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3 1822 01292 2720 


jLj li r c 

of the 


PN 145 K6 1920 


3 1822 01292 2720 

Social Sciences & Humanities Library 

University of California, San Diego 
Please Note: This item is subject to recall. 

Date Due 

JUL 3 1999 

CI 39 (5/97) 

UCSD Lib. 

The Lure of the Pen 




Editor of 
"The Girl's Ozvn Paper and Woman's Magazine" 




G. P. Putnam's Sons 

New York and London 

Copyright, 1920, by 




In sending out this new book to the American 
public, I feel I am addressing a sympathetic 
audience, since other volumes that have preceded 
it have been most cordially received, and have 
added considerably to my long list of friends on 
the Western side of the Atlantic. 

At first glance it may seem as though the dif- 
ference between the writings of American and 
British authors is too marked to allow of a book 
on Authorship proving useful to both countries — ■ 
but in reality the difference is only superficial, 
and is largely confined to methods of newspaper 
journalism, or connected with mannerisms and 
topical qualities. 

Fundamentally, both nations work on the same 
lines and acknowledge the same governing laws 
in Literature. American authors, no less than 
British, derive their inspirations from European 

And magazine editors and publishers in both 
countries are only too grateful for good work from 
either side. 

viii Preface 

No one can teach authors how or what to 
write; but sometimes it is possible to help the 
beginners to an understanding of what it is better 
not to write. For the rest I hope the book explains 

Flora Klickmann 
Fleet Street, London. 




Why they Fail . 3 

Three Essentials in Training 11 


A Course in Observation 17 

The Assessment of Spiritual Values 24 


The Bane of "Browsing" 35 

Reading for Definite Data 41 

Reading for Style 47 

The Need for Enlarging the Vocabulary 58 

The Charm of Musical Language 68 

Analysing an Author's Methods 78 


Practice Precedes Publication 97 

The Reader must be Interested 116 

Form should be Considered 130 

Right Selection is Important 139 

When Writing Articles 144 

Suggestions for Style 156 

The Ubiquitous Fragment 166 

Concerning Local Colour 172 

Creating Atmosphere 178 

The Method of Presenting a Story 188 

Fallacies in Fiction 197 

Some Rules for Story-Writing 217 

About the Climax 225 

The Use of "Curtains" 229 

On Making Verse 234 

The Function of the Blue Pencil 252 


When Offering Goods for Sale 261 

The Responsibility 286 




In the Business of Making Literature, the only Qual- 
ity that presents itself in Abundance is entirely untrained 

The Lure of the Pen 

Why They Fail 

IN the course of a year I read somewhere about 
nine thousand stories, articles and poems. 
These are exclusive of those read by others 
in my office. 

Of these nine thousand I purchase about six 
hundred per annum. The remainder are usually 
declined for one of three reasons; either, 

They are not suited to the policy and the re- 
quirements of the publishing house, or the periodi- 
cals, for which I am purchasing. Or, 

They tread ground we have already covered. 

They have no marketable value. 

The larger proportion of the rejected MSS. 
come under the last heading. They are of the 
"homing" order, warranted to return to their 
starting point. 

The number that I buy does not indicate the 
number that I require. In normal times I could 


4 The Lure of the Pen 

use at any rate double the number that I purchase. 
I never have an overstock of the right thing. I 
never have more than I can publish of certain-to- 
sell matter. No publisher or editor ever has. 

In the business of Making Literature (and 
throughout these chapters I use the word literature 
in its widest sense) genius is rare. Nearly-genius 
is almost as rare. The only quality that presents 
itself in abundance is entirely untrained medi- 

It may be thought that this applies equally to 
all departments of the world's work; but it is not 
so. While genius is scarce wherever one looks, I 
know of only one other vocation where the candi- 
dates expect good pay at the very start without 
any sort of training, any experience, any special- 
ised knowledge, or any idea of the simplest re- 
quirement of the business from which they hope 
to draw an income — the other vocation being 
domestic service. 

For example: Though thousands of paintings 
and sketches are offered me in the course of the 
year, I cannot recall one instance of an artist an- 
nouncing that this is his, or her, first attempt at 
drawing; all the work submitted, even the feeblest, 
shows previous practice or training of some sort, 
be it ever so elementary. Yet it is no uncommon 

Why They Fail 5 

thing to receive with a MS. a letter explaining, 
"This is the first time I have ever tried to write 

Then again, no one expects to be engaged to 
play a violin solo at a concert, when she has had 
no training, merely because she craves a public 
appearance and applause. Yet many a girl and 
woman writes to an editor: "This is my first 
attempt at a poem. I do so hope you will publish 
it, as I should so like to see myself in print." 

And no one would expect to get a good salary 
as a dressmaker by announcing that, though she 
has not the most elementary knowledge of the 
business, she feels convinced that she could make a 
dress. Yet over and over again people have asked 
me to give them a chance, explaining that, though 
they were quite inexperienced, they felt they had 
it in them to write. 

Nevertheless, despite this prevailing idea that 
we all possess heaven-sent genius, which is ready 
to sprout and blossom straight away with no pre- 
paratory work — an idea which gains added weight 
from the fact that there are no great schools for 
the student who desires to enter the literary pro- 
fession, as there are for students of art and music 
— some training is imperative ; and if the would-be 

6 The Lure of the Pen 

writer is to go far, the training must be rigorous 
and very comprehensive. 

But unlike most other businesses and profes- 
sions, the novice must train himself; he can look 
for very little help from others. 

The art student gains information and experi- 
ence by working with others in a studio; it gives 
him some common ground for comparisons ; where 
all are sketching from the same model, he is able 
to see work that is better, and work that is worse, 
than his own; and probably he is able to grasp 
wherein the difference lies. 

The music student who is one of several to 
remain in the room while each in turn has a 
pianoforte lesson, hears the remarks of the pro- 
fessor (possibly a prominent man in his own pro- 
fession) on each performance, and can learn a 
large amount from the criticisms and corrections 
bestowed on the others, quite apart from those 
applying to her own playing. 

But for the would-be author there is no college 
where the leading literary lights listen patiently, 
for an hour or two at a stretch, while the students 
read their stories and poems and articles aloud for 
criticism and correction. Here and there ardent 
amateurs form themselves into small literary co- 
teries for this purpose; but often these either 

Why They Fail 7 

develop into mutual admiration societies, or fizzle 
out for lack of a guiding force. 

The difficulty with literature is this: It is the 
most elusive business in the world. No one can 
say precisely what constitutes good 

. literature 

literature, because, no matter how you is «&» most 

Elusive Bus- 
may classify and tabulate its charac- lnessinthe 

. . . . World 

tenstics, some new genius is sure to 
break out in a fresh place; and no one can lay 
down a definite course of training that can be 
relied on to meet even the average requirements 
of the average case. 

You can set the instrumentalist to work at 
scales and studies for technique; the dressmaker 
can practise stitchery and the application of scien- 
tific measurement; the art student can study the 
laws governing perspective, balance of design, the 
juxtaposition of colour, and a dozen other topics 
relative to his art. 

And more than this, in most businesses (and I 
include the professions) you can demonstrate to 
the students, in a fairly convincing manner, when 
their work is wrong. You can show the girl who 
is learning dressmaking the difference between 
large uneven stitches and small regular ones; the 
undesirability of having a skirt two inches longer 
at one side than it is at the other. You can indi- 

8 The Lure of the Pen 

cate to the art student when his subject is out of 
drawing, or suggest a preferable choice of colours. 
And though these points may only touch the 
mechanical surface of things, they help the student 
along the right road, and are invaluable aids to 
him in his studies. True, such advice cannot make 
good a lack of real genius, yet it may help to 
develop nearly-genius, and that is not to be 

But with literature, there is so little that is 
tangible, and so much that is intangible. Beyond 
the bare laws that govern the construction of the 
language, only a fraction of the knowledge that is 
necessary can be stated in concrete terms for the 
guidance of the student. And because it is 
difficult to reduce the art of writing to any set 
of rules, the amateur often regards it as the one 
vocation that is entirely devoid of any construc- 
tive principles ; the one vocation wherein each can 
do exactly as he pleases, and be a law unto 
himself, no one being in a better position than 
himself to say what is great and what is feeble, 
since no one else can quote chapter and verse as 
authority for making a pronouncement on the 
merits — and more particularly the demerits — of 
his work. 

And yet, nearly all the English-speaking race 

Why They Fail 9 

want to write. The craving for "self-expression" 
is one of the characteristics of this century; and 
what better medium is there for this than writing 1 ? 
Hence the lure of the pen. 

It is partly because so many beginners do not 
know where to turn for criticism, or an oppor- 
tunity to measure their work with that of others, 
that some send their early, crude efforts to editors, 
hoping to get, at least, some opinion or word of 
guidance, even though the MS. be declined. Yet 
this is what an editor cannot undertake to do. 
Think what an amount of work would be involved 
if I were to set down my reasons for declining 
each of those eight thousand and more MSS. that 
I turn down annually! It could not be done, in 
addition to all the other claims on one's office 

But though life would be too short for any 
editor to write even a brief criticism on each MS. 
rejected, certain defects repeat them- 
selves so often that it is quite possible mss- are 

. r .... Rejected 

to specify some outstanding faults — 
or rather, qualities which are lacking — that lead 
to the downfall of one MS. after another, with 
the automatic persistency of recurring decimals. 

Speaking broadly, I generally find that the MS. 
which is rejected because it has no marketable 

io The Lure of the Pen 

value betrays one or more of the following defic- 
iencies in its author: — 

Lack of any preliminary training. 

" " specialised knowledge of the subject 

dealt with. 
" " modernity of thought and diction. 
" " the power to reduce thought to 

" " cohesion and logical sequence of ideas. 
" " ability to get the reader's view-point. 
" " new and original ideas and themes. 
" " the instinct for selection. 
" " a sense of proportion. 

The majority of such defects can be remedied 
with study and practice ; and even though the final 
result may not be a work of genius, it will be 
something much more likely to be marketable than 
the MS. that has neither knowledge nor training 
behind it. 

Three Essentials in Training 

HOW am I to set about training for lit- 
erary work*?" is a question that is put 
to me most days in the year. 
Training comes under three headings : Observa- 
tion, Reading, and Writing. 

The majority of beginners make the mistake of 
putting writing first; but before you can commit 
anything to paper, you must have something in 
your head to write down. If you have but little 
in your brain, your writing will be worthless. 

Just as a plant requires special fertilisers if it 
is to develop fine blossoms and large fruit, so the 
mind requires food of exceptional 

. , . P . . , "We get out 

nourishment if it is to produce some- of life 
thing out of the ordinary, something ^tintoit 
worth reading. 

It is one of the great laws of Nature that, as a 
general rule, we get out of life about what we 
put into it. If a farmer wants bumper crops, he 
must apply manure liberally to his land; if a man 
wants big returns from his business, he must 

devote much time and thought and energy to it. 


12 The Lure of the Pen 

And in the same way, if you want good stuff to 
come out of your head, you must first of all put 
plenty of good stuff in. 

But — and this is very important — it is not sup- 
posed to come out again in the same form that it 
went in! This point beginners often forget. 
When sweet peas are fed with sulphate of am- 
monia, they don't promptly produce more sulphate 
of ammonia; they utilise the chemical food to 
promote much finer and altogether better flowers. 
The same principle governs the application of 
suitable nourishment to all forms of life — the 
recipient retains its own personal characteristics, 
but transmutes the food into the power to inten- 
sify, enlarge, and develop those personal charac- 

In like manner, the food you give your mind 
must be used to intensify and enlarge and develop 
your individuality; and what you write must 
reflect your individuality (not to be confused with 
egoism) ; it should not be merely a paraphrase of 
your reading. 

All this is to explain why I put observation and 
reading before writing. They are the principal 
channels through which the mind is fed. And, 
in the main, the value of your early literary work 
will be in direct ratio to the keenness and accuracy 

Three Essentials in Training 13 

of your observation, and the wisdom shown in 
your choice of reading. 

You think this sounds like reducing writing to 
a purely mechanical process, in which genius does 
not count? 

Not at all. It is merely that the initial stages 
of training for any work involve a certain amount 
of routine and repetition, until we have acquired 
facility in expressing our ideas. 

In any case, very few of us are suffering from 
real genius. Ability, talent, cleverness, are fairly 
common ; but genius is rare. If you possess genius, 
you will discover it quite soon, and, what is more 
important, other people will likewise discover it. 
As some one has said, "Genius, like murder, will 
out !" You can't hide it. 

Meanwhile, it will save time and argument to 
pretend that you are just an ordinary being like 
the rest of us, with everything to learn; you will 
progress more rapidly on these lines than if you 
spend time contemplating, and admiring, what 
you think is a Heaven-sent endowment that re- 
quires no shaping. 


One of the drawbacks of an Advanced Civilisation is 
the fact that it tends to lessen the power of Observation. 

A Course in Observation 

BEGIN your observation course by noting 
anything and everything likely to have 
a bearing on the subject of your writing, 
and jot down your observations in the briefest of 
notes. No matter if it seem a trifling thing, in 
the early part of your training it will be well 
worth your while to record even the trifles, since 
this all helps to develop and focus the faculty for 

One of the drawbacks of an advanced civilisa- 
tion is the fact that it tends to lessen the power 
of observation. The average person in this twen- 
tieth century sees next to nothing of the detail of 
life. We have no longer the need to cultivate 
observation for self-protection and food-finding as, 
in primitive times. Everything is done for us by 
pressing a button or putting a penny in the slot, 
till it is fast becoming too much of an effort for 
us even to look (or it was, before the War) ; and 
the ability to look — and to see when we look — is, 
consequently, disappearing through disuse. 

17 2 

1 8 The Lure of the Pen 

You will be surprised how much there is in this 
practice of observation, once you get started. 

For example: If you intend to write a story, 
you will need to study the various types of people 
figuring therein; the distinguishing 
Human characteristics, the method of speak- 

JJJJJJ**"* ing, and the mental attitude of each. 
The amateur invariably states the 
colour of a girl's eyes and hair, and the tint of her 
complexion, with some sentences about her social 
standing and her clothes, and then considers her 
fully equipped for her part in the piece. Whereas, 
in reality, these items are of no importance so far 
as a story goes. We really do not mind whether 
Dinah, in Adam Bede, had violet eyes or grey- 
green; it is the soul of the woman that counts. 
Neither do we trouble whether Portia wore a well- 
tailored coat and skirt, or a simple muslin frock 
lavishly trimmed with Valenciennes; it is her 
ready wit, her resourcefulness, and her deep-lying 
affection that interest us. 

Next in importance to the human beings are 
the circumstances involved. 

Does your heroine decide to leave her million- 
aire-father's palatial home and hide her identity 
in slum- work and a room in a tenement"? 

You will have to do a fair amount of first-hand 

A Course in Observation 19 

observation to get the details and general "atmo- 
sphere" appertaining to a millionaire's residence 
and mode of living, and contrast these with the 
conditions that represent life in the squalid quar- 
ters of a city. 

Perhaps you will tell me that it is impossible 
for you to make these observations, as you do not 
know your way about any real slum, 

... . . Environment 

or you are not on visiting terms with and 
any millionaire. That raises another stances" 
important question that I hope to deal ^^ 9 wide 
with later, when we come to the sub- 
ject of story-writing. Here I can only say, Don't 
attempt to write upon topics you are unable to 
study at near range. 

After all, there are unlimited subjects that are 
close to everybody's hand. You may be including 
a dog in your story. Is he to be a real dog, or that 
dear, faithful old creature, who has been leading an 
active life (in fiction) for a century or more, rescu- 
ing the heir when he tumbles in a pond ; apprising 
the sleeping family upstairs of the fact that the 
clothes-horse by the kitchen fire has caught alight ; 
tracking the burglar to his lair; re-uniting fallen- 
out lovers by sitting up beseechingly on his hind 
legs, and in a hundred other ways making himself 
generally useful*? 

20 The Lure of the Pen 

I am fond of dogs, and I never grudge them 
literary honours; but I sometimes wish we could 
get a change of descriptive matter where they are 
concerned. What are you proposing to say about 
the dog? "He ran joyfully to meet his master, 
wagging his tail the while'"? Something like 
that? I shouldn't wonder. That is the beginning 
and the end of so many amateur descriptions of a 
dog; and, judging by the number of times I have 
read these words, his poor tail must be nearly 
wagged off by now. 

Instead of being content with this, start making 
careful observations, and you will soon have some- 
thing else to write about. Notice how a dog talks 
— with his ears; he can tell you almost anything, 
once you learn to read his ears. And when you 
have noted all the points you can in this direction, 
and mastered this part of his language, see what 
you can learn from his walk; you can estimate 
a dog's temper and feelings, his sorrow, his joy, 
and the state of his health, by noticing the varia- 
tions in his walk. Why, any one dog can provide 
you with a book full of observations. 

You may say, however, that as your story is to 
be a short one, you could never use up a book full 
of observations if you had them. 

A Course in Observation 21 

Very likely ; but always remember that you need 
to have a score of facts in your head for every one 
you put down on paper. You must you need a 
be thoroughly saturated with a sub- ra cts in 

^ 1 r ■*. 1 • r your Head 

ject before you can write even a brier for each 
description in a telling and convinc- °™ *° n 
ing manner. Therefore, never be Pa P er 
afraid of making too many notes in your observa- 

Many of these entries you will never refer tO ( 
again; the very act of writing them down will so 
impress them on your memory that they become»a 
matter-of-course to you. This in itself is valuable 
training; it is one of the processes by which a 
person may become "well-informed" — an essential 
qualification for a good writer. 

While over-elaboration of detail in your writing 
is seldom desirable, apart from a text-book or a 
treatise, knowledge of detail is imperative if that 
writing is to conjure up situations in the reader's 
mind and make them seem vividly real. In 
describing scenery, for instance, you do not need 
to give the name of every bit of vegetation in 
sight, till your MS. looks like a botanical dic- 
tionary ; but it is useful to know those names, you 
may require some of them; and until your work 

22 The Lure of the Pen 

is actually shaping, you cannot tell exactly what 
you will use and what omit. 

The habit of keen observation will save you 

from a legion of pitfalls. The more you train 

your eyes to see, and your mind to 


observation retain what you have seen, the less 

will save . . 

you from chance there is or your putting down 



I have been reading a MS. wherein the heroine 
— a beautiful girl with a face like a haunting 
memory (whatever that may look like) — spent a 
whole afternoon lying full-length on the grass, 
the first sunny day in February, revelling in the 
scent of violets near by, and watching the swal- 
lows skimming above her. If the writer had no 
opportunity to observe the comings and goings of 
swallows, she might at least have turned up an 
encyclopaedia, when she would have found that 
swallows do not arrive in England till well on 
into April. 

Then, after 249 more pages, the beautiful girl 
finally died of a broken heart — obviously absurd ! 
In real life she would have died on the very next 
page of rheumatic fever and double pneumonia, 
after lying on the wet grass all that time ! 

Frequently, when I point out similar errors to 
the novice, I get some such reply as this, "Of 

A Course in Observation 23 

course, that reference to swallows was only a slip 
of the pen"; or, "After all, it is merely a minor 
point whether she lay on the grass or walked along 
the road; it doesn't really affect the story as a 

True, such discrepancies may be only minor 
details; but, on the other hand, they may not. I 
have noticed, however, that the writer who is 
inaccurate on small points is equally liable to 
inaccuracy where the main features of the story 
are concerned; and the writer who does not know 
enough about his subject to get his details right 
seldom knows enough about it to get any of it 

The Assessment of Spiritual 

THERE is one aspect of life that can only 
be learnt by observation; a phase of 
your training where books and lectures 
can be of but little assistance to you. Important 
as it is that you should note the material things 
relating to your subject, it is still more important 
that you should train yourself to note the psycho- 
logical bearings and the spiritual values of life, 
since these are often of far more vital consequence 
to a story than the plot. 

By "spiritual values" I do not necessarily mean 
anything of a directly religious quality. I use the 
term to signify the revelation of mind and heart 
and soul of the various characters that a writer 
presents, as distinct from a catalogue of externals ; 
the reading of motives, and the recognition of the 
forces that are within us, as distinguished from 
the chronicling of superficial items. 

So often in the world of men and women around 
us it is the unseen that counts. Just below the 


The Assessment of Spiritual Values 25 

surface life is teeming with motives and aims and 
ideals and personality; with problems that involve 
mixed feelings, and produce paradox The Unseen 
and mis judgment, and apparently ir- tkat counts 
reconcilable qualities. These may show scarcely 
a ripple on the outside, and yet be the real factors 
that are shaping lives, and influencing the world 
for better or for worse, and, incidentally, affect- 
ing the whole trend of a story. 

To gauge these abstract qualities and their con- 
sequences accurately is the biggest task of the 
writer; and according to the amount of such 
insight that he brings to bear on his subject, will 
be the durability of his work, since this alone is 
the part that lives. Fashions and furniture, 
scenery and architecture, maps and dynasties, laws 
and customs, even language and the meaning of 
words, all change; and the older grows the world, 
the more rapid are the changes. The only things 
that remain unaltered are the laws of Nature and 
the longings of the soul. Hence the only writings 
that last beyond the changing fashions of the 
moment are those that centralise on these funda- 
mental things, giving secondary place to epheme- 
ral details. 

If you want your work to live, it is useless to 
make the main interest centre in something that 

26 The Lure of the Pen 

will be out-of-date and passed beyond human 
memory within a very little while. 

This insight as to the subtleties of life is the 
quality that gives vitality to your writing. With- 
out it your characters will be no more alive than 
a wax figure in a draper's window, no matter how 
handsomely you may clothe them in descriptive 
matter. Have you ever read a story wherein the 
heroine seemed about as real and alive as a saw- 
dust-stuffed doll, and the hero had as much "go" 
in him as a wooden horse*? I have, alas! thou- 
sands of them ! And the reason for the lifelessness 
was the lack in the author of all sense of "spiritual 

A knowledge of the inner workings of the mind 
and heart and soul can only be acquired by close 
and constant observation. You may remember 
in Julius Cczsar, where Caesar tells Antonio that if 
he were liable to fear, the man he should avoid 
would be Cassius; he describes him thus: "He is 
a great observer, and he looks quite through the 
deeds of men." It is just this power that the 
writer needs — the ability to look past the actions 
themselves to the motives that prompted them. 

It is so easy to record the obvious. What we 
need to look for is the truth that is not obvious. 
For instance, at first sight it may seem quite easy 

The Assessment of Spiritual Values 27 

for us to decide why a person did a certain thing. 
A woman makes an irritable remark. Why did 
she make that irritable remark*? Bad temper! 
we promptly reply. But perhaps it wasn't bad 
temper; it may have been due to ill-health — a 
bad tooth can generate as much irritability in half 
an hour as the worse temper going. Or it may 
have been caused by insomnia; or by nerves 
strained to the breaking-point with trouble and 
anxiety. Or the speaker may have been vexed 
with herself for some action of her own, and her 
vexation found vent in this way. 

If you were writing a story, the cause of her 
irritability might be an important link in the chain 
of events. And in scores of other directions, the 
cause of an action might be infinitely more import- 
ant in the working out of your plot than the 
action itself. 

Moreover, if you want your work to appeal 
to a wide and varied audience, you must take 
as your main theme something that is understood 
by all conditions of people; something that makes 
a universal appeal. That is why the greatest 
writers make the human heart the pivot of their 
stories, as a rule. Readers are primarily interested 
in the doings of, and the happenings to, certain 
people; and very particularly the motives that 

28 The Lure of the Pen 

led up to the doings and happenings, and the 
reasons why certain things were said and done, 
and the psychological results of the sayings and 

In the main, it is not of paramount importance 
to you, when you are engrossed in a story, whether 
the scene is laid in Japan among 
Theme decaying Buddhist temples, or in a 

m^e a Devonshire village. It is the per- 

Ap^Hi Sal sonality of the characters, their sor- 
rows and joys, their struggles and love 
affairs, and the solution of their human problems 
that make the chief claim on your interest. Cer- 
tainly, the scenery and "local colour" and inani- 
mate surroundings may influence you favourably 
or otherwise — backgrounds and the general "set- 
ting" of a story are valuable, more valuable than 
the amateur realises ; nevertheless, they are not the 
main features, and should never be made the main 
features in fiction. 

'.'Once you grasp the importance of the 
"spiritual values," in life itself no less than in 
writing, you will understand why it is that some 
books survive centuries of change and social 
upheaval, and appeal to all sorts and conditions of 
temperaments. When we study Shakespeare at 
school, we invariably wonder in our secret heart 

The Assessment of Spiritual Values 29 

(even though we daren't voice such heresy!) what 
on earth people can see in him. To our immature 
intelligence he can be dulness itself, while his 
style seems long-winded, and many of his plots 
appear most feeble affairs beside our favourite 
books of adventure. We are not sufficiently de- 
veloped and experienced in our school days to be 
able to understand and appreciate his greatness, 
which lies in his amazing knowledge of the human 
heart and his grasp of "spiritual values." 

One of the fascinating things about life is the 
way it is for ever offering us new discoveries. We 
never need get to the end of anything, j^^ ls ever 
There are always heights beyond ^w"^ 
heights, depths below depths, further »»■«»▼«*•■ 
recesses to penetrate, fresh things to find out. And 
nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than 
when we come to the study of human nature itself. 
The writer who strives to depict men and women 
as they really are is always coming on new sur- 
prises; he never arrives at the end of his observa- 
tions. And he soon realises how infinitely more 
important are the subtle workings of the heart and 
mind than all the material things that crowd the 
outside surface of life. 

To be able to write convincingly about people, 
we must know them ; to know them we must live 

30 The Lure of the Pen 

among them, and sympathise with them — for 
there is no other way to know and understand the 
to writ© human heart. It is very easy to ridi- 

one^Sf ly cu ^ e people's weakness, and make 
sympathy cheap sarcasm over their failings ; but 
it is useless to make your observations with a 
cynic's smile. The cynic really gets nowhere; he 
merely robs life of much of its beauty, giving 
nothing in its place. 

To write about people so that we grip the hearts 
of all who read, it is necessary to look beyond the 
superficial weaknesses, and below the temporary 
failings, to that part of humanity that still bears 
the image of the Divine Creator. And you need 
sympathy to accomplish this. 

Would-be authors often tell me that they are 
sick of their everyday routine — office work, teach- 
ing, nursing, home duties, or whatever it may be 
— and long to throw it all up so that they may 
devote all their time to writing. 

But you cannot devote all of your time to 

writing! The beginner never understands this. 

A great deal of an author's time is 

peopTe?we taken up with the study of people, 

must live anc j a general quest for material for 

and Work D ^ 

among ^ books, 


While you are in the early stages 

The Assessment of Spiritual Values 31 

of your writing, it is absolutely necessary for you 
that you should be doing some sort of other work 
in company with your fellow-creatures, and ex- 
periencing the ordinary routine of life, else how 
can you possibly get your writing properly bal- 
anced and true to life*? 

If you try to isolate yourself from the everyday 
happenings of normal existence, avoiding the tire- 
some duties and the irksome routine, merely keep- 
ing your eyes on your MS., or on yourself, or on 
only the things that appeal to you, how can you 
ever expect your work to be in right perspective 1 ? 
Under such conditions what you write would be 
bound to give an incomplete, incorrect view of 
life, one-sided, and out of all proper proportion, 
and — the result could be nothing but a dire 

Stay where you are, and make your corner of 
the universe your special study. 

Perhaps you think you know everything that is 
to be known about people around you. But do 
you, I wonder ? Do they know every- 

. . , -lii How much 

thing about you — your ideals and do you 

1 j j Know of 

inner struggles, and aims and aspira- tnose who 

tions^ are Nearest 

utmb • to you? 

I doubt it. 

Experience shows that very often the people 

32 The Lure of the Pen 

we know least of all are those with whom we come 
into daily contact. We take them for granted. We 
do not even trouble to try to understand them. 
That they should have doubts and difficulties, 
heart-aches and hopes and high aspirations, even 
as we have, sometimes comes as a surprise to us. 

Begin your observations just where you are now. 
See if you can find the glint of gold that is always 
somewhere below the surface in every human 
being, if we can but strike the right place. Try 
to sort out the reasons and the motives that are 
thick in the air around you. See if you can discern 
another side to a person's character than the one 
you have always accepted as a matter of course. 

And write down your discoveries and your ob- 
servations. You will need them later on. 

Here, then, is the first step in training yourself 
for authoriship. It is only one step, I admit ; but 
you will find it can be made to cover a good deal 
of ground. 


Steady, quiet, consecutive reading is necessary if we 
are to do steady quiet, consecutive thinking ; and, with- 
out such thinking, it is impossible for writers to pro- 
duce anything worth while. 

The Bane of "Browsing" 

WHILE a wide range of reading, and a 
general all-round knowledge of stand- 
ard literature are essential, if you 
hope to become a writer, there are three directions 
in which you can specialise with great advantage 
— reading for definite data, reading for style, and 
reading for the study of technique, i.e. to find out 
how the author does it. 

With such matters as reading for recreation we 
have nothing to do here. Training for authorship 
means work, regular work, stiff mental work. 

Some amateurs seem to think that a course of 
desultory dipping into books is a guarantee of 
literary efficiency, or an indication of literary 

"I am never so happy as when I am curled up 
in an armchair surrounded by books" ; or "I do so 
love to browse among books," girls will tell me, 
when they are asking if I can find them a post in 
my office, or on the staff of one of my magazines. 

It is so difficult for the uninitiated to under- 

36 The Lure of the Pen 

stand that the business of writing and making 
books is one that entails as much close, monoton- 
ous work as any other business ; and the mere fact 
that any one spends a certain amount of time in 
reading a bit here and a bit there, picking up a 
book for a half-hour's entertainment and throw- 
ing it down the minute it ceases to stimulate the 
curiosity, is no more preparation for literary work 
than an occasional tinkling at a piano, trying a 
few bars here and there of chance compositions, 
would be any preparation for giving a pianoforte 
recital or composing a sonata. 

I have nothing to say against dipping into books 

as a recreation — refreshing one's memory among 

old friends, or looking for happy dis- 

Nature's rtrj 

Revenge coveries in new-comers — I have 

for the 

Misuse of passed hosts of pleasant half-hours 

the Brain . . i r i i i ■ 

in this way myself when by brain was 
too tired to work, and I wanted relaxation. But 
such reading is not work; neither is it training in 
any sort of sense — it is merely a pastime; and, as 
such, must only be taken in moderation. It should 
be the exception, not a habit. 

If you allow yourself to get into this way of 
haphazard reading, in time you lose the ability to 
do any consecutive reading, and, as a natural 
consequence, it would be utterly impossible for 

The Bane of "Browsing" 37 

you to do any consecutive thinking, — an essential 
for connected writing. 

The reason for this is quite clear, if you think 
it over. When you persistently skim a legion of 
books, or dip into them casually, and live mentally 
on a diet of snippets — a form of reading that has 
been the vogue of late years — you are giving 
yourself mental indigestion that is wonderfully 
akin to the indigestion that would follow a food 
diet on similar lines. If your meals always con- 
sisted of snacks taken at all sorts of odd times — 
fried fish followed by rich chocolates, with a 
nibble at a mince tart, a few spoonfuls of pre- 
served ginger, a trifle of roast duck, some macaroni 
cheese, a little salmon and cucumber, some grouse, 
oyster patties, and ice-cream on top of that — your 
stomach wouldn't know what to do with it all, 
and I need say no more about it ! 

