
has attracted some of the world's most expert humorists into the 
field of purveying humor to the public, and as a consequence the 
public has developed certain tastes and standards of humor that are 
fixed, if not high. It follows that not everybody can compete suc- 
cessfully in the field of humor; the public has become too demand- 
ing, or too critical according to its own lights. It may be stated as a 
rule that, unless the student feels very sure that he is a humorist, 
he might do well not to try to be a humorous writer; nothing is so 
pathetic as a writer who tries to be humorous, and fails. Further- 
more, the student should remember that humorists are born, not 

Nevertheless, everybody has a sense of humor after a fashion; and 

880 Creative Writing 

everybody occasionally says or writes things that make other people 
smile appreciatively, or laugh aloud. The task of the student writer 
is to make use of whatever humorous talents he may have because 
humorous writing is readable in itself, it attracts readers, and it 
helps give pleasing variety to serious work. Perhaps the following 
suggestions may help the student inject at least a little humor into 
his work. 

a. Nobody knows just why people laugh. Dozens of theories have 
been suggested: that laughter is triumphant, that it is cruel, that it 
is intended to humiliate others, that it is intended to exalt oneself, 
that it is a result of a sudden relief of inner suppressions, that its 
ohief source is irreverence, that it is inspired by the incongruous 
or by the mildly disappointing or by the surprising in life, and so on. 
We need not pause to philosophize or to psychologize on the subject 
any further. All we need remember is that laughter may be more 
serious than we realize. 

b. What may be called serious laughter has been discussed by 
George Meredith, who distinguishes the laughter of humor, the 
laughter of satire, and the laughter of comedy from one another. 
This serious laughter is ridicule; it derides or humiliates. Humor, 
says Meredith, is ridicule of something for which we retain affection 
like children at whose mistakes we laugh, or foreigners who 
mispronounce English words, or freshmen who seem so ignorant. 
Satire is ridicule with a purpose of persons or social customs that 
are irrational, immoral, or unwise; it uses the weapon of laughter 
in order to effect reform, for it knows that, for some reason, nobody 
likes to be laughed at. Comedy is "intellectual laughter," "laughter 
of the mind"; it has no desire to reform, and it does not love the 
thing ridiculed; it merely points out the follies that exist among 
men and women, the people who "wax out of proportion, overblown, 
affected, pretentious, bombastical, hypocritical, pedantic, fantasti- 
cally delicate . . . self-deceived or hoodwinked, given to run in 
idolatries, drifting into vanities, congregating in absurdities, plan- 
ning short-sightedly, plotting dementedly." Comedy is "humanely 
malign"; it is neither warm with affection nor hot with anger; it is 

Writing the Narrative 381 

coolly dispassionate, intellectually ruthless to that which is unin- 

c. Light laughter exists on another plane that is ill-defined and 
inexplicable. It is thoughtless laughter that may express anything 
from mere animal good feeling to a sense of relief from restraint, or 
from a feeling for the incongruous to a feeling of superiority. 

(1) One manifestation of this light laughter is the laughter we 
have for comic characters. In general, comic characters are those 
in whom we are aware of exaggerated traits that do not offend us 
morally. The clown in the circus, with his exaggerated shoes, nose, 
and rags, is a comic character; Falstaff, with his exaggerated belly, 
lechery, and lying is a comic character; the characters in the comedy 
of humors, with certain traits exaggerated, are comic characters; 
Moliere's Hypocrite (Tartuffe), Blue-Stockings (Les Precieuses 
ridicules], Bores (Les Fdcheux), Misanthrope (Le Misanthrope) , 
and many other characters with exaggerated traits are comic. Almost 
any writer may create a comic character by exaggeration; perhaps 
other sorts of comic characters exist, and perhaps genius is required 
for creating just the kind of exaggeration that is comic without be- 
ing tiresome. But exaggeration of certain traits does produce comic 

(2) Verbal comedy is the use of words and phrases that in them- 
selves produce a laugh, almost regardless of their meaning. Puns, 
or plays on words and double-meaning words, are humorous; we 
laugh at them even when we deplore them. In English, a self-con- 
scious use of big words (Johnsonese, it is called, after the great 
Doctor) is laughable. Mispronunciations, especially by foreigners, 
children, or certain races, are laughable in America, though other 
nations do not seem to find mispronunciations funny. Misapplica- 
tions of words (like Mrs. Malaprop's "know something of the geom- 
etry of contagious countries") are comic. In a slightly more com- 
plicated way, parodies and language incongruous with the character 
using it are comic. 

(3) Certain comic actions and situations may be manufactured 
almost at will; Hollywood, indeed, does manufacture them delib- 

382 Creative Writing 

erately and cold-bloodedly in almost every motion picture. Most of 
them may be classified under one or another of the following heads: 

Moral turpitude (irreverence, deceit, cowardice) that is not so 
serious as to cause actual moral indignation; absent-mindedness; 
perplexity (the man who leaves his Pullman berth at night and 
cannot find his way back); the amateur who is forced to do the 
work of the expert ( the city boy milking a cow, the old curmudgeon 
forced to take care of a baby, Harold Lloyd in nearly all his comedies 
of a previous generation); people "caught in the act" of doing 
something that they wish to keep secret (like kissing, eloping, 
stealing jam, trying to deceive someone); turning the tables on a 
villain, or "the worm turns" situation (the typical situation in the 
Charlie Chaplin motion pictures, and in most Walt Disney cartoons 
in which the little fellow turns the tables on his persecutor); the 
mild discomfiture of anybody (chasing a hat, slipping on ice, a 
woman with a shoe-heel caught in a grating, people doused with 
water from a hose, well-dressed people being overwhelmed by an 
affectionate dog who has just had an encounter with a skunk); 
mechanical tricks like a chase, repetition or multiplication (the 
drunken man who knocks not merely on one wrong door but on 
five or six wrong doors in succession, the catch phrase continually 
repeated, as in "Barkis is willing" and many others in Dickens, 
triplets); stupidity (from Shakespeare's clowns and rustics down 
to the latest stooge on television, village idiots, amiable drunks, 
freshmen). There are others, but these are the most common, and 
perhaps the most easily manufactured. 

4. PREPARATION OF MANUSCRIPTS. A manuscript intended for 
publication should have a professional look, and should be submitted 
to the prospective publisher in a professional manner. Some hints 
on professionalism follow: 

a. All manuscripts should be typed (double-spaced) on only one 
side of good, not too thin, typewriter paper. Substance 20 is about 
the right weight; and 8/2 inches by 11 inches is the right size. 

b. Margins should be left on every page as follows: At the top, 
about 2 inches; at the left, 1/4 inches; at the bottom, % of an inch. 

c. Every page should be numbered with Arabic numerals in the 

Writing the Narrative 383 

upper right corner. Do not number the pages at the bottom or in the 
middle at the top. The first page need not be numbered. 

d. Any manuscript submitted for publication in a magazine or 
newspaper should bear the following items on the first page: (1) In 
the upper left corner the name and the address to which checks or 
correspondence must be sent by the publisher if any; (2) in the 
upper right corner these words: "This manuscript contains ( number) 
words. A Story" (or "An Article"); (3) the title in the middle of the 
page (from left to right) and about four inches from the top of the 
page; the title is usually not written in capitals, though all important 
words and the first word and the last word in it are capitalized; 
the author's name, or assumed name, as he wishes it to appear in 
print. (Sometimes the name under which one wishes to have his 
work appear is not exactly that under which he is generally known 
at his mailing address, or under which he does business. But do not 
use an assumed name unless you have good reason for doing so, 
and unless you explain carefully to the prospective publisher why 
you wish to do so. Editors do not like assumed names; they think 
that if an author is ashamed or afraid to use his own name, they 
should be ashamed or afraid to publish his work. ) 

e. A letter should accompany a manuscript sent unsolicited to 
a magazine or to a newspaper under the following conditions only: 

( 1 ) If the writer knows or has had correspondence with the editor; 

( 2 ) If the writer wishes to explain ( very briefly ) why he considers 
himself capable of writing on the subject he has chosen for ex- 
ample, if he writes a story or an article about China, and has lived in 
China, he should say briefly that he has lived in China. Sometimes 
a note briefly identifying the author is clipped to the manuscript; 
the note would read something like this: "Author is ex-Marine; 
fought in China; contributor to Army newspapers; author of stories 
previously published in magazine." 