In the same way, when you read first one thing 
and then another* piling poems on love scenes, 
then adding a motley, disconnected selection of 
scraps of information (of doubtful use in most 
cases) with sensational episodes and pessimistic 
outpourings, irrespective of any sort of sequence 
or logical connection, your mind doesn't know 
what to do with the conglomeration; for no sooner 
has your thinking machine set one series of 

38 The Lure of the Pen 

thoughts in motion, than it has to switch off that 
current and start on something else. Eventually 
the brain gives up the struggle ; the thoughts cease 
to work; you lose the power to remember — much 
less to assimilate — what you read. 

In the end, you can't read! Nature is bound 
to take this course in sheer self-defence; the only 
alternative would be lunacy ! 

You can see all this exemplified, pitifully, in 
the present day. With the great rush of cheap 
L books (and still cheaper education) 

Wny so v r ' 

many t hat flooded the country at the be- 


Books that ginning of this century, the masses 
simply gorged themselves with indis- 
criminate reading-matter — of a sort, (and so did 
many who ought to have known better). Grad- 
ually they lost the taste for straight-forward 
simple stories of human life as it really is; things 
had to be blood-curdling and highly sensational. 
The type of reading-matter that had formerly 
been associated solely with the "dime novel" and 
depraved youths of the criminal class, found its 
way into all sorts and conditions of bindings, and 
all sorts and conditions of homes. People's minds 
were getting so blunted that they simply could 
not follow anything unless it was punctuated with 
lurid lights ; they could not grasp anything unless 

The Bane of "Browsing" 39 

it was crude and bizarre and monstrous; they 
could not hear anything of the Still Small Voice 
that is the essence of all beauty in literature, art 
or nature. Everything had to be in shouts and 
shrieks to arrest their attention. 

Finally, the masses lost the power to read at 
all, and we are now living in an age when every- 
thing must be presented in the most obvious 
medium — pictures. Few people can concentrate 
on reading even the day's news — it has to be given 
in pictures. The picture-palace and the music- 
hall revue (which is another form of spectacular 
entertainment) stand for the mental stimulus 
that is the utmost a large bulk of the population 
are equal to to-day. 

We delude ourselves by saying that we live in 
such a busy age, we have not time to read. But 
it is not our lack of time so much as our lack of 
brain power that is the trouble; and that brain 
power has been dissipated, primarily, by over- 
indulgence in desultory reading that was value- 

All this is to explain why a course of indiscrim- 
inate "browsing" is no recommendation for the 
one who wishes to take up literary work. Steady, 
quiet, consecutive reading is necessary if we are 
to do steady, quiet, consecutive thinking; and, 

40 The Lure of the Pen 

without such thinking, it is impossible to write 
anything worth whiles. 

Let your reading extend over a wide range, 
certainly — the wider the better, so long as you 
can cover the ground thoroughly — for an author 
should be well-read. But take care that you do 
read; don't mistake "nibbling" for reading. Far 
better know but one poem of Browning thoroughly 
and understanding^, than have on your shelves a 
complete set of his works into which you dip at 
random, when the mood seizes you, with no clear 
idea as to what any of it is about. 

Reading for Definite Data 

TURNING from reading in general to the 
specialised reading I have suggested — 
the first heading explains itself. Many 
subjects that you write upon will require a certain 
amount of preliminary reading — some a great deal 
— in order that you may accumulate facts, or get 
the details of climate and scenery correct, or the 
mode of life prevalent at a specified time. 

Such a book as Mrs. Florence Barclay's novel, 
The White Ladies of Worcester — with the scene 
laid in the twelfth century — must have neces- 
sitated a great deal of research among the his- 
torical and church records of that era, and the 
reading of books bearing on that period, in order 
to get all the details accurate, and to conjure up 
as convincingly as the author has done, an all- 
pervading feeling of the spirit of those times. 

All stories dealing with a bygone period require 
much preliminary reading, in order that one may 
become imbued with the spirit of that particular 
age, as well as familiarised with its manners and 
customs and mode of speech. 


42 The Lure of the Pen 

Most amateurs seem to think that a plentiful 
sprinkling of expletives about the pages, with the 
introduction of a few historic names and events, 
are sufficient to produce the required old-world 
atmosphere. I could not possibly count the num- 
ber of MSS. I have read where the rival suitor 
for the hand of "Mistress Joan" says "Gadsook" 
in every other sentence, while the estimable young 
man who, like her father, is loyal to the king, is 
hidden away in the secret-panel room. 

But tricks such as these do not give the story an 
authentic atmosphere. You can only get this by 
systematic study of the literature relating to the 

And others, besides novelists, find it advantage- 
ous to study historical records. I remember when 
Mr. William Canton (the author of those charm- 
ing studies of child life, W. V., Her Book, and 
The Invisible Playmate} was engaged on the big 
history of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 
and was writing the account of the Society's Bible 
work in Italy, not only did he read all their 
official reports, and the correspondence bearing on 
the subject, but, in order to get the work in its 
right perspective as regards the events of the 
times, he re-read Italian history for the period he 

Reading for Definite Data 43 

was dealing with. Thus he enabled himself to 
gauge much more comprehensively the significance 
of the Bible Society's work in that country when 
viewed in relation, to national happenings, public 
thought, and the attitude of mind of the Italian 

The writer of articles or books on general 
subjects (as distinct from fiction) must obviously 
do a good deal of research. And such 
reading for definite information has Preliminary 


one value that is not always recog- helps you 
nised by the amateur — it may let him the worth 
know whether it is worth while to information 
write the article at all ! 

Suppose, for example, that you have decided 
to write an article on "The Evolution of the 
Chimney-Pot." It is a foregone conclusion that 
you think you have a certain amount of exclusive 
information in your own head about chimney- 
pots, else there would be no call for you to write 
on this subject, since the public does not want 
articles containing nothing more than what has 
been published already. 

You have collected some facts and information 
about chimney-pots, however, that you think are 
interesting and quite new. So far, good. Never- 
theless, you will be wise to ascertain what has 

44 The Lure of the Pen 

already been written on the subject; it may throw 
fresh light on your own gleanings. 

First, you will probably look up the subject in 
a good encyclopaedia — failing one of your own, 
consult one at a public library. If there is any- 
thing at all under this heading, it is just possible 
there may be cross-references that will be useful, 
and allusions to other works on the subject, which 
it would be well for you to get hold of if you can. 
Then you will also remember that Ruskin has 
written "A Chapter on Chimneys" in his Poetry 
of Architecture, with some delightful illustrations. 
And in the course of your explorations, some one 
may be able to direct you to other works on the 
subject, one book so often leads on to another. 
In this way you find you are absorbing quite a 
large amount of interesting information. 

Yet presently you may make the very import- 
ant discovery that what you were intending to 
say has already been said by others, and possibly 
said in a better and more authoritative manner 
than you could pretend to at present! 

On the other hand, you may still consider that 
you have exclusive information; in that case do 
your best with it, and you will find your reading 
has given you a quickened interest and wider 
grasp of your subject. But if, in absolute honesty 

Reading for Definite Data 45 

to yourself, you know you have nothing new to 
contribute to the information that has already 
been published, then do not attempt to offer your 
article for publication. Write it up, by all means, 
as a journalistic exercise for your own improve- 
ment; it will be helpful if you try how far you 
can seize, and sum up concisely, the important 
points that you came across in your various read- 
ings on the subject. But don't attempt to pass 
off writing of this description as original matter. 
Such methods never get you far. 

Even though the Editor may not have studied 
chimney-pots in detail, and does not recognise 
that your "copy" is practically a rechauffe of 
other people's writings, some of the readers will 
know that it contains nothing original, and will 
lose no time in telling him so. There is one 
cheery thing about the public, no matter how busy 
it may be with its own personal affairs, and pre- 
occupied with a war, or labour troubles, a Presi- 
dential election, or little trifles like that, it most 
faithfully keeps an Editor informed if anything 
printed in his pages does not meet with its entire 
approval ! 

And when an Editor finds he has been taken 
in with stale material, he naturally marks that 
contributor for future remembrance. 

4.6 The Lure of the Pen 

It is well to bear in mind that one of the most 
valuable assets in a writer's outfit is a reputation 
for absolute reliability. Smart practice, trickery, 
clever dodges, may get a hearing once, even twice 
— but they have no future whatever. 

Let it become a recognised thing that whatever 
you offer for publication is new matter resulting 
from your own personal knowledge and investiga- 
tion, and matter that is sure to interest a section 
of the general public ; that you have verified every 
detail, and have ascertained, to the best of your 
ability, that the subject has not been dealt with 
in this particular way before ; — then you are sure 
of a place somewhere in a mild atmosphere, if 
not actually in the sun ! 

Also, common sense should tell you that you 
are checking the development of your own ability, 
when you let yourself down (no less than the 
publisher) by trying to pass off other people's 
brain-work as your own. It doesn't pay either 

Reading for Style 

READING for the improvement of style 
will involve various types of litera- 
ture. In order to know what you 
should read, you need to know in 
which particular direction you are weakest. In 
the main, however, I find that all amateurs re- 
quire to cultivate — 

1. A simple, clear, direct mode of expression. 

2. Modern language and idiom — in the best 

3. A wide vocabulary. 

4. An ear for musical, rhythmic sentences. 
And equally they need to avoid — 

1. Other people's mannerisms. 

2. Long paragraphs and involved sentences. 

3. Pedantry and a display of personal learning. 

4. Hackneyed phrases. 

5. Modern slang. 

You may not be able to detect any correspond- 
ing weaknesses in your own writings; but, if you 
have had no special training in literary work, I 
can safely assure you they are there — some of 


48 The Lure of tHe Pen 

them, possibly all of them! In any case, no 
particular harm will result if you assume that 
your writing will stand a little improvement 
under each of these headings, and start to work 

In the first chapter I mentioned a lack of 
modernity in style as a frequent defect in the 
MSS. declined by publishers; unless 
Beginner y ou handled stories and articles all 

uses° sim- da } r lon & as an editor does, you 
pie, Modem W ould never credit how widespread 

English r 

is the failing. 

It is a curious fact that only a very small pro- 
portion of people can write as they actually 
speak; those who do so usually belong to the 
poorest of the uneducated classes, or they are 
experienced literary craftsmen. 

The large majority of people are so self-con- 
scious when they take pen in hand to write a 
story or an article, that they cannot be natural. 
They do not realise that they should write as 
ordinary human beings ; they invariably feel they 
should write as famous authors; and they 
promptly drop the language they use as ordinary 
human beings in every-day life, and adopt an 
artificial, stilted style which they seem to think 
the correct thing for an author. 

Reading for Style 49 

And this artificial phraseology is invariably- 
archaic or Early Victorian, because the books 
people see labelled "good literature" or "the 
classics" are chiefly by dead-and-gone writers, 
who wrote in a style that sometimes sounds old- 
fashioned in these days, even though their English 
was excellent. 

Our mode of speech and of writing in this 
twentieth century is not precisely that of Shake- 
speare or Milton, even though the 
fundamentals are the same. We live E^ry 


in a nervous, hurrying age, and our showa 


language is more nervous, more terse character- 
istics of 
than it was even twenty years ago. speech 

We "speed up" our sentences, just as 
we "speed up" our stories and our articles. We 
have not time for lengthy introductions that 
arrive nowhere, and for ornate perorations that 
are superfluous. "Labour-saving" and "conserva- 
tion of energy" are prominent watchwords of this 
present age, and are being applied to our language 
no less than to our work. 

In order to get through all we must get through 
in a day (or, at any rate, all that we imagine we 
must get through!) it has become an unwritten 
law that the same thing must not be done twice 
over; more than this, we try to find the shortest 

50 The Lure of the Pen 

cut to everywhere. As one result, we do not use 
two words where one will suffice; only the undis- 
ciplined, untrained mind employs a string of 
adjectives where one will convey the same idea, 
or repeats practically the same thing several times 
in succession. 

Of course, all this curtailment can be — and 
often is — carried to excess, till only a few essen- 
tial words are left in a sentence, and these are 
clipped of half their syllables; we find much of 
this in the newspapers and the periodicals of an 
inferior class. And it could be pushed so far, till 
at length we got to communicate with one another 
by nothing more than a series of grunts and snaps 
and snarls! 

But I am not dealing with the forms of speech 

used by the illiterate or the half-educated; I am 

referring to the language used by the 


of style is most intelligent 01 the educated 
classes, and I want the amateur to 
remember that this is not necessarily the language 
of Shakespeare, even though the same words be 
employed. There is a subtle difference in the 
placement of words, in the turn of phrases, in 
the strength and even the meaning of words, in 
the shaping of sentences, and that difference is 
what, for want of a better word, I term "mod- 

Reading for Style 51 

ernity," and it is a quality that the amateur 
requires to cultivate. 

This lack of modernity is noticeable in amateurs 
of all types. It is a marked feature in the writ- 
ings of teachers and those who have had a univer- 
sity education, or purely academic training; and 
equally it is conspicuous in the MSS. of the one 
who leads a very quiet, retired existence, or has a 
restricted view of life. 

At first sight it may seem strange to the 'varsity 
girl, who considers herself the last word in mod- 
ernity, that I classify her early literary attempts 
with those of a middle-aged invalid, let us say, 
who knows very little of the world at large. 

But those who concentrate exclusively on one 
idea, or have their outlook narrowed to one par- 
ticular groove — whether that groove be church- 
work, or housekeeping, or hockey, or reading for 
a degree — drop into an antiquated mode of ex- 
pression, as a rule, the moment they start to write 
anything apart from a letter to an intimate. The 
role of author looms large before them. The 
mind instantly suggests the style of those authors 
they have been in the habit of reading — and more 
particularly those they would like other people to 
think they were in the habit of reading — the 

f$2 The Lure of the Pen 

books that are accepted classics, and, consequently, 
must be beyond all question. 

It matters not whether amateurs are shaping 
themselves according to Cowper and Miss Edge- 
worth, or striving to live up to the Elizabethan 
giants, they arrive at an old-fashioned style for 
which there is no more call in the world of to-day 
than there is for a crinoline or a Roman toga. 
And this, despite the greatness of their models. 

Here are a few sentences taken at random from 
the pile of MSS. waiting attention here in my 
office : — 

Instances of 

Antiquated "Let us ponder awhile at the shrine 

of Nature." This is from an article 
on "A Country Walk," written by a High School 
teacher. Now, would she have said that, per- 
sonally, either to a friend or to a class, if they 
were going out for a country walk? Of course 
not ! You see at once how antiquated and stilted 
it is when you subject it to the test of natural, 
present-day requirements. 

In another MS. I read, "King Sol was seeking 
his couch in the west." Why not have said, 
"The sun was setting"? 

"He was her senior by some two summers," 
writes a would-be novelist, in describing hero and 
heroine. Why "some" two summers, I wonder? 

Reading for Style 53 

And would it not be more straightforward to say, 
"He was two years older than she'"? 

"They were of respectable parentage, though 
poor and hard-working withal." Needless to say 
this occurs in a story of rustic life. Why is it that 
the amateur so often describes the cottager in this 
"poor but pious" strain? 

"We saw ahead of us her home — to wit, a rose- 
grown, yellow-washed cottage." And a very 
pretty home it was, no doubt; but why spoil it 
by the introduction of "to wit"? 

"He was indeed a meet lover for such an up- 
to-date girl." The word "meet" is not merely 
antiquated and unsuited to a story of present-day 
life; it seems particularly out of place when used 
in close connection with so modern a term as "up- 
to-date." The two expressions are centuries 
apart, and both should not have been included in 
the same sentence. 

One MS. says, "I would fain tell you of the 
devious ways in which the poor girl strove to earn 
an honest livelihood and keep penury at bay; but, 
alas! dear reader, space does not avail." "On the 
whole, one is thankful that it didn't avail, all 
things considered! 

In a letter accompanying another MS. the 
author explains, "You won't find any slang in 

54 The Lure of the Pen 

my writing. I revel in the rich sonority of the 
English language." That is all right; but some 
people confuse "rich sonority" with artificiality. 
A word may be richness itself if rightly applied, 
but if used in a wrong connection, or employed in 
an affected or unnatural manner, it will lose all 
its richness and become merely old-fashioned, or 
else absurd. 

I have not the space to spare for further in- 
stances, but I notice one phrase that is curiously 
popular with the beginner, who frequently lets 
you know the name of some character in these 

words, "Mary Jones, for such was her name " 

etc. I cannot understand what is the charm of 
that expression, "for such was her name"; but it 
is one of the amateurs' many stand-bys. 

Common sense will tell you that the surest way 
to gain a good modern style is to read good 

modern stuff, 
for a Begin with a special study of the 

Editorials in the best type of news- 
papers. This is reading that I strongly advocate 
for the amateur in order to counteract archaic 
tendencies; though I wish emphatically to point 
out that by the "Leading Articles" I do not mean 
the average "Woman's Gossip," or whatever other 
name is given to the column of inanities that is 

Reading for Style 55 

devoted to feminine topics; for in some news- 
papers this is about as futile and feeble, and as 
badly written as it is possible for a newspaper 
column to be. 

Unfortunately, the average person does not 
read the best part of the newspaper. He, and 
more particularly she, reads the headlines, skims 
the news, and runs the eye over anything that 
specially appeals, looks down the Births, Mar- 
riages and Deaths, and not much more. But this 
will not improve anyone's English. 

Take a paper like the Spectator. Here you 
have modern journalistic writing at its best. Read 
the Leading Articles carefully each week. Read 
also the paragraphs summarising the news on the 
opening pages. 

Read aloud, if you can; this will help to 
impress phrases and sentences on your mind- 
Observe how clear and concise and straightfor- 
ward is the style. Of course, the articles will 
vary; they are not all written by the same pen; 
but those that follow immediately after the news 
paragraphs are always worth the student's atten- 
tion. You will notice that the writer has some- 
thing definite to say, and he says it plainly, in a 
way that is instantly understood. The words 
used will be to the point; there will be a good 

56 The Lure of the Pen 

choice of language, yet never an unnecessary 
piling on of words. You may, or may not, agree 
with everything that is said; but that is not of 
paramount importance at the moment, as in this 
case you are reading in order to acquire a clear, 
easy style of writing rather than to gain special 
information. Nevertheless, you will be enlarging 
your mental outlook considerably. 

In the same way, study the Editorials in any of 
the daily or weekly papers of high standing and 
reputation, avoiding the papers of the "sensational 
snippet" order. You will soon get to recognise 
whether the style is good or poor. 

The British Weekly (London) is celebrated for 
its literary quality. It will be a gain if you read 
regularly the article on the front page, and "The 
Correspondence of Claudius Clear," which is a 
feature every week. 

This is to start you on a course of reading that 
will give modernity to your style, and help to rid 
you of the antiquated expressions and manner- 
isms that are so noticeable in amateur work. 

Mere "newspaper reading" may seem to you 
a disappointing beginning to the programme. 
"The newspaper is read by everybody every day," 
you may tell me, "and what has it done for their 

Reading for Style 57 

But I am not advocating that type of "news- 
paper reading." This isn't a question of reading 
some murder case, or imbibing the exhilarating 
information that, some one met Mrs. Blank on 
Fifth Avenue the other day, and she looked sweet 
in a pale blue hat. 

Leave all that part of the paper severely alone. 
Study the Editorials as you would study a book, 
since the writings of first-class journalists are 
excellent models for the amateur, a fact that is 
curiously overlooked by the student. Read a 
fixed amount each day, instead of relying on a 
haphazard picking up of a paper and a careless 
glance over its contents. Then, as a useful exer- 
cise, take the subject-matter of a paragraph, or 
an article, and see how you would have treated 
it; try if you can improve on it (after all, most 
things in this world can be improved upon if the 
right person does the improving). You will be 
surprised to find how interesting a study this will 
become in a very little while. 

Do not misunderstand me: I am not advocat- 
ing newspaper reading in place of classical works, 
but as a necessary and valuable addition to a 
writer's literary studies. 

The Need for Enlarging the 

EQUAL in importance to the cultivation of 
a modern style in writing, is the necessity 
for having a wide selection of words at 
your command, and a keen sense of their value. 
Some people think the chief thing in writing is to 
have ideas in one's head. Ideas are essential, but 
they are not evejrything. Your brain may be 
crammed full of the most wonderful ideas, but 
they will' be useless if they get no farther than 
your brain. 

It is one thing to see things yourself, and quite 
another to be able to make an absent person see 

It is one thing to receive impressions in your 
own mind from your surroundings, or as the prod- 
uct of imagination, and quite another to record 
those impressions in black and white. 

Tens of thousands of people are conscious of 
vivid mental pictures, for one who is able to 
reproduce them in such a form that they become 
vivid pictures to others. And one reason for the 


Need for Enlarging Vocabulary 59 

inability of the majority to express their thoughts 
in writing is the paucity of their vocabulary, and 
their lack of the power to put words together in 
a convincing and accurate manner. 

Girls often write to me, "I think such wonder- 
ful things in my brain; I'm sure I could write a 
book, if only people would give me a little en- 
couragement," or, "if only I had time." 

But if they had all the encouragement and all 
the time in the world, they could not transfer 
those wonderful thoughts from their brain to 
paper unless they had practice, the right words at 
their command, and the experience that comes 
from hard regular working at the subject. 

What people do not realise is this: won- 
derful thoughts are surging through thousands of 
brains. They are fairly common inside people's 
heads; the difficulty is in getting them out of the 
head — as most of us soon find out when we start 
to write! I shall refer to this later on. 

If you wish to write down your thoughts — 
no matter whether they are concerned with the 
emotions, or religion, or nature, or cookery — you 
must employ words; and the more subtle, or 
elevated, or complex the subject-matter of your 
thoughts, the greater need will there be for a 
wide choice of words, in order to express exactly 

60 The Lure of the Pen 

the various grades and shades of meaning that 
will be involved. 

If your vocabulary be small — i.e. if you only 
know the average words used by the average 
person — there is every chance that your writings 
will be flat and colourless, and no more interest- 
ing, or exciting, or instructive, or entertaining 
than the ordinary conversation of the average 

Hence the necessity for enlarging your vocab- 
ulary, so that you have the utmost variety to 
choose from in the way of suitable words, expres- 
sive words, and beautiful words, (this last the 
modern amateur is apt to overlook). 

The smallness of the vocabulary used by the 

average person to-day is partly due to the mass of 

feeble reading-matter with which the 

Average country was flooded in the years im- 


vocabulary mediately preceding the War. 

In addition to this, life had 
become very easy for the majority of folk in 
recent times ; money was supposed to be life's sole 
requisite. Work of all kinds was "put out" as 
much as possible; we shirked physical labour; 
lessons were made as easy as they could be ; games 
were played for us by professionals while we 
looked on; effort of every sort was distasteful to 

Need for Enlarging Vocabulary 61 

us. It has been said, that as a nation we were 
becoming flabby and inert, and were fast drifting 
into an exceedingly lazy, commonplace mental 
attitude. We boasted that we couldn't think 
(even though with many this was merely a pose) ; 
we seemed quite proud of ourselves when we 
proclaimed our indifference to all serious reading, 
and our inability to understand anything. 

That pre-War period, given over to money- 
worship, not only curtailed our choice of words 
by its all-pervading tendency to mind-laziness, 
but it had its vulgarising effect upon our 
language, just as it had upon our dress, our mode 
of living, and our amusements. 

Not only did we cease to take the trouble to 
speak correctly, but we almost ceased to be lucid ! 
We made one word — slang or other- Tho d nu 
wise — do duty in scores of places JfB^gSL 
where its introduction was either slan * 
senseless or idiotic, rather than exert our minds 
to find the correct word for each occasion. Many 
people appeared to think that the use of slang 
was not only "smart," but quite clever; whereas 
nothing more surely indicates a poor order of 

My chief objection to a constant use of slang 
is not because it is outside the pale of classical 

62 The Lure of the Pen 

English, but because it is so ineffective and feeble. 

As a rule, slang words and phrases are, in the 
main, pointless and weak, for the simple reason 
that we use one word for every occasion when 
it happens to be the craze; and before long it 
comes to means nothing at all, even if it chanced 
to mean anything at the start — which it seldom 

Our grandmothers objected to their own set 
using slang on the ground that it was "unlady- 
like." The modern girl smiles at the term. 
"Who desires to be 'ladylike"?" inquires the 
advanced young person of to-day. Yet our 
grandmothers were right fundamentally; with 
their generation, the word "lady" implied a 
woman of education, intelligence, and refinement. 
The user of slang is the person who lacks these 
qualifications; she has neither the wit nor the 
knowledge to employ a better and more expres- 
sive selection of words. 

Slang indicates, not advanced ideas, but ignor- 
ance — any parrot can repeat an expression, it 
takes a clever person always to use 
indicates the right word. 


Many people who constantly em- 
ploy any word that happens to be current, do not 
really know what they are saying, neither do they 

Need for Enlarging Vocabulary 63 

attach any weight to their words; they merely 
repeat some inanity, because they have not the 
brains to say anything more intelligent, or they 
are too indolent to use what brains they have. 

Notice how a set of big schoolgirls will, at one 
time, use the word "putrid," let us say, and apply 
it to everything, from a broken shoe-lace to 
examinations. And women will call everything 
"dinkie," or "ducky," or something equally en- 
lightening and artistic, working the word all day 
long until it is ousted by another senseless 

What power of comparison has a girl, such as 
one I met recently, who, in the course of ten 
minutes described a hat as "awf'ly niffy," a man 
as "awf'ly sweet," a mountain as "awf'ly rip- 
pin', and another girl as an "awful cat'"? 

What does it all amount to, this perversion of 
legitimate words or introduction of meaningless 
ones'? Nothing — actually nothing. That is the 
pity of it. If these "ornaments of conversation" 
enabled one to grasp a point better, to see things 
more clearly, or to arrive at a conclusion more 
rapidly, I, for one, would gladly welcome them, 
as I welcome anything that will save time and 
labour. But, unfortunately, they only tend to 

64 The Lure of the Pen 

dwarf the intelligence and to lessen the value of 
our speech. 

I have enlarged on the undesirability of slang, 
because many amateurs think it will give bril- 
liance, or smartness, or up-to-date-ness to their 
work. But it doesn't. It obscures rather than 
brightens ; it tends to monotony instead of smart- 
ness. The beginner will be wise to avoid it, 
unless it is required legitimately in recording the 
conversation of a slangy person. 

To enlarge your selection of words, you must 

read books of the essay type rather than fiction, 

„ ,. as these usually give the widest range 

Some Books J ° ° 

tuat win f English. Two authors stand out 


your above all others in this connection — 


Ruskin and R. L. Stevenson. Both 
men had an extraordinary instinct for the right 
word on all occasions — the word that expressed 
exactly the idea each wished to convey. 

Read some of Stevenson's essays slowly and 
carefully. Don't gobble them! You want to 
impress the words, and the connection in which 
they are used, on your mind. It is an effort to 
most of us to read slowly in these hustling times; 
yet nothing but deliberate, careful reading will 
serve to teach the correct use of words and their 
approximate values. And I need not remind you 

Need for Enlarging Vocabulary 65 

to look up in a dictionary the meaning of any 
word that is new to you. 

Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies you will have read 
many times, I hope; if not, get it as soon as ever 
you can. His Poetry of Architecture will make 
a useful study; also Queen of the Air and Prae- 
terita (his own biography). His larger works, 
while containing innumerable passages of great 
beauty, are so often overweighted with technical 
details and principles of art (some quite out-of- 
date now) that they become tedious at times. 
Yet there is so much in all of his writings to 
enlarge your working-list of words, that you will 
benefit by reading any of his books. 

Among present-day writers I particularly rec- 
ommend Sir A. Quiller-Couch, Dr. Charles W. 
Eliot; Dr. A. C. Benson, Dr. Edmund Gosse, 
Coulson Kernahan, and Augustine Birrell, whose 
volumes of essays will not only enlarge your 
vocabulary, but will prove particularly instruc- 
tive in suggesting the right placing of words, and 
in giving you a correct feeling for their value. 

Of course this does not exhaust the list of 
authors with commendable vocabularies; but it 
gives you something to start on. 

Notice that the writers I have suggested do 
not necessarily use extraordinary words, or un- 


The Lure of the Pen 

It is the 
Value of a 
not Its 

that Counts 

common words, or very long-syllabled words, or 
ponderous and learned words. One great charm 
of their writings lies in the fact that 
they invariably use the word that is 
exactly right, the word that conveys 
better than any other word the 
thought or sensation they wished to 
convey. Sometimes it is an unusual word; some- 
times it is a familiar word used in an unfamiliar 
connection; but in most cases you feel that the 
word used could not have been bettered — it sums 
up precisely, and conveys to your mind instantly-, 
the thought that was in the author's mind. 

Many amateurs fall into the error of thinking 
that an uncommon word, or a long word, or a 
word with an imposing sound, gives style to their 
writings, and they despise the simple words, con- 
sidering them common-place. I heard an old 
clergyman in a small country church explain to 
the congregation, in the course of a sermon, that 
the words "mixed multitude" meant "an hetero- 
geneous conglomeration"; but I think his rustic 
audience understood the simple Bible words 
better than they did his explanatory notes. 

I remember seeing an examination paper, 
wherein a student had paraphrased the line — 
"The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea," 

Need for Enlarging Vocabulary 67 

as, "The bellowing cattle are meandering tardily 
over the neglected, unfilled meadow land." 

This is an instance of the wrong word being 
used in nearly every case; and as a complete 
sentence it would have been difficult to construct 
anything, on the same lines, that conveyed less 
the feeling Gray wished to convey when he wrote 
the poem ! 

Good writing is not dependent upon long or 
ornate or unusual words; it is the outcome of a 
constant use of the right word — the word that 
best conveys the author's idea. 

If there be a choice between a complex word 
and a simple word, use the simple one. 

Remember that the object of writing is not 
the covering of so much blank paper, nor the 
stringing together of syllables; it is the transfer- 
ence from the author's brain to other people's 
brains of certain thoughts and situations and 
sensations. And the best writing is that which 
conveys, by the simplest and most direct means, 
the clearest reproduction of the author's ideas. 

The Charm of Musical Language 

THERE is a very special and distinct 
charm about literature that is musical 
to the ear — words that are euphonious, 
phrases that are rhythmic, sentences that rise and 
fall with definite cadence. 

Unfortunately, the twentieth century, so far, 
has been primarily concerned with the making 
of noise rather than music. Even before the War, 
we lived in a welter of hideous jarring sound, to 
which every single department of life has added 
its quota. Outdoors the vehicles honk and rattle 
and roar; in business life the clack and whirr of 
machinery drowns all else; in the home doors 
are banged, voices are raised to a raucous pitch, 
children are permitted to shout and clatter about 
at all times and seasons — indeed,, it is the excep- 
tion rather than the rule, nowadays, to find a 
quiet-mannered, well-ordered household. 

When Strauss put together his sound monstros- 
ities, which he misnamed music, he was only 
echoing the general noise-chaos that had taken 
possession of the universe, permeating art and 


Charm of Musical Language 69 

literature no less than everyday life. The night- 
mares of the cubists and futurists were merely 
undisciplined blatancy and harshness rendered in 
colour instead of in sound, and were further de- 
monstrations of the crudity to which a nation is 
bound to revert when it wilfully discards the 
finer things of the soul in a mad pursuit of money. 
The sounds produced by a people are invari- 
ably a direct indication of the degree of their 

refinement; the greater the blare and 

clamour attendant upon their doings, Renneaana 

and the more harsh and uncultivated 
their speaking voices, the less their innate refine- 

Bearing all this in mind, it is easy to under- 
stand why so much of our modern literature 
became tainted with the same sound-harshness 
that had smitten life as a whole. Some writers 
would not take the trouble to be musical; some 
maintained that there was no necessity to be 
melodious; some regarded beauty of sound as 
synonymous with weakness; others — and these 
were in the majority — had lost all sense of word- 
music and the captivating quality of rhythm. 
And yet few things make a greater or a more 
general appeal to the reader. 

There is no doubt but what the idea that rough, ' 

70 The Lure of the Pen 

unpolished work stood for strength, while care- 
fully-finished work implied weakness, was due to 
the fact that several of our great 


Dang-ers thinkers adopted the "rough-hewn" 

"Rougii- method. Such men as Carlyle and 

MeThod Browning were sometimes irritatingly 

discordant and unshapely in style — 
occasionally giving the idea, as a first impression, 
that their words were shovelled together irrespec- 
tive of sound or sense. 

Said the lesser lights, "This seems a very easy 
way to do it! And they are undoubtedly great 
men. Why shouldn't we do likewise 1 ? It must 
save a deal of trouble !" 

But there is one difficulty that we lesser lights 
are always up against: whereas genius, in its own 
line, can do anything it likes, in any way it likes, 
and the result will be of value to the world, those 
of us who are not in the front rank of greatness 
cannot work regardless of all laws and traditions; 
or, if we do, our work is not worth much. It was 
not that Carlyle and Browning were permitted 
to write regardless of laws and traditions because 
they were great; certainly not. They were great 
because they could write regardless of laws and 
traditions, and yet write what was of value to 
the world. So few of us can do that. 

Charm of Musical Language 71 

Parenthetically, I am not saying that Brown- 
ing was never musical; the lyrics in Paracelsus, 
for instance, are beautiful; but often he went to 
the other extreme. 

It no more follows that beautiful language is 
weak, than that uncouth language is strong. The 
rough and often clumsy phraseology sometimes 
used by the two men I have named was their 
weakness ; and the fact that the world was willing 
to accept the way they often said things, for the 
sake of what they had to say, is an immense 
tribute to the worth of their ideas. 

There are invariably two ways of saying the 
same thing, and, all else being equal, it is more 
advantageous to say what we have 

° J To use 

to say in a pleasant rather than an Pleasing- 


unpleasant manner. We know the is Good 
wisdom of this in everyday life; 
equally it is the best policy in writing. 

I could name books that are moderately thin 
in subject-matter and yet have had a large sale, 
and this, primarily, because of the charm of their 
style and the music of their language. 

While there should be ideas behind all that is 
written, if those ideas are presented in language 
that captivates the ear, the book has a double 
chance, since it will appeal through two channels 

72 The Lure of the Pen 

instead of only one — the ear as well as the mind. 

It must never be forgotten that the object of 
our reading is sometimes — very often, indeed — 
recreation and recuperation. We are not always 
seeking information; the mind is not always 
equal to profound or involved thought; but it is 
always susceptible to beauty and harmony (or 
it should be, if we keep it in a healthy condition, 
and do not damage it with injurious mental 
food). And whether we are seeking information 
or recreation, there is a great fascination in read- 
ing matter that has rhythm, melody, and balance 
in its sentences. 

I consider that the power to write on these 
lines is very largely a matter of training. 
Though, obviously, some ears are more keenly 
alive than others to the comparative values of 
sound, and some are born with a certain instinct 
for good expression, there is no doubt but what 
practice will do much to induce a graceful, melo- 
dious style of writing, and study will help us 
to detect these qualities in the works of others. 

With regard to training: I strongly 
Write to to ° J 

verse if advise those who aim for a good 

you want . ... 

to write prose style to practise writing verse. 

When you start, you will probably 

find that your early attempts are nothing more 

Charm of Musical Language 73 

than a series of lines with jingling rhymes at stated 

Nevertheless, even such productions as these 
are of definite use in your training. You have 
had to find words that rhymed. You have had 
to compress your ideas within a set limit; this in 
itself is a check on the long-winded wandering 
tendencies of the amateur. You have had to 
consider the respective weight of syllables — 
which is worth an accent, and which is not, and 
so on. In short, you have had to give some dis- 
criminating thought to what you were writing, 
and how you were writing it, and that is what 
the beginner so seldom does. He more often sits 
down and goes on and on and on — words, words, 
words — with no feeling for their respective 
values, or the proportion of the sentences and 
incidents as a whole. 

Viscount Morley, in his Recollections, writes: 
"At Cheltenham College, I tried my hand at a 
prize poem on Cassandra; it did not come near 
the prize, and I was left with the master's singu- 
lar consolation, for an aspiring poet, that my 
verse showed many of the elements of a sound 
prose style." 

But the master's consolation was not so singu- 
lar after all. It is quite possible for one to write 

74 The Lure of the Pen 

verse that may be excellent training for prose 
writing, and yet that is not poetry in the most 
exclusive sense of the word. 

In addition to writing verse, I urge all students 
who wish to cultivate a sense of music in their 
Kead writing to read good poetry, and, 

poetry whenever possible, to read it aloud. 

Aloud to r 

cultivate a When reading aloud, the ear helps 

Sense of 

Musical as well as the eye; whereas, when 

reading silently, the eye is apt to 
run on faster than the ear is able — mentally — 
to take in the sounds; and you are bound to miss 
some of the finer shades of movement and 
melody. When you say the words aloud, the 
sound and the beat of the syllables are more 
likely to be impressed upon your mind. 

You cannot do better than Tennyson to begin 
with — one of the most musical of our poets. Read 
"The Lotos-Eaters," the lyrics in "The Princess," 
"The Lady of Shallott," "Come into the Garden, 
Maud." In "The Idylls," and "In Memoriam," 
are many exquisite passages. Read "Guinevere," 
and "The Passing of Arthur," for example, not- 
ing the lines that are conspicuous for their charm 
of wording, or balance, or sound. 

Turning to other writers: I select a few in- 
stances at random, and am only naming well- 

Charm of Musical Language 75 

known poems that are within the reach of most 
students : — 

Christina Rossetti : The chant of the mourners, 
at the end of "The Prince's Progress," beginning 
"Too late for love," is worth reading many times. 

Jean Ingelow has, in a marked degree, a musi- 
cal quality in her verse which compensates in 
some measure for its slightness. Her habit of 
repeating a word often gives a lilt and a cadence 
to her lines that is very pleasing, as for instance 
in "Echo and the Ferry," and "Songs of Seven." 
As an example by another poet, this repetition 
of a word is used with delightful effect in 
"Sherwood," by Alfred Noyes. 

Other poems you might read are: "The For- 
saken Merman," Matthew Arnold; "The Cloud," 
Shelley; "Kubla Khan," Coleridge; "The Burial 
of Moses," Mrs. Alexander; and "The Reces- 
sional," Kipling. "The Forest of Wild Thyme," 
Alfred Noyes, contains much in the way of music. 

After you have studied these — and they will 
give you a good start — search for yourself. To 
make your own discoveries in literature is a valu- 
able part of your training. 

The student will find it very helpful to have 
at hand one or two small volumes of selected 
poems by various authors. Such anthologies often 

76 The Lure of the Pen 

give, in a compact form, some of the choicest 

of the writers' verses; and this saves the novice's 

time in wading through some work 

Anthologies tnat may b e indifferent in search of 

are J 

valuable the best. Moreover, a little volume 


can be slipped into the pocket, and 
will provide reading for odd moments. 

Do not content yourself with a mere reading 
of the poems. Try to decide wherein lies the 
charm (or the reverse) of each. Explain, if you 
can, why, for instance, the following, by Swin- 
burne : — 

"Yea, surely the sea like a harper laid hand on the 
shore as a lyre," 

appeals to one more than Longfellow's lines: — 

"The night is calm and cloudless, 
And still as still can be, 
And the stars come forth to listen 
To the music of the sea." 

Compare poems by various writers dealing with 
somewhat similar themes ; note wherein the differ- 
ence lies both in thought and workmanship. Mrs. 
Browning's "Sonnets from the Portuguese" could 
be studied side by side with Christina Rossetti's 
"Monna Innominata" ; Longfellow's "The Herons 

Charm of Musical Language 77 

of Elmwood" with Bryant's "Lines to a Water- 
fowl"; Christina Rossetti's "The Prince's Prog- 
ress" with Tennyson's "The Day Dream." 

Such exercises will enlarge your ideas as well 
as your vocabulary; they will help to give you 
facility in expressing yourself, and also that 
genuine polish which is the result of close famil- 
iarity with good writing. 

Analysing an Author's Methods 

IT is not possible to suggest any definite course 
of reading for the study of technique (or 
methods of authorship). The ground is too 
wide to be covered by any prescribed set of books. 
In order to understand, even a little bit, "how 
the author does it," you need to study each book 
separately, as you read it — deciding, if you can, 
what was the author's central idea in writing it; 
disentangling the essential framework of the 
story from the less important accessories; analys- 
ing the plot; assigning to the various characters 
their degree of importance; accounting for the 
introduction of minor episodes; noting how the 
author has obtained a fair proportion of light and 
shade, and secured sufficient contrast to ensure a 
well-balanced story; and how all the main hap- 
penings combine to carry one forward, slowly it 
may be, but surely, to the climax the author has 
in view. 

These are a few of the points you should 
observe. Now look at them in detail, and at the 
same time apply them to your own work. 


Analysing an Author's Methods 79 

Every author of any standing has one central 
idea at the back of his mind when he sets out 
to write a novel; this is the pivot on 

One Cen- 

which the plot turns — it may be trai idea 
called the keynote of the book, undents 
Sometimes the author's "idea" is 
obvious or avowed, as in the case of much of 
Dickens's works, and Uncle Tom's Cabin. Some- 
times it is so deftly concealed that you may not 
realise a book is giving expression to any one 
special idea, so absorbing is the general interest. 

One great advantage of this keynote is the way 
it gives cohesion to a story as a whole, a motive 
for the plot, a bed-rock reason for the story's 

The central idea which is invariably behind a 
well-written story must not be confused with the 
"moral" that adorned all the praiseworthy books 
of our grandmothers' day. The idea may be a 
very demoralising one, and anything but a whole- 
some pill administered in a little jam, as was the 
"moral" of by-gone story-books. But the point 
I want you to notice is this: every author who is 
an experienced worker starts out with a definite 
object in mind — good or bad, or merely dull, as 
the case may be; he does not sit down and write 
haphazard incidents with nothing more in view 

80 The Lure of the Pen 

than the stringing together of conversations and 
happenings that arrive nowhere, and illustrate 
nothing in particular, and reach no climax other 
than a wedding. 

Possibly it will come as a surprise to many 

amateurs when I tell them that the inevitable 

uniting of the lovers (or their dis- 

A Wedding- ° v 

need not be uniting, as the case may be) in the 

the Chief 

Aim of a last chapter, is not necessarily the 

chief object of an experienced writer; 
often it is merely incidental. 

The average beginner — more especially the 
feminine beginner — has but one aim when she 
embarks on fiction, viz., the marrying of her hero 
and heroine. That the wedding bells ringing on 
the last page may be an episode of secondary im- 
portance, so far as a book is concerned, seldom 
occurs to her. The result is the monotonous 
character of thousands of the MSS. offered for 
publication; and the weary reams of paper that 
are covered with pointless, backboneless fiction, 
that amounts, all told, to nothing more than the 
engagement (or the estrangement) of two colour- 
less, nondescript individuals! 

Sometimes the author aims to show you either 
the inhabitants and manners and customs and 
scenery of some definite locality ! or one particular 

Analysing an Author's Methods 81 

class of society; or the virtues or failings of an 
individual type; or the beauty of an abstract 
virtue; or the pitiful side of poverty; 

The Ideas 

or vice decorated with gloss and behind 

glamour. are as 

-r» i i • i i Varied as 

But whatever the idea may be, Human 
one of some sort lies behind every a ure 
novel of recognised standing. 

Begin your study of a book, therefore, by look- 
ing for its central idea; then observe how this 
permeates the whole, and how the author utilises 
his characters and his incidents to demonstrate 
the idea. 

Some writers explain themselves in the title 
they give to a book. The Egoist tells you at once 
what to expect. But whether the motif of a 
book be obvious or not at first apparent, it is im- 
portant so far as the staying quality of a story 
is concerned. And it is not until you have studied 
standard authors, with this particular matter in 
mind, that you realise how much more important 
it is that a book should have a keynote, than that 
the hero should be handsome, or that the heroine 
should be dressed in some soft clinging material 
that suits her surpassing loveliness to perfection. 

Having decided what is the central idea behind 
the book you are studying (I am not suggesting 


82 The Lure of the Pen 

any particular book; choose any work of recog- 
nised merit by a dead or a modern writer and it 
Loot for will serve), next try to find the frame- 

wo^oT 16 " work °f the stoi r — the P lot if y° u 

tue story jj^ e ^ t hough the framework is not al- 
ways tne plot. 

Each complete story is composed of an essen- 
tial skeleton, with a certain amount of secondary 
matter added to it to take away from its bareness. 
It is well to notice that with the greatest writers 
the framework is usually something fairly solid 
and substantial that will stand the addition of 
other matter; and it often deals with some great 
human truth that is world-old. It is not much 
good to have a framework composed of trivialities. 

But suppose the framework be something like 
this — 

Worthy John Jones becomes engaged to good 
Mary Smith; they quarrel, and become disen- 
gaged. J. J. falls a temporary prey to the siren- 
ical wiles of Elsienoria Brown ; M. S. lends a 
temporary ear to the insidious suggestions of 
Adolphus Robinson. Elsienoria Brown inadvertent- 
ly listens to the innocent prattle of a little orphan 
child, and forthwith mends her wicked ways and 
dies of consumption ; Adolphus Robinson is con- 
demned to penal servitude for life after absconding 
with the Smith family plate. J. J. and M. S. are 

Analysing an Author's Methods 83 

finally restored to each other through the kind 
offices of the same innocent orphan child. 

It may take you a little thought and time to 
detach this framework from the author's wealth 
of additional incidents or secondary matter. 

There may be talk about the lovely old Tudor 
mansion, Mary's home; the life history of each 
of Mary's ancestors, whose portraits hang in the 
long gallery; the eccentricities of Mary's grand- 
father; the Spartan temperament of Mary's 
mother, with details about the perfection of her 
servants, and the thoroughness of her spring- 
cleaning activities; digressions as to non-success- 
ful aspirants for Mary's hand prior to the advent 
of John; Mary's work among the poor; Mary's 
love of Nature, and her exquisite taste in garden 
planning; Mary's patience with a gouty father; 
the sordid history of the late parents of the 
prattling orphan child whom Mary recently 
adopted; Mary's stay in Cairo (after the quarrel), 
and her meeting there with Adolphus; details of 
Cairo natives; measurements of the pyramids; a 
nocturne on moonlight over the desert; a disserta- 
tion on flies; prices and descriptions of bazaar 
curios; sidelights on hotel visitors, their tongues, 
their flirtations, and their fancy-work 

84 The Lure of the Pen 

And much more concerning Mary. 

Then there will be Elsienoria; her stage career; 
her intrigues; her eyes; her interest in bull-terriers 
and bridge; a descriptive catalogue of her jewels, 
and the furnishings of her palatial yacht; and 
a vignette of her poor old mother taking in wash- 
ing in Milwaukee. 

In like manner there will be copious data con- 
cerning John, and ditto concerning Adolphus, 
with all sorts of entanglements to be straightened 
out, and a legion of simple happenings that lead 
to confusions. 

It is from a mass of incidents such as these that 
you will have to eliminate the framework, the 
part that cannot be dispensed with without the 
rest falling to pieces. Practice in analysing 
stories will soon make the framework of each 
clear to you. 

The characters should be studied individually, 
in order to find out why the author brought them 
Assess the on the scene ; what position each oc- 
eaciT cupies in relation to the whole; who 

Sfthe * 6 ' are t ^ ie most i m P 0I "tant folk, and who 
story are brought in merely to render some 

useful but unimportant service to the story. 

Then note how the author keeps the circum- 
stances that surround each character directly pro- 

Analysing an Author's Methods 85 

portionate to his or her place in the story. The 
great deeds are invariably performed by the hero 
— not by some odd man who appears only in one 
chapter and is never heard of again. The most 
striking personality is never assigned to some 
woman who only has a minor part given her, 
and who vanishes in the course of a dozen pages, 
with no further explanation. 

In this way assess the value of each character 
to the story as a whole. 

Next study the matter that seems non-essential 
to you, and decide, if you can, why each episode 
was introduced. 

The Use of 

At first glance you may think that secondary 


much of it could be done without, 

and would make no difference whatever to the 

story, beyond shortening it, if it were omitted 


This is perfectly true of poor work. The un- 
skilled writer will pad out a MS. with all manner 
of stuff that has no direct bearing on the plot. 
There will be conversations that reveal nothing, 
that throw no lights on the characteristics or the 
motives of anybody, and are obviously introduced 
merely to fill up a few pages. There will be 
incidents that in no way affect the movement of 
the story, that add no particular excitement or 

86 The Lure of the Pen 

interest, and carry you no nearer to the climax 
than you were in the previous chapter. 

But the good craftsman wastes no space on 
unnecessary talk, even though certain scenes and 
episodes may be of less importance than others. 
He knows that secondary matter, such as descrip- 
tive passages, dialogues, interludes and digres- 
sions are necessary in order to "dress" the frame- 
work and give it something more than bare bones; 
they are also needed to give variety and balance 
to a book. Some incidents that may not appear 
to be vital to the story, are introduced to break 
what would otherwise have been a monotonous 
series of events ; or they are put in for the purpose 
of giving brightness and a picturesque element as 
a contrast to some sorrowful or gloomy occur- 

If the book be written by a master, each char- 
acter, each conversation, each incident, each 
descriptive passage, each soliloquy is introduced 
Minor f or a specific purpose ; nothing is hap- 

can 3 ]!)© 9 hazard, nothing is merely a fill-up. 

made to Moreover, the expert novelist is 

serve Two , x 

Purposes no t content to put his secondary 

matter to one minor use only; he frequently 
makes it contribute something to the main issues 

Analysing an Author's Methods 87 

of the story — and in this case it serves a double 

For instance, take the imaginary story I sketched 
out just now. Let us suppose that, half-way 
through the story, there occurs a stormy chap- 
ter, in which John and Mary quarrel and part 
in a scene that is red-hot with temper and 
emotion. It will be desirable to secure a de- 
cided contrast in the next chapter, to give every 
one — readers as well as lovers — time to cool 
down a little; besides, you do not follow one 
emotional scene with another that is equally over- 
wrought, or they weaken each other. The author 
would, therefore, aim for something entirely 
different in the chapter following the one that 
ended with John violently slamming the hall 
door, and Mary drowning the best drawing-room 
cushion in tears. 

We will assume that the author transports 
Mary to Cairo for change of air; and, in order to 
restore the atmosphere to normal, he decides on 
an interlude, entitled "Moonlight Over the 
Desert"; this will serve as a soothing contrast to 
the preceding upset. 

But he will not necessarily describe the moon- 
light himself. If he makes Mary describe it in 
a letter to a friend, or to her father who remained 

88 The Lure of the Pen 

at home, he will be killing two birds with one 
stone; he will be administering a pleasant seda- 
tive, after the turmoil of the lovers' quarrel; 
also he will be showing you how Mary's tempera- 
ment responds to the beauties of Nature, and how 
appreciative she is of all that is good and pure 
and lovely. In this way he will be helping you 
to understand Mary better, and thus the "Moon- 
light Over the Desert" chapter will be contribut- 
ing definitely to the main trend of the book. 

Then, again, the author may wish to bring the 
reader back to the everyday happenings in a light 
and whimsical manner, and he may give you a 
scene showing the various ladies who are staying 
at the same hotel with Mary in Cairo, retailing 
their conversation, with the usual oddities and 
humours and irresponsibilities that are to be 
found in the small-talk of a mixed collection of 
women at an hotel. In this way he can introduce 
brightness and a light touch among more sombre 
chapters. But in all probability he will make the 
conversation serve a second purpose; Mary may, 
on this occasion, hear the name of Adolphus 
Robinson for the first time, little realising that 
he is to play an important part in her life later 
on; or an American visitor may chance to give 

Analysing an Author's Methods 89 

details of her old charwoman in Milwaukee, 
Elsienoria's mother, little knowing that Elsie- 
noria is the evil star in Mary's horizon, etc. 

These are indications of the way an exper- 
ienced author can make every incident in the story 
dovetail with something else, as well as serve an 
"atmospheric" purpose, i.e., to change the air 
from grave to gay, or from mirth to tragedy. He 
never writes merely for the sake of covering 
paper, or bridging time; whereas the amateur 
only too often introduces digressions and irrele- 
vant matter with very little reason or apparent 
connection, apart from a desire to cover paper, 
or, perhaps, because the episode came into his 
mind at that moment, and he thought it was 
interesting in itself, or that it would help to 
lengthen the story. 

Notice, too, how the clever author keeps his 
eye on the climax; how ingeniously he will make 
everything lead towards that climax; 

Never lose 

and how he puts on pace as he gets sig-ht of 

the Climax 

nearer and nearer the goal, instead of 
hurrying on events at a terrific rate at the begin- 
ning, then getting suddenly becalmed part-way 
through, and making the tragedy painfully long- 
drawn-out at the end — as is the method of many 
amateurs ! 

90 THe Lure of the Pen 

You may tell me that all this does not apply 
to you personally, as you are not so ambitious as 
The Main to try your hand at a book; you only 

Rules apply , 

to oil write short stories. 

ISe^pective The same rules apply to all stories, 

of Lengtn whether 3,000 or 100,000 words in 
length, the difference being that with a short story 
greater condensation is necessary. Instead of 
devoting a chapter to some contrasting episode, 
you would give a paragraph to it; and instead 
of having a dozen or so secondary characters, you 
would be content with only two or three besides 
the hero and heroine, and this in itself would 
reduce your number of minor episodes and your 
descriptive matter. 

Whatever the length of your story, it is well to 
remember that there should be one main idea at 
the back of all (apart from the wedding); also 
a framework, to which is added a certain amount 
of secondary matter that is well-balanced and 
introduced with a definite object in view; the 
characters must bear a fixed relation to the whole ; 
and there must be a climax, concealed from the 
reader, so far as possible, till the last moment, 
but ever-present in the writer's mind as the goal 
towards which every incident, indeed every para- 
graph, in the story trends. 

Analysing an Author's Methods 91 

You will find it very useful to study the short 
stories of Rudyard Kipling, Sir James Barrie, 
and Mrs. Flora Annie Steel. 

Studying fiction in this way is exceedingly in- 
teresting, and wonderfully instructive. Obvious- 
ly every author has his own individ- Tlu , 
ual methods, and no two work in "* C Sw2pi 
exactly the same way. But if you Kannlllff 
examine these main features, which are common 
to most, you begin to realise something of the 
careful planning and forethought that go to the 
making of a story that is to grip its readers, and 
live beyond its first publication flush. 

Perhaps you may be inclined to think that the 
bestowal of such minute care on the details of a 
book would tend to make it artificial and stilted; 
there are those who argue that the rough, slap- 
dash style is the only method by which we can 
catch the fine frenzy of genius in its unadulter- 
ated form! But all Art calls for attention to 
detail; anything that is to last must be the prod- 
uct of painstaking thought. Life itself is a 
mass of detail carefully planned by the Master- 
Mind. If you study your own life, you will be 
amazed to find, as you look back upon the past, 
how every happening seems to be part of a won- 
derful mosaic, that nothing really stands quite 

92 The Lure of the Pen 

alone with no bearing whatever on after events. 

That the slap-dash method is much easier than 
the careful, thoughtful working-out of a story, I 
admit. But it does not wear — why*? because 
there is really no body in the work; it is all on 
the surface, and therefore quickly evaporates. 
That which costs you next to nothing to produce, 
will result in next to nothing. 

Of course, you can elaborate your work, and 
add a multitude of details all apparently bearing 
on the story, till the readers (and also the main 
features of the story) are lost in a mass of small- 
talk and unimportant events. But the secret of 
all good art is to know what to take and what 
to leave; and the genius of a writer is evidenced 
in the way he knows just what incidents to put 
down in order to gain the object he has in view, 
and what to omit as redundant, or unnecessary 
to the direct working out of his theme. 

I am not analysing any novel to give you 

concrete examples of the points I have named. 

Tne My object in writing these chapters 

Application | s not go muc h to set down f acts fo r 

you to memorise, as to help you to find out things 
for yourself. 

Our own discoveries are among the few things 
of life that we manage to remember. 

Analysing an Author's Methods 93 

Having dissected a novel, and made notes on 
the way it was constructed, turn to your own 
work (whether a long or a short story), and see 
what you have to show in the way of a main idea, 
a good framework, a purpose for each character, 
a reason for each incident, well-balanced sec- 
ondary matter, with a steady crescendo and accel- 
erando leading to a good climax. 

I need not point out the application. It is for 
you to make your own stories profit by your study 
of the methods of the great writers. 


Beautiful and striking thoughts are a common every- 
day occurrence ; the uncommon occurrence is to find the 
person who can reduce those thoughts to writing in such 
a manner as to convey, exactly to another mind the 
ideas that were in his own. 

Practice Precedes Publication 

WHEN you sit down pen in hand with 
the intention of writing something — 
Write ! 

This may seem unnecessary advice 
to lead off with; but it is surprising how much 
time one can spend in not writing, when one is 
supposed to be engaged in literary work (no one 
knows this better than I do) . It is so easy to gaze 
out of the window in pleasant meditation, letting 
the thoughts wander about in a half-awake, half- 
dreaming state of mind. 

Girls often sit and think all kinds of romantic 
things, weaving one strand of thought with 
another, letting the mind run on indefinitely into 
space and roam about aimlessly among pleasant 
sensations. Such girls sometimes think this an 
indication that they have the ability to write a 
novel; whereas it is doubtful whether they could 
draft a possible plot for the simplest of stories; 
their brain is not sufficiently disciplined to con- 
secutive thought. 

Others are possessed of high, noble impulses; 
97 7 

98 The Lure of the Pen 

or they feel a sudden overwhelming sense of the 
beautiful in life; or a desire to attain to some 
lofty ideal; and forthwith they conclude this 
indicates a poetic gift of unusual calibre. All 
such experiences are good, they are also plentiful 
(fortunately, for the uplifting of human nature) ; 
but they do not imply the ability to write good 
poetry, even though they prove exceedingly 
useful to a poet. 

Most beginners think that the main essential 
for a writer is a fair-sized stock of beautiful or 
striking thoughts; but it is quite as 
Beautiful important to know how to write 
do not ' down those thoughts. As a matter 

BeaSSu? of ^ct, beautiful and striking 
writing thoughts are of common, everyday 

occurrence; the uncommon occur- 
rence is to find the person who can reduce those 
thoughts to writing in such a manner as to con- 
vey, exactly, to another mind the ideas that were 
in his own. 

"But how ought I to start with writing*?' the 
novice sometimes asks. "There seems so much 
to say, yet it is difficult to know where to begin." 

When a student commences the study of Art 
he does not begin with the painting of some big, 
involved subject, such as "A Scene from Ham- 

Practice Precedes Publication 99 

let." He spends some years working at little bits 
and making studies. He practises on a profile, 
or a hand, or the branches of a tree; he will 
sketch and re-sketch a child's head, or one figure; 
he will work away at a few rose-petals or an apple 
— always endeavouring to render small pieces of 
work well, rather than large pieces indifferently. 

When a great artist starts work on an Academy 
picture, he does not commence at one side of the 
canvas and work right across to the other side 
till the picture is finished. He does not necessar- 
ily begin his masterpiece by painting on the can- 
vas at all. As a rule, he makes a rough-out of his 
idea (more than one, very often), merely block- 
ing in the figures, arranging and re-arranging the 
position of the main items, then assigning the 
details to their proper places, till he gets all pro- 
perly balanced, and to his liking. 

Then he dissects the picture-that-is-to-be, 
making separate studies of the figures, sometimes 
making several drawings of an arm, or a piece of 
drapery, or a bit of foreground, expending infinite 
care and work on fragments, and making dozens 
of sketches before a stroke is put on the canvas 

Thus you see both the novice and the master 

ioo The Lure of the Pen 

specialise on detail before they tackle a piece of 
work as a whole. 

Some of the "studies" made by famous artists 
for their important pictures are positive gems, 
and help us to understand something of the im- 
mense amount of thought and preparation that 
go to the making of any work of art that is to 

The student who is training for authorship 
must work on the same lines. All too often the 
amateur starts by putting down the first sen- 
tence of a story or an article, and then writes 
straight on to the very end, without any pre- 
liminary rough-out or separate study of detail; 
and the result is a shapeless mass of words, lack-' 
ing balance and variety, and either without any 
climax, or with two or three too many. 

When offering a MS. for publication, the 
writer will often tell me — as though it were some- 
"it simply thing to be proud of — "I merely sat 
down, and without any previous 
thought, wrote the whole of this story from be- 
ginning to end. It simply came." 

One can only reply: "It reads like it!" 

I have before me a letter and MS. from a 
would-be contributor, who writes: "I just dashed 
this off as it first came into my head. I do so 

Practice Precedes Publication 101 

love scribbling, and I simply can't help jotting 
things down when the fit takes me." 

This is very well to a limited extent. There 
are times when all authors just dash things off 
when the fit takes them; but, if they have any 
sense (and no one succeeds as a writer if they 
have not) they do not regard the dashed-off 
scribble as the final product, and rush with it to 
a publisher. Much ability may be evidenced in 
a hurried "jot-down" of this type; and if written 
by a master hand, it may be useful as an object 
lesson, showing how a clever author makes his 
preliminary studies; but as a finished piece of 
work it is of little value, for the simple reason 
that it is not finished. 

Of course, the greater the writer the less re- 
vision will his dashed-off-scribble need, because 
experience and practice have taught him to know 
almost by instinct what to put down and what 
to omit. Nevertheless, he is certain to go over 
it again, making alterations and additions, before 
sending it out to the reading public. 

Before you can hope to write anything worth 
publication (much less worth payment), you will 
require considerable practice in actual writing. 

Directly a beginner puts on paper a little study 
in observation, or collects some facts from various 

102 The Lure of the Pen 

already-published books, or induces twelve or 
sixteen lines of equal lengths to rhyme alter- 
nately (rhymes sometimes omitted, however, in 
which case the lines are styled "blank verse"), 
that beginner invariably sends along the MS. to 
an editor, and is surprised, or grieved — according 
to temperament — when it is not accepted. 

Few would-be authors realise that what may 
be good as a study or an exercise, is not neces- 
sarily of the slightest use to the general public. 
And, after all, the final test of our work is its 
use to the public. If the public will not take it, 
it may just as well remain unwritten (unless we 
are willing to regard it as practice only), for it 
is certain our acquaintances will not listen while 
we read our "declined" MSS. aloud to them! 

"But why shouldn't the public buy my first 
attempt?" some one will ask. 

The public seldom is willing to 
attempts" pay some one else for what it can do 
rar«iyany quite as well itself. And most people 
tSlub* have made first attempts at writing. 

Rare indeed is the person who has 
not laboured out an essay, or dreamed a wonder- 
ful love story, or put together a few verses. In 
the main, all first attempts bear a strong family 
likeness one to the other, and though the general 

Practice Precedes Publication 103 

public may not stop to analyse its own motives, 
the truth is, it will not buy immature work as 
a rule, because it feels it can produce writing 
equally immature. 

For this reason (among other things) first 
attempts have rarely any market value — unless 
you have been dead at least fifty years and have 
acquired fame in the interval ! 

Of course there is always the remote chance 
that a genius may arise, whose first attempt 
eclipses everything else on the market; but as I 
have said before, we need not worry about that 
exceptional person, since some one has estimated 
that not more than two are born in any genera- 
tion. And even these two have to be divided 
between a number of arts and sciences; they are 
not devoted exclusively to literature ! 