f. Short manuscripts (one to three pages) may be folded twice 
across the page, like an ordinary business letter, placed in an or- 
dinary long envelope, and mailed. Longer manuscripts (five to ten 
pages) may be folded once across the middle of the page, and 
mailed in a somewhat larger (manila) envelope. Longer manu- 

884 Creative Writing 

scripts should not; be folded at all, and should be mailed in a full- 
size manila envelope. A page-size slip of cardboard is often sent 
along with such a manuscript; it makes the postage higher, but it 
saves crumpling the manuscript. 

g. A stamped, self-addressed envelope the same size as the one 
containing the manuscript should always be included with the 
manuscript when it is mailed. It should be included even if the 
author does not care to have the manuscript returned to him; for 
unless the author has the manuscript back in his hands, he can 
never know whether or not it has been rejected, and so can never 
know whether or not he ought to try to sell it to another publisher. 

h. It is illegal to send any kind of manuscript through the mails 
without sealing it and paying first-class postage. 

i. Book manuscripts should be sent by prepaid express, and in- 
sured for about $100. The first page of the manuscript should con- 
tain the author's name and address, a statement of the approximate 
number of words in the manuscript, and some such sentence as this: 
"If not accepted for publication, please return this manuscript 
express collect to " 

j. A letter stating the simple fact that you are sending a book 
manuscript of such-and-such a title, that you hope the editors will 
consider it for publication, and that if the manuscript is unaccepted 
it is to be returned express collect such a letter should be mailed 
on the same day that you send the manuscript. Most publishing 
houses send you a printed card telling you that the manuscript has 

k. Unless you know the name of the editor of the magazine or 
publishing company, address your manuscript to "The Editor." 
Sometimes a company is so large that it has several departments as 
College Department, Fiction Department, Juvenile Department 
each with its own editor. Under these conditions, a subaddress to the 
editor of such-and-such a department may be placed on the manu- 
script. (Of course, if the editor communicates personally with the 
author about a manuscript, the author will reply to the person 
writing, not to the impersonal "editor." ) 

m. Make the order of contents in a book manuscript just like 

Writing the Narrative 385 

those of any book of a similar nature issued recently by a well- 
established publishing house. 

n. Ordinarily, publishers hire their own artists to illustrate fiction, 
or even articles. Send your own illustrations only if they are charts 
or figures clarifying an article, or if (once in a very great while) 
they have a peculiar humor or charm that make them an integral 
part of the literary work. Illustrations should be pasted lightly but 
securely on separate sheets, with titles of illustrations written below 



1. Length. 

Look through several issues of several magazines that you might 
like to write for, and estimate the number of words in their stories. 
(Estimate by counting the number of words in about fifteen lines, 
finding the average number of words per line, multiplying by the 
number of lines per page, and then multiplying this figure by the 
number of pages.) 

2. Quantities in Fiction. 

a. Look over some of the suggestions for stories listed in previous 
exercises in this book, and determine which ones might be developed 
into very long stories or novels by an accumulation of obstructions. 

b. Mention at least three examples (characters or events) that 
you could use in writing a convincing story on one of the following 

College is very confusing to the student. 
Most young people are troubled about religious beliefs. 
Women don't love men who are too perfect. 
Men don't love dominating women. 
People don't learn by experience. 

Perfectionists make themselves miserable, and don't succeed 
in making the world perfect, either. 

3. Style. 

Be sure that you are familiar with the style and method of treat- 
ing the subject in the novels of Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, 
Thomas Wolfe, and Virginia Woolf. 

386 Creative Writing 

4. Point of View. 

Study the narratives suggested in different exercises of this book to 
determine the point of view which would be most suitable for each 

Suppose you are writing some such story as this: 

A young man graduates from college, goes into business, and 
finds himself in charge of a group of working girls. He allows 
himself to fall in love with one of the girls, though she has no 
education, no culture, and no worthwhile background. Eventually, 
however, the young man realizes that he and the girl are utterly 
unsuited to each other. The theme is, of course, that oil and water 
will not mix. 

What point of view would you take if you were trying to show 
the folly of the young man? 

If you were trying to show the folly of the girl in thinking she 
might permanently hold the affection of the young man? 

If you were trying to show the different stages in the development 
of the young man's feeling about the girl? 

If you were trying to show the effect the whole affair might have 
on the young man's character? 

If you were chiefly interested in emphasizing the theme? 


1. Exposition. 

Write an expository paragraph about the life and character of 
some person you know, or some character discussed in the exercises 
of this or preceding chapters; and then try to present this informa- 
tion dramatically, as in the example given in the text. 

2. The First Sentences. 

Try to compose melodramatic first sentences like those given as 
examples early in this section. Can you compose such sentences for 
stories you have already written? Examine some of the very brief 
stories frequently published in newspapers, and see how many of 
them begin with melodrama in the first sentence so as to catch the 
immediate attention of the hasty newspaper reader. 

The instructor may mimeograph, or copy on the blackboard, the 
first few sentences of several stories that have been submitted in his 
classes, and ask the students to improve the beginnings in whatever 
way they think best. 

3. The Last Sentences. 

Make a special study of the last sentences in some collection of 
stories. Study the ends of stories you have written, and the ends of 

Writing the Narrative 387 

stories by other members of your class. Which ones seem altogether 
satisfactory? Why? How can the others be improved? 


1. Suspense. 

Invent as many devices as you can for getting suspense in a nar- 
rative that you might write about 

A journey by train, bus, private car, or ship. 

A young man who has arrived penniless in your town. 

A girl who wants a certain young man to propose to her. 

A passenger plane that has one motor fail in mid air. 

Any of the stories suggested in any of the exercises of this book. 

2. Creating Characters. 

a. Which characters in stories you have written have some basis 
in real life? How do your fictional characters differ from the real 
ones? Get your fellow students to answer the same questions. 

Write a brief character sketch of one of the following people 
whom you know personally: 

An old man. 
An old woman. 
A college boy. 
A college girl. 
A college professor. 
A working girl. 

b. Write a brief character sketch of one of the characters just 
mentioned by making him exaggeratedly typical. Then, in another 
sketch, make one of the characters incongruously nontypical. Then 
make one in which some one trait is much exaggerated. Then char- 
acterize one by means of some obvious external peculiarity. 

c. Tell about several characters who arouse conflicting emotions 
in you. 

3. Portraying Characters. 

In each of the ways mentioned in the text, characterize three of 
the individuals listed above, or three characters of your own ac- 
quaintance or invention. 

4. Creating a Background. 

By what means (one or several) would you reconstruct the fol- 
lowing backgrounds imaginatively: 

Your high school. 
Your college. 

388 Creative Writing 

Your social class. 

The part of town in which you live. 

Some distant community where you have visited. 

Your mother's girlhood. 


1. Dialogue. 

Take some parable of the New Testament, some episode of the 
Old Testament, some fable from Aesop, or some narrative episode 
summarized in a modern story or novel, and tell it with much dia- 

2. Titles. 

The instructor should list the titles of twenty or more stories that 
have been submitted in his classes, and have the students discuss 
their merits and their defects. 

3. Humor. 

Try to think up comic actions or situations (involving all those 
listed in the text) that will center about 

A college student. 
A college professor. 


Since everything is grist for a writer's mill, students of writing are likely 
to ask questions on every conceivable subject. Some of the questions that 
are often asked in classes presided over by the author of this book, to- 
gether with his answers, follow: 

Q. Do you think a writer needs inspiration in order to write well? 

A. Inspiration is a vague word. Once in a while a brilliant idea strikes 
a person it doesn't seem to come from anywhere in particular. Then the 
fortunate person who has been struck has to do a lot of hard thinking to 
develop the mere idea into a complete work. More often, a person who 
has been doing a lot of hard thinking about some topic, without getting 
anywhere, suddenly feels a clarifying idea shoot through him every- 
thing that has been confusing him now falls into place. Ideas coming like 
this may be called inspiration. But perhaps you imply that one shouldn't 
write until he feels inspired, until he feels a spirit moving him. Don't wait 
for that kind of inspiration. You must write whether you feel like it or 
not; write routinely. Once in every few weeks or few months, to be sure, 
a writer may feel that he can't possibly sit down to his desk and write; he 
feels that he will die, or at any rate get sick, if he does. On these oc- 
casions, he should take one or two days' vacation. But only on these very 
widely scattered days does one have a valid excuse for not writing. Mary 
Roberts Rinehart says somewhere that the average professional writer sits 
down to his desk with as much enthusiasm as if he were sitting down to a 
dish of cold boiled turnips. 

Q. Should a writer keep a notebook? 

A. Most of the best writers do. Everybody has one or two clever or 
original or penetrating thoughts every day. If you don't jot those thoughts 
down immediately, you forget them. It is a good plan to jot them down 
on any old envelope or other piece of paper that is handy, and enter them 
in the notebook at night. It is also a good idea to keep the notebook by 
one's bed at night. The most brilliant thoughts often come to one just be- 
fore sleep; and if they are not set down then and there, they will have 
vanished by morning. 

Q. How about keeping a journal? 

A. Young writers especially can profit immensely by keeping a journal. 
It gets a young writer into the habit of writing something almost every 


390 Creative Writing 

day, whether or not he feels like it; it teaches him to see something worthy 
of comment in everyday life; and it accustoms him to expressing himself 
without too many inhibitions. Besides, the more writing one does, the 
more facile one becomes in writing. 

Q. Would you advise a prospective writer to go into newspaper work? 

A. Newspaper work is unimaginative; it allows no writer (except a 
few columnists) to express his personality; it has a certain stereotyped 
form of composition; it almost necessarily falls into stereotyped phrases; 
and it puts no value on beauty or appropriateness of style. As a rule, 
therefore, a long period of newspaper work is bad for the creative writer. 
A short period may be useful because it may train him to write regularly, 
clearly, and concisely. 

Q. How should a person who doesn't have an independent income go 
about adopting writing as a career? 

A. Women should marry, get somebody to support them, and sit down 
and write while their husbands are off at work. If they have children, they 
may have to wait ten or fifteen years, till the children get into school, and 
allow their mother a few hours' peace every day. Men have it harder. 
They should get a job that will not be too taxing physically, and then try 
to write in the evenings and over week ends, holidays, and vacations. 
This takes moral courage, persistence, patience, and self-sacrifice (as well 
as sacrifice of one's wife). But if you write only 300 words a day for five 
days a week, you will have a novel within a year. 

Q. Is teaching a good means of earning a living while one is writing? 

A. Yes with qualifications. Teaching in the public schools (especially 
in the junior high schools) can tax one's nerves and physical stamina to 
the utmost so that no mental or physical energy is left over for writing. 
On the other hand, teaching in the elementary grades, and sometimes in 
high school, may be relatively pleasant. And all teaching leaves most of 
the evenings, Saturdays, Sundays, long holidays at Thanksgiving, Easter, 
and Christmas, and the summer months free for writing. Teaching in col- 
lege is more satisfying in some ways. But the very serious drawback here 
is that you will be expected to do "research" either for advanced degrees 
or for advancement in the profession. Research will not only consume all 
your spare hours, but will also tend more and more to make you a critic 
and a scholar rather than a creative writer. Only certain very obstinate 
and unimpressionable people can succeed in both scholarly and creative 

Q. Can one expect, eventually, to make a good livng at writing? 

A. A good many people get rich at it; but a very large majority of even 
well-established professional writers have only a fair competence, not 
wealth; and most have to supplement their incomes by other work. 

Appendix 391 

Q. Which is more profitable writing for magazines or writing books? 

A. In general, writing for magazines is more profitable. But, of course, 
certain books make a great deal of money for the author. Furthermore, 
writing for the poorer class, "pulp" magazines is not really lucrative unless 
you can turn out enormous amounts of copy, and there is no honor in 
writing for these magazines. Therefore, not counting the occasional writer 
who can produce ten novels and a hundred stories per year, a writer who 
cannot write good literature would probably do better financially if he 
got a job in a large corporation, and worked up in it. To be sure, if he 
wishes to make a little extra money occasionally, and has time to write, 
he can try writing for the pulps. But, as a rule, he should write as well as 
he can, try to be proud of his work, get some satisfaction from self- 
expression and the act of creation, and (until he becomes well established 
as an author) depend on his job with the corporation for his livelihood. 

Q. Should one send his work off directly to the magazines and book 
publishers, or should one have a literary agent? 

A. That is still an unsolved problem. Most magazines and book pub- 
lishers do examine the unsolicited manuscripts that come to them; on the 
other hand, they undoubtedly look with greater attention at manuscripts 
coming to them from a reliable agent. But most reliable agents do not 
like to handle the work of embryo authors; and the agents who solicit the 
manuscripts of amateur authors are often worse than useless they may 
be merely frauds and bloodsuckers. 

Q. How does the new writer possibly get out of this dilemma? 

A. He can do three things. First, he should keep on sending his ma- 
terial to prospective markets among the widely read magazines; in par- 
ticular, he should enter all prize contests in which he thinks his work 
might have a chance. Next, he should send material to the "little" maga- 
zines, which pay little or nothing for manuscripts, but publication in 
which encourages the larger magazines to look favorably on other work 
by the same author. Finally, he should associate with literary people 
that is, not people who try to be literary, or think they are literary, but 
truly literary people. Sometimes, especially in small communities, this is 
difficult. But, if possible, he should go to places where established writers 
and teachers of writing are likely to be. He should not force himself upon 
them, but he should try to become acquainted with them, hear their lec- 
tures, visit their classes, talk with them at gatherings. He should write to 
authors whose work he likes, especially local authors, and keep up a 
correspondence with them. He should not hurry matters but eventually 
some of these people will find out that he writes, and will ask to see his 
work, or will consent to look over some of it. Except by specific request, 
the first manuscript submitted to these people should be short. If these 

Creative Writing 

people judge that the young writer has any possibilities, they will be glad 
to encourage him, to criticize his work, and to recommend him to agents 
and publishers. Writers and critics and teachers of writing are busy peo- 
ple; they do not have time to help everybody who has written something, 
or to criticize in detail long novels that total strangers thrust at them. 
Still, they are always glad to discover and to encourage talent. If the 
young writer will try to be unselfish and considerate, he will find that 
most other people will be the same. 

Q. Should a young writer frequent writers' groups? 

A. He should certainly frequent writing groups in college. Members 
of these groups are better read, more seriously interested in writing, and 
more capable of criticism than are groups made up of the public at large. 
Moreover, college groups have the leadership and sponsorship of some 
professor whose opinions are sometimes valuable. Groups made up of the 
general public have low literary standards, as a rule, are poor critics, and 
do not have competent leadership. Even college writing groups have ful- 
filled their function for most people after a few years. "Incentives come 
from the soul's self," Browning wrote. "The rest avail not." As you grow 
older, you must more and more depend upon yourself, not on other peo- 
ple, for your incentives. 

Q. Do you imply that we should not heed the criticism of others? 

A. Criticism is a profession; do not trust amateurs. Above all, never, 
never listen to your mother's criticism of your work, or your best friend's, 
or your wife's or husband's, or your roommate's. It is a safe rule to do 
always just the opposite of what they advise. College professors are some- 
times good critics (but not always); so are some professional writers. 
Listen to their criticism, pass judgment on it for yourself, and heed it if 
it seems sensible. Remember that personal taste has little to do with 
criticism. The person who says of your manuscript, "I like it," or, "I don't 
like it," is helping you very little. He is a statistic, nothing more. He is not 
a critic. To be a critic, one must have read a great deal of good literature, 
must have thought about it, must be able to tell why he likes or dislikes 
a piece of writing, and must understand that his personal likes and dis- 
likes have no relation to the literary value of a piece of writing. By way of 
illustration, I myself thoroughly dislike the major part of John Gals- 
worthy's work; yet I am thoroughly convinced that he is a much greater 
writer than many people whom I like much better. 

Q. Should a writer seek other people's advice while he is writing a 
book or a story? 

A. Definitely not except to seek mere information about facts. Talk- 
ing about a book or a story is likely to get it out of your system, as it 
were, and make you less eager to get it down on paper, less interested in 

Appendix 393 

writing it. Furthermore, if you tell other people that you are writing for 
publication, and then don't get published, you will have a lot of explain- 
ing to do. It is best just not to talk. 