The average writer whose books have made his 
name famous, had to write much by way of prac- 
tice, before any of it found a paying market. And 
we humbler folk must not be above doing 

Begin to train yourself in writing by making 
studies, in words, just as the art student makes 
them in line or wash. Make studies of character, 
of scenery, of temperament, of dialogue — of any- 
thing that comes to your notice and interests you. 

104 The Lure of the Pen 

To make a character study of someone you 
know intimately, or with whom you are in daily 
contact, is a useful exercise — but I don't advise 
you to read it to them afterwards, that is if you 
feel you have been quite frank in your writing, 
and you value their friendship! 

Aim to make each study a little word-picture, 
embodying some idea, or reproducing some trait, 
or conversation, or incident. But do not be in 
too great a hurry to embark on a lengthy or 
involved piece of work. 

Practise various styles of writing — serious, con- 
versational, gay, didactic, colloquial, etc.; and 
^ « , see that the style corresponds with 

The Style J r 

of writing- y 0ur subiect-matter. 

should Vary J J 

According- Watch good authors with this lat- 

subject- ter point in view. For example, the 

Matter , r . . . T ^. ,. , ,,,-, 

style of writing in Kipling s Bar- 
rack Room Ballads" is not the style he used when 
writing "The Recessional." 

Often several styles of writing are necessary 
in one story, if we are introducing contrasts in 
characters or in scenes. And though we may 
think that one style is peculiarly our own, it is 
most desirable that we should write just as 
readily in any style. This gives variety and 
colour to our work; also it reduces the risk of our 

Practice Precedes Publication 105 

acquiring mannerisms, which are generally tire- 
some to other people, though we are blandly un- 
conscious of them ourselves. 

But be sure that you do not appear to force 
an effect; do not make an effort to be light-hearted, 
for instance, or overdo the sombre tone one would 
use at a funeral. Sincerity should underlie all 
your writings; they should carry the conviction 
with them that what you say happened, actually 
did happen, and was not invented by you merely 
to heighten the gaiety or deepen the gloom, as 
the case may be. 

In order to make your style sincere and con- 
vincing, you must study life itself, not take your 
models from other people's books. If you are 
to write in a joyous style that will infect others 
with your cheeriness, you must enjoy much of life 
(if not all of it) yourself, and be able to enter 
into other people's enjoyment. If you are to 
make your readers feel the grief that surrounded 
the funeral of which you write in your story, you 
must have shared in sorrow and sympathised with 
others in theirs. 

Once you enter into the very spirit of each 
happening, you will find your style will soon 
shape itself according to the situation. You will 
use the right words and expressions just as you 

106 The Lure of the Pen 

would were you facing the situation in real life, 
without having to stop to think out what is best 
suited to the occasion. 

But the beginner has to learn to be natural 
when writing; that is one of his hardest tasks, I 
often think; and he sometimes needs considerable 
practice before he acquires the power to write 
exactly as he thinks and speaks, and convey pre- 
cisely what he himself feels. Therefore practise 
your pen particularly in this direction if you find 
it an effort to be natural on paper. 

All beginners need to practise condensation; 

our tendency while we are inexperienced is to be 

diffuse, and to over-load our subject 

The Need J 

for con- with unimportant explanations or 

densation. . 

irrelevant side-issues. 

It will help you if, after a finished piece of 
writing has been put aside for a few days, you 
go over it with a fresh mind, and delete every- 
thing — single words or whole sentences — that can 
be omitted without lessening the force or the pic- 
turesque quality of your writing, or blurring your 

For example: — If the hero's grandfather has 
no bearing on the development of the story (and 
you are not seeking to prove hereditary tenden- 
cies), spare us his biography. 

Practice Precedes Publication 107 

Do not tell the reader, "It is impossible to 
describe the scene," if you straightway proceed to 
describe it. 

It is waste of space to write, "It was a dull, 
gloomy, cheerless November day"; one takes it 
for granted that a gloomy November day is dull, 
likewise cheerless. 

If the colour of the heroine's eyes and the tint 
of her hair are immaterial to her career, omit such 
hackneyed data. Of course these matters may be 
important — if the lady is the villainess, for in- 
stance. I have noticed that it seems essential the 
wicked female should have red hair and green 
eyes, while the angel has violet (or grey) eyes, 
with long sweeping lashes — in novels, at any 
rate. I cannot be so certain about real life, for 
I have never met an out-and-out villainess in the 
flesh; though I have known several really nice 
girls, who were a joy to their aged and decrepit 
parents, and who married the right man into the 
bargain — and all this on mere mouse-coloured 
hair, nondescript eyebrows, and complexions 
verging on sallow! 

If, after consideration, you are bound to admit 
that it will make no difference to the working 
out of the story, nor to its general interest, if you 
omit some such trivial description, or a word or a 

io8 The Lure of the Pen 

phrase, take it out; its deletion will probably 
improve the MS. In such a matter, however, it 
is very difficult for us to judge our own work. 

As a useful exercise in the art of condensation, 
practise describing incidents as forcefully as you 
The Quest can, using the fewest possible sen- 
Big-nt tences. This will also train you to 

select the word that best describes 
your idea. You will soon realise that the one 
right word (and there is always one right word 
for every occasion) carries more conviction with 
it .than half-a-dozen words when neither is ex- 
actly "it." 

The able writer is not the one who uses many 
words, but he who invariably uses the exact word. 

It is safe to say that, as a general rule, the 
more you increase your adjectives, and qualifying 
or explanatory phrases, the more you decrease the 
strength and vividness of your writing. 

The student should practise sketching out 

plots. This is a very fascinating occupation, and 

Making all seems to go easily here — until you 

examine them! Then you may be 

less elated. 

When you have completed the plot to your 
own satisfaction, look at it carefully in order 
to discover if you have, by any chance, used an 

Practice Precedes Publication 109 

idea or a theme that has been used by some one 
else before you. This is a painful process, for, as 
a rule, one's most admired plot crumbles to 
nothing under this test! If you are quite honest 
about it, you will be obliged to confess — until 
you have had a fair amount of practice — that 
your plots are nothing more than other people's 
plots re-shuffled. 

Do not delude yourself by saying that you will 
"treat it differently." Perhaps you will; but you 
will stand more chance of success if you deter- 
mine to get a new plot that has not been used 
before, and treat that differently. 

The lack of any new idea or originality in the 
plot is the cause of thousands of MSS. being 
turned down each year. Many amateurs seem to 
think that the plot is of next to no importance, 
whereas it is the foundation upon which you raise 
the superstructure; if there is no strength in the 
foundation, the upper part is likely to be tottery. 

Until you start to scheme out plots, you have 
no idea how much there can be (but 

v learning 1 

often is not!) in this part of an au- •»* 

thor's business. must not be 

_ . . . Obtrusive 

Do not regard your writing as a 
medium for the exhibition of your own cleverness. 
Never try to show off your own learning or to 

no The Lure of the Pen 

impress the reader with your own brilliancy. 

Early amateur efforts often bristle with quota- 
tions, foreign words, stilted phrases, pedantic 
remarks, or references to classical personages. 
The reason for this is clear; when the amateur 
writes he invariably sees himself as the chief 
object of interest in the foreground, rather than 
his subject-matter. Almost unconsciously the back 
of his mind is filled with the thought, "What 
will the public think of me when they read 
this?" Consequently he does all in his power 
to impress the public, and his relations and friends 
(and by no means forgetting his enemies) with 
his attainments and unusual knowledge. 

We are all of us like this when we start. But 
as we gain experience — not merely experience in 
writing, but that wide experience of the world 
and human nature, which is such a valuable asset 
to the writer — we come to realise that the public 
pay very little heed to a writer personally (until 
he or she becomes over-poweringly famous) ; it 
is the subject-matter of a book that they trouble 
about, and the way that subject-matter is treated. 
Readers do not care in the least if an author can 
read Hafiz in the original (unless he is actually 
writing about Persian poetry, of course) ; but 
they do care if he has written a bright, absorbing 

Practice Precedes Publication in 

story that holds their interest from first to last, 
or a helpful illuminating article on some topic 
that appeals to them. Therefore, why make a 
special opportunity to drag in Hafiz, or some one 
equally irrelevant, when he is but vaguely related 
to the subject in hand, or possibly is quite super- 

Do not think I mean by this that a knowledge 
of languages and the classics is immaterial or 
unnecessary for the writer. Quite the reverse. 
The more knowledge we acquire of everything 
worth knowing (and standard literature is the 
great storehouse of knowledge ) the better 
equipped we are for work, and the greater our 
chance of success. 

But remember this: the really well-informed 
man does not use his learning for show purposes. 
Knowledge should not be employed 
for superficial ornamentation. It informed 

Man does 

must be so woven into the strands of not use his 

, ,./• , . , learning- 

our everyday life, that it becomes as for show 
much a part of us as the food we eat 
and the air we breathe. Our reading should not 
be made to advertise our intellectual standing. 

We do not read Plato and Shakespeare and 
Dante that we may be able to quote them, and 
thus let others know we are familiar with them. 

112 The Lure of the Pen 

We read them in order to get a wider outlook on 
life; to see things from more than one point of 
view; to look into minds that are bigger than our 
own; to learn great facts and problems of life 
that might not otherwise come our way, yet are 
necessary for us to know, if we are to see human 
nature in right perspective. In short, we study 
great authors in order to arrive at a better under- 
standing of our neighbour; some take us farther 
than this, and help us to a better understanding 
of God and His Universe. If we are reading the 
classics with any lesser aim, we are missing a 
great deal. 

The knowledge we absorb from such reading 
should work out to something far greater than a 
few quotations! It should affect our thoughts 
and our life itself (which obvously includes our 
writing), because it has helped us to clearer, alto- 
gether larger ideas of this world of ours and the 
people who are in it. 

Such knowledge will make its mark on our 
writing in every direction, giving it depth and 
breadth — i.e., we shall see below the surface in- 
stead of only recording the obvious; and take big 
views instead of indulging in puerilities and 

Likewise it should make us more tolerant and 

Practice Precedes Publication 113 

sympathetic and large-minded, knowing that life 
is not always what it seems. 

And it may help us to accuracy — a virtue of 
priceless worth to the writer. 

Of course, the knowledge acquired from the 
reading of great books does not take the place of 
the knowledge we gain by mixing with living 
people; we need the one as much as the other. 
But it is a wonderful help in enlarging our power 
of thinking, and the scope of our thoughts; and 
it opens our eyes to much in the world around 
us that we might otherwise miss. 

So much by way of precept. Now for an 
example of the type of writing that is overloaded 
with learning. 

Some years ago, when I was assistant-editor of 
the Windsor Magazine, a girl, who had taken 
her B.A., came to me with an urgent request that 
I would help her to a start in journalism. If 
only I would give her the smallest opening, she 
was sure she would get on; she was willing to 
try her hand at anything, if only — etc. 

At the moment we were proposing to publish 
an article on the nearly extinct London "Cabby." 
I had already arranged with some typical cabmen 
to be at a certain cab-shelter on a given day, to 
be interviewed. As this girl was so keen to try 


114 The Lure of the Pen 

her hand at writing up a given subject, I asked 
her if she would care to tackle the "Cabmen" 
article, explaining that we wanted a simple 
straightforward account of their work and ex- 
periences, the various drawbacks of the profes- 
sion, any curiosities in the way of passengers they 
had come across, and similar particulars calculat- 
ed to arouse public interest in the men. 

She was charmed with the idea, and grateful 
for the chance to get a start. And she said she 
quite understood the simple, chatty style of 
article I wanted. 

A week later the article arrived. And oh, how 
that girl had slaved over it, too; it seemed to me 
she had tried to include in it everything she knew ! 
It started with an eight-line Greek quotation. It 
gave historical details of the city of London; 
there were references to Roman charioteers and 
the Olympic games, extracts from Chaucer and 
other authors equally respectable. Indeed, there 
seemed to be something of everything in the 
article — excepting information about the cabmen. 
What little she had written about them, poor 
men, was swamped by the display of her own 

Yet it was difficult to make her understand 
that there was something incongruous in the as- 

Practice Precedes Publication 115 

sociation of broken-down old cabmen with a 
Greek extract; that the one topic created a false 
atmosphere for the other; while equally it was 
unsuitable to introduce Greek into a general mag- 
azine, seeing that the larger proportion of the 
grown-ups among the reading public had forgot- 
ten all the Greek they ever knew. 

Unpractised journalists are apt to overload 
their articles with data that has no immediate 
connection with the subject in hand, even though 
it may be distantly related. Such inclusions 
often weaken the whole, as they confuse rather 
than enlighten the reader. 

One other caution is necessary. Avoid quot- 
ing from other people's writings. With some 
amateurs this amounts to a most irritating mania. 
Now and then, an apt quotation may serve to 
enforce a point, but the beginner should be spar- 
ing in their use. 

Remember that people, as a rule, do not care 
to pay for what they have already read elsewhere ! 
Also, a publisher only reckons to purchase ori- 
ginal matter (apart from books that are avowed- 
ly compilations). 

In any case, you are not gaining practice in 
original writing if you are merely copying out 
what some one else has written. 

The Reader Must Be Interested 

THE first essential in any publication is 
that it shall interest people, especially 
the people who, it is hoped, will buy it. 
Every book does not appeal to the same type of 
reader; but every book should appeal to some type 
of reader, and it should interest that type of 
reader, or it will prove a failure. 

This does not necessarily mean that it must 
keep the reader wrought up to a high pitch of 
excitement, or squirming with laughter, or bathed 
in tears — though a judicious mixture of these 
things may contribute much to the success of your 
work. It means that what you propose to tell 
people must be something they will want to hear; 
and when you start to tell it to them, you must 
tell it in such a way that they will be keen for 
you to continue. 

Beginners often think the main point is their 
own interest in what they write. It is certainly 
desirable that we ourselves should be interested in 
what we write, otherwise the chances are it will 

not be worth reading; but it is still more import- 


The Reader Must Be Interested 117 

ant that what we write should interest othef 
people. I have known a book to sell well, 
though the author was thoroughly bored when 
writing it; but I have never known a book to sell 
well if the public were thoroughly bored when 
trying to read it! 

And this necessity for interesting the reader 
applies to every class of writing. It is useless to 
write a scientific treatise in such a 

If your 

dull way that the student is not writing-a 

do not Grip, 

sufficiently attracted to read the «iey wm 

. . no * Sell 

second chapter; it is useless to write 
a religious article in such a stereotyped, conven- 
tional manner that nobody gets beyond the second 
paragraph, and everybody is quite willing to take 
the rest as read; it is useless to write such vague 
insipid verse that the reader does not even take 
the trouble to find out what it is all about; and 
it is useless to write feeble fiction that lands the 
reader nowhere in particular, at the end of sev- 
eral chapters. 

If you cannot grip, and then hold, the reader's 
attention, your writings will not be read. 

And if they are not read, they will not sell. 

You may think this last remark a backv/ard 
way of putting it, and that a book must sell 
before it can be read. But several people read 

n8 The Lure of the Pen 

it before a copy is actually sold, and often a good 
deal depends on the verdict of these people. It 
is read by the publisher, or his editor (sometimes 
several of them) ; if they decide that it does not 
interest them, and that it is not likely to interest 
the public — where are you 1 ? 

Even if you determine, after your MS. has been 
declined by a few dozen publishers, to pay for 
its publication yourself, and in this way get it 
into print, there are the reviewers to be thought 
of; should they be of the same opinion as the 
publishers who declined it, and find it so lacking 
in interest that they never trouble to finish it, 
and ignore it entirely in their review columns — 
that, again, is unfortunate for you! 

Among other people who may read it, there 
are the publisher's travellers. If it fails to in- 
terest them they can hardly grow so enthusiastic 
over it, when displaying it to the bookseller, as 
they do over another book that kept them sitting 
up all night to finish it! 

More than this, a keen, intelligent bookseller 
reads many of the books on his counter, in order 
that he may know what to recommend his cus- 
tomers when they ask him for a book of a definite 
type. Indeed, he is often supplied with "advance 
copies" by the publisher. If he finds a volume 

The Reader Must Be Interested 119 

engrossing, you may rely on his introducing it to 
his customers ; and if the purchasers of the earliest 
copies are captivated by it, they will certainly 
talk about it and urge their acquaintances to read 
it, and send it to their friends on dates when gifts 
are due. 

Thus you see a book really must be read before 
it has a chance of any sale. 

Beginners often think the all-important thing 
is to get their MS. set up in type; that once it is 
published the public will buy it and read it as a 
matter of course. But the public won't, unless it 
interests them. And no matter how much money 
an author may be able to expend on the produc- 
tion of a book, it will bring him little satisfaction 
if that book does not sell, and he sees the major 
portion of the edition eventually cleared out as 
a "remainder," or dumped in stacks on his door- 
step, when the publisher can give it shelf-room 
no longer. 

To interest people you must write on subjects 
of which they know something, or 
subjects which in some way make an personal 
appeal to them. You seldom sue- m ust°be 
ceed in interesting them if you write JJJomrt** 
of things quite outside their usual 
range of thought or ideals or aspirations. To 

120 The Lure of the Pen 

ensure some attention from your audience, it is 
imperative that this matter of personal outlook be 
taken into account. 

A subject may be of enthralling interest to 
you, but if it is not in any way likely to interest 
your readers from a personal standpoint — if it 
has no connection with their spiritual or material 
life, if it makes no appeal to them on the score 
of beauty, if they cannot by any stretch of imag- 
ination see themselves in a leading part — then it 
is risky to make that the subject of an early 
article or book. When you are well-established, 
and recognised as a capable writer, you can take 
your chance with any exotic subject you please; 
but I do not advise it at the beginning of your 

This does not mean that out-of-the-way sub- 
jects should never be chosen. Obviously life 
would be deadly monotonous if we were always 
trotting round the same circle. Novelty is most 
desirable; monotony is fatal to success. But it 
must be novelty that is linked in some way with 
the reader's life. 

Let us suppose you are absorbed in the study of 
a certain new germ — a germ that is responsible 
for much mortality among tadpoles. Not only 
have you discovered the existence of this germ, 

The Reader Must Be Interested 121 

but you have taken its name and address, inspect- 
ed its birth certificate, secured its photograph, 
insisted on knowing its age and where the family 
go to school, ascertained its average food ration, 
noted its climatic preferences, and many other 
useful facts. All this would be very interesting 
to persons who are rearing frogs; but as such 
people are few in number, it would scarcely 
attract the bulk of the reading public, hence you 
could not expect a book on the subject to have a 
large sale; nor would an article be likely to find 
a resting place in a magazine or newspaper that 
aimed to attract the general public. The subject 
would have no interest for the majority of people, 
because once we have left our unscientific youth 
behind, tadpoles are generally as remote from our 
life as the North Pole. 

But, suppose you suddenly discover that these 
same germs are communicated by tadpoles to 
water-cress, and therefore directly responsible for 
hay fever or whooping-cough (or something 
equally conclusive) ; you will find the general 
public all attention in an instant, since water- 
cress and whooping-cough make a personal claim 
on most of us. And in that case your writings 
would find a market at once. 

122 The Lure of the Pen 

The same ruling applies to fiction. Study any 

successful novelist, and you will see how his 

knowledge of the things that appeal 

A Novel . ...... 

mustiiave to men and women guided him in 

somewhere tne choice of a subject, and his man- 
in its Com- £ a.' ' j. 

position ner of presenting it. 

Some beginners think a peculiar 
plot, or a bizarre background, or an eccentric 
subject is more likely to command attention than 
familiar topics; but that depends entirely on what 
there is in it likely to appeal to the reader and 
rivet his attention. Mere eccentricity or pecu- 
liarity will not in itself ensure the reader's per- 
manent interest; behind the externals there must 
be something with more "grit" in it. 

While newness of idea is much to be desired, 
and a breaking-away from hackneyed scenes and 
types should be aimed for, there must be a strong 
underlying link to connect the unusual idea with 
the reader's sympathies and mental attitude. You 
may lay the scene of your story in the Stone Age, 
or make your hero and heroine some never-heard- 
of-before dwellers in the moon; but unless you 
can interweave some fundamental human trait, 
or some soul longing that will make such a story 
understandable to ordinary humanity, it will not 
interest average readers, since they know very 

The Reader Must Be Interested 123 

little about the tastes and manners and customs 
of the folks who lived in the Stone Age; neither 
are they likely to be at all convinced, nor parti- 
cularly excited, because you tell them certain cir- 
cumstances about beings, said to be in the moon, 
who could never possibly come their way. 

Even though a few people may at first be at- 
tracted by some eccentricity on your part (and, 
after all, if we only shriek loud 

J Mere 

enough, some one is certain to turn Eccentricity 

will not 

round and look at us), there is no hold *** 


lasting quality in such methods of 
catching attention. 

A troupe of pierrots at the seaside may get 
themselves up in a garb bizarre enough to give 
points to the cubists ; but unless they also provide 
a fair programme, they will not retain an 
audience. After the first glance at their pecu- 
liarities, the public will stroll farther along 
the parade to the much plainer-looking com- 
pany, if that company provide a better enter- 

There must be "body" in the goods you offer 
the public, apart from qualities that are only 
superficial, such as a weird or unusual setting. 

In some cases an author's strong appeal to 

124 The Lure of the Pen 

human interest has even borne him aloft over 
actual defects. 

Wiy Fame 

has The verses of Ann and Jane Tay- 


overlooked lor could never be called poetry; yet 

^^ ftf cots 

most of the incidents recorded touch 
a sympathetic chord in every child's life, and 
each "moral" emphasises exactly the claims of 
justice that are recognised with surprising clear- 
ness by even the youngest; hence the poems have 
a personal interest for any normal, healthy- 
minded child. And, in consequence, they have 
lived for over a hundred years. 

In certain of his books Ruskin wrote much 
about pictures — pictures that could only interest 
a small proportion of the general public, because 
so few are able to go and see the pictures in the 
Continental churches and galleries. Moreover, 
some of his art criticism is considered worthless 
by many artists. Yet Ruskin has been, and still 
is, universally read. Why 1 ? 

Because, in addition to his erroneous estimate 
of certain artists, and his prejudices against 
others, artd his remarks about unfamiliar pictures 
many of his readers have never seen, he contin- 
ually touched on matters in which we all have a 
very personal interest — our duty to God, our rela- 
tions to our fellow-men, the inner workings of 

The Reader Must Be Interested 125 

our mind, the problems of the soul, the beauties 
and messages of Nature, and scores of other topics 
that are of the keenest interest to every thought- 
ful person. Ruskin himself complained that 
people did not read him for what he had to say, 
but for the way in which he said it. Yet he was 
not quite correct in this. People read him for 
something besides his style; they often read him 
for the side issues, the comments by the way, the 
little vignettes and pen-pictures of scenery, the 
great truths embodied in a few sentences — mat- 
ters that strike home to us all, even when the 
main purport of a book may appeal only to a 

Having recognised the need for interesting the 
reader, decide next the means by which you hope 
to do this. 

x . . r Decide the 

It may be a merry Jingle ot non- Means by 
sense rhymes that you intend shall Zm 
please by their very absurdity; or it f n ^\ a e r°st 
may be the voicing of some tragedy 
haunting many human lives that you rely on to 
touch the human heart ; or the description of some 
scene of beauty that you feel will be the main 
attraction of your writing; or perhaps it is the 
unselfishness of the hero, the strong courage of 

126 The Lure of the Pen 

the heroine, or the ingenuity of the villain that is 
to be its outstanding feature. 

Whatever it may be — keep it well in view, and 
always work up to it. The trouble with so many 
amateurs is their tendency to forget, before they 
are half-way through their MS., the ideas with 
which they started! 

The class of reader whom you hope to attract 

is another point to be taken into consideration. 

The literature that appeals to the 

Settle on 

vour factory girl is not the type calculated 


to enthuse the business man; the 
book that delights the Nature lover might be 
voted "insufferably dull" by the woman who likes 
to fancy herself indispensable to smart society. 

While we do not, as a rule, write only for one 
small section of society, there are certain divis- 
ions, nevertheless, that must be recognised; and 
the beginner who is not sufficiently versed in his 
craft to be able to work in broad sweeps on a 
big canvas that can be seen and understood by all, 
is wise to observe definite limitations, and work 
within a clearly-marked area. 

You must decide whether a story is for the 
schoolgirl or her mother; whether you are writing 
for those who crave sensation, or for those 
who like quiet, thoughtful, restrained reading; 

The Reader Must Be Interested 127 

whether your article is for the student who 
already knows something about the matter, or 
for the general reader whom you wish to interest 
in your theme. 

Having settled who are to be your readers — do 
not let them slip your memory while you address 
several other conflicting audiences from time to 
time. Writers of books for children are especial 
sinners in this respect, frequently introducing 
passages that are quite outside the child's pur- 
view, and obviously better suited to adults. 

Your object in writing should be definitely 
settled before you start on your MS. Is it to 
instruct, or to help, or to entertain? 

Be sure 

Is it to provide excitement, or to act of your 

, . . , Object 

as a soothing restorative to tired 
nerves and brain? Is it to expose some social 
wrong, or to enlist sympathy for suffering and 
misfortune? Is it to make people smile, or to 
make them weep? Is it to induce a light-hearted 
and care-free frame of mind, or to make the 
reader think? Is it to pander to a vicious taste, 
or to foster clean ideals? 

Inexperienced writers often seem to think there 
is no need for any defined purpose in their work, 
unless they are issuing an appeal for charity, or 
writing an article that is to combat some special 

128 The Lure of the Pen 

evil. Yet everything we write should have a 
purpose. Unfortunately, we have dropped into 
a habit of ticketing a work "a book with a pur- 
pose" when it deals particularly with religious or 
social propaganda; whereas every book should 
be a book with a purpose, or it will not be worth 
the paper it is written upon. You must have 
some reason for what you write, or some object 
which you keep in view, if yon are to make any 
impression on the reader. 

Many of you who are beginners will probably 
explain that your object in writing is solely to 
entertain (and a very good object it is). In that 
case, see to it that your writing is entertaining. 
Don't let it be flat and colourless and tepid for 
pages at a stretch. 

But you must remember that every book should 
be entertaining. This is as much a primary 
necessity as that every book should be grammat- 
ical. It is another way of saying that every 
book must interest people. Yet how few 
amateurs stop to consider whether what they 
write is- really entertaining"? 

Ask yourself, after your MS. is completed, "If 
I saw this in print, should I be so impressed with 
it that I should write off at once to my friends 
and urge them to buy it, and mention it to all 

The Reader Must Be Interested 129 

my acquaintances as something well worth their 
getting and reading 4 ?" If not — why not? 

If you can criticise your own work dispassion- 
ately in this way, it will help you to detect some 
of your own weak points. But, unfortunately, so 
few of us can look dispassionately upon the chil- 
dren of our own brain ! 

Form Should Be Considered 

FORM which plays a very important part 
in the construction of literature, means 
shape and order; it means also definite 

Though we do not realise it at first, these re- 
strictions are particularly desirable. Without 
them, we might go writing on and on, till no one 
could follow us in our meanderings, the brain 
would be worn-out with the attempt. Yet these 
same restrictions are what the novice most resents, 
or at any rate is inclined to flout. 

Nevertheless, you must abide by certain rules 
if your work is to be readable and profitable. 

You may regard all rules as arbitrary. I know 

how inclined one is, when only just beginning to 

feel one's feet, to kick down every 

Established r . . 

Rules sort of prop and barrier and sign-post 

save our j i j • i • • i 

wasting and ledge, in order to run not, with- 

£x^er£nents out ^ et or hindrance, over all the 
earth. But we cannot do this when 
we are only learning to walk, without tumbling 
down and acquiring bruises; and then we lose a 


Form Should Be Considered 131 

certain amount of time in picking ourselves up 
and getting our bearings again. 

While the thought of starting out on brand-new 
adventure, without any one's advice or dictation, 
is very enticing, the wise person is he who first 
of all avails himself of the discoveries already 
made by other folk (a time-saving policy to say 
the least of it). Then, when he has assimilated 
as much as he can of what others before him have 
found out, he can experiment on his own, and 
start on a voyage of discovery into truly unknown 
lands. But it is sheer waste of energy to go 
pioneering over land that has already been 
thoroughly investigated, and mapped out, by men 
and women who have gone before us. 

And although we may consider the limitations 
of Form in Art as quite superfluous in our own 
particular case, it is well to get thoroughly 
acquainted with them, bearing in mind the fact 
that thousands of writers for centuries past have 
been handling the subject, experimenting along 
these same lines, often asking the same questions 
that we are asking. And all whose opinions were 
worth anything came to the same conclusion, viz: 
— that strict attention to Form is necessary in 
all creative work, if that work is to have lasting 

132 The Lure of the Pen 

Therefore you might as well accept this at the 
outset, at any rate until you have reached the 
stage where you can do exactly as you please and 
still command the attention of an admiring 

All the master-minds seem to agree that a story, 
whether long or short, should consist of three 
The Three- main parts. Indeed most of the art- 
products of the brain are constructed 
on a three-part basis. Experience has shown that 
this form is the most satisfying to the mind — and 
remember, one of the essentials of a work of art 
is that it shall satisfy the mind with that sense 
of fitness and completeness and appropriateness, 
so very hard to define exactly in words, and yet 
so necessary to our enjoyment of anything. 

A painting has foreground, middle distance 
and background. A musical composition, if short, 
has generally a first part in one key, a second part 
in the minor or a related key, and a third part 
that is often an amplification of the first part 
with additional matter that brings it to a satis- 
factory conclusion. If the composition be lengthy, 
such as a sonata or symphony, its First Move- 
ment, Slow Movement and Finale are labeled for 
all to understand. 

The three-volume novel of our grandmothers' 

Form Should Be Considered 133 

day was a recognition of the desirability of de- 
finite division. And although we do not now 
spread our stories over so much paper, nor trim 
them with such wide margins and three sets of 
covers, the three parts are still there, and in many 
cases the author still marks them plainly for the 
reader, by dividing his work into specified sec- 

Sometimes we find a 4th Act, and a 5th, in a 
play, just as we sometimes have four movements 
in a sonata; but in most cases the extra act is 
really only an episode, not a main division in 
itself, and usually belongs to the second part. 

Broadly speaking, the divisions of a story may 
be ticketed — 

1. Starting things. 

2. Developing; things. Divisions 

A 1 • , • , • of a Story 

3. Accomplishing things. 

The first part is devoted to introducing the 
characters; starting them to work, according to 
some pre-arranged scheme in the author's mind; 
laying in the background, and generally "getting 

In the second part, the scheme or plot is de- 
veloped; complications and side issues, contrast- 
ing episodes and by-play may be introduced. This 
is the place for the author to exercise all his in- 

134 The Lure of the Pen 

genuity in seeming to wander farther and farther 
from the solution of the problem of the story, 
while in reality he is ever drawing the reader 
towards it. 

The third part is concerned with the actual 
solution of the problem, and shows how all the 
previous happenings helped to bring about the 
climax with which the story should end. 

The three parts may, or may not, be about 

equal in length; but if one is longer than the 

other, it should be the middle part. 

length ' r 

must be Jt [ s never well to introduce delays 


into con- in the first part, nor are they desir- 


able in the last part. 

To be complex or episodical at the start is un- 
wise; the reader likes to get well under way 
moderately early, to know who everybody is and 
what they are after. When your story is fairly 
launched, you can lengthen it with diversions, 
descriptions, dialogues, and episodes, and, granted 
they are interesting and have a direct bearing on 
the story, the reader will not complain. 

But once you reach the third part, and start to 
gather up the scattered characters and far-flung 
incidents, in order to unite them all into one con- 
vincing conclusion, you must not dally, nor divert 
the reader's attention from the main issue. 