Q. Should one ever pay to have his work published? 

A. In general, no. On the other hand, if one wants to see his work in 
print, and is willing to spend the money to get it into print, there is no 
reason why he shouldn't do so. It is a hobby considerably less expensive 
than collecting antiques or keeping a boat, and considerably more harm- 
less than betting on horses or maintaining a private bar. One may indulge 
it if one wishes. One's great-grandchildren will probably treasure the self- 
published volumes of their ancestor. Furthermore, poetry (even good 
poetry) seldom pays its own way; much of it can be published only at 
the author's expense. One of the classics of our time, or of all time, 
Housman's A Shropshire Lad, was published at the author's expense. But 
one must not think that self-published work is a paying proposition; only 
very exceptionally does one ever get back the money put into such a 

Q. What about writing for the movies? 

A. Forget it. When the movies want you to write for them, they will 
tell you. The larger motion picture houses have a staff of editors whose 
only job is to pore through current novels and magazine stories to find 
suitable material. Once they have selected material that they wish to use, 
they may ask the author to come and help them. In addition to these 
editors, publishers and authors' agents are continually bringing promising 
works to the attention of the motion picture companies. Finally, most of 
the companies have a permanent staff of professional writers who have 
worked up in the business gradually. One doesn't "break into" the busi- 
ness of writing for the movies. 

Q. You mentioned agents? 

A. Yes. The agent is more for the established writer than for the 
amateur. The professional writer himself doesn't have time to learn all 
the markets or to try to crash them; he is too busy writing. 

Q. When one sends a manuscript to a publisher, how long will it be 
before the publisher makes a decision one way or the other? 

A. Give the publisher six weeks or two months if the manuscript is 
intended for a magazine; but most magazines answer much sooner. A 
book publisher may take longer. Manuscripts that are being favorably 
considered take a longer time than others; and manuscripts sent in the 
summer, when many people on the publisher's staff are away on vacation, 
take longer. In any event, if you have heard nothing from the prospective 
publisher within three months, write to him politely and ask him whether 
he has made a decision yet. 

394 Creative Writing 

Q. Do manuscripts ever get lost? 

A. It has happened but very uncommonly. But as a hedge, always, 
always keep a carbon copy of your manuscript. This is an elementary rule. 

Q. Should you keep sending out manuscripts after they have been 
once rejected? 

A. Of course! It is true that some manuscripts could probably be 
published in only three or four places. Try them all. Other manuscripts 
are more general. Do not give up till you have got at least fifteen 

Q. How can you find out where to send manuscripts? 

A. The Writers Digest, published at 21 East 12th Street, Cincin- 
nati 10, Ohio, and The Writer, 8 Arlington Street, Boston 16, Massachu- 
setts, not only publish addresses and requirements of publishers, but also 
advertise many good books on the business angle of writing. Buy copies 
of these magazines at the newsstands, or send for sample copies or sub- 
scription rates. 

Q. In class you have spoken frequently of "unprofessional looking" 
manuscripts; what do you mean? 

A. Manuscripts written with a typewriter ribbon that should have 
been discarded months ago; letters like e and o clogged so that they make 
round black spots on the paper; small margins; single-spaced lines; pages 
pinned or stapled together; pages numbered somewhere but in the upper 
right corner. 

Q. Should the typing of the manuscript be absolutely perfect? 

A. Not necessarily. Be reasonably neat and always legible. But if you 
want to change a word or two on a page, run a line through the word, 
and write the correct word above it, either in ink (with printed letters) 
or with the typewriter. Don't rewrite an entire page because one or two 
words are wrong; but make the first page flawless. The point is that you 
need not be perfect, and yet your page ought not to look messy. When 
in doubt, do it over. 

Q. Suppose you want to make insertions after the manuscript is com- 
pleted and numbered? 

A. Number the inserted pages a, b, and so on; thus pages inserted 
after page 15 would be 15a, 15b, and so on. Sometimes you can paste on 
an addition at the bottom of a page, and then fold the over-length page 
to normal size. 

Q. Should one write in longhand first, and then type off the final 
copy? Or should one compose on the typewriter? 

A. Some people compose better in longhand, some think they com- 
pose better on the typewriter. I recommend longhand, but wouldn't insist 
on it. 

Appendix 395 

Q. Can you give any suggestions about the best working methods for 
a writer? 

A. Different people have different methods. Carlyle thought he had 
to have a soundproof room to write in; Jane Austen wrote in the family 
living room with the ordinary life of a large household going on about her. 
Some people think everything out beforehand, and then write it down; 
some people work out all the details as they go. Some people work in the 
early morning before other people in the family are up (Anthony Trol- 
lope produced numberless volumes this way); some people work only at 
night; some people work at any hour. One should remember, however, 
that it is easy to rationalize, easy to persuade oneself that conditions are 
not just right for working that it is too soon after a meal, or too soon 
after exercise, or too late at night, or that others will be disturbed by one's 
typewriter, or that one will think more clearly later in the day, or that 
one is too sleepy from staying up too late last night, or that the weather 
is too hot, or that the poor light will injure one's eyes, or that one had 
better wait to get somebody else's opinion before going further, or that all 
work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. One should remember that con- 
ditions for writing are never perfect. A passage from Macaulay describing 
the conditions under which Milton wrote has already been quoted in this 
book; it is worth quoting again: "Neither blindness, nor gout, nor age, 
nor penury, nor domestic afflictions, nor political disappointments, nor 
abuse, nor proscription, nor neglect, had power to" prevent him from 
writing Paradise Lost. One should not wait for conditions to be perfect; 
one should just sit down and write. 

Q. But suppose one sits down to write, and no writing comes? 

A. Get a piece of clean paper, write "The" on it, and then write an- 
other word to go with "The," and then write a word to go with that word, 
and so on. You may have to throw away your first paragraph or first page 
later on; but that is a minor matter. 

Q. How does one keep from being bored with one's own writing? 

A. One doesn't. There are always times when one is bored with writ- 
ing. But the amount of boredom can often be reduced if you will concen- 
trate on the art, or craftsmanship, of your work. Don't try to tell the story 
too fast. Strew little jewels of style and description through it, and stop to 
polish these jewels carefully. Perfect your sentences; seek for the best of 
all possible words to fit your feeling; try to create rhythms and patterns 
of letter-sounds. You will be surprised to find how much these devices 
help you over your boredom. 

Q. How does one keep from growing discouraged about one's own 
writing when one reads the so-much-better writing of other people? 

A. It is not always better writing; usually it is just different writing. 

396 Creative Writing 

"I cannot carry forests on my back," said the squirrel to the boastful 
mountain, "but neither can you crack a nut." Jane Austen couldn't write 
like Sir Walter Scott, Conrad couldn't write like Dickens, and Eudora 
Welty can't write like Hemingway. Don't get discouraged because you 
can't write like other people; write like yourself. 

Q. Why should people read fiction? How can the fiction-writer justify 
his existence? 

A. A full answer to that question would fill a book. Fiction entertains; 
it gives information; it makes readers better acquainted with the possi- 
bilities and the intricacies of human nature; it reveals certain philosophi- 
cal truths or laws of life; it gives a certain meaning or interpretation to 
the confused details of life; it presents ideals of belief, or emotion, or 
conduct that humanity might not know without reading of them in fiction; 
it re-creates the faiths, the customs, the ways of life of other peoples than 
one's own; it has something of the value of laboratory work in the study 
of a science, in that it gives vivid concrete examples of general truths that 
would mean little to students or readers were it not for the concrete exam- 
ples; and it exercises the reader in the use of emotions that, the more they 
are used, are the more easily aroused. In this last respect, fiction has im- 
mense propagandistic value that is being recognized and utilized more 
and more by many specialized interests and points of view. Perhaps it 
should be added in this connection that the fiction-writer has a moral 
responsibility to see that his work contributes to the intellectual, emo- 
tional, and moral welfare of humanity. The fiction-writer is today's most 
influential preacher. But the instant he forgets that he is a fiction-writer 
and not a preacher, he is lost. 

Q. Why do so many of the best writers like to write about unpleasant 
topics? And why do so many of them have radical ideas? 

A. Writers write because they are obsessed with an idea or a feeling 
about something, and because they want to tell people about the idea or 
the feeling that obsesses them. Since nobody but a complete bore wants 
to tell people about what people already think and feel, the writer tells 
them about what they don't think and feel already. And then people call 
him unpleasant and radical. 

Q. What do people like in fiction? That is, what makes a best seller? 

A. Thousands of publishers, authors, and booksellers would give a 
fortune to know the answer to that one. Sometimes a book becomes a 
best seller because it appears at precisely the right time; a little later or 
a little earlier, and it would not sell at all. Sometimes it becomes a best 
seller because it is in fashion. (By the way, you can get some idea of the 
kinds of books that are currently in fashion by looking in the classified 
lists at the back of the last volume of the Book Review Digest, and find- 

Appendix 397 

ing which kinds of books are most numerous.) But, everything else being 
equal, a book will sell if it has the following characteristics: (1) suspense; 
(2) reader identification that is, a main character with whose desires 
and struggles and troubles the reader can sympathize as if they were 
his own; (3) some scenes of strong emotional appeal; (4) at least one 
very extraordinary character at whom the reader can marvel; (5) an 
interesting background; (6) information historical, biographical, geo- 
graphical, sociological, psychological, scientific; (7) a touch of sex won't 
do any harm but don't overdo it; (8) variety in episodes, scenes, and 
characters; (9) contrasts everywhere; (10) ideas philosophical, socio- 
logical, psychological, moral, political, religious. 


Index of Proper Names 

Absolute, Anthony, 369 

Adam Bede, 135, 378 

Addison, Joseph, 18, 39, 41, 144 

Adventures among Books, 115 

"JEs Triplex," 61 

Aesop, 356, 388 

Agassiz, Louis, 152 

Age of Innocence, The, 333 

Mice in Wonderland, 269, 312 

Allen, Frederick L., 249 

"Ambitious Guest, The," 17, 339, 365 

American Forests, 249, 250 

American Magazine, 251, 360 

American Mercury, The, 249, 250, 360 

And Tell of Time, 379 

Andersen, Hans Christian, 269 

Anderson, Sherwood, 378 

Anthony Adverse, 212 

Antony, Mark, 24, 214, 371 

Antony and Cleopatra, 316 

Arabian Nights, The, 269 

Archer, William, 268 

Ariel, 24 

Aristotle, 268, 270, 277 

Arnold, Matthew, 17, 55, 66, 96, 135 

Ascham, Roger, 218 

Asia, 249 

Atlantic Monthly, 192, 249, 250, 251, 

321, 335, 357 

Austen, Jane, 100, 284, 311, 395, 396 
Axelle, 198 

Babbitt, 320 
Babbitt, George, 333 
Back to Methuselah, 257 
Bacon, Francis, 27, 191, 218 
Bahamas Murder Case, The, 377 
Balzac, Honore de, 365, 368 
Beard, Charles, 199 
Beard, Mary, 199 
Beer, Thomas, 249 
Beerbohm, Max, 180 


Behn, Aphra, 26 

Bell for Adano, A, 379 

"Bells, The," 112 

Benchley, Robert, 41 

Bennett, Arnold, 135, 157, 183, 283, 

Benoit, Pierre, 198 
Beowulf, 98 

Bergson, Henri, 173, 258 
Best American Short Stories, 335 
Bible, the, 17, 27, 28, 38, 73, 74, 110, 

114, 126, 128, 139, 298 n., 356, 388 
Bierce, Ambrose, 118 
Billings, Josh, 41 
Blake, William, 219 
"Bliss," 322 

Book Review Digest, 286, 396 
BoswelL James, 83, 169, 183, 185 
Bowers, Claud, 249 
Bradford, Roark, 138 
Bridge of San Luis Key, The, 366 
Browning, Robert, 76, 291, 302, 392 
Brutus, 316, 370 
Buck, Frank, 169 
Bulfinch, Thomas, 54, 55 
Burke, Edmund, 10, 173 
Bums, Robert, 28 
Butler, Samuel, 27 
Byron, Lord, 24, 26 

Cabell, James Branch, 63, 138, 283, 


Cable, George W., 286, 317, 372 
Caesar, Julius, 204 
Caliban, 24 

Canterbury Tales, 315, 365 
Cardinal, The, 378 
Carlyle, Thomas, 27, 61, 71, 109, 135, 

218, 373, 395 
Carrie, Sister, 333 
Carton, Sidney, 347 
Gary, Joyce, 3 f . 


Index of Proper Names 

'Cask of Amontillado, The," 281, 344 Current History, 249, 251 

Casterbridge, Mayor of, 314 

Gather, Wflla, 96, 147 

Catholic World, 251 

Cellini, Benvenuto, 196 

Chance, 271 

Channing, Edward, 199 

Chaplin, Charles, 382 

Chaucer, Geoffrey, 194, 195, 283, 315 

Chekhov, Anton, 16, 278 ff., 311 

Cherry Orchard, The, 379 

Chesterfield, Earl of, 74 

Childe Harold, 24, 26 

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower 

Came," 76 

Chips and Scraps, 173 
Cibber, Colley, 369 
Cicero, 220 

Cloister and the Hearth, The, 321 
"Cloud, The," 52 
Colby, Frank, 31 
Coleridge, S. T., 165, 185, 371 
College English, 243 
Colliers, 250 
Comedy of Errors, 109 
Comfortable, Lady, 369 
Commentaries, 204 
"Congo, The," 110 
Congreve, William, 194, 195 
Conrad, Joseph, 42, 100, 111, 115, 

116, 271, 281, 283, 293, 313, 319, 

321, 323, 346, 350, 355, 368, 378, 


Consumer s Research, 251 
Cooper, Frederic Taber, 22 
Cooper, James Fenimore, 371 
Copperfield, David, 333 
Copperfield, Dora, 24 
Corbett, James, 363 
"Coward, The," 339 
Cowley, Abraham, 144 
Cowper, William, 26 
Craddock, Charles Egbert, 286, 317, 


Crane, Stephen, 286, 339 
Crime and Punishment, 316 
Croce, Benedetto, 137, 138, 153, 158, 


Cruncher, Jeremy, 325, 369 
Crusoe, Robinson, 319 
Cry, the Beloved Country, 377 

Cyrano de Bergerac, 366 

Darwin, Charles, 169, 170, 171 

Daudet, Alphonse, 150, 368 

"Daughters of the Late Colonel, The," 
322, 343 

David Copperfield, 135, 378 

Davidson, John, 144 

"Death of the Dauphin, The," 151 

Debs, Eugene V., 27 

Decline and Fall of the Roman Em- 
pire, The, 36 

Defoe, Daniel, 135, 283, 284 

de la Roche, Mazo, 100 

Dickens, Charles, 24, 96, 135, 157, 
283, 284, 293, 314, 317, 331, 368, 
374, 382, 396 

Disney, Walt, 382 

Doll's House, The, 316 

Dombey, Paul, 24 

Don Quixote, 296, 344, 372 

"Door of the Trap, The," 378 

Dos Passes, John, 40, 283, 286, 293, 
297, 334 

"Double-Dyed Deceiver, The," 270 

Draper, Sir William, 69 

Dreiser, Theodore, 286, 293, 331 

Dryden, John, 68 

Dunsany, Lord, 374 

Durant, Will, 257 

Ecclesiastes, 27, 38, 51 

"Edward," 11 

Eggleston, Edward, 286 

Egoist, The, 339, 340 

Egyptian, The, 378 

"Elegy in a Country Churchyard," 

Eliot, George, 135, 150, 153, 156, 158, 


Eliot, T. S., 128, 300, 305 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 97, 191, 220. 


Emile, 36 

Enemy of the People, An, 357 
"Enthusiast, The," 339 
Epistle to the Romans, 69 

Fabre, Henri, 27, 169 
Fdcheux, Les, 381 

Index of Proper Names 


Fall of the House of Usher, The," Hardy, Thomas, 197, 271, 284, 293, 

135, 158 
Falstaff, 381 

Farewell to Arms, A, 366 
Farrell, James T., 286 
Faulkner, William, 42, 128, 138, 279, 

283, 313, 317, 322 
Fielding, Henry, 194, 195, 283, 314 
Figures of Earth, 64 
Finnegan's Wake, 305 
Fischer, John, 257 
Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 333 
Flaubert, Gustave, 146, 149, 373 
For Whom the Bell Tolls, 283, 347, 


Forbes Magazine, 250 
Forever Amber, 312, 378 
Fortune, 249, 251 
"Fra Lippo Lippi," 302 
France, Anatole, 40 
Franklin, Benjamin, 27 
Freeman, Mary Wilkins, 317 
Freud, Sigmund, 206, 299, 307 