Form Should Be Considered 135 

You will see from the foregoing that it is nec- 
essary to fix the length of your story before you 
start to work — otherwise you will not get it 
properly balanced. I do not mean that you must 
tie yourself down to an exact number of words 
for each part, any more than for the whole; but 
you should settle, before you start, an approxi- 
mate estimate of the amount of space you will 
allow to each part, and then see that you keep 
somewhere near it. 

For instance, the probability is that, unless you 
keep an eye on yourself, you will overdo the 
detail in the first part. So many novices start 
writing their story before they have half thought 
it out in all its bearings; the result is that all 
sorts of new ideas come to them, and fresh de- 
velopments, and different aspects of the plot; and 
they add to their original plan, work in fresh 
characters, amplify those that are already there, 
till all sense of proportion is gone. Or they may 
have a special liking for one particular character 
(invariably it is the one who, they secretly think, 
represents their own tastes and aspirations), and 
they will overdo this one with detail, and unduly 
spin out that portion of the book. 

Then again, when we are fresh, and only start- 
ing a work, we are more inclined to stroll leisurely 

136 The Lure of the Pen 

among voluminous particulars, and write all that 
comes into our head, than we are when we have 
written forty thousand words, and are wishing we 
could get the rest of it out of our brain, and down 
on the paper, with less physical, as well as less 
mental, effort! 

Therefore, when you eventually revise your 
MS. as a whole, overhaul the first section very 
thoroughly, cutting it down ruthlessly if you 
find you have been unduly diffuse. 

Nowadays a story that drags at the outset is 

But fiction is not the only class of writing 

ruled by Form; articles, essays, verse are all 

subject to a certain order of presen- 

Form as 

Applied tation, and certain restrictions, which 

to Articles . . . 

no writer can ignore without lessen- 
ing the effectiveness of his work — and in the 
main the threefold basis applies to all. 

When writing an essay or an article, it is use- 
ful to make your divisions as follows — 

1. State your theme and your reasons for its 
choice. (In other words: make it quite clear to 
your readers what you are going to write about, 
and why you decided to write about it.) 

2. Say what you have to say about it. 

3. Give the conclusions to be drawn therefrom. 

Form Should Be Considered 137 

Here, as in the case of fiction, it is desirable to 
get right into your subject quickly, never "side- 
tracking" the readers' mind on to a subsidiary 
topic until they have a firm hold of your main 
theme. Ruskin was particularly tiresome in the 
way he would turn off at a tangent, and start 
talking about some minor matter, before the 
reader had grasped what subject he was proposing 
to deal with. 

After you have turned your theme inside out, 
in the second part, and told all the points about 
it that you think will be new to your reader, 
make your third part a climax, in that it works 
up to a definite conclusion. 

It does not matter what the subject of your 
article, broadly speaking it should be built on 
these lines, since this is the form in which the 
human mind seems best able to take in informa- 
tion. You cannot expect people to follow your 
descriptions, your arguments, or your objections, 
if they do not know what you are talking about ; 
hence the need for a very clear presentation of 
your subject at the beginning. 

And, in order to leave your reader in a satisfied 
frame of mind, i.e. with a sense of certainty that 
things were brought to their logical conclusion — 
also an essential in a work of art — the third 

138 The Lure of the Pen 

section must be primarily occupied with the 
reasons for, or the outcome of, or the deductions 
to be drawn from, that which has gone before. 

This leaves the middle section of the article for 
digressions, side issues, or any other form of 

Once the student recognises how desirable are 
the laws of Form, how they give shape and pro- 
portion and cohesion to matter that would other- 
wise be void and hopeless, he will realise how 
impossible it is to do good work without prelim- 
inary thought, and careful planning. And he 
will also understand how it is that MSS. which 
are merely "dashed off" without any preparatory 
work, those that "just came of their own accord," 
as the authors sometimes boast, invariably fail to 
arouse a spark of enthusiasm in the soul of an 

Right Selection Is Important 

THE mere fact that the sun never sets on 
the British Empire does not necessitate 
our including the whole of it in one MS. 
Yet some beginners seem most industriously anx- 
ious to do this. 

Amateurs may be divided roughly into two 
classes: those who tell too little, and those who 
tell too much. The majority come under the lat- 
ter heading. The literary artist is he who knows 
exactly what to select from the mass of material 
before him (in order to make the reader see what 
he himself sees) ; and what to discard as non- 

I am inclined to think that the instinct for 
selection is largely born, not made. It is one of 
the channels through which genius betrays itself. 
Very few great artists can explain why they chose 
one particular set of items for their canvas, or 
their book, and ignored others; or why that partic- 
ular set conveys a sense of beauty to the observer, 
when another set would make no such appeal. 

Yet the sense or instinct can be cultivated to 

140 The Lure of the Pen 

some extent, and the first step is to recognise the 
necessity for careful selection. Few beginners 
give a thought to the matter. They imagine that 
all they have to do, when they set out to tell a 
story, or describe some incident or scene, is to 
say all they can about it — the more the better. 

CC I never spare myself where detail is con- 
cerned," a would-be contributor wrote when 
offering a magazine article. Unfortunately she 
did not spare me either; there were fifty-seven 
pages of close, nearly illegible writing, describing 
the tombs of some long-dead unknowns in an out- 
of-the-way Continental church. 

To enumerate every single item is not Art; it 
is cataloguing. 

Slight themes require but few details. 

Look your subject well over before you write a 

line; decide what are its outstanding features, 

which are its most prominent char- 
Training 1 x 

Yourself acteristics, and what it is absolutely 

In the 

Matter of necessary to say about it, in order to 
give a clear presentment. At the 
same time, note what is irrelevant to the main 
purport of your writing, and what is compara- 
tively unimportant. 

After all, the mind can only take in a certain 
amount of detail, a certain number of facts; and 

Right Selection Is Important 141 

as it cannot absorb everything, a limit has to be 
placed somewhere. Common sense tells us that 
since something must be left out, it is well to 
omit the colourless, unimportant data that never 
will be missed! 

In every scene there are always definite points 
that arrest the attention and give character to 
the whole, and many other points that really do 
not make very much difference one way or the 
other. The artist (whether he be making word- 
pictures or colour-pictures) selects those points 
that give the most character to the scene, those 
incidents which convey the most comprehensive 
idea of the place and the people and their doings, 
in the fewest words. 

If you are writing a story, it is seldom necessary 
to describe every thing appertaining to, and every 
one connected with, the heroine, for example — 
at any rate, not on her first appearance. Her 
home, her relations, her dress, can often be dealt 
with in a few sentences; but those sentences must 
contain just the facts that give the key to the 
whole situation. 

Probably it will not throw any vivid light on 
the lady if you state that her drawing-room was 
upholstered in old rose, and she herself devoted to 
chocolate; because the virtuous no less than the 

142 The Lure of the Pen 

wicked, the most advanced feminist as well as 
the silliest bundle of vanity, might all have equal 
leanings toward old rose and be addicted to 
chocolate. But if you state, either that she was 
reading a first edition of Dante, or cutting out 
flannelette undergarments for the sewing meeting, 
or powdering her chalky nose in public — the 
reader will have some sort of clue as to your 
heroine's personality. An instinct for selection 
will tell you which item will characterise a 
person most accurately. 

In the same way some incidents will directly 
affect the whole trend of a story, others leave 
the main issues untouched. Select the incidents 
that matter, and leave those that merely mark 
time without taking the reader any further. 

But while it is desirable to record outstanding 

features, it is not wise, as a rule, to emphasise 

mere peculiarities, as this only tends 


is not char. to stamp one's writing as unnatural, 

acterisation . . 

exaggerated, or caricature. Far bet- 
ter seize on general topical characteristics, only 
select those that are prominent, colourful, and 
vigorous, rather than neutral, insipid traits or 

People reading Kipling's story, "The Cat that 
walked by itself," invariably exclaim, "That's 

Right Selection Is Important 143 

just like our cat!" Yet in all probability Kip- 
ling's cat was not at all like either of their cats. 
He merely chose the typical characteristics com- 
mon to all cats, and each person immediately 
sees his own individual pussy in the picture. 

A lack of an instinct for selection is one of the 
commonest failings in amateurs, and is respon- 
sible for the rejection of an endless stream of 
MSS. For this reason it is desirable that the 
beginner should pay special heed to the subject, 
and note to what extent he is making actual 
selection, or whether he is merely jotting down 
all and sundry in haphazard unconcern. 

When Writing Articles 

THERE are two main difficulties in writ- 
ing an article; one is to get a good 
beginning, the other is to get a good 
ending. It you know your subject well (and it 
is useless to write on a subject you do not know 
well), it is wonderful how the middle portion 
takes care of itself in comparison with the care 
that has to be bestowed on the entrance and exit. 

I have seen amateurs write and write and re- 
write their opening paragraphs (with intervals 
of perplexed pen-nibbling in between), crossing 
out a sentence as soon as they put it down, inter- 
polating fresh ideas that ran off at a tangent, 
suddenly jumping back a hundred years or so in 
their anxiety to start at the very beginning of the 
subject — and finally tearing up their by-now- 
unreadable MS., and commencing all over again. 

Here are two methods by which you may more 

easily get under way — and the great thing is to 

get under way, and write so??iething, then you 

at least have a concrete MS. to pull to pieces and 

re-arrange and hammer into shape. It is the 


When Writing Articles 145 

blank paper, or the page you have crossed out 
and then torn up in despair, that is so irritatingly 
non-productive ! 

Decide, before you write a line, the exact point 
in the life-story of your subject at which you will 
start. Remember that it is impos- 
sible to say everything about it, or y0 urchron- 
give the whole of its history; there- sSi^- 
fore settle quickly what can safely £° in *~~ a . nd 

^ J J Stick to it 

be left out concerning its antecedents 

and early childhood without detriment to the 

subject as a whole. 

Once you have made up your mind as to the 
precise chronological starting point, stick to it 
(half the initial trouble of getting into your sub- 
ject will be over if you do) ; and do not in the 
course of a few paragraphs hark back to some 
previous happening or era, because you have 
suddenly remembered something that might be 
made to bear on the subject. 

The way anxious writers will endeavour to tell 
every mortal thing that can be told regarding the 
most distant prehistoric family connections of 
their subject, is on a par with a certain type of 
chairman at a meeting, who will persist in dilat- 
ing on the sayings and doings of his great-grand- 
father instead of dealing with the topic in hand. 


146 The Lure of the Pen 

If I ask the untrained amateur to write me an 
article on "The Use of Pigeons in War," the 
chances are all in favour of his starting with the 
Ark, and talking for several paragraphs round 
the Dove with the olive branch. By a natural 
and easy transition, he would presently be quot- 
ing, "Oh for the wings of a dove !" Pliny's doves 
would have an innings, the London pigeons of 
St. Paul's have honourable mention, the ornitho- 
logical significance of the botanical term A qui- 
legia might be touched upon, with other equally 
irrelevant or far-fetched allusions to the Columbce 
as a whole; and all this before any really service- 
able information is forthcoming under the head- 
ing specified. 

This is no exaggerated picture; it is the type 
of article frequently submitted, and is due to a 
writer's lack of an instinct for selection, and his 
determination to leave nothing unsaid. In the 
end, he of course leaves a great deal unsaid, 
because the inevitable limitations of an article 
make it impossible to give so much past history 
and still find room to say what should be said 
about the present-day aspect. The space is gone 
before the writer has barely got there ! 

And because of this tendency to expend too 

When Writing Articles 147 

much ink at the beginning on details that are too 
far removed from the central point of interest to 
be worth recording, I will give another hint that 
may occasionally prove useful. 

When in doubt where to start, be- ™*™j? 
gin in the middle ; i. e. attack the sub- ^^ e inthe 
ject where the interest seems to focus; 
or launch out without any preliminary whatever, 
into the very heart of the matter. It is quite pos- 
sible it may prove to be the beginning ! 

The desirability of shaping an article accord- 
ing to the definite rules of form was dealt with' 
on page 136. A careful planning of the form 
beforehand will help the writer to keep his 
article properly balanced, and to avoid over- 
weighting it unduly with unimportant data at the 

With regard to the wind-up of an article, here 
again the writer has much in common with the 
speaker, and happy is he who knows 
instinctively just when to leave off. ™ e * y0Xl 

SO few do! Pinished- 

Leave off 

Failing an instinctive perception 
of the right ending, or the desirable climax, the 
writer can deliberately plan one and then work 
up to it. And it is well to plan it fairly early, 

148 The Lure of the Pen 

in order to make the whole of the article gravitate 
toward this finale. 

In writing, as in so many other things, it is 

the final impression that counts. The reader's 

attitude of mind, when he comes to 

Tii^i* 116 tne en d °f tne l ast P a g e ? I s a pOWer- 

Impression £ u j f actor m settling your success as 

that Counts ° J 

a writer. If you end lamely, with 
non-effective sentences, or with pointless inde- 
cision — if, in short, the reader does not feel he 
has got somewhere or achieved something by read- 
ing the article, he will not be remarkably keen 
on anything else you may write. 

The beginner seldom pauses to inquire: What 
is my object in writing this article*? If I were to 
put the question to a number of would-be authors, 
and they replied truthfully, they would say, "To 
see myself in print," or, "To make money"; yet 
I cannot reiterate too often that what we write 
must have more in the way of backbone than this. 
The reason that thousands of MSS. are returned 
to the senders every year is because those senders 
had no other object in view, apart from money- 
making or getting into print. 

Decide therefore on a more useful object — 
useful, that is, from the reader's point of view. 
The reader does not care one iota whether you are 

When Writing Articles 149 

going to make money, or whether you now see 
yourself in print for the first time. The point he 
is concerned with is what he himself gets out of 
his reading — whether he has been amused and 
entertained, or has gained information, or a new 
light on an old subject, or a spiritual uplift, or 
useful facts, or some fresh interest, or a soothing 
narcotic for an anxious brain. 

And you must have some such object in mind, 
when you plan the shortest article, no less than 
when you scheme out a novel. 

In writing the article on "The Use of Pigeons 
in War" your object might be the giving of in- 
formation that would be fresh to the public (and 
we never need trouble to tell them that which they 
know already) ; information calculated to increase 
their knowledge of the ways in which we waged 
the great war for the world's freedom, and also 
to give them a new interest in these wonderful 
birds. Bearing all this in mind, it will be seen 
at once that the preamble about the Ark would 
be quite unnecessary, since it would convey no 
new information whatever. 

Mere recapitulation of ancient well-known 
facts is never desirable, outside a text-book. 

Topicality has often much to do with the ac- 
ceptance of an article; but the beginner seldom 

150 The Lure of the Pen 

takes this point into consideration. The finest 

article one could write would be turned down if 

the subject were out of date — and 

Keep an J 

Eye on twenty-four hours make all the dif- 


ference. We move at such express 
speed, and events hurry past at such a rapid rate, 
that the article an editor would jump at to-day 
may be useless to him to-morrow; the book that 
would be marketable this season may be unsale- 
able next. 

Of course this does not apply to every MS., 
but it does to a good many, and particularly in 
regard to articles for periodicals. If you think 
your subject will have special interest for the 
public at the moment — send it at once, and if it 
is the burning question of the day, send it to a 
newspaper rather than to a magazine, remember- 
ing that magazines have to go to press some weeks 
before the date of publication. If a magazine 
editor receives your MS. January 1st, the very 
earliest he could get it into his magazine would 
probably be April, and the chances are he would 
have everything planned and set up until May. 
In the Girls' Own Paper and Woman's Magazine, 
for instance, the final sheet of the September 
number has to be passed for press the first week 
in June. 

When Writing Articles 151 

Bearing these facts in mind, you will realise 
that it is useless to send an article on a Christ- 
massy subject to an editor in November. His 
Christmas number was probably put together in 
August, and by November it is travelling by 
train or steamer, bullock-wagon or native carrier, 
to distant parts of the world. 

And I must mention another fault common 
with beginners. It is useless to offer articles that 
are nothing more than a reckaujfe of 


encyclopedic facts. Any schoolboy that ax© not 


can string together text-book infor- 
mation, and compile facts from other people's 

If your article is on an old-established theory, 
or some well-known theme, you must contribute 
some new personal experience, if it is to be of any 
worth. Readers will not pay for books or articles 
that contain nothing but what they could write 
themselves, given the time and the works of 

Then, again, it is useless to choose a subject 
merely because it appeals to you personally; if 
there is no likelihood of its appealing to the ma- 
jority of the readers, it is valueless to an editor. 

The business of writing is like every other 
business in that self-effacement may contribute 

152 The Lure of the Pen 

much to success. The good business man does 
not spend his time talking about his 

Study the r to 

Readers' own tastes and achievements and 


noiesstkan preferences; he keeps an eye on what 

your Own . . . in 

interests his customers and talks 
about that. 

The good writer does not write merely to air 
his own likes and dislikes and grievances, or to 
impress people with his own attainments and 
good fortune; he keeps his eye on what interests 
his readers (who are his customers) and follows 
this up in some degree in his writings. 

This need not mean any relinquishing of per- 
sonal ideals, or pandering to cheap tastes. The 
readers' ideals may be as high — or even higher — 
than yours ; their tastes may be quite as refined — 
but they are not necessarily the same as yours. 
Therefore, study what will interest them to read 
rather than what it will interest you that they 
should read. Think it out, and you will find 
there may be a world of difference between the 

Writers are often told to study the type of 
articles appearing in the magazine in which they 
are anxious to see their own work published. 
This is very sound advice. The unsuitabilities 
that are offered at times are past counting. A 

When Writing Articles 153 

man wrote recently to the editor of a prominent 
Missionary Monthly: "I notice you have no chess 
columns in your paper. I could 


supply one regularly, and I assure suitable 
you it would help your circulation to lately 
considerably." For the Woman's 
Magazine I have been offered murder stories of 
the most lurid and revolting character; articles 
on "Seal-hunting in the Arctic as a Sport," "Cu- 
riosities in Kite-Flying," "The Making of Modern 
Motor Roads," and others equally outside the 
range of women's activities even in these days of 
wide-flung doors. 

Avoid offering articles on subjects that have 
already been dealt with in a periodical. Unless 
you have unique and valuable infor- 

J ^ Editors do 

mation to add to that already given, not want 

Space cannot be spared to repeat mat- subjects 

ter. Moreover, the public does not 

want to pay twice for the same thing — and that 

is what it would amount to. 

It is no recommendation to write to an editor, 

"I see you have an article on 'Glow-worms as a 

Hat-Trimming' in your last issue ; I am therefore 

sending you another article on the same subject." 

Unless you have some new and really informing 

data to contribute, the probability is that you 

154 The Lure of the Pen 

would only be covering the same ground as the 
previous writer. 

Neither are you likely to get your MS. 
accepted if you write, "I have read the article on 
'Glow-worms' in your last issue, and disagree 
with many of the statements made therein. Far 
from glow-worms being things of elusive beauty 
and suggestive of fairyland, as your contributor 
calls them. I regard them as noxious pests. I 
have written my views in detail, and hope you 
will be able to publish the article in your next 
issue to counteract the wrong impression that the 
other one conveyed." 

Now, an editor to a large extent identifies him- 
self with the views expressed in the pages of the 
paper he edits. And had he not approved of the 
statements made, he would not have been inclined 
to print them in an ordinary non-controversial 
paper. Is it likely, then, that he would want 
another contribution calmly informing his readers 
that the previous article was entirely wrong and 
unreliable *? 

Most editors are overdone with the usual "How 

to — " articles. The public has by 

Tue subject now Deen to \d "How to" do every- 

of "How 

«o " thing under the sun, I am inclined 

to think; but if you feel it laid upon your soul to 

When Writing Articles 155 

impart still further instruction — try to find a fresh 
form of title. 

Do not choose too big a subject. "Heaven," 
"Human Nature," "Eternity," and kindred 
themes are beyond the powers of any mortal — 
much less the beginner. 

Get right away from hackneyed phrases and 
allusions. So many MSS. are peppered through- 
out with such expressions as "all sorts and con- 
ditions"; "common or garden"; "let us return to 
our muttons"; "tell it not in Gath"; "but we 
must not anticipate." 

If you feel drawn to write an essay on "Friend- 
ship," it is not necessary to start with David and 
Jonathan; they have already been mentioned — 
more than once, in fact — in this connection. 
Neither is it desirable, when writing about Jeru- 
salem to quote, "a city that is set on a hill cannot 
be hid." 

Variety is always pleasing, and editors do like 
to come upon something, occasionally, that they 
have not read more than a dozen times before. 

Suggestions for Style 

IF you are writing with the object of giving 
information, avoid the indefinite style. Either 
make a clear, decided statement (if you are 
competent to do so), or leave the matter alone. 
You not only weaken the force of your statements, 
and smudge your meaning, by beating about the 
bush and walking round your subject, but you cast 
doubts in the reader's mind as to whether you are 
fully qualified to write about it at all. 

Here is an extract from an article sent to me on 
"The Cultivation of Broad Beans." Speaking of 
blight, the writer says: "I would not presume to 
dictate to the experienced gardener, who doubt' 
less has his own method of dealing with the black 
blight that is so common on these plants; but for 
the benefit of the novice I would say that, per- 
sonally, I always find it a good plan to nip off 
the tops of the beans so soon as the black fly 
appears. And, failing a better plan, the amateur 
might try this." 

Articles written in this strain are fairly com- 
mon, and are often the outcome of modesty on 


Suggestions for Style 157 

the part of a writer who does not wish to appear 
too dogmatic, or "to take too much upon him- 
self." But from the utility point of view they 
are poor stuff, and are suffering as much from 
"blight" as the unfortunate beans, since each 
statement seems to be disparaged in some way 
by the over-diffident author ! 

Either the remedy suggested for the black fly 
is a remedy, or it isn't. If it is a remedy, then 
it is as applicable to the bean owned by the ex- 
perienced gardener as to the one owned by the 
novice. In short — if it be advantageous to nip 
off the tops of blighted broad beans, the writer 
should have said so in simple English, without 
apologising for his temerity in making the state- 
ment, and thereby discounting all he says. 

Aim at writing with accuracy, clearness and 
precision. Ambiguity should never be allowed to 
pass. Any sentence that you feel to 
be in the slightest degree uncertain, Amibig-uity 
or obscure, as to meaning should be Sowed* be 
reworded so as to leave no doubt to pass 
whatever as to your meaning. 

If, on re-reading your article, you are not quite 
sure what you meant when you wrote any pas- 
sage, take it out altogether. Do not leave it in to 
puzzle the reader, even though you add a foot- 

158 The Lure of the Pen 

note — as Ruskin did — explaining that you have 
no idea what you meant when you wrote it. 

In order to avoid an ambiguous style, two 
things are necessary : the ability to think clearly 
and concisely, and the ability to write down ex- 
actly what one thinks. 

The choice of words should be influenced by the 
subject of your writing. A dignified subject calls 
The subject for dignified language. A racy sub- 
shouia ject calls for racy language; and so 


the Choice Oil. 

If your theme be a lofty one, do 
not "let down" the train of lofty thought it 
should engender, by introducing some word or 
phrase that induces a much lower — or a different 
— plane of thought and ideas. It is a backward 
policy, to say the least of it, to weaken, or oblit- 
erate, by ill-chosen language, the ideas you set out 
to foster in the reader. It is no extenuation to 
plead that the jarring phrase is particularly ex- 
pressive; if it actually counteracts the ideas you 
seek to convey, it cannot be expressing your mean- 

The beginner often gets himself tied up in a 
knot with negatives ; and even if he steer clear of 
uctual error, he is apt to overdo himself with 
iouble negatives. It is better to make a direct 

Suggestions for Style 159 

statement in the affirmative if possible, than to 
involve it in negatives. 

Instead of saying "a not uncommon fault," it 
is clearer at first sight if you say "a common 
fault," or "a fairly common fault." I know it 
does not always follow that the exact reverse 
fulfils the purpose of the double negative ; a fault 
may be "not uncommon" and yet not exactly 
common. Nevertheless it is always possible to 
get the precise shade of meaning in the affirma- 
tive; and until a writer is quite fluent, it is better 
not to risk confusing the reader's mind by the 
introduction of too many negatives. 

In the praiseworthy desire to use fine English, 
the beginner is very apt to get a sentence such a 
mixed-up maze of words that there The Tendency 
seems little hope of the meaning ever in^Jvea 
getting out alive at the other end! sentences 

I take this from a MS. just to hand: — 

"Not that her parents would have entirely 
agreed with the supposition that there might have 
been that in his character which, had he not felt 
himself unequal to the task which affected him 
not a little in its apparent issue, even though 
actually simple in its ultimate object, it would 
have been possible for him to utilise to such an 
extent that he might not have entirely disappoint- 

160 The Lure of the Pen 

ed their none too sanguine estimate of his ability." 
I admit that all amateurs do not rise to such 
cloud-wrapped heights; but many are nearly as 

Then, again, I have known the idea the author 
had in view when he started a paragraph, to get 
lost half-way through! This is due to the fact 
that the mind has not been trained to sustain 
consecutive thinking, but is permitted to veer 
round to all points of the compass like a weather- 

If you enunciate a problem, see that you give 

the solution. If you start to elucidate some 

theory (or the reader is led to believe 

"Every J 

why hatk a that you are going to elucidate it J, 
do not forget all about it, and switch 
off to something else. 

If you have no solution to offer, it is wiser and 
more satisfactory, as a general rule, not to put 
forward a problem at the close. A sense of in- 
completeness — or of something still awaiting ful- 
filment — is as disastrous to the success of an 
article as it is to the success of a book. 

Beware of labouring a thought. If your point 
is only a slight one, do not reiterate it in various 
forms or over-embellish it. 

If no big idea lies behind your 

Suggestions for Style 161 

sentences, no amount of impressive, ornate lan- 
guage will make your writing great. 

People sometimes think that a fanciful style of 
writing will hide defects; whereas, on the con- 
trary, it often emphasises them. 

Avoid using many quotation marks and italics ; 
they make a page look fidgety. Also they indi- 
cate weakness. If your remarks are not strong 
enough to stand alone, without words or phrases 
being propped up by quotes or underlinings, they 
are no better when so decorated. 

A lavish use of extracts from other people's 
writings is undesirable. As I have said elsewhere, 
neither the publisher nor the reader is keen to pay 
for what they can read — and probably have al- 
ready read — elsewhere. 

A pedantic style of phraseology, and a desire 
to let other people see how much one knows, are 
amateur failings. 

Some beginners go to the other extreme, and 
adopt a slangy, purposely-ungrammatical style, 
with the beginnings and finals of words clipped 
away, and a cultivated slovenliness that they 
imagine gives a picturesque quality, or an ultra 
up-to-dateness, to their writing. 

But no good work is ever built on such founda- 
tions. The first thing to aim for is clarity, and 


162 The Lure of the Pen 

the ability to express yourself in an easy, natural 
and concise manner, always using the fewest and 
the best words for the purpose, and employing 
them according to modern methods. 

Amateurs often lean towards the improbable 
— calling it imaginative work — partly because 
they fancy they are less hampered by 
Miities, rules and restrictions than it they 

SSXt! ta ke everyday, mundane subjects, 
^timr" "^^ — P ara d° x though it may seem — 

the improbable must be bounded by 
probability in its own sphere; and imagination 
must be kept within definite limits and work ac- 
cording to definite forms — else it is no better than 
the gibberings of an unhinged mind. 

Beginners frequently choose the moon, the 
stars, or the ether as the background for their 
imaginary characters; or they revel in after-death 
scenes that are supposed to represent the next 
world — either of suffering or of happiness. And 
a favourite ending is something like this, "Sud- 
denly I awoke, and lo, it was only a dream," etc. 

Avoid all these hackneyed themes, and obvious 

It takes a Dante to lead us convincingly 
through the mazes of an unknown world. 

Perhaps you feel that you are a Dante? Pos- 

Suggestions for Style 163 

sibly you are: greatness must make a start some- 
where. But in that case, there will be no need 
for you to strain after effect ; genius can be evinced 
in the treatment of the simplest subjects. 

Therefore experiment at the outset with every- 
day themes, and perfect your style in this direc- 
tion before embarking on a very ambitious pro- 
gramme: we must learn to walk before we can 
run. The airman does not start turning somer- 
saults the first time he goes aloft (or, if he does, 
that is the last time- we hear of him, poor fellow). 

It is a mistake to think that the undisciplined 
wanderings of an untrained mind betoken im- 
aginative genius. It is the way one handles the 
commonplace that reveals the true artist; and 
style plays an important part in this, though it 
is by no means everything ! 

The question of imaginative work is big enough 
to deserve a volume to itself: much has already 
been written on the subject, and much remains to 
be said — too much to make it possible to do it 
justice in a book of this description. But I men- 
tion it here, in passing, to warn the beginner 
against spending much time on work that is not 
imaginative but merely impossible, until thor- 
oughly grounded in the rudiments of his craft. 

164 The Lure of the Pen 

Literature seldom gains by peculiarities of style 

or marked mannerisms, even though these are to 

be found in the works of certain 


is not writers who are of unquestionable 


ability. Such devices tend to become 
monotonous, and as a rule the public will only 
tolerate them when the subject matter of a book 
is so good that it is worth while to plough through 
the writer's mannerisms to get at it — i.e. man- 
nerisms are put up with only when the writer is 
great in spite of them : no one is great because of 
his mannerisms; they are only superficial disturb- 

I am not saying this to discourage any attempt 
at originality of style; real originality is usually 
most desirable; what I am anxious to impress on 
the beginner is the fact that mere peculiarity is 
not originality. 

Nor will it benefit anyone's work to copy the 
mannerisms of great writers — since these are often 
their defects. 

It must also be remembered that many manner- 
isms are nothing more than fashions of the mo- 
ment, just as most slang is; and in 


ar© soon these rapid times they quickly be- 

OutofDate r i 1 1 

come out or date, whereupon they 
give a book an antiquated touch. And few things 

Suggestions for Style 165 

are more difficult to survive than an atmosphere 
that is merely old-fashioned and nothing more. 

It will be quite time enough, when you are 
expert at writing clear, understandable English, 
to decide whether your genius can best find ex- 
pression in long and complicated sentences as 
used by Henry James, or in such cynical scintil- 
lations as those favoured by Bernard Shaw, or 
in the paradoxical methods of G. K. Chesterton, 
or what you will. No limit need be set once a 
person has ideas to give the world, and can write 
them down in simple, direct, well-chosen lan- 

The Ubiquitous Fragment 

AMATEURS often think it is much easier 
to write a "fragment" than to write a 
complete anything. The one who hesi- 
tates as to whether he has the ability to write a 
long story, is quite sure he is capable of writing a 
fragmentary bit of fiction — one of those vague 
scraps with neither beginning nor ending that are 
always tumbling into the editor's letter-box — and 
he feels that all vagueness, and lack of finish, and 
the fact that the MS. gets nowhere, are sanctioned 
because he adds, as a sub-title some such qualifica- 
tion as "An Episode," or "A Character Study," 
or "A Glimpse." 

In the same way a writer who is too diffident to 
attempt a volume of essays, will feel perfect con- 
fidence in sending out a MS. labelled "A 
Reverie," or "A Meditation," even though it be 
nothing more than a rambling collection of plati- 
tudes on the sunset. 

In most cases it is a distrust of his own powers 
that inclines the amateur to embark on writing of 

this type. 


The Ubiquitous Fragment 167 

Fragments may be exceedingly beautiful; they 
are really most acceptable in this hurrying age 
when life often seems too crowded . _ 

A Fragment 

with work-a-day cares to leave us ma y be 


much leisure for sustained reading, but it 
But they must embody the funda- not be 
mental principles of Form; and they 
must be constructed with even more attention to 
artistic presentment, (or the means used to cap- 
tivate the reader), than would be necessary for 
a lengthier work. 