Gattions Reach, 79 

Galsworthy, John, 15, 40, 96, 99, 109, 

286, 296, 313, 334, 351, 392 
Garrod, H. W., 206 
Gay, John, 26 

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 249 
George, Henry, 26 
Gibbon, Edward, 36, 42 
Gilbert, W. S., 270 
Glasgow, Ellen, 101, 286, 322 
Glendower, 24, 372 
"Gold Bug, The," 135 
Gone with the Wind, 312 379 
Good Companions, The, 157 
Gosse, Edmund, 204 
Graustark, 285 
Gray, Thomas, 151 
Great Expectations, 159, 344 
Great Gatsby, The, 333 
Gulliver's Travels, 41, 343 

Hacker, Louis M., 199 
Hadley, Arthur Twining, 258 
Hamlet, 23, 24, 99, 140, 273, 316, 
339, 370 

Hamlet, 140, 272, 315, 319, 344, 347, Jungle, The, 250 

346, 364 
Harper's Bazaar, 378 
Harpers Magazine, 175, 192, 249, 

250, 251, 257, 335, 360 
Harris, Joel Chandler, 138, 373 
Harte, Bret, 278, 286, 317, 344, 370 
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 17, 283, 339, 

365, 373 

Hazlitt, William, 214, 290 
Hearn, Lafcadio, 292 
Heart of Darkness, 281, 293, 319, 321, 

346, 365, 378 
Heart of Midlothian, 135 
Keep, Uriah, 369 
Hemingway, Ernest, 42, 56, 283, 293, 

313, 331, 333, 396 
Henry, O., 83, 96, 100, 270, 271, 278, 

310, 373 

Henry, Patrick, 62 
Henry IV, Part I, 314, 371 
Henry V, 24, 371 
"Her First Ball," 293 
Hewlett, Maurice, 138 
Hotspur, 24, 371, 372 
House and Garden, 249 
Housman, A. E., 393 
Huxley, Aldous, 40 
Huxley, T. H., 125, 135, 220 

Ibsen, Henrik, 286, 357 

Innocents Abroad, 26 

In Old Creole Days, 372, 379 

Irving, Washington, 78, 140, 151 

Isaiah, 27 

Ivanhoe, 135, 196, 317, 373 

James, Henry, 284, 286 

James, William, 169, 220, 258 

Jefferson, Thomas, 173, 218 

Jewett, Sarah Orne, 373 

Johnson, Samuel, 18, 26, 39, 67, 63, 

72, 74, 82, 185, 381 
Jones, Howard Mumford, 192 
Jones, Tom, 333 
Jonson, Ben, 290, 369 
Joyce, James, 195, 279, 305 
Julius Caesar, 316, 322, 370 
Jung, Carl, 206, 307 


Jungle Books, The, 343 


Junius, 69-70 
jurgen, 285 
Justice, 296, 351 

Index of Proper Names 

Keats, John, 142, 150, 153 

Kenyan Review, 285, 335 

Kiil, Morten, 357 

"Killers, The," 293, 333, 365 

King Lear, 347 

King's Cavalier, The, 378 

Kingsley, Charles, 317 

Kipling, Rudyard, 100, 109, 116, 147, 

278, 293, 347, 354, 372 
Kittredge, G. L., 169 
Kittti Foyle, 378 
Krutch, Joseph Wood, 346 

La Bruyere, Jean de, 27 

La Fontaine, Jean de, 26 

La Rochefoucauld, Due de, 27, 326 

Ladies Home Journal, 251, 335 

"Lady of Shalott, The," 111, 116 

Lady Windermere's Fan, 325, 379 

Laertes, 24 

Lamb, Charles, 135, 180, 258 

Lang, Andrew, 115 

Languish, Lydia, 369 

Lawrence, D. H., 339, 368 

Leacock, Stephen, 180 

Lear, King, 339 

Lee, Henry, 10, 13 

Lewis, Sinclair, 40, 96, 283, 286, 293, 

331, 334 
Life, 250, 251 
Light that Failed, The, 379 
Lincoln, Abraham, 12 
Lindsay, Vachel, 110 
Little Man, What Now?, 248 
"Little Soldier," 156 
Liza of Lambeth, 60 
Lloyd, Harold, 382 
Locke, John, 169, 191 
Lodge, Sir Oliver, 216 
"Lodging for the Night, A," 266 
Logic for the Millions, 222 
Lord Jim, 346 

"Lotos-Eaters, The," 111, 116 
Lovelady, Lord, 369 
"Lovely Lady, The," 339 
Love's Labours Lost, 344 
Lowes, J. L., 169 

McCutcheon, George B., 285 
McKerrow, R. B., 259 
MacArthur, Douglas, 233 
Macaulay, Thomas B., 17, 96, 128, 

167, 168, 185, 233, 395 
Macbeth, 24, 316, 339 
Macbeth, 315, 319 
Macduff, 24 
Mackail, J. W., 313 
Macpherson, James, 72, 74 
Mademoiselle, 378 
Maeterlinck, Maurice, 27, 169 
Malaprop, Mrs., 213, 381 
Mander, A. E., 222-223 
Mandeville, John, 11 f., 13 
Mann, Isabel, 257 
Mann, Thomas, 284 
Mansfield, Katherine, 16, 96, 293, 322, 

323, 339 

Marius the Epicurean, 117 
Marner, Silas, 314, 343 
Marquand, J. P., 279, 286 
Marx, Karl, 206 

"Masque of the Red Death," 281 
Masson, David, 313 
Master of Ballantrae, The, 354 
Matthews, Brander, 219 
Maugham, Somerset, 60, 96, 368 
Maupassant, Guy de, 13, 146, 156, 

277 ff., 286, 339, 344, 358, 368, 373 
Mauve Decade, The, 249 
Meiklejohn, Alexander, 258 
Men of the Nineties, 21 
Meredith, George, 339, 380 
Micawber, Mr. and Mrs., 369 
Midsummer Night's Dream, 325 
Mill, John Stuart, 219 
Millikan, Robert A., 219 
Milton, John, 27, 28, 362, 395 
Mind in the Making, The, 238 
"Miracle of Purun Baghat, The," 347, 


Misanthrope, Le, 379 
Mis4rables, Les, 316 
"Miss Brill," 322 
Moby Dick, 365 
Moliere, 381 
MoU Flanders, 296 
Monsieur Beaucaire, 285 
Montaigne, Michel Je, 191 
Morley, Christopher, 180 
Morte tf Arthur, 110 

Index of Proper Names 


Mowgli, 343 
Muddiman, Bernard, 21 
"Municipal Report, A," 310 

Napoleon, 184-185 

Nation, The, 243 

National Geographic Magazine, 187, 


New Arabian Nights, 266 n. 
New Republic, 243, 251 
New Yorker, 41, 251, 357 
Newman, John Henry, 126 
Nightwatch, The, 196 

Octavius, 24 

"Ode to the West Wind," 52 

Of Human Bondage, 379 

Oklahoma, 379 

"Old Maid, The," 13 

Old Wives' Tale, The, 296, 314, 346, 

372, 375 

Only Yesterday, 249 
Ophelia, 23, 273 
Oregon Trail, The, 186 
OTrigger, Sir Lucius, 369 
"Outcasts of Poker Flat, The," 344 

Page, Thomas N., 138, 317 

Paradise Lost, 282, 395 

Parents' Magazine, 249 

Parkman, Francis, 186 

Partisan Review, 335 

Pascal, Blaise, 27 

Pater, Walter, 94, 96, 97, 117, 126 

Paul, Saint, 27, 69, 73, 95, 290 

Peg Woffington, 378 

Pepys, Samuel, 183 

Perry, Ralph Barton, 19 

Perseus, 196 

Personal Record, A, 112 

Pickwick Papers, 135 

"Piece of String, A," 344 

Pilgrim's Progress, 283 

Pirates of Penzance, The, 270 

"Pit and the Pendulum, The," 281 

Plato, 169, 173, 220 

Poe, Edgar Allan, 108, 112, 135, 151, 

158, 266, 281, 344 
Poetry, 305 

Pope, Alexander, 27, 97, 112 
Portor, Laura Spencer, 257 
Precieuses ridicules, Les, 381 

Prester, John, 11, 12, 13 
Priestley, J. B., 100, 156 
Prometheus Unbound, 8f. 
Proust, Marcel, 293 
Proverbs, 27, 38, 218 
Psalms, 27, 77 
Purdy, Theodore, Jr., 197 

Quasimodo, 314 

Quiller-Couch, Sir Arthur, 91 ff., 220 

Rabelais, Francois, 98 

Rain, 316 

Rambler, 18 

Reade, Charles, 321 

Red Badge of Courage, The, 339 

Reflections in a Golden Eye, 377 

Rembrandt van Rijn, 196 

Review of English Studies, 259 

Richardson, Samuel, 229, 284 

Riders to the Sea, 273 

Rinehart, Mary Roberts, 389 

Roads of Destiny, 271 

Robinson, J. H., 238 

Robinson Crusoe, 312, 343 

Roderick Random, 378 

Rodin, Auguste, 197 

Rogers, Agnes, 175 

Rogers, Will, 41 

Romeo and Juliet, 325, 347 

Romola, 135 

Roosevelt, Franklin D., 207 

Roosevelt, Theodore, 62, 186 

Ross, Edward A., 21 

Rousseau, J. J., 36, 173 

Ruskin, John, 71, 75, 117, 126, 147, 

206, 298 n. 
Russell, Bertrand, 218 

Saki, 293 

Salambo, 149, 373 

Samson, 347 

Sandburg, Carl, 128 

Saroyan, William, 279 

Saturday Evening Post, 251, 335, 343 

Saturday Review of Literature, 197, 


Scarlet Letter, The, 319 
Schiller, J. C. F., 279 
Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr., 199 
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 173, 219, 257 


Index of Proper Names 

Schwed, Fred, Jr., 257 
.rScott, Sir Walter, 135, 138, 142, 157, 

194, 268, 283, 284, 317, 365, 371, 
373, 396 

Scribners Magazine, 192, 250 
Sea and the Jungle, The, 186, 379 
"Secret Sharer, The," 281 
Sewanee Review, 305 
Shakespeare, William, 24, 27, 28, 96, 
99, 109, 126, 142, 149, 153, 194, 

195, 206, 214, 273, 283, 322, 325, 
339, 371, 373 

Sharp, Becky, 314, 333 

Shaw, George Bernard, 27, 40, 257, 

313, 374 

Shelley, Percy B., 8, 18, 51 
Sheridan, Richard B., 369 
Shropshire Lad, A, 393 
Sidney, Sir Philip, 218 
Silas Marner, 135, 319 
Silver Cord, The, 343, 344 
Sinclair, Upton, 250 
"Skylark, The/' 52 
Smith, Alexander, 180 f. 
Smollett, Tobias, 194, 195, 284 
Social Control, 21 
Soldiers Three, 354 
Song of Songs, The, 27 
Sound and the Fury, The, 322 
Spectator, 18, 41 
Spengler, Oswald, 169, 194 
Steele, Richard, 20, 369 
Steele, Wilbur Daniel, 100 
Steinbeck, John, 40, 286, 317, 331 
Stevenson, Robert Louis, 26, 61, 78, 

96, 97, 140, 157 
Stockmann, Dr., 357 
Strange Interlude, 196 
Swift, Jonathan, 41 
Swinburne, Algernon C., 117, 204 
Synge, J. M., 373 

Tale of Two Cities, A, 135, 325, 347 

Tarkington, Booth, 285 

Tartuffe, 381 

Toiler, 20 

Tawney, Richard Henry, 199 

Tempest, The, 151 

Tennyson, Alfred, 27, 109, 110, 111, 

112, 142 
Thackeray, William Makepeace, 283, 

284, 317 

Theophrastus, 27 
This Week, 251 
Thinker, The, 197 
Thomas, Norman, 26 
Thompson, Francis, 78 
Thoreau, H. D., 219 
Thurber, James, 41 
Time, 251 
Tobacco Road, 379 
"Tobermory," 294 
Tom Jones, 296, 320, 378 
Tomlinson, H. M., 78, 186 
Toynbee, Arnold, 199 
Tragic Era, The, 249 
Travels with a Donkey, 26, 78 
Treasure Island, 285, 322, 369 
Trelawney, Edward John, 169 
Truman, Harry S., 207 
Turner, Frederick, 199 
Twain, Mark, 26, 97, 135, 138 
Twist, Oliver, 333 
Tyndale, William, 95 
"Typhoon," 281 

United States News and World Re- 
port, 250 

Untermeyer, Louis, 258 
U. S. A., 297 

Valentino, Rudolph, 186 
Vanity Fair, 320 
Vein of Iron, 322 
Victory, 378 
Villiers, George, 283 
Virgil, 27, 142 
Vogue, 251 
Voice of the City, The, 82 

Watt, The, 379 
Watt Street Journal, 251 
Wallace, Alfred Russel, 215, 258 
Ward, Artemus, 41 
Waste Land, The, 305 
Waugh, Arthur, 38 
Weber, Max, 199 
Weir of Hermiston, 158 
Wells, H. G., 40, 183, 215, 286, 313 
Welty, Eudora, 317, 321, 396 
Wharton, Edith, 286, 333 
Wheeler, Morton C., 27 
When Knighthood Was in Flower, 

Index of Proper Names 407 

Whitman, Walt, 76, 128 Wright, Richard, 138 

Wilde, Oscar, 27, 145, 146, 293, 365, Writer, The, 394 

373, 374 Writer's Digest, 394 

Williams, M. G., 160 Wuthering Heights, 317 
Wolfe, Thomas, 128, 279, 311, 313 

Woman's Home Companion, 251 Yale Review, 249 

Woolf, Virginia, 311, 313, 323 Youth, 323 
Woolson, Constance, 286 

Wordsworth, William, 218 Zola, fimile, 285 

Index of Subjects 

Agents, literary, 391, 393 

Analogy, 30, 207, 228 

Anecdote, 185 

Anticipation for suspense, 366 

Antithetical structure, 67 f . 

Apologies, 88 

Argument beside the point, 231; in a 

circle, 232 

Argumentation, 221 ff. 
Arrangement of details in description, 

153ff.; of ideas in exposition, 252 
Art, definition of, 137 
Atmospheric words, 141 ff. 
Authority, evidence from, 236 If.; in 

exposition, 207 ff , 

Background, creation of, 372 ff.; in 
fiction, 317; starting from, 335 

Beauty of sound, 107 ff.; of style, 
107 ff. 

Beginning, the, in exposition, 257; in 
fiction, 357, 359, 364 f . 

Best-sellers, 396 f . 

Biographical novel, 285 

Biography, 184 f. 

BOOK reviews, see Reviewing 

Brevity, 82 

Career of writer, 390 

Cause-and-effect, fallacies of, 234 

Chance in fiction, 270 

Change in fiction, 318 ff., 332 ff. 

Character of the writer, 291 

Characters, creation of, 368; develop- 
ing, 315; in fiction, 313, 333; por- 
trayal of, 370 ff.; starting a story 
from, 338; static, 315; typical, 314 

Chekhovian story, 277 

Chronological method in exposition, 

Clarity in exposition, 168; repetition 
for, 19 

Classification, improper, 232; method 

of, 204 

See also Division 
Climax, order of, 10, 11 
Coherence, see Continuity 
Coinages, 97 

Coincidence in fiction, see Chance 
Colored terms, 223 
Comedy, 380 ff. 
Comparison, 207, 228 
Complications in fiction, 325 
Compound words, 98 
Concreteness, 31, 139 ff. 
Conflict in fiction, 321; for interest, 28 
Confusion, fallacies of, 231 
Consonant-patterns, 116ff. 
Consonants, sounds of, 107 
Continuity between paragraphs, 53; 

of ideas, 52; within paragraphs, 53 
Contrast, 22 ff., 207 
Control in sentences, 43 ff. 
Conversation, see Dialogue 
Criticism, 193; and the writer, 392 

Deduction, 226; fallacies of, 228 

Definition, 205, 230 

Description, expository, 189, 204; in 

fiction, 265; interpretative, 158; 

point of view in, 153 ff, 

See also Imagery, Images, Imagi- 

Descriptive method in exposition, 204 
Details, arrangement of in description, 

153; in exposition, 213; familiar, 

146; imaginative, 146 ff.; selection 

of in description, 152 
Dialect, 375 
Dialogue, 373 ff. 
Diaries, 182 ff. 
Diction, fallacies of, 222 
See also Words 


Index of Subjects 


Division in exposition, 253 
Drama, 266 ff. 

Egotism and the writer, 289 

Emotion, governed, 72; uncontrolled, 
71; vigor of, 70 
See also Feeling 

End, the, importance of, 5 f . 

Ending the exposition, 259; the narra- 
tive, 346, 357 ff., 362 

Essay, familiar, 180 ff. 

Events, exposition of, 182 ff . 