Also, though they are but fragmentary, they 
must appear to be portions of a desirable whole, 
sections of a well-finished piece of work. Their 
apparent incompleteness should seem due to the 
author having insufficient time — not insufficient 
knowledge — to finish them. 

What is set down must not only be good work 
in itself, but it must suggest other good work as 
a completion. 

You have probably seen some reproduction of 
a fragmentary pencil or pen-and-ink sketch, by 
an experienced artist, showing only a portion of 
a figure or a building; yet so suggestive that the 
onlooker instinctively fills in the remainder,, and 
constructs out of the artist's unfinished drawing 
a picture complete and beautiful. 

168 The Lure of the Pen 

I have several such sketches before me on my 
study wall. One shows a corner of a quadrangle 
in the precincts of a cathedral. In the background 
there is a Gothic west window, a buttress, and 
a piece of a tower; while a flight of steps in a 
corner of the quadrangle, a bit of old-world stone- 
work around a doorway and window, a fragment 
of roof and a cluster of chimneys, with half a 
dozen lines indicating an ancient flagged walk, 
comprise the remainder. Only a few inches of 
paper and a few pen-strokes — nevertheless in- 
stinctively the mind runs on, and sees the whole 
of the cathedral in the shadowy background; the 
side of the quadrangle past the old doorway; even 
the street beyond with its cobble stones and 
market women. Indeed, you can visualise all the 
life of the quaint sleepy, French town if you 
look long enough at the little fragment; not be- 
cause it is all indicated by the artist and left in 
an incomplete state, but because what he did put 
down is so vital, so suggestive, so fraught with 
possibilities, that the mind fills in all the blanks, 
and fills them in with beauty corresponding with 
the specimen he has shown us. 

And while we are studying the sketch, it may 
be noticed that though this is but an unfinished 
fragment, it is perfectly balanced, and shapely 

The Ubiquitous Fragment 169 

and proportionate as it stands. The patch of 
light on the flagged path is balanced by the 
shadow in the doorway. The flight of crumbling 
stone steps, the most conspicuous feature in the 
foreground, has been drawn with the utmost pains 
in every detail. Even the cathedral window 
looming in the background has its exquisite 
tracery carefully drawn, no scamping the work 
because it was only the background of an in- 
complete sketch. 

In the same way, a fragmentary word picture 
should be properly constructed, and absolutely 
accurate in detail (so far as that detail goes), 
well proportioned, carefully balanced, containing 
distinct charm in itself. The background may 
be only lightly indicated, but even so, it should 
contain possibilities — (the cathedral may be in 
misty shadow, but you must be able to see enough 
of it to know that it is a cathedral, and a great 
cathedral at that). 

The central idea must be placed well in the 
foreground, it should be clearly stated, and be 
something worth calling an idea. 

The points you mention, but leave unamplified 
should be something more than windowless, blank 
walls, or blind alleys leading nowhere; they 
should open up fresh vistas of thought, and send 

170 The Lure of the Pen 

the reader's mind out and beyond the limits of 
your sentences. 

Your word-picture must be satisfying in itself, 
even though one realises that it is but a small 
part of a much larger whole that might have 
been written, had time and space permitted. 

Certain literary fragments extant are probably 
portions of large works the authors had in view 
but did not finish; Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," 
for instance. The type of fragment I am talking 
about in this chapter, however, is actually 
finished, so far as the author's handling is con- 
cerned; but unfinished in detail and setting, or 
with only a vignetted background. 

Some writers have set down a few lines with 
neither introduction nor development plot, yet 
such is the force and the revealing quality of the 
sentences they put down, and the accuracy of 
their sense of selection, that they have conveyed 
as much, and suggested as much, to the mind of 
the reader as if they had written pages. The fol- 
lowing verse of William Allingham is an example 
Here is a volume of suggestion in seven lines. 

Four ducks on a pond, 
A grass bank beyond, 
A blue sky of spring, 
White clouds on the wing : — 

The Ubiquitous Fragment 171 

What a little thing 

To remember for years — 

To remember with tears ! 

Tennyson wrote some beautiful fragments. 
"Flower in a Crannied Wall" contains a world 
of thought, and could easily furnish a theme for 
a row of ponderous books; "Break, break, break," 
has poignant possibilities. 

William Sharp, as "Fiona Macleod," wrote 
some charming prose fragments; but behind each 
you will invariably find a complete idea, and an 
idea that suggests others. 

Practise writing fragments by all means, but 
see that they are shapely, and suggestive of 
greater space and a bigger outlook than can be 
measured by the number of sentences. Above all, 
let each embody some idea — and let there be no 
uncertainty as to the whereabouts of that idea, 
no ambiguity as to what you are driving at. 

To produce a good fragment you must do 
some intensive thinking, because you have not 
space to spread yourself out. This will be a gain 
to all your writing. The rambling, formless habit 
of thinking is the bane of the amateur, and the 
type of MSS. resulting therefrom is the bane of 
the editor. 

Concerning Local Colour 

LOCAL colour can be a powerful factor in 
enhancing the charm of a story or article. 
It may be introduced as the background 
against which the scene is laid ; or as a sidelight on 
the scenery, customs, and types of people peculiar 
to a district. Anything can be utilised that con- 
jures up in the reader's mind the idiosyncrasies of 
a definite locality — only it must be something that 
vjill conjure up the scene. 

One advantage of local colour is the oppor- 
tunity it gives the writer of a double hold on the 
reader's interest — he may captivate by the setting 
of his theme no less than by the theme itself. 
Also it enables him more effectually to take the 
reader "out of himeslf," and place him in a new 
environment — an essential point if that reader is 
to become absorbed in what he is reading. 

Mere verbatim description of scenery is not the 

best way to work in local colour; it is liable to 

become guide-booky. Neither is a catalogue of 

the beauty spots of a locality any better. Usually 

the most advantageous method is a judicious, illu- 


Concerning Local Colour 173 

minating touch here and there, revealing outstand- 
ing characteristics, and emphasising the material 
things that give "colour," i.e., variety and vivid 
distinction, to a scene. 

They may be topographical characteristics or 
they may be personal characteristics. 

Beginners think that local colour is primarily 
a matter of hills and hedgerows, sunbonnets and 
smocks — the picturesque element that we look for 
in the countryside. But conversation can give 
local colour to a story without a single descriptive 
sentence. Pett Ridge can transport you in an 
instant to the heart of Hoxton or the Walworth 
Road, by means of some bit of cockney dialect. 
W. W. Jacobs will give a salty, far-sea- faring 
flavour to the most untravelled public-house in 
Poplar, in merely recounting a trifling difference 
of opinion between some of the customers ! 

Local colour has justified the existence of more 
than one book that is thin both in literary quality 
and in plot ; The Lady of the Lake is an instance. 
But I do not advocate a writer aiming for success 
on similar lines. 

Some words and expressions open up a much 
wider vista to the mind's eye than do others. Con- 
sider your descriptive passages critically, and see 
if, by a different choice of words, you can, in the 

174 The Lure of the Pen 

same length of sentence, give the reader a larger 

Some British writers appreciate to the full the 
artistic value of local colour (Rudyard Kipling 
and Mrs. F. A. Steel can make one 
writera feel as well as see India ; Blackmore's 

Haoiaiinsr 1 * books breathe Devonshire; Lafcadio 
or local Hearn— if one can call him British! 


— envelops one in the Oriental odour 
of Japanese temples; Shan F. Bullock's stories are 
Ireland herself) ; but many ignore its possibilities 
and set the scene with a nondescript society back- 
ground, or an equally non-commital rural haze. 

American writers make rather more use of local 
colour. And the reason is clear : no other country 
presents so great a variety in the way of climate, 
scenery, and human types as does the United 
States. An American author need only sit down 
and write of what he sees immediately around 
him, and, so long as he keeps away from such 
modern items as the ubiquitous commercial travel- 
ler and advertisement signs, and devotes his atten- 
tion to natural objects and local paraphernalia 
(human and otherwise), he is certain to be record- 
ing what is novelty to a large proportion of his 
fellow-countrymen. Moreover Americans are 
more given to dealing with things in a straight- 

Concerning Local Colour 175 

forward, unconventional manner than are the 
British writers, writing of what they actually 
know and see around them, unhampered by classi- 
cal traditions and age-old literary usages. Hence, 
there is often a freshness, a vividly-alive quality in 
their descriptions, that can only be obtained by 
writing with a subject red-hot in the mind. 

The author who merely rushes into the country 
for a few days, or spends a couple of weeks on the 
Continent, or sprints through the European ports 
of China, to obtain local colour, for a story, usually 
gets about as "stagey" and artificial a result as 
does the home-keeping, middle-class girl, who has 
her heroine presented at the Court of St. James, 
and draws the local colour from the Society 
columns of a daily paper! 

You must know your "locality" well yourself 
if you are to make the local colour real to your 
readers ; second-hand or hastily collected data are 
no good. 

The would-be author will do well to study 
typically-American authors, with a view to ob- 
serving their use of local colour — particularly 
those who wrote some of their best work before 
the motor-car and telephone exercised their level- 
ling and linking-up influences. 

To name one or two: Mary E. Wilkins and 

176 The Lure of the Pen 

Sarah Orne Jewett have specialised on New Eng- 
land village life; Charles Egbert Craddock (Miss 
Murfree) on the Great Smoky Mountains of 
Tennessee; George Cable on Louisiana; James 
Lane Allen on Kentucky; Amelie Rives, in her 
earlier books, on Virginia; etc. 

And it is worth while noting that such writers 
give, not only pictures of the scenery about them, 
but also an insight into the native character. Thus 
both Mary E. Wilkins and Sarah Orne Jewett de- 
picted the rigid pride of the New Englanders, as 
well as the poor but picturesque quality of the 
soil. George Cable showed the temperament of 
the Southerner as well as the tropical glamour of 
the Southern States. Owen Wister has made us 
love the large-hearted, child-like, primitive cow- 
boy, as well as feel the vastness and the very air 
of the plains and the mountains of Wyoming. 

Such work is local colour at its best, since it 
gives us the human traits as well as the scenic con- 
ditions predominating in a locality, and enables 
us to form a mental picture of the people and the 
place as a whole. 

Closely allied to this, is that most fascinating 
study — the effect of climate, scenery, and general 
environment on character. But as that subject is 
outside the purview of this book, I merely suggest 

Concerning Local Colour 177 

it to the student as something well worth follow- 
ing up, if there be an opportunity for first-hand 

For the novelist who specialises on tempera- 
mental delineation, it has wide possibilities. 


Creating Atmosphere 

HAVE you ever seen a landscape painting 
that was one expanse of correctness in 
detail, and yet seemed either utterly 
dead, or to walk out of the canvas at every point 
and hit you violently in the eye? Such a paint- 
ing often has a bright-red tiled roof — every tile 
visible and in its proper place; a violently blue 
sky decorated here and there with solid masses 
of apparently unmeltable snow; grass an acute 
green; trees emphatic as to outline, every branch 
clearly defined in its appointed place; sheep stand- 
ing out like pure-white snowflakes on the acute 
grass ; the smoke from the cottage chimney a thick 
grey mass suggesting a heavy bale of wool; each 
brick, each window frame, each paling emphasised 
with careful exactness. 

The amateur who produces a painting after this 
style is usually very pleased with it, and attributes 
any adverse criticism, that a competent artist may 
pass upon it, to professional jealousy! 

"What is wrong with it?" I have heard a 
student ask, when a master has condemned such a 


Creating Atmosphere 179 

canvas. "It was all there, every detail, exactly 
as I have painted it." 

Yes, it may have been all there, but something 
else was there which the artist omitted to include, 
and the something else was "atmosphere." The 
artist may put in every twig and tile, every plant 
and pane of glass ; but if he omit the play of light, 
the glamour of haze, the mystery of shadow, the 
marvellous suggestiveness of the undefined, his 
painting will be lifeless and wooden, or altogether 
unbalanced, no matter how accurate the drawing. 

Equally, the author needs atmosphere if his 
writing is to rise above the dead level of the un- 
inspired; but while one can define to some extent 
(though not entirely) what is atmosphere in a 
painting, it is next to impossible to give an exact 
definition of atmosphere in writing. It is an 
elusive quality difficult to describe off-hand. So 
intangible is it that you can seldom put your finger 
on a passage and say, "Here it is!" yet all the 
while you may be fully conscious of there being 
— back of the writing — something more than plot, 
or purpose. 

The atmosphere of a book may appertain to 
matters moral or material ; it may affect the mind 
or the emotions; it may be beneficial or baneful; 
it may give colour or glamour, light or shade; it 

180 The Lure of the Pen 

may be mysterious or mesmeric. But whatever its 
trend, in the main it lies in suggestiveness rather 
than in definite statement. Like its prototype, 
"atmosphere" in writing is an unseen environ- 
ment, yet it permeates and influences the whole, 
giving it character and even vitality. 

In writing it is possible to suggest a great deal 
that could not be described in detail within the 

limits imposed on you by the length 
"Atmos- r J \ ° 

piiere» is of your book and the consideration of 

Invaluable . 

as a Time balance. Moreover, the things sug- 
gested may be of secondary import- 
ance beside the main action of the story, and yet 
be very useful in furthering the idea you have in 
mind, or in helping to convey a particular impres- 

In such cases the introduction of atmosphere 
may do much for you. While you give only a 
hint here and there, or a few sidelights in passing, 
you may yet manage to convey to the readers a 
"feeling" that carries them beyond the cut-and- 
dried facts you may be handling, or lifts them 
above the mere working-out of a plot. It is the 
haze that may hide, and yet indicate, a something 
in the distance, just beyond the range of sight — 
and the suggestion of something still beyond is 
always alluring; the infinite within us rebels 

Creating Atmosphere 181 

against finite limitations, and welcomes anything 
that points to further ideas, further possibilities. 

Thus atmosphere is invaluable as a time saver. 
Life is too short (and the publisher too chary of 
his paper and printing bill) to allow any of us, 
save the truly famous, to describe minutely the 
whole background of our writing, spiritual, men- 
tal, or material. If we can, by a few expressive 
words, or phrases, create an atmosphere that shall 
reproduce in the reader's mind the train of 
thought, or the scene, that was in our own mind 
as we wrote, we shall, obviously, be spared the 
making of many sentences, and the covering of 
much paper with descriptive matter and soul 
analyses, that might otherwise overweight our 
main theme. 

Atmosphere usually suggests some abstract 
quality rather than a concrete item. We say that a 
work has an outdoor atmosphere or an 
old-world atmosphere or a healthy at- QuaSt^s 
mosphere; or we may merely say "it smarted 7 
has atmosphere," meaning a subtle 
over- (or under-) current that clothes the frame- 
work of the narrative with a glamour or a spiritual 
quality that will help to reinforce, or mellow, or 
illuminate the author's picture. But we do not say 
a book has a millionaire atmosphere, or a detective 

182 The Lure of the Pen 

atmosphere, even though the book be about these 
people. They correspond with the solid objects in 
the landscape, and are quite distinct from the at- 
mospheric effects that can do so much to enhance 
the charm, or subdue the sordidness, of these solid 

It does not necessarily follow that the atmos- 
phere of a book is a wholesome one. There are 
some writers who create a positively poisonous 
atmosphere for the mind; but, fortunately, the 
trend of humanity is in the direction of clean 
thought and wholesome living, even though our 
progress be slow and we encounter set-backs; and 
vicious books are seldom long-livers, while those 
the public call for again and again are invariably 
books with a healthy atmosphere. 

The student might make a special note of this ! 

Atmosphere in a well-written book is often so 
unobtrusive that the reader fails to recognise it as 
a specific element in the make-up of the story 
that did not get there by accident. It is so easy 
to fall into the error of thinking that this or that 
characteristic or ingredient is due to the author's 
style, or temperament, or genius; certainly it may 
be due to either or all of these things, but if it is 
worth anything it is also due to a well-thought- 
out scheme on the part of the writer. 

Creating Atmosphere 183 

In other words, atmosphere only gets into a 
work if it is put there. It does not merely "hap- 
pen along," and if you want your writing to be 
imbued with atmosphere, you must supply it; it 
won't come of itself. And before you can supply 
it, you must first think out what you want that 
atmosphere to be and then decide how best you can 
secure it. 

It may have to do with spiritual aspects of life 
— high ideals, faith, healthy thought, right living. 
Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies comes 
under this head, even though the P here» 
subject-matter is not religious accord- wide 8 * 
ing to our ordinary use of the word, g^^stion 
From beginning to end one is think- 
ing on a higher plane than that of material con- 
sideration; one's thoughts are continually branch- 
ing out beyond the actual purport of the book 
as set forth by the author. 

An old-world atmosphere has a special charm 
for many readers. We find it in Cranford, Jane 
Austen's books, and many others of a bygone 
period — though it should be noticed that in these 
cases the authors did not purposely incorporate 
it in their work. They put atmosphere, certaiuly ; 
but it has only become an "old-world" atmosphere 
by the courtesy of Father Time: in their own 

184 The Lure of the Pen 

day, these books were quite up-to-date produc- 
tions. Certain modern books have an old-world 
atmosphere — The Broad Highway and Our Ad- 
mirable Betty, by Jeffery Farnol ; When Knight- 
hood was in Flower, by Charles Major (and many 
others will occur to the mind) ; but in each case 
the old-world atmosphere had to be put there very 
carefully by the author. 

The hysterical atmosphere needs no description. 
We know too well the type of book that keeps its 
characters (and aims to keep its readers), from 
the first chapter to the last, keyed up to an un- 
natural pitch of emotionalism, with copious details 
about everybody's soulful feelings and tempera- 
ments and lingerie. Books with this atmosphere 
were constantly striving to get their heads above 
water in the years of this century preceding the 
war. They are interesting from one, and only 
one, point of view: they indicate the diseased 
mentality that has always come to the surface in 
periods of the world's history prior to some great 
human upheaval. 

A pessimistic atmosphere is fairly common — 
especially does it seem to find favour with young 
writers. One of the best examples of a book with 
a really pessimistic atmosphere is the Rubdiydt 
of Omar Khayyam. 

Creating Atmosphere 185 

Atmosphere has sometimes transformed the com- 
monplace into something rare and delightful. Our 
Village, by Miss Mitford, is an instance. Here 
you have the most ordinary of everyday events 
described in such a way that they are invested 
with a halo of charm. 

To create the atmosphere you desire, you must 
be thoroughly imbued with it yourself — you can- 
not manufacture it out of nothing. It To create an 
must so possess you while you are a********* 
at your work that it is liable to tinge all you 
write. You will never make other people sense 
what you do not sense yourself. 

For instance, it would not be possible for an 
out-and-out pagan to write a book with a sym- 
pathetic evangelical atmosphere, any more than 
the Kaiser could write a book imbued with the 
spirit of true Democracy. 

Then you must insinuate your atmosphere at 
times and seasons when it will make the most im- 
pression on the reader without interfering with, or 
hindering, the development of the story; remem- 
bering that it is always better to suggest the at- 
mosphere than to put it in with heavy strokes. 

You may wish to make a story the very breath 
of the out-doors. But in order to do this, it would 
not be necessary to stop all the characters in what- 

1 86 The Lure of the Pen 

ever they were saying or doing, while you describe 
scenery and sunsets, or explain to the reader how 
"out-doory" everything and everybody is! This 
would easily spoil the continuity and flow of the 
whole, by switching the reader's mind off the plot 
and on to another train of thought. Instead, you 
would make the whole book out-doory without 
any pointed explanation — "setting the stage" in 
the open air as much as possible, emphasising the 
features of the landscape rather than boudoir de- 
corations, mentioning the sound of the soughing 
trees or the surging sea, rather than the tune the 
gramophone was playing; introducing the scent of 
the larches in the spring sunshine rather than the 
odour of tuberoses and stephanotis in a ballroom. 
In each case the one would suggest freedom in 
the open air, while the other would suggest con- 
ventionalities indoors. 

In some such way, you would rely on touches 
in passing to produce the desired effect, always 
bearing in mind the importance of getting these 
touches as telling as possible. 

Such allusions (often merely hinted at, rather 
than spoken) should be equal in effectiveness to 
long paragraphs of detailed description ; therefore, 
choose carefully the means by which you hope to 
secure your end. Your touches must be so true 

Creating Atmosphere 187 

and so sure that they instantly convey to the 
reader's mind your own mental atmosphere. 

In this, as much as in any other phase of writ- 
ing, you need an instinct for the essentials, i.e. 
a feeling that tells you instantly what will con- 
tribute most surely to the making of the atmos- 
phere you desire, and what is relatively unim- 

Atmosphere is the element in your work that 
can least of all be faked without detection — or 
cribbed from other writers. 

It must permeate the whole of your story 
whether long or short, and be something beyond 
the mere words you write down. The readersi 
must feel, when they finally close the book, that 
they have got more from you than what you 
actually said ; that you led their thoughts in direc- 
tions that carried them off the highway of the 
obvious, giving them visions of things that were 

The Method of Presenting a 

THE method of presenting the story 
needs a little consideration. 
The most common, and the most de- 
sirable as a rule, is the narrative, told in a third 
person ; i.e. the writer relates a story about certain 
people, but does not himself pose as a character 
involved in the story. Beginners will do well to 
adhere to this type of story, until they have at- 
tained to a certain amount of fluency with their 

Another popular method is the narrative told 

in the first person, i.e. the writer relates a story 

about certain people, in which he also 

Writing' in 

the rirst plays a more or less important part. 


If well written, this form makes a 
pleasant change from the story written in the third 
person; but it necessitates a certain amount of 
experience on the part of the writer, if it is to be 
saved from dulness. 

Moreover, its limitations are hampering to the 
beginner. If you are writing in the third person, 

1 88 

Method of Presenting a Story 189 

you, as the author, are allowed (by that special 
concession granted to makers of fiction) to know 
everything that every character in your story 
thinks or does. You may relate in one paragraph 
what the hero was thinking and doing in San 
Francisco, and in the next what the heroine was 
thinking and doing at the same moment in New 

But if you are writing in the first person, you 
have not the same licence to roam all over the 
universe, penetrating the deepest recesses of 
people's lives and laying bare their secret thoughts 
to the glare of day. You are supposed to stick to 
your own part and mind your own business. If 
you manage to find out other people's business as 
the story proceeds, there must be some sort of 
circumstantial evidence as to how you found it 
out; it will not be enough merely to state that it is 
so, as you could do were you writing in the third 

For instance, in a MS. I pick up from the pile 
on my table I read: 

"He paused when he reached the drawing- 
room door and glared at her, livid with rage. 
She returned his look with one of haughty 
indifference. Then he left the house, and as he 

190 The Lure of the Pen 

walked along the cheerless streets, he clenched 
his fists and hissed between his teeth, 'You shall 
suffer for this.' She, meanwhile, rang the bell 
for tea and resumed the novel upon which she 
had been engaged when he arrived." 

Told in the third person, it is easy to let the 
reader know what he and she were thinking and 
saying and doing at the same moment. But sup- 
posing you were writing all this in the first person 
with yourself as the heroine, it would not be so 
easy to convey the same information to the reader. 
You could wirte: 

"He paused when he reached the drawing- 
door and glared at me, livid with rage. I re- 
turned his look with one of haughty indiffer- 
ence. Then he left the house, and I rang the 
bell for tea and resumed the novel upon which 
I had been engaged when he arrived." 

But if you wished to let the reader know how 
the bad-tempered creature clenched and hissed, 
you would have to get at it by some round-about 
means — your dearest friend might call at the 
moment and tell you that she had just passed 
him in the cheerless street clenching and hissing; 
or some other such device could be employed. 

Method of Presenting a Story 191 

But all this involves extra thought and care in 
the contsruction of the story. 

Amateurs are much given to story-writing in 
the first person; it seems such an easy method 
(when they know nothing about it) ; 

1 . • 1 i 1 1 A Stum- 

they invariably see themselves in a biing--ijiock 
leading part, and make the hero or ^mateox 
heroine do and be all they themselves 
would like to do and be. But they never go far 
before they trip up against this block of stumbling 
— the impossibility of the first person singular 
"I" being in two places at the same time, and 
seeing inside people's hearts and brains, to say 
nothing of their locked cupboards and secret 

Also, the beginner is apt to forget the role he 
is supposed to be playing when he puts himself 
into a story, and he lapses, at intervals, into the 
third person. 

Sometimes, in order to dodge the difficulties, an 
author will write one part in the form of a diary, 
thus enabling a character to talk about herself (it 
is usually a feminine character who keeps a 
diary!). Then, when the limitations of the first 
person singular hamper the progress of the story, 
the diary is dropped for a time, while the author 

192 The Lure of the Pen 

revels in the all-embracing freedom of writing in 
the third person. 

This is a weak method, however, and plainly a 
subterfuge; being practically an announcement 
that the author could not or would not take the 
trouble to work the story through in correct form. 
It is also bad from an artistic standpoint; it does 
not hang together well; past and present tenses 
are apt to get mixed ; it produces an unsatisfactory 
feeling in the mind of the reader, who so often 
is in doubt as to whether the author is writing 
as a character in the story or merely as the author 
— and anything that leaves a confused, unsatis- 
factory feeling in the reader's mind is poor art. 

A story written entirely in the form of a diary 

is sometimes attempted. And closely allied to 

this is the story written as a series of 

Writing 1 a , 

Story in the letters. 

a°DiLy f Both methods are popular with 

amateurs. Most people regard a 
diary as the simplest type of writing, requiring 
neither style nor sequence, nor even the thinnest 
thread of connection running through the whole, 
unless the author so desires. Moreover, though 
every one does not feel competent to write a book 
or even a short story, we all feel competent to 
keep a diary — most of us have kept one at some 

Method of Presenting a Story 193 

time in our career. What can be easier therefore 
than to write a story in diary form 1 ? And we 
proceed to write our story as we wrote our own 
diary, with this difference that we put into the 
fiction diary the sort of happenings we used to 
deplore the lack of, when we wrote down our own 
daily experiences. 

Until we have given some study to the subject 
we do not recognise that, while a series of some- 
what disconnected sentences and brief entries may 
be very useful as records for future reference, like- 
wise may be moderately serviceable as safety- 
valves for overwrought, self-centred tempera- 
ments, they are seldom of interest to any one save 
the writer, and if put forward as recreational 
reading, may easily prove uninteresting in the 
extreme, even with the addition of a love episode ! 
A story in diary form needs to be written by an 
experienced pen if it is to resemble a genuine 
diary, and yet hold the reader's interest through- 
out, and culminate in a good climax. 

A story told in a series of letters can easily be 
the dullest thing imaginable. What is an excel- 
lent letter seldom makes an excellent 

A Story 

chapter in a novel. A letter, if it is to toiatn 
seem a real letter, should be discur- 
sive ; and this is the very thing the amateur needs 


194 The Lure of the Pen 

to guard against when writing a story, if that story 
is to show force and action; he is prone to be too 
discursive as it is. In any case, unless it is re- 
markably well done, the reader chafes at the delay 
inevitably caused by the irrelevant small talk that 
is the hallmark of most letters. 

Some writers have managed to handle the 
"letter-form" in an interesting manner, by relying 
on descriptive narrative, rather than any striking 
plot, to hold the reader. The Lady of the Decora- 
tion by Frances Little, is a good example. 

Dialect should be approached with caution. It 
is so easy to be tedious and unintelligible in this 


introduction Remember that you are writing in 

of Dialect 

what is almost a fresh language to 
most people, when you employ a dialect that is 
purely local; hence you are imposing an extra 
mental strain on the reader; and in order to com- 
pensate for the additional demand you make on 
his brain, you must give him something above 
the average in interest. No one, in these days of 
hustle, is going to take the trouble to wade through 
a species of unknown tongue, and wrestle with 
weird spelling and unfamiliar idiom, unless there 
is something remarkably worth while to be got 
out of it. And for one who will spare the time 

Method of Presenting a Story 195 

to fathom the mysteries of the dialect, there are 
thousands who will give it up. 

If it be necessary to write in a particular dialect, 
avoid so far as possible the use of expressions that 
in no way explain themselves, and 

j. . -11 The Object 

crowding the pages with the more of writing- 
obscure colloquialisms of the dis- not to Befog 
trict. The object of writing a book ™ 6 n * eader ' 8 
is not to befog the reader's mind. 

One knows that dialect is sometimes imperative 
in order to create the right atmosphere and to 
state things as they actually occurred. In such 
cases it is usually best to use it only in small 
quantities — as where a native strolls across very 
few pages, and is on view for only a short while. 
Yet you must see that your dialect is correct. 
Merely to write a few words phonetically, and put 
a "z" in place of an "s" (as is sometimes done, 
for instance, when making a native of Somerset 
speak), is not convincing. 

To write a story throughout in dialect calls 
for exceptional skill; and, as a rule, it can only 
be done successfully by those who have known 
a dialect from childhood, or at any rate have 
spent some years in its company. The names 
of Sir James Barrie and S. R. Crockett naturally 
come to one's mind in this connection. 

196 The Lure of the Pen 

The beginner will be wise to write his early 

experiments in plain English and in the third 

person. Fiction that is free from 

"An Honest r 

Tale speeds confusion of style, mixed methods, 

best toeing- 

plainly and uncertainty of handling always 


does the best. The story that is re- 
lated in a clear direct manner is most popular with 
the public — likewise, it is the most difficult to 
write well, though few beginners believe this: it 
looks so very simple ! 

Fallacies in Fiction 

I HAVE come to the conclusion that the con- 
trariness of human nature is largely respon- 
sible for the rejection of many of the MSS. 
that never get into print; but not the contrariness 
of the editor (as the unsuccessful writer generally 
thinks when he sees his MS. back once more in 
the bosom of his family). 

Most of us, at one period or another, feel we 
could shine much more brilliantly in some other 
environment than the one in which we find our- 
selves. It has been described as "a divine discon- 
tent." There is plenty of discontent about it, I 
allow; but I am not so sure that it is divine. 
While it may be, and often is, the expression of 
a real need for a little more growing space, it is 
sometimes the outcome of mere restlessness, or a 
lazy, selfish desire to escape the irksome things 
that are in our own surroundings, vainly imagin- 
ing that we can find some pathway in life where 
there are no disagreeables to be faced. 

But whatever the motive may be, there is a 

universal idea among the inexperienced that some 


198 The Lure of the Pen 

other person's job is preferable to their own; some 
one else's circumstances more interesting and ro- 
mantic and dramatic and enthralling than theirs 
could ever be. And the result is — much wasted 

Now the sum-total of this, in regard to story- 
writing, is the fact that fully 80 per cent, of the 
fiction submitted to editors deals with 
Amateur situations of which the writer has 

has rirst^ practically no first-hand knowledge; 
kS>wi e and as a natural consequence it is un- 
of his convincing and often incorrect. 

Subject ° 

The schoolgirl who has never 
travelled beyond Folkestone or Boulogne, and 
whose knowledge of fearsome weapons is limited 
to a hockey-stick, riots one across the Continent 
on a "Prisoner of Zenda" chase, directly she starts 
to write. 

The girl of twenty, living a quiet, useful life in 
some small provincial town, in close attendance 
upon a kindly invalid aunt, devotes the secret 
midnight candle to writing the life-story of a 
heartless butterfly of a faithless wife: while the 
kindly invalid aunt is surreptitiously writing de- 
corous mid-Victorian stories of very, very mild 
wickedness coming to a politely bad end, and 
oppressively good virtue arriving at the top (with 

Fallacies in Fiction 199 

more moral advice than plot, or anything else). 
The niece imagines she is writing just the type of 
story that the public craves; and the aunt is under 
the delusion that hers is just the sort of literature 
that is wanted for distribution among factory 

The maiden of high degree writes of the lily- 
white beauty of the girl in the grimy garret. The 
democratic daughter of the colonies invariably 
sprinkles a few titles about her MS. 

Before the war, the anaemic young man in a city 
office, who spent most of the year in a crowded 
suburb and his short vacation at some crowded 
seashore resort, persistently wrote of the exploits 
of a marvellous detective who ran Sleuth-hound 
Bill to earth in Gory Gulch. Since 1914, he (the 
young man) has sent me many MSS. — from 
France, Salonika, Egypt, India, and Flanders — ■ 
and these are generally love stories, and seldom 
bear a trace of battle-smoke or high adventure. 
(I am speaking of amateur work, remember.) 

I have nothing to say against a desire for new 
horizons; it is a legitimate part of our develop- 
ment. And I can understand that for a certain 
type of weakly and rather starved personality 
there is a slight compensation for the lack of 
change they crave, in putting down on paper their 

200 The Lure of the Pen 

longings and ideals, and in writing romance in 
which they secretly see themselves in the leading 

But this is not saleable matter; neither is it 
particularly readable matter, as a general rule 
(though there are occasional exceptions, of 
course). Because in such cases the writers are 
invariably dealing with situations the inwardness 
of which they know really nothing. Or else all 
their knowledge has been obtained from the writ- 
ings of others; they are merely repeating other 
people's ideas and other people's descriptions. 

You cannot write convincingly on topics about 

which you know little. You can cover reams of 

paper — amateurs are doing it every 

your Topio d av f the vear ! — with descriptions 

from your 

own of people, and houses, and scenes, and 


walks of life with which you have 
only a hearsay acquaintance; but such writing is 
scarcely likely to be worth printing and paying 

If the schoolgirl, instead of wasting her time 
on something that reads like a washedout rechauffe 
of The Scarlet Pimpernel, would try her hand at a 
story of schoolgirl life, she might produce some- 
thing really bright and alive, even though it lacked 
the symmetry and finish that years of practice 

Fallacies in Fiction 201 

bring to a writer. And though the MS. did not 
find a market at the time, on account of imma- 
turity of style, it might prove valuable later on 
when the writer had gained experience. It would 
give her data she had forgotten in the intervening 

And the girl who spends her ink on the philan- 
derings of the faithless wife (a species, by the 
way, that she has probably never set eyes on, hav- 
ing been brought up like most of the rest of us 
in a decent circle of sane relations and friends) 
might, perhaps, have done some charming pictures 
of domestic life, as did the authors of Cranford 
and Little Women in their day. 

If the aunt, instead of hoping to influence fac- 
tory girls of whom she knows absolutely nothing, 
and whose conversation, could she but hear it, 
would be an unintelligible language to her, had 
turned her invalidism to practical account, and 
passed on useful hints and ideas to other invalids, 
she might have written something that would have 
been welcomed by others similarly handicapped. 

And so on, down to the city clerk, who never 
can be made to realise that a type of story most 
difficult to lay hands on is the one that deals, ac- 
curately, with the inside of that world peopled by 

202 The Lure of the Pen 

the bankers and stockbrokers and money magnates. 
The detective tracking Sleuth-hound Bill has the 
tamest walk-over in comparison with the daring, 
and tense excitement, surrounding some financial 

I do not say that these writers would neces- 
sarily have placed their MSS. had they written 
on the lines suggested; it takes some- 
wSTis thing besides the theme and back- 

VniveTull g r ° und t0 make a g°° d St0r y- But 

Tendency j jo say that they would have been 

is to Copy J J 

many degrees nearer publication, had 
they dealt with types and circumstances that had 
come within their personal cognisance, rather than 
with those they only knew by hearsay. 

The outsider would scarcely credit how rare it 
is for an editor to receive a piece of really original 
work; the universal tendency is to copy other 
people's productions rather than trouble to dis- 
cover original models. 

The schoolgirl, studying water-colour drawing, 
prefers to work from a "copy," showing some other 
person's painting of a vase of flowers, rather than 
have her own vase filled with real flowers before 
her. Some one else's work saves the inexperienced 
the responsibility of selection — and selection is 
always a difficult point for the beginner, who finds 

Fallacies in Fiction 203 

it hard to decide what to include in, and what to 
leave out of, a picture. 

In the same way, inexperienced fiction writers 
find it easier to copy other people's stories ; though, 
unlike the schoolgirl and her paint- 

, . . Beginners 

ing-copy, they are quite unconscious are seldom 
that they are doing so; they usually they'are a 
imagine that what they have written JSJJJ* 
is entirely original. 

It is difficult to get the novice to distinguish 
between writing anything down on paper, and 
creating it in his own brain. So many think the 
mere passing of thoughts through the brain, and 
the transmitting of those thoughts to paper, are 
indications of their ability to write; and that 
what they write must be original. 

And yet in most beginners' MSS. scarcely any 
of the incidents, or situations, or plots ever came 
within the writer's own purview; the majority are 
hashed up from the many stories one reads nowa- 
days — though the author has no idea that he is 
only stringing together selected ideas that originat- 
ed in other people's brains. 

There are many reasons to account for this. 
For one thing, the novice feels safe in using the 
type of material that has already been published. 
The world is wide, human nature is varied, and 

204 The Lure of the Pen 

it is not easy to decide what to take; therefore 
the writer who plans his story on time-honoured 
lines is relieved of the responsibility of selection. 

Then, again, if a particular type of story has 
been accepted and published, it has received a 
certain hall-mark of approval, and forthwith 
others tread the same path; there is less uncer- 
tainty here than in breaking new ground. 

There is yet another reason: to evolve any- 
thing that is new and unhackneyed necessitates 
our taking trouble; and some amateurs will not 
take any more trouble than they can possibly help; 
they do not recognise that writing stands for hard 

I cannot spare the space to touch on well-worn 
plots, but here are a few of the sentences and 
expressions that haunt amateur MSS. 
rriendsw© Have you ever read a story that 

before Met opened, "It was a glorious day in 
June," followed by a page of blue 
sky, balmy breezes, humming bees, not a leaf 
stirred, and scent of roses heavy on the air*? Of 
course you have. We all have. That glorious 
day in June is one of the most precious perennials 
of the story-writer's stock-in-trade. 

You know at once that twenty summers will 
have passed o'er her head, and that he is just 

Fallacies in Fiction 205 

round the corner waiting to come upon her all 
unawares, so soon as the author can quit catalogu- 
ing nature's beauties. 

And have you ever read a story that opened 
with "A dripping November fog enveloped the 
city'"? Of course you have; and you know at 
once, before you get to the next line, which 
describes its denseness and the slippery pavements, 
and a host of other discomforts, that you are going 
to be ushered into an equally dismal city board- 
ing-house, and introduced to a lovely-complex- 
ioned girl whose frail appearance is only enhanced 
by her deep mourning, and hear the sad story 
of the pecuniary straits that necessitated her bring- 
ing her widowed mother (often fractious), or it 
may be a younger sister (always sunny and the 
lodestar of her life), from their lovely old home 
in the country, while she earned a living in town. 
And, without fail, she has always imagined that 
they were well provided for, till the family lawyer 
(always old) broke the news after the funeral that 
the place was mortgaged up to the hilt, and even 
her father's life insurance had been allowed to 

You know all the rest — the dreary tramp round 
in search of work, and the way she irons out her 
threadbare garments to make them last as long 

206 The Lure of the Pen 

as they can (irrespective of the fact that the 
mourning was new only a few weeks before, and 
she presumably had a good stock of underwear 
in her prosperous days), and a host of other har- 
rowing experiences until — it comes right in the 

And all because the story opened with a drip- 
ping November fog ! Why, I believe the average 
amateur would consider it almost improper to 
start a desolate orphan on a quest for work in 
the metropolis in anything other than a dense 
November fog! 

And yet — how much more cheerful for her, poor 
dear, could she but begin her career on a dry day — 
and some November days in London are quite 
sunny and bright — so much better for her in the 
thin jacket she always wears on such occasion, 
and her worn-out shoes ! 

It would be such a blessed thing if we need not 
start with the weather, nor the number of sum- 
ners that had floated over the sweet young 
heroine's head (or winters, if the central figure be 
an old man). But the amateur clings to these 

Then take "the boudoir." After the weather 
I don't think anything haunts me more persistent- 
ly than the boudoir. "Lady Gwennyth was sitting 

Fallacies in Fiction 207 

reading a letter in her luxurious (or cosy, or 
dainty) boudoir, when " etc. 

Now why is it that the girl who starts out to 
write fiction loves to introduce her heroine in 
this wise? It is most unlikely that the amateur 
knows much about a boudoir — few of us do. It 
is a room that appertains solely to the rich, and 
to only a small proportion of the rich at that. I 
know many wealthy women and many well-born 
women who haven't a boudoir, simply because the 
cramped conditions of modern living seldom leave 
them a room to spare for this purpose. The fact 
is the boudoir proper does not really belong to 
this purposeful age. It is a relic of the more 
leisurely Victorian times and the ease-loving, well- 
to-do Frenchwoman of pre-war days. Most 
modern women have very little time to spend 
in a boudoir if even they need one; nevertheless 
it appears with unfailing regularity in stories 
dealing with the richer ranks of life, till you 
would think it was as necessary to a woman's 
entourage as — an umbrella! 

Why is it that the heroine has usually refused 
a couple (if not more) offers of marriage, before 
she is brought to our notice, with yet another offer 
looming on the horizon*? In real life, as we know 

208 The Lure of the Pen 

it in this twentieth century, it is most unusual for 
a girl to be constantly turning down offers of mar- 
riage like applications for charity subscriptions 
though there are exceptions here and there, cer- 

Yet I scarcely open a love-story that does not 
state that the heroine had already refused "every 
eligible man in her circle" ; though the reader can 
seldom see why one man should have proposed to 
the damsel, much less a crowd ! 

The heroine presented to us by the amateur is 
invariably a most ordinary young person, often 
quite uninteresting, and lacking the faintest streak 
of distinctiveness. And then the question arises 
— Why should all the eligible men in the town 
have proposed to her*? 

Perhaps one explanation is the fact that inex- 
perienced writers have not learnt the art of de- 
picting character; as they do not know how to 
convey an idea of her attractiveness, they think 
if they state that she was attractive that is 
sufficient. But statements are not sufficient; she 
must be attractive. 

The youthful heroine and the aged grand- 
mother may also be quoted as evergreen types that 
long ago had become monotonous. Whether girls 

Fallacies in Fiction 209 

married in their teens as a matter of course, a 
couple of generations ago, I do not know, as I was 
not there; but the youthful heroine was a sine 
qua non in Victorian fiction. 

She is not a sine qua non now, however; any- 
thing but; the seventeen-year-old bride is by no 
means the rule in these times; there is practically 
no limit nowadays to the age at which a woman 
may receive offers of marriage. 

Nevertheless, the amateur persistently follows 
bygone models, and still clings to the very young 
heroine; no more than eighteen summers are, at 
the outside, allowed to pass over her lovely head 
before she is introduced to our notice. 

And certain traditions are still followed in 
regard to other details. Her complexion is always 
of the rose-petal order, her hair is always escap- 
ing in a series of stray curls about her neck and 
forehead (and, by the way, these "stray curls" of 
fiction are sadly 1 responsible for many of the 
untidy lank locks of to-day!). If you read as 
many MSS. as I do, you would think that no 
straight-haired, ordinary complexioned girl had 
the least chance of a personal love-story, despite 
the fact that most of the girls one knows in real 
life, who have married and lived "happy ever 


210 The Lure of the Pen 

after," have been either sallow or sunburnt or 
colourless, or just healthy-looking. 

If you doubt whether a successful heroine can 
be evolved out of a woman no longer in her teens, 
and with a complexion that would not stand 
pearls, remember the Hon. Jane, in The Rosary. 

In addition to the youthful heroine, the aged 
grandmother needs to be given a long rest. When 
the young wife who married in her teens visits 
her old home in company with her one-year-old 
infant, it is invariably the dearest old lady who 
comes forward to embrace her first grandchild; 
and from her own conversation and the descrip- 
tion of her general apearance, the sweet old soul 
must be at least eighty ; despite all that Nature 
might rule to the contrary, to say nothing of the 
dressmaker ! 

Tradition has it that grandmothers must have 
white hair, and spectacles, voluminous skirts, and 
knitting in their hands as they sit in an easy- 
chair with comfortably slippered feet on a has- 
sock; and that is the sort of grandmother the 
amateur brings on the scenes, irrespective of the 
fact that the grandmother of to-day is skipping 
about in girlish skirts and high-heeled shoes, with 

Fallacies in Fiction 211 

hair and complexion as youthful as she likes to 
pay for. 

Nothing in the way of fiction is more difficult to 
write than a thoroughly good love story. And yet 
the beginner invariably starts with a love story, 
and continues with love-stories, as though there 
were no other possible selection. 

I do not think it is often possible to write a 
good love-story until one has had some experience 
of life. It is so easy to mistake neurotic imagin- 
ings and over-strung emotionalism for love; and 
it is still easier to fall back on the conventional 
things that the conventional hero and heroine do 
and say in the conventional novel, and imagine 
that we are recording our own ideas and experi- 

There are several reasons why the love-story 
appeals to the girl who is starting out to write. 
She is looking forward to a love-story of her 
own, if she be a normal girl, and has already seen 
herself in the part of her favourite heroine. Nat- 
urally it is not surprising that love-stories are of 
absorbing interest to her. And a girl usually sees 
herself as the heroine of her own early love- 
stories; and she invariably makes her heroine do 
and say what she would like to do and say under 

212 The Lure of the Pen 

the circumstances, and at the same time she makes 
the hero do and say what she would like her own 
lover to do and say — but it does not follow that 
this is true to life; or that her lover would say 
the things she credits him with in her story. Very 
few proposals in real life ever resemble the pro- 
posals in fiction! 

A girl will often introduce her heroine in a 
picturesque pose against some lovely background 
of hills, or woods, or garden flowers; and the hero 
coming upon her suddenly is made to pause, lost 
in admiration of the exquisite picture she makes. 
The girl writes this because — unconsciously, per- 
haps — she sees herself in the part, and likes to 
think she would make a very attractive picture 
that would rivet a man's attention. 

But it is not true to life. In reality, the average 
man seldom notices the scenic fittings under such 
circumstances. He either sees the girl — or he 
doesn't. Unless he is an artist looking for useful 
subjects for his pictures, the background is not 
often seen in conjunction with the girl. I merely 
give this as an instance of the way amateurs are 
apt to see themselves in an imaginary part that in 
reality is at variance with "things as they are"; 
and their writings become artificial in consequence. 

There is another reason why the love-story is 

Fallacies in Fiction 213 

the beginner's choice: it calls for so few charac- 
ters. The simplest ingredients are — a nice, beau- 
tiful girl and a strong, manly, deserving mas- 
culine. Of course, you can vary the flavour by 
making them rich or poor, misunderstood, down- 
trodden, capricious, and what not. And you can 
amplify it by introducing the bold, bad rival 
(masculine) ; the superficial, fascinating butter- 
fly rival (feminine); the irate forbidding parent 
{his, if he is rich and she is poor; hers, if he is poor 
and her mother is ambitious and money-grab- 
bing) ; the designing mischief-maker (a black- 
eyed brunette, or a brassy-haired blonde) ; and a 
host of other well-worn familiar types. But when 
all is said and done, you need have but two 
characters to delineate, if you do not feel equal 
to more — and there is a distinct save of brain 
in this! 

When you reach the climax in any other than 
a love-story, you are expected to make the denoue- 
ment something of a slight surprise at any rate, 
if no more; and we all know that surprises — slight 
or otherwise — are not altogether easy to manu- 
facture for purposes of fiction. It is simple work 
to go on talking and describing and making the 
people talk — about nothing — for pages and pages; 
but by no means simple to lead it all up to a 

214 The Lure of the Pen 

definite point of culmination. There must be 
some sort of point to a story; and that point is 
the trouble as a rule! 

But with a love-story, the amateur thinks he 
need not worry about hunting for a climax — every 
one knows what the climax must be. "All you 
have to do is to bring them along the road of life 
to a suitable spot where they can fall into each 
other's arms" — thus the novice argues, and pro- 
ceeds to do it. Another save of brain wear and 
tear ! 

In any other situation the dramatis persons are 
bound to do at least a little talking, to explain 
how the thing has worked out, or to let you know 
how matters finally adjusted themselves. But not 
so our happy lovers ! About the longest sentence 
he is called upon to construct is, "At last!" as 
he clasps her to him; while her contribution to 
the duologue need only be, "Darling!" which she 
whispers, resting her head on his shoulder. And 
they need not say even this much: for one very 
favourite method of conclusion, with inexperi- 
enced authors, is to bring the hero and heroine sud- 
denly face to face with some such final sentence 
as, "What they said need not be recorded here: 
such words are too sacred to be repeated" — a finale 
that always annoyed me in my young days ! 

Fallacies in Fiction 215 

Amateurs are generally very weak in character- 
drawing, and nowhere is this more noticeable than 
in love-stories. There is a time-honoured notion 
that the chief requisites in the heroine are youth 
and beauty, as I have already said, while the hero 
must of equal necessity be clean-cut, manly and 
masterful. With these ideas already fixed in his 
head, the novice seldom sees any necessity for 
character-delineation. He explains that the 
heroine is lovely and the hero in every way a de- 
sirable young man, and leaves it at that; for- 
getting that the mere statement that she is 
"winsome," or "wistful," or possessed of "clear 
grey eyes that are the windows of her soul," does 
not necessarily make her all these things. In the 
majority of amateur MSS. the heroine, as she 
depicts herself by word and deed, is a most colour- 
less, stereotyped nonentity; and by no means the 
glowing, fascinating thing of originality and 
beauty that the author's adjectives would have us 
believe; and the hero is frequently no more ani- 
mated, no more human, than the elegant dummy 
in a tailor's window. 

This may be taken as a fairly safe ruling: If it 
be necessary for you to label your characters with 
their chief characteristics, your writing is uncon- 

216 The Lure of the Pen 

vincing and weak. Their actions should speak 
louder than your adjectives. 

One of the prominent novelists of to-day — 
who is clever enough and experienced enough to 
know better — has a trick of letting some one of 
his characters make a semi- witty remark; after 
which he adds, "And everybody laughed." This 
last should be quite unnecessary. If the remark 
be sufficiently laugh-at-able, it will be self-evi- 
dent that people smiled; if it is not sufficiently 
witty to suggest a laugh to the reader, no amount 
of ticketing will raise a smile, either in the book or 
out of it. 

The same principle should be applied to the 
presentation of one's characters. If they are to 
have anything more than a mere walk-on part, 
they should very quickly explain themselves. The 
bald statement that the hero is a fine, manly 
fellow means nothing in reality. What is import- 
ant is whether his actions and speech suggest a 
fine, manly character. If they do not, no amount 
of descriptive matter on the part of the author 
will conjure up a fine, manly fellow in the reader's 

Some Rules for Story- Writing 

IN presenting a story it is essential that the 
reader shall have some idea as to what it is 
about. To start by keeping the reader 
roaming along for a page or two among unintellig- 
ible remarks, and references to unknown or unex- 
plained events, is to give him strong encourage- 
ment to shut up the book without troubling to go 
any further. 

There is something very exasperating about a 
writer who gives no clue as to who anybody is or 
what anything is; he is every bit as irritating as 
the one who goes to the other extreme, and drags 
the reader through the babyhood and school days 
of the hero's parents. 

These are the opening paragraphs of a MS. 
offered to me. It is quite a short story, hence 
there was every reason why space should not have 
been wasted on unintelligible preamble. 

"It happened in this way : through the lions. No, 

that isn't exactly right though ; the lions didn't 

really do it, would never have thought of doing such 

a thing; but if I had not gone to see them, it 


218 The Lure of the Pen 

would never have happened. So, you see, they were 
to some extent responsible. 

"I expect you are saying to yourself, 'What was 
it that happened*?' Well that is what I'm going 
to write about. But first I must tell you that 
one of my failings from childhood upwards has 
been the habit of starting to tell my story right in the 
very middle ; and then I always feel so annoyed 
when, after I've been chattering away for I don't 
know how long, people look at me and say, 'Per- 
haps you will try and be lucid and explain what 
you are talking about !' It never seems to occur 
to them that it is they who are so stupid. But I 
will tell you at once about 'me' and then tell you 
about 'it.' I'll begin at the very beginning, and 
try to tell you everything in proper orthodox style." 

After much more of this description, it turns out 
at last that the lions were celebrities at a dinner- 
party where the narrator met the man she ulti- 
mately married. 

That was all! 

It is foolish to keep the reader dangling in 
suspense, unless the subsequent revelations are to 
be sufficiently striking to warant the suspense. A 
long explanatory deviation from the actual theme 
is seldom satisfactory or desirable, in a short story, 
even when the theme is a big one (unless it be 
absolutely necessary, in order to elucidate some 

Some Rules for Story- Writing 219 

important detail); but it is inexcusable when the 
subject is trivial and obvious. 

The more "body" there is in your MS. the 
more it will stand digressive or dilutive passages; 
the lighter your main theme, the less can you 
afford to allow the reader's interest to be dissipat- 
ed over extraneous matter before you reach the 
main theme. 

Until you are an experienced craftsman, intro- 
duce the important characters as early as possible. 
The reader should know them as long as possible 
if he is to take a keen personal interest in them. 

It is better not to describe your characters more 
than is necessary for actual identification; they 
should describe themselves by their actions and 
conversation, as the story proceeds. 

To save the monotony of long descriptive pas- 
sages, that always hamper the movement of a 
story, it is often possible to make one of the char- 
acters, in the course of conversation, give the in- 
formation that the author is anxious to convey to 
the reader. But in order to effect this, do not 
fall into the error of making a character say things 
that in real life there would be no reason for his 
saying. You may want to convey the information 
to the reader that the heroine's ancestors were 

220 The Lure of the Pen 

eminently respectable ; but it would be bad art to 
make her remark to her own parent (or a rela- 
tive) : "As you know, mother dear, grandfather 
was a distinguished general." 

Beginners imagine that the strength of a story 
is in direct proportion to the way they crowd 
together incidents, or multiply their characters. 
But this entirely depends on the quality of the 
incidents and the importance of the characters. 

The whole is greater than a part — always has 
been and always will be; and if each individual 
character is weak, and each episode is feeble, no 
matter how you may elaborate your story, the 
whole will be weaker than each part. 

It is time-saving, when writing a story, to lay 
the scene in some locality you know well, even 
though you change the name and preserve its 
incognito. It is most useful to have a fixed plan 
of the streets and lanes and buildings and railway 
station in your mind when writing. 

Try to distinguish between a longing to voice 
your own pent-up emotions, and a desire to give 
the world something that you think will interest 
or instruct them. Three-quarters of the love- 

Some Rules for Story-Writing 221 

stories girls write are merely outlets for their own 
emotions; and picture what they wish would hap- 
pen in their own lives — with no thought whatever 
as to whether the MS. contains anything likely to 
interest the outsider. 

Short sentences and short paragraphs are usually 
an advantage in stories as well as in articles ; they 
give crispness and brightness to the whole. Where- 
as long sentences and long paragraphs are both 
stodgy to read and uninteresting to look at, (and 
it must not be forgotten that the look of a page 
sometimes counts a good deal with the public). 

I know that instances can be cited where cele- 
brated people have written long sentences and 
ungainly paragraphs, and yet have been read. 
President Wilson, in his most famous Note to 
Germany, led off with a sentence of one hundred 
and seventy-one words, while there were only 
twelve full-stops in the whole message. But 
President Wilson, at that particular date, scored 
heavily over every other writer, in that the whole 
world was eagerly willing to read anything he 
wrote — even though he had omitted all stops and 
capital letters! — whereas the majority of us, alas, 
have to persuade or coax or beguile the public into 
looking at our words of wisdom, and we have to 

222 The Lure of the Pen 

make the reading as easy for people as we can. 
Otherwise they will not bother their heads about 

People were willing to put up with President 
Wilson's diffuse and "trailing" manner of writ- 
ing, because at the moment he was the mouth- 
piece of the inhabitants of the United States. Any 
one who is the mouthpiece of over ninety millions 
of people can cease to worry about style — some 
one is sure to read him no matter how he expresses 

But so long as we manage to avoid having posi- 
tions of such greatness thrust upon us, we shall 
do well to keep our sentences terse and short, and 
our MSS. broken up into paragraphs. 

There is much divergence of opinion as to how 

far it is desirable to polish one's work. Personally 

I think it all depends upon the work. 

Question Some authors put down their ideas 

of Polish, . - . 

in a very rough form, and seem un- 
able to realise the possibilities of those ideas and 
their development, till they see them on paper. 

Others are able to think in minute detail before 
they put a line on paper. 

Some people can never leave anything alone, 
and will tinker with half a dozen fresh proofs 
(if they can induce the publisher to supply them). 

Some Rules for Story-Writing 223 

Others are more sure of themselves, or disinclined 
to alter what they have written. 

The late Guy Boothby used almost to re-write 
his stories, after they were set up in type; the 
margins of most of the slip proofs being so cov- 
ered with new matter and alterations that they had 
often to be entirely reset. So expensive did this 
become, that at last I decided to keep his typed 
MS. in a drawer for a week or two, and then send 
it back to him, asking him to do whatever re- 
writing was necessary before it was set up. 

Of course, writers may alter a good deal in 
their first MS., before ever it gets to the publisher; 
but my experience has been that the author who 
worries his proof is the one who has previously 
worried his MS. (and sometimes his family too) ! 
It is primarily a matter of mind-certainty, com- 
bined with the question of temperament. 

One thing is undeniable: some writers will 
polish their MSS. into things of beauty; others 
will polish all the individuality and life out of 
theirs. In the latter case, however, I am inclined 
to think there was not much individuality and 
life to start with! 

So far as the beginner is concerned, my advice 
is Polish; most of us can stand a good deal of. 

224 The Lure of the, Pen 

this without losing anything worth keeping, or 
coming to a bad end! 

Do not waste time in waiting for something 

extraordinary or sensational to turn up, in the 

way of a plot, or you may have to 

underway, wa it a long while. Begin with some 

Start ° . 

where everyday happening and invest it 

you ar& 

with personality. 

If you can, avoid making your early MSS. love 
stories. The denouement of a love story is so 
obvious: try to write something on less obvious 
lines ; it will be better practice for you. 

Study some of the many delightful books that 
have been written in other than love motifs, yet 
dealing with events of ordinary life ; such as The 
Golden Age, and Dream Days, by Kenneth 
Graham; A Window in Thrums, by Sir James 
Barrie; The Country of the pointed Firs, by Sarah 
Orne Jewett; Timothy's Quest, by Kate Douglas 

Genius is shown in the ability to take simple 
themes, and treat them greatly. 

About the Climax 

THE most important part of a story 
should be the climax (I use the word 
climax in its modern sense, meaning the 
terminal point where all is brought to a conclu- 
sion, the denouement, the final catastrophe). The 
climax must be in the author's mind from the 
very first sentence, and everything he writes should 
be with this in view — i.e., his own view, not that 
of the reader; it must be his aim throughout the 
story to conceal the climax from the reader till the 
last moment. Nothing with an obvious solution 
will hold the reader's interest. 

Every piece of writing should have some sort 
of a conclusive ending — a satisfactory one if pos- 
sible. Writers sometimes make their fiction ter- 
minate in an abrupt, unsatisfactory manner, which 
is no real finish, and leaves the reader wishing it 
had not all ended like that, and wondering if 
there is more to come. 

When such defects are pointed out, the amateur 

invariably replies, "But it must end like that, 

because that is what actually happened." They 

225 15 

226 The Lure of the Pen 

forget that the fact a circumstance actually hap- 
pened is no guarantee that it was worth recording; 
nor is the circumstance necessarily the symmetri- 
cal finish to the story, — and a piece of writing 
should be symmetrical, and in well-balanced de- 
sign. You cannot always detach an incident from 
contingent happenings, and then say it is com- 
plete. The larger proportion of our actions are 
linked with, and interdependent upon, other ac- 

Therefore see to it that your story terminates 
in a satisfactory manner. That which apparently 
ends in failure to-day, may take a new lease of 
life to-morrow and prove to be merely a stepping- 
stone to new developments. 

It is not bound to be a happy ending (though 
if there be a choice, happy endings are by far the 
best, in a world that has enough of sorrow in its 
work-a-day life) ; but it must be an ending leaving 
a sense of right completion with the reader — the 
conviction that this is the logical conclusion of 
the whole. 

All great works of art leave behind them a 
sense of fulfilment, the "something attempted, 
something done," that is always the desirable 
finale to the human heart and mind. We hate 
to be left in a state of never-to-be-satisfied sus- 

About the Climax 227 

pension; and we invariably reject and condemn to 
oblivion the work that deliberately leaves us thus. 

Some people have an idea that it is "artistic" 
to leave a story in a half-finished condition, or 
with a disappointing ending, or a general feeling 
of blankness. A few years ago there was a mania 
for this type of story among small writers : those 
who were not clever enough to produce originality 
of idea, and at the same time get their work logi- 
cal, symmetrical and conclusive, would seize on 
some miserable, or at any rate uncomfortable, 
ending — drown one of the lovers the day before 
the wedding; part husband and wife irrevocably, 
and possibly kill their only child in a railway 
accident in the last chapter — anything in fact 
that would produce what one might call a 
"never-more" finale. And then a certain section 
of the public (who really did not like it at all, 
but feared to say so lest they should appear to 
be behind the times!) would exclaim, "So 
artistic !" 

Yet it was anything but artistic; three-quarters 
of the time it was logically and morally bad; 
logically bad because it was seldom the true and 
natural conclusion that one would have seen in 
real life; morally bad because it is actually wrong 
to manufacture and circulate gloom unnecessarily. 

228 The Lure of the Pen 

I repeat again I would not imply that all end- 
ings must be happy; great tragedies need tragic 
conclusions; suffering is as much a part of real 
life as joy; a certain course of action must inevit- 
ably lead to a sorrowful ending, and there is no 
getting away from the unalterable truth, "The 
wages of sin is death." But the type of story to 
which I am alluding is seldom great or tragic : it 
is not even painful; it is more often weak and 
washy, and ends with unsatisfactory incompletion 
because the author fancied it was brilliantly 
original ! 

Always work steadily towards the climax, 
speeding up the movement as you near the end. 
Make big events come closer and closer together, 
with less detail between, the nearer you are to 
the conclusion. 

Do not anticipate your climax, and get there too 
soon, and then try to make up the book to the 
required length by adding on an after-piece. 

The climax should be such that it leaves in the 
reader's mind a sense of absolute fitness, a certain- 
ty that it was after all the one right ending — even 
though it came as a great surprise. 

The Use of "Curtains" 

WHEN a story is presented in sections, 
as in a serial or a play, it is advis- 
able to make each section end — so far 
as possible — in such a manner that the reader is 
set longing for the next part. Thus, while the 
climax is generally the solution of a problem, a 
"curtain" is usually a problem needing solution 
(literally, a good place for ringing down the cur- 
tain, since the audience will be on tenterhooks to 
know what happens next) . 

This arrangement is sound business as well as 
a good mental policy. It is wise to make an in- 
stalment leave some final, incisive mark on the 
mind of the readers, if there is to be an interval 
before the story is resumed, otherwise it may be 
difficult for the public to recollect what went 
before, and the thread of continuity will be lost. 