Evidence, fallacies of, 224 f., 236; 
from experience, 237 

Examples in exposition, 211 ff. 

Experience as evidence, 237; in ex- 
position, 169 

Exposition, 163ff.; aims of, 246 ff.; 
arrangement of ideas in, 252; the 
beginning of, 257; definition of, 
165; descriptive, 189; of events, 
182 ff.; of fact, 189; in fiction, 
357 ff.; introduction in, 251 ff.; the 
methods of, 203 ff.; of opinion, 
191 ff.; of a process, 191; require- 
ments of, 167; sources of, 169 ff.; 
stratagems in, 256 ff.; subjects for, 
246; types of, 180 ff.; uses of, 166 

Fact, exposition of, 189 

Fallacies of cause-and-effect relation- 
ship, 234; of confusion, 231; of de- 
duction, 228; of diction, 222; of 
evidence, 236; of inclusion, 229; of 
induction, 227; of rationalization, 

Feeling in fiction, 293, 295, 309, 331; 
in imaginative writing, 153; and 
letter-sounds, llOff.; starting a 
story from, 331 ff. 

Fiction, background in, 317; change 
in, 318 ff.; characters in, 313; com- 
posing, 330 ff., 394; complications 
in, 325; conflict in, 321; definition 
of, 265; delight in, 301; feeling in, 
293, 295, 309, 331; imagination in, 
265, 294; improbability in, 269; in- 
formation in, 318; nature of, 265 ff.; 
plot in, 323 ff.; probability in, 
268 ff.; quest in, 321; substance of, 
309 ff.; surprise in, 271; suspense in, 

362 ff.; truth in, 267 ff.; types of, 

277 ff.; value of, 396 
Figures of speech, 77 ff., 143 ff. 
Foreshadowing, 365-366 

Hackneyed expressions, 90 f. 
Historical novel, 284 
History, types of, 183 
Humility of the writer, 290 
Humor, 29, 379 ff. 

Ideas, arrangement of in description, 
149; arrangement of in exposition, 
252; continuity of, 52; in fiction, 

Illustration in exposition, 211 

Imagery, 76 ff., 137 ff., 146 ff. 

Images, kinds of, 138 

Imagination in fiction, 265 ff., 294 

Imaginative writing, purpose in, 149 
See also Details, Figures of 
Speech, Imagery, Images, Im- 

Improbability in fiction, 268 

Incident, starting a story from, 340 

Inclusion, fallacies of, 229 

Income from writing, 390 f . 

Induction, 225; fallacies of, 227 

Inference, 224 

Information in fiction, 229, 318 

Inspiration, 389 

Intellectuality, labored, 63; of per- 
sonality, 133; true, 65 

Intensification, repetition for, 16 

Interest, 25 ff.; in exposition, 167 

Interpretation in exposition, 210 

Introduction in exposition, 251, 257 

Jargon, 91 ff. 
Journals, 182 ff,, 389 f. 

Key-words in the paragraph, 55 

Laboriousness of style, 63 

Laughter, 380 ff. 

Length of novels and stories, 350; of 
sentences, 25 

Letter-patterns, 113ff. 

Letter-sounds, beautiful, 107 ff; feel- 
ing and, 110 ff.; ugly, 107 ff. 

Manuscript, form of, 394; preparation 
of, 382 ff . 


Index of Subjects 

Maupassantian story, the, 277 
Motion pictures, writing for, 393 

Narrative, obstructed, 320, 333; 
straight, 320; of travel, 187; of true 
experience, 186 

See also Fiction, History, News 
Story, Novel 

Newspaper work, 390 

News story, the, 188 

Notebooks, 339 

Novel, the, 282 ff.; biographical, 285; 
of character, 284; historical, 284; 
horizontal, 283; length of, 350; of 
locality, 286; naturalistic, 285; pic- 
ar^sque, 284; realistic, 286; roman- 
tic, 285; of social criticism, 286; 
types of, 282, 284 ff.; vertical, 222 

Observation in exposition, 170; in fic- 
tion writing, 296 

Obstruction in narrative, 320, 333 
Opinion, exposition of, 191 ff. 
Order in the sentence, 50 

Paragraph, continuity in, 53; continu- 
ity between paragraphs, 53; transi- 
tional, 53 

Parallel structure, see Repetition 

Paraphrase, 208 

Passive voice, the, 87 f . 

Pattern in consonants, 116ff.; in 
sounds, 113 ff.; in style, 72 ff.; in 
vowels, 113ff. 

Personality, emotional, 135; intellec- 
tual, 133; in style, 133 ff. 

Persuasion, 254 ff. 

Picaresque novel, the, 284 

Plot in fiction, 323, 325 ff. 

Point of view in description, 153 ff.; 
in fiction, 353 ff. 

Position, importance of in sentence, 
47; the beginning, 47; the end, 5, 

Preparation in suspense, 366 

Probability in fiction, 267 ff. 

Process, exposition of, 191 

Proportion, principle of, 12 ff. 

Provocation in fiction, 342 ff. 

Quantities in fiction, 350 ff. 
Quest in fiction, 321, 333 

Question, ignoring the, 231 
Quotation, 208 

Rationality in style, 42 ff. 

Rationalization, 221 ff. 

Reading as source for exposition, 172; 
too much, 173 

Realistic novel, 286 

Reasoning, see Deduction, Induction 

Repetition, 16 ff.; for clarity, 19, 20; 
in exposition, 214; of ideas, 16, 17, 
18, 20 f.; for intensification, 16; of 
structure, IT, 18, 21; for unity, 17, 
21; of words, 16, 17, 19 
See also Pattern, Rhythm 

Rhyme in prose, 118 

Rhythm, 119ff. 

See also Pattern in Style 

Romantic novel, the, 285 

Satire, 380 

Sentences, beginning of, 17; climax in, 
10; continuity between, 53; contrast 
in, 23; end position in, 6, 47; nor- 
mal order in, 50; proportion in, 13; 
repetition in, 16 ff.; structure of, 15; 
transposition in, 49 

Short-story, the, 281 

Situation, starting a story from, 340 

Sounds, balanced, 121 ff. 

See also Consonant-patterns, Con- 
sonants, Letter-sounds, Pattern, 

Specific examples, 31 

Starting a story, 342; from back- 
ground, 335; from character, 338; 
from feeling, 331; from incident, 
340; from situation, 340; from 
theme, 334 

Story, the, 277 ff.; Chekhovian, 278 ff.; 
long, 281; Maupassantian, 277 f.; 
short, 280; short short, 282; short- 
story, 281 

See also Fiction, Narrative 

Structure, antithetical, 67 f.; law of, 
14, 45; parallel, 17, 56 

Style, 42, 352; beauty of, 107 ff.; per- 
sonality in, 133 ff.; rationality in, 
42 ff.; vigor in, 61 ff. 

Subplots, 325 

Summary as expository method, 209 

Surprise, 8, 271 ff. 
Suspense, 7ff.; in fiction, 362 ff. 
Syllogism, 228 
Symbolism in fiction, 356 

Theme in fiction, 331 ff.; starting a 
story from, 334 ff. 

See also Ideas in fiction 

Thought, original in exposition, 173 

Titles, 248 ff., 257; in creating sus- 
pense, 364; in fiction, 376 ff. 

Transition, 53 f . 

See also Continuity 

Transposition of words, 49 

Triteness, 90 f. 

Truth in fiction, 267 ff.; historical, 
267; poetic, 267 

Unfinished terms, fallacy of, 223 
Unity, repetition for, 17 

Index of Subjects 


Variety in style, 26 

Vigor in style, 61 ff.; emotional, 70; 

intellectual, 63; of wording, 82 
Vowel-patterns, 113ff. 
Vowel-sounds, 107 ff. 

Wordiness, 82 ff. 

Words, atmospheric, 141; coined, 97; 
compounded, 98 f.; concrete, 139 ff.; 
fallacies due to misunderstanding 
of, 222; hackneyed, 90 ff.; imagina- 
tive, 139; key-words, 55 f.; long, 
82 f.; new uses of, 100; polysym- 
bolic, 140; short, 95; specific, 94; 
superfluous, 86 ff.; transitional, 53 f. 

Writer, the, 289 ff.; career of, 390; 
character of, 291; his education, 
292; egotism of, 289; humility of, 
290; his state of mind, 292 

Writers' groups, 392 

Set in Linotype Caledonia 
Format by Robert Cheney 
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