More than this, an editor, despite the usual 
backwardness of his intelligence, realises the de- 
sirability of securing readers for subsequent issues 
of his periodical, no less than for the current 

number. If each instalment of the serial termin- 


230 The Lure of the Pen 

ate with some mystery unsolved, or some hope- 
less entanglement needing to be straightened out, 
or some problem that baffles everybody (most of 
all the readers), it is much more likely that people 
will rush to secure the next number to see how 
things turn out, than if the instalment merely ends 
with the hero indulging in a tame, lengthy soli- 
loquy on artichokes, and leaves nothing more ex- 
citing to be settled than whether these same arti- 
chokes shall, or shall snot, be cooked for the 
heroine's lunch. 

On more than one occasion I have had readers 
write protestingly because an instalment of a 
serial has left off cruelly "just when one was 
frightfully anxious to know what would happen 
next !" But that is the very place for an instal- 
ment to end: good "curtains" are worth as much 
to a serial as a good plot ; and if a story lack good 
"curtains," an editor thinks twice before purchas- 
ing it for serial publication, even though it has 
undoubted literary merit and will make a good 

Inexperienced writers overlook this necessity 
for holding the reader's attention from section to 
section, and sometimes offer an editor serial stories 
without sufficient backbone or dramatic interest to 
hold the readers' attention from the first instal- 

The Use of "Curtains'' 231 

ment to the second, much less for twelve or more 

Or they crowd several excitements into a couple 
of chapters, and then run on uneventfully for a 
dozen or so. 

This does not mean that problems must crop up 
mechanically at stated intervals, and the serial be 
produced on a mathematical basis of one murder, 
or mystery to so many words ! But it does mean 
that the author must see to it that his important 
incidents are fairly distributed throughout the 
work as a whole, and that each chapter ends at 
the psychological moment. This gives an editor a 
chance to break the story at places where the 
excitement runs highest. 

Careful attention to balance will help the 
writer to get the action fairly distributed. If the 
MS. be examined as a whole, with this question 
of balance in mind, the writer will be able to 
detect if too much movement has been concen- 
trated in one part, with undue expanses of un- 
eventfulness stretching between. 

No one knew better than Charles Dickens how 
to keep the reader on the qui vive for the next 
chapter. Joseph H. Choate says in his Memoirs : 
"As Dickens' books came out they were eagerly 
devoured in America. Dombey and Son came 

232 The Lure of the Pen 

out in numbers long before the laying of the first 
Atlantic cable, and several numbers went over in 
fort-nightly steamers, the most fre- 
was an quent communication of that day. 

"curtains" ^ n an eai "ly P ar t of the story little 
Paul was brought to the verge of the 
grave, the last number to hand leaving him hover- 
ing between life and death, and all America was 
anxious to know his fate. When the next steamer 
arrived bringing decisive news, the dock was 
crowded with people. The passengers imagined 
some great national or international event had 
happened. But it was only the eager reading 
public who had hurried down to meet the steamer, 
and get the first news as to whether little Paul 
was alive or dead." 

The late Dr. S. G. Green has told how, at the 
day school he attended as a boy, "work was sus- 
pended once a month on the publication of the 
instalment of Pickwick Papers, which the head 
master read aloud to the assembled and eager 
boys. When Mr. Pickwick was released from the 
Fleet Prison, a whole holiday was given, to cele- 
brate the event!" 

This is the type of serial story an editor yearns 
for: one that will end with so dramatic a "curtain" 
each month, that the public suspend all employ- 

The Use of "Curtains" 233 

merit in order to secure copies of the following 
issue, and learn what happened next! 

Even the final sentences of an instalment with 
a good "curtain" can be made to do wonders in 
whetting the reader's appetite for more. But it is 
advisable to see how they read in connection with 
the words that inevitably follow. For instance, 
there was a lurid serial in a daily paper which 
ended one day with the words: 

" 'Cat,' she cried, Vile, odious, contemptible 
cat.' To be continued to-morrow." 

"But," commented Punch, "could she do any 
better than that even after she had slept on it*?" 

On Making Verse 

MOST of us break out into verse at one 
period of our life. Youth starting 
out to explore a world that seems 
teeming with new discoveries, generally tries to 
voice his emotions in poetry — not because youth 
has any special aptitude for this form of literature, 
but because the poet has expressed, as no other 
writer has done, the hopes and ideals, the craving 
for romance and the thirst for beauty, that are 
among the characteristics of our golden years. 
And youth, wishing to voice his own emotions, 
naturally selects the literary form in which such 
emotions have already been enshrined. 

Verse-writing is a very useful exercise for the 
student — as I have already stated in a previous 
chapter; but until we are fairly advanced, it is 
well to avoid regarding our efforts too seriously. 

To string together certain sets of syllables with 
rhymes in couples, is an exceedingly simple mat- 
ter; but to write poetry is the highest and the 
most difficult form of literary art. 

It is hard to convince the beginner that the 

On Making Verse 235 

verses he has put together are not poetry — even 
though they may be technically correct as to make- 
up, which is by no means always the case. He is 
inclined to argue that he has dreamed dreams, and 
seen visions, and travelled far from the prose of 
life; what he writes, therefore, must be scintillat- 
ing with star dust, if with nothing more heavenly. 

For the making of poetry, the dreams of youth 
are valuable; take care of them, they are among 
the precious things of life, and they vanish with 
neglect or rough handling; but something more 
than dreams is needful. 

If you feel you can best express yourself in 
verse, make a comprehensive study of the laws 
governing metrical composition. Such d 

knowledge not only enables vou to Iaws 

J J governing 

write in a shapelv, orderlv, pleasing Metrical 

r J J r ° Composition 

form, but it may also help you to 
ascertain what is wrong, when something you have 
written seems jarring, or halting, or lacking at 
any point. 

To many amateurs, laws and rules suggest a 
cramping influence; they feel sure they could do 
far better work if unhampered by any restrictions. 
In reality, however, the limitations such laws 
impose are a gain to the poet, since they compel 
him to sort out his ideas, to differentiate between 

236 The Lure of the Pen 

essentials and non-essentials, to condense his 
thoughts and measure his words. And if properly- 
carried out, all this should result in the reduction 
of verbosity to the minimum, and a moderately 
clear presentation of a subject — it does not always, 
I know, but it ought to do so. 

I am neither enumerating nor discussing these 
laws in this volume, since excellent books on the 
subject have been published. I merely wish to 
point out to the student the necessity for giving 
the matter attention. 

Some people think the fact that the idea em- 
bodied in their verse is good and ennobling, should 
condone weak or faulty workmanship. But, alas ! 
in this callous world it doesn't, as a rule. 

The ideal verse is that which presents beauti- 
fully a great thought in a small compass. 

A poem should centralise on some 

Ideas are * 

more special thought or idea. Rhapsodies, 

Important r o r 

t^an no matter how intense, do not con- 


stitute poetry; every poem, be it ever 
so short, should suggest some definite train of 
thought. Haphazard statements or descriptions 
are no more permissible in a poem than in a novel. 
All nonsense verse, even, must have an under- 
lying semblance of a sensible idea, though when 

On Making Verse 237 

you come to analyse it, it may turn out to be the 
height of absurdity. 

Not only must a poem contain a definite idea, 
it must be a poetic idea, something that will lift 
the reader above the prose of life. 

rp ii- 1 • r Moreover 

1 ry to make him see beauty if you the iaeaa 
can; and to hear beauty in the music be°poetio 
of your words. Poetry should be 
beautiful and suggest loveliness, whenever pos- 

However simple and ordinary the subject of 
your verse, try to carry the reader beyond super- 
ficialities, to the wonderful and the unordinary 
that so often give glory to life's commonplaces. 

Take a well-worn subject like the incoming 
tide; how many people have been moved to write 
on this topic! 

I could not possibly reckon up the number of 
times I have seen '"ocean's roar" rhyming with 
"rocky shore." The writer who is nothing more 
than a versifier is content with a description of the 
sights and sounds of the beach ; but the poet looks 
further than this. Read Mrs. Meynell's "Song," 
and you will better understand my meaning when 
I say that the poet must endeavour to show us, 
through the substance of 'things material, the 
shadow of things spiritual. 

238 The Lure of the Pen 


By Alice Meynell 

As the unhastening tide doth roll, 
Dear and desired, upon the whole 
Long shining strand, and floods the caves, 
Your love comes filling with happy waves 
The open sea-shore of my soul. 

But inland from the seaward spaces, 
None knows, not even you, the places 
Brimmed at your coming, out of sight 
— The little solitudes of delight 
This tide constrains in dim embraces. 

You see the happy shore, wave-rimmed, 
But know not of the quiet dimmed 
Rivers your coming floods and fills, 
The little pools, 'mid happier hills, 
My silent rivulets, over-brimmed. 

What, I have secrets from you? Yes. 
But, O my Sea, your love doth press 
And reach in further than you know, 
And fill all these ; and when you go, 
There's loneliness in loneliness. 

By Courtesy of 

The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd. 

Putting on one side religious verse (which one 
does not wish to dissect too brutally, since one 

On Making Verse 239 

recognises and respects the spirit underlying it, 
despite its sometimes poor technique), amateur 
verse usually falls under one of four Amateur 
headings : Verse 

° usually 

1. Lovers' outpourings. faus 


2. Baby prattle. these 

t^x : ,. . Headings 

3. Nature dissertations. 

4. Stuff worth reading. 

The first of these explains itself, and includes 
perennial poems entitled "Blue Eyes"; "Parted"; 
"To Daphne" (or Muriel, or Gladys, or some 
other equally nice person); "Absence"; "My 
Lady"; "Twin Souls," etc. In these the follow- 
ing are generally regarded as original and de- 
lightful rhymes: Love and dove; mourn and for- 
lorn; girl and curl; moon and June; eyes and 

Without wishing to hurt any sensitive feelings, 
truth compels me to state that it is rare for such 
productions to have any literary value. 

The verses coming under the second heading are 
frequently written by young girls, unmarried 
aunts, and very new fathers ; occasionally mothers 
give vent to their maternal affection in this way, 
but more often they find their time fully occupied 
in attending to the little ones' material needs. 

Such poems (often entitled "Lullaby") are 

240 The Lure of the Pen 

usually characterised by an entire lack of anything 
that could possibly be called an idea. They will 
apostrophise the infant, and tell it how lovely it 
is, begging it to go to sleep, and assuring it 
that mother will keep watch the while — which no 
up-to-date mother would dream of doing in these 
busy, servantless days ! But as to any concrete 
reason why the verses were penned, one looks for 
it in vain. 

I do not think such effusions serve any useful 
purpose. They are not even desirable as an outlet 
for the feelings, since there are better ways in 
which one can work out one's affection for a 
child — woolly boots, pinafores, personal attention, 
and the like. Nevertheless every woman's paper 
is deluged with MSS. of this type. 

The Nature dissertation is a trifle better than 
the preceding, because it does offer a little scope 
for looking around and noting things. But the 
weakness here is this: the writers do not always 
look around; they as often sit at a comfortable 
writing-table indoors and amalgamate other peo- 
ple's observations; and the outcome is a recital of 
the obvious, with oft-repeated platitudes. 

The following are well-wom titles: "A Spring 
Song"; "Bluebells"; "Twilight Calm"; "Sunset"; 
"Autumn Leaves"; occasionally they take a 

On Making Verse 241 

Words worthi an turn, "Lines written on the shore 
at Atlantic City" or "Thoughts on seeing Strat- 
ford-on-Avon for the first time" (such a poem 
naturally beginning "Immortal Bard, who — " 


At best, the majority of nature poems, as writ- 
ten by the untrained, contain little beyond descrip- 
tive passages. This again results in a pointless 
production that seldom embodies any idea worth 
the space devoted to it. 

You may record the fact that the sun is setting 
in a blaze of colour; but there is nothing sufficient- 
ly remarkable about this to warrant its publica- 
tion : most people know that the sun occasionally 
sets in this fashion. If the beauty of the sunset 
affected you strongly, lifting you above earthly 
things, and giving you a vision — dim perhaps, but 
nevertheless a vision — of the Glory that shall be 
revealed, then it is for you so to describe the beauty 
of the sunset that you convey to your readers the 
same feelings, the same uplifted sense, the same 
vision of the yet greater Glory that is to be. When 
you can do this, the chances are that you will 
be writing poetry. But until you can do this, you 
may be writing nothing better than fragments of 
a rhyming guide-book. 


242 The Lure of the Pen 

You may argue that not only did you feel an 
uplift when you gazed on the sunset, but you re- 
experience it as you read the poem 

You see 

tlie Scene yOU Wrote Upon it. 

de^Jibiiis: Possibly so; because to you the 

does^ot 16 * lines conjure up the whole scene; i.e. 
they serve to remind you of much 
that is not written down. One word may be 
enough to recall to your mind the overwhelming 
grandeur of the sundown in every detail; but it 
will not be sufficient to spread it out before the 
eyes of those who did not see the actual occur- 
rence; neither will it reveal to them the uplift of 
the moment. 

The novice so often forgets that his own mind 
fills in the details of what he has seen, and makes 
a perfect picture out of an imperfect description. 
But the reader cannot do this; he has nothing to 
help him beyond the written words. Therefore 
the writer must take care to omit nothing that is 
essential, nothing that will enforce the mental and 
spiritual conception of a scene. And in order to 
do this, he must analyse the scene, and ascertain 
(if he can) what it was that aroused such deep 
emotion within him. If he can tabulate these 
items (sometimes it is possible to do so, some- 
times it is not), then he must give them special 

On Making Verse 243 

emphasis in his description, no matter what else 
is omitted. 

Whether you are writing descriptive matter in 
verse or prose, it is well to bear in mind that 
memory helps you to visualise the whole scene, 
whereas the reader will have no such additional 

The primary object of the beginner, in writing 
verse, is often to voice his own heart's longing; 
whereas, if his verse is to be of inter- 
est to others besides himself, it must should 
voice the longings of other people. w ° ^ d _ 
Poetry of the "longing" kind should ^ rthan 
touch on world-wide human need, not individual, 


merely on an individual want, if it is 
to waken response in the reader. Of course the 
individual want may be a world-wide human 
need: it very often is; but it is not wise to trust 
to chance in this particular. 

Look about you, and see if your experiences are 
likely to be those of your fellow-creatures. If so, 
there is more probability that your work will 
appeal to others than if you take no count of their 
requirements and centre on your own. 

The poet, among other qualifications, has the 
ability to recognise what humanity wants to say 
but cannot, and is able to set it down in black 

244 The Lure of the Pen 

and white, so that when the world reads it, it 
exclaims: "Why, that is just what I think and 
feel ! Only I could never put it into words !" 

When Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the 
"Sonnets from the Portuguese," she was writing 
of her own love for one particular man. So far 
she was dealing with her own experiences; and 
if that had been all, the matter might have ended 
there. But because uncountable women in every 
land have loved in that same way, have thought 
those thoughts, and experienced those identical 
emotions, though they were not able to write of 
them as Mrs. Browning did, her "Sonnets" found 
an echo in hearts the world over: they voiced a 
great human experience, a universal human long- 

One modern phase of verse-making has had a 
very demoralising effect on the amateur. I refer 
to the outbreak of shapeless produc- 
so-caiied tions — devoid of music, beauty, 

poetry rhythm, and balance, and often lack- 

ing the rudiments of sense — that de- 
veloped before the war, and has been with us 
ever since. 

The followers of this cult advocate the abolition 
of all law and order: each goes gaily on his own 
way, writing whatsoever he pleases, no matter how 

On Making Verse 245 

crude, or banal, or incoherent, or loathsome; lines 
any and every length; unlimited full stops, or 
none at all; just what is in his brain — and what 
a state of brain it reveals ! This so-called "new 
poetry" resembles nothing in the world so much 
as the MSS. an editor occasionally receives from 
inmates of lunatic asylums ! 

Literary effusions of this type are on a par 
with the cubist and futurist monstrosities that 
have tried to imagine themselves a new form of 
pictorial art. 

Unfortunately, the desire to kick over all laws 
and rules, and everything that betokens restraint 
and discipline, is no new one. Periodically the 
world has seemed to be attacked with wholesale 
madness, as history shows; and a pronounced 
feature of each upheaval has been the attempt 
of certain deranged imaginations to abolish that 
order v/hich is Heaven's first law (and which can- 
not be abolished without wide-spread ruin), and 
in its place to exalt the deification of self. The 
years preceding every outbreak have invariably 
been marked by excesses, licence and extravagance 
of all kinds; while real art, wholesome living, 
serious thinking, and steady, well-regulated work, 
have been at a discount. 

Do not be misled by high-sounding statements, 

246 The Lure of the Pen 

that all the incoherency and carelessness and in- 
different workmanship exhibited in recent traves- 
ties of Art was a groping after better things, the 
breaking of shackles that chained the free heaven- 
born spirit of man to miserable mundane con- 

It was nothing of the sort. 

Rather, it was a form of hysteria that was the 
outcome of the "soft" living, the feverish quest 
of pleasure, the craving for notoriety at the least 
expenditure of effort, the longing to be perpetually 
in the limelight, and the absence of self-discipline 
that was all too noticeable in the earlier years of 
this century. 

By Eugene Field 

I'd like to be a cowboy an' ride a fiery hoss 

Way out into the big and boundless West; 
I'd kill the bears an' catamounts an' wolves I come across, 
An' I'd pluck the bal-head eagle from his nest! 
With my pistols at my side, 
I would roam the prarers wide, 
An' to scalp the savage Injun in his wigwam would I 
ride — 

If I darst; but I darsen't! 

On Making Verse 247 

I'd like to go to Afriky an' hunt the lions there, 

An' the biggest ollyfunts you ever saw! 
I would track the fierce gorilla to his equatorial lair, 
An' beard the cannybull that eats folks raw ! 

I'd chase the pizen snakes, 

An' the 'pottimus that makes 
His nest down at the bottom of unfathomable lakes — 

If I darst : but I darsen't ! 

The "new" poetry was a manifestation of the 
decadence undermining pre-war Art. 

Do not be deluded into thinking that the aberra- 
tions of ill-trained minds that sometimes flaunt 
themselves before your bewildered eyes, in some 
very "thin" volume of verse, or in some freakish 
periodical, are art, or even worth the paper they 
are printed on. They are not. Very probably 
they would never have got into print at all, but 
for the fact that those who affect the cult are, 
for the most part, people with more money than 
discrimination, who can afford to pay for pub- 

Just as a certain type of eccentricity of action 
may be the precursor of mental disease, so a 
certain type of eccentricity of thought may be the 
forerunner of moral and spiritual disease. 

Avoid unnecessary abbreviations: th' for the, 
o' for of, and similar curtailments. These are 

248 The Lure of the Pen 

often mere mannerisms, and introduced with the 
idea that they are distinctive : but they are not. 

Long lines are better for descriptive 
some verse than short ones. 


=i n *s A stately metre, with well-marked 


Noting- cadence, is best suited to a lofty theme. 

This is illustrated in "The Valley 
Song," by the late Mable Earle, which we re- 
print by courtesy of the American Sunday School 


By Mable Earle 

"Because the Syrians have said, The Lord is God of 
the hills, but He is not God of the valleys" 

God of the heights where men walk free, 

Above life's lure, beyond death's sting; 
Lord of all souls that rise to Thee, 

White with supreme self-offering; 
Thou who hast crowned the hearts that dare, 

Thou who hast nerved the hands to do, 
God of the heights ! give us to share 

Thy kingdom in the valleys too. 

Our eyes look up to those who stand 
Vicegerents of Thy stainless sway, 

Heroes and saints at Thy right hand, 
Thy priests and kings of glory they. 

On Making Verse 249 

Not ours to tread the path they trod, 
Splendid and sharp, still reaching higher; 

Not ours to lay before our God 

The crowns they snatched from flood and fire. 

Yet through the daily, dazing toil, 

The crowding tasks of hand and brain, 
Keep pure our lips, Lord Christ, from soil, 

Keep pure our lives from sordid gain. 
Come to the level of our days, 

The lowly hours of dust and din, 
And in the valley-lands upraise 

Thy kingdom over self and sin. 

Not ours the dawn-lit heights ; and yet 

Up to the hills where men walk free 
We lift our eyes, lest faith forget 

The Light which lighted them to Thee. 
God of all heroes, ours and Thine, 

God of all toilers ! keep us true, 
Till Love's eternal glory shine 

In sunrise on the valleys too. 

Short lines, irregular metre and unusual con- 
struction, are best for light or whimsical subjects. 
"The Limitations of Youth," by Eugene Field, is 
an example. 

To put it another way: when the subject is 
dignified, the lines should roll along; when the 
subject is light and airy, the lines should ripple 

250 The Lure of the Pen 

The more peaceful the subject, the more need 
for mellifluent treatment. 

Stern or tragic subjects can stand rugged word- 
ing and shape. 

Verses written for children, or on childish 
themes, should be simple in construction, with 
rhymes near together, and lines of not more than 
eight syllables as a rule. 8.6's, rhyming alter- 
nately, are the easiest to memorise, and therefore 
the most popular with children. 

Examine the poems in Stevenson's A Child's 
Garden of Verses, and note the simplicity of their 
construction, the music of their rhymes, and their 
clear, direct method of statement — the latter an 
essential if children are to be interested. 

One of the reasons for the appeal that 
"Hiawatha" makes invariably to children is its 
direct form of statement, with few involved sen- 
tences; and its eight-syllable lines. 

Eugene Field's poems on childhood themes, and 
some of the passages in "The Forest of Wild 
Thyme," by Alfred Noyes, are delightful ex- 
amples of the possibilities of 8.6 lines with alter- 
nate rhymes. 

Merely to break up prose into lines of irregular 
length, is not to produce poetry. 

On Making Verse 251 

There must not only be beauty in individual 
lines and phrases, but there must be beauty of idea 
and form in the verses as a whole. 

At the same time, never sacrifice sense to sound. 

Young writers sometimes say to me, "I see so 
much, and feel so much, yet I cannot put it into 
words: the thoughts are beautiful while they are 
inside my brain, but there seem no words adequate 
to express them ; I am baffled directly I try to put 
them down on paper." 

Don't despair. Every poet has felt the same: 
but let it encourage you to recollect that many 
have got the better of the feeling, by hard work 
and sheer determination. After all you have all 
the words there are, and the most famous of poets 
had no more than this to work with. We some- 
times forget that in the end, the greatest writer 
that ever lived had to reduce everything to the 
same words you and I are free to use. 

You may remember that Mark Twain once 
went to a well-known preacher, who had delivered 
a magnificent sermon, and, after extolling it and 
thanking him for it, the humourist added, "But 
I have seen every word of it before, in print !" 

The astonished preacher asked, indignantly, 

"In the dictionary," replied Mark Twain. 

The Function of the Blue Pencil 

JUST as we all know that a king would be no 
king without a crown, and the Lord Mayor 
of London would be but a mere mortal man 
without his mace and his gorgeous gilt coach, so no 
self-respecting editor is supposed to exist apart 
from a blue pencil. And I admit it is a serviceable 
article, but, personally, I prefer that it should 
be used by the contributor. I do not want to 
have to spend time in revising a MS., to get it into 
publishable shape ; neither does any other editor. 

The blue pencil stands for deletion. Practi- 
cally every writer needs to cut down the first 
draft of a story or article. Some prune more 
severely than others, but all experienced workers 
reduce and condense before they finally pass a 
MS. for publication. 

It is not until a MS. is completed — roughly — 

that one can actually tell where it is balanced, and 

where it is light-weight or top-heavy. Things 

expand in unexpected directions as we go along; 

developments suggest themselves temptingly when 

we are halfway through, and then throw the earlier 


Function of the Blue Pencil 253 

chapters quite out of proportion to the story as a 
whole; matters that seemed of great moment when 
we were in Chapter 2 have toned down to the 
very ordinary by the time we have piled on ten 
more chapters of stress and thrills and emotion. 

One cannot stop to adjust it as one goes along, 
because no one can say whether the re-adjustment 
itself may not be out of gear by the time the finale 
is reached. 

Consequently, the best way is to go right on, 
letting everything fall as it happens (but keeping 
as near as you can to your original plan, unless 
there is just cause for a departure therefrom). 
When you have written "Finis," overhaul the MS. 
from beginning to end, sparing neither your blue 
pencil nor your feelings, if common sense, and 
knowledge of your craft, tell you that certain por- 
tions or sentences would be better omitted. 

It is neither an easy nor a pleasing task — 
especially to the novice. The early children of 
our brain seem of such priceless worth, that we 
regard them with a certain sense of awe. "Did I 
write that beautiful passage about the moon sil- 
vering the tree-tops'? Then it must belong just 
where I put it. Cut it out"? Certainly not! I 
consider it the most exquisite paragraph in the 
whole story." 

254 The Lure of the Pen 

This is the way we look at our work when we 
have not many published items to our name. 
Later, experience and the training that comes from 
practice, teach us to arm ourselves as a matter of 
course with a blue pencil, ignore personal senti- 
ment, and look at our MSS. with a coldly critical 
eye. Then we may discover that a sentence or 
paragraph, though of undoubted merit and beauty 
— (we need not deny it that much!) — does not 
quite fit in where we originally placed it. Pos- 
sibly it is superfluous, in view of what follows 
later; or redundant, in view of what went before; 
or it may have lost life and colour with the passage 
of time; or it may seem hackneyed, or weak, 
(though we do not use such insulting words to 
our own writings till we are fairly advanced). 
But whatever the reason, if on examining a sen- 
tence, it does not appear to serve any vital pur- 
pose, take it out. If you think there is worth in 
it, save it for a possible use at a later date in some 
other MS., though, personally, I do not believe 
in any sort of rechauffe of old matter, simply 
because as time goes on we change in our style of 
writing as we do in our tastes and preferences in 
neckties. And what you write this year, will not 
necessarily dovetail in with what you write in a 
few years' time. Still, if you feel it would be 

Function of the Blue Pencil 255 

wasting flashes of genius to destroy it, and it 
would be any comfort to you to hoard it — do so; 
the main thing is to delete it from the MS. you 
are revising, if there be any doubt about its value. 

A beginner's MS. usually needs to be cut down 
to about half its original length. Hard luck, for 
the beginner, I know, considering the way he will 
have laboured lovingly over every sentence. 

Nevertheless, it pulls the work together if the 
blue pencil be applied generously. Some articles 
and stories appear to sprawl all over 
the place (sprawl is not a pretty JJ 8 ?^"* 64 
word, but it is expressive). The Ijijjjf^, 
writer does not seem able to follow 
up any idea to a logical conclusion, without inter- 
polating so much irrelevant matter that the main 
theme is nearly smothered by the extraneous items, 
and the reader gets only a confused impression of 
what it is all about. 

Such work needs "pulling together," i.e. the 
essential portions that should follow each other in 
natural sequence need to be brought closer to- 
gether; and this can only be done by clearing 
away the non-essentials that separate them. 

The late Phil May once showed me how he 
drew his inimitable sketches, that always looked 
SO simple, oh so simple ! to the uninitiated. First 

256 The Lure of the Pen 

he made a sketch full of detail, with everything 
included, much as other people make sketches. 
The way When this was finished to his satis- 

made 1 ^ faction, he started to take out every 

sketches* y me ^^ was not actua Uy necessary 

to the understanding of the picture. Finally he 
had left nothing but a few strokes — yet, such was 
his genius for seeing what to delete and what to 
leave, the picture had gained rather than lost in 
character, force, and comprehensiveness. 

The secret of the matter is this. By removing 
everything that is not of vital importance to the 
whole, (whether in painting or in writing), there 
is less confusion of vision, less to distract the mind, 
or switch it off to side issues. 

This does not mean that everything is better for 
being given in bare outline. Undoubtedly certain 
additions and decorations and descriptions can be 
made to emphasise the author's meaning, to im- 
press a scene more vividly on the mind. We do 
not want all our pictures to be modelled on the 
lines of Phil May, clever as his work was. There 
is room for endless variety. The author should 
remember, however, that it is better to err on the 
side of drastic deletion, rather than leave in mat- 
ter that is no actual gain to the picture, and only 

Function of the Blue Pencil 257 

serves to distract and confuse and overload the 
reader's mind. 

There is a Plausible Imp who perches on the 
top of every beginner's inkstand, and passes his 
wicked little time assuring them all 

Beware the 

that they are too clever to need hedg- piauBibie 


ing about by rules, that their work 

cannot be improved upon, and would only be 

spoilt if it were altered in any way. 

Don't heed him ! The beginner's work is never 
spoilt by condensation ; rather it is invariably im- 
proved by cutting down. In the main, every 
writer's work needs pruning, until he has had suf- 
ficient practice to know what is not worth while 
to put down in the first place — and one needs to 
be exceptionally gifted to know this. 

If, on reading your MS. after its completion, 
you feel your work is so good that it needs no blue 
pencil — beware ! You have not got there yet ! 



Everything resolves itself down, in the publisher's 
mind, to the one simple question: "Is this MS. what 
the public wants?" 

When Offering Goods for Sale 

SUPPOSING — that when you go into the 
fishmonger's, he offers you a cod that is 
slightly "off"; and, while apologising for 
its feebleness, begs you to take it, as he has an in- 
valid daughter suffering from spinal complaint, 
who needs a change at the seaside. 

Or — that the assistant in the men's hosiery shop 
begs you to take half a dozen extra neckties, as he 
is anxious to buy the baby a much-needed pram, 
and his salary depends primarily on his commis- 

Or — that the sewing-machine agent, when send- 
ing around circulars, adds a devout hope, as a 
P.S., that you will purchase a machine, since he is 
anxious to increase his subscription to foreign mis- 

Or — that the incompetent dressmaker beseeches 
you to take a garment that would fit nobody and 
suit nobody, because she has a widowed mother to 

"Preposterous!" you say. "Such things would 

never occur." 


262 The Lure of the Pen 

And yet this is precisely what is happening 
every day of the year in the literary business ! 

Here are some sentences from letters accom- 
panying MSS. sent to my office the week I am 
writing this. 

"I should esteem it a great kindness if you 
could stretch a point in favour of my story, even 
though it may not be quite up to your standard 
(and I can see, on re-reading, that it has defects) ; 
but I am anxious to make some money in order to 
take a friend in whom I am deeply interested to 
the seaside for a much-needed change. She is an 

invalid, and " here follow copious details 

about the friend. 

Another writes: "I must ask you to give this 
every consideration, as I devote all the money I 
make by my writings to charity." 

A third says frankly, "you really must accept 
this story, as I need money badly." 

And for a truly nauseating letter, I think the 
following is as objectionable as any I have re- 
ceived in this connection : 

"My dear wife has recently passed away, after 
years of acute and protracted suffering. My heart 
was rent with sympathy for her while she lived, 
and now the blank caused by her death is almost 
intolerable. How I shall face life without her I 

When Offering Goods for Sale 263 

do not know; for she was indeed a help-meet in 
every sense of the word, In order to divert my 
mind from this well-nigh insurmountable sorrow, 
I have written a story 'The Forged Cheque,' which 
I feel is just the thing for your magazine. I ask 
you to regard it leniently, remembering that it is 
written with a breaking heart," etc. 

Then there are other reasons advanced why the 
editor should accept a MS., trie youthfulness or 
the inexperience of the author being The problem 
frequently mentioned. ° f Youtl1 

While it is no crime to be young, it is no parti- 
cular advantage when one is seeking to place a 
story. Inexperience, on the other hand, might be 
regarded as a distinct drawback. 

But in any case, the editor does not purchase 
MSS. merely because they are the writers' first 
attempts. However good they may be for first 
attempts, or however promising they may be con- 
sidering the age of the writer, all that has practi- 
cally nothing to do with the editor's decision, 
unless he is running any pages in his periodical for 
the exploitation of immature work or juvenile 
effort. And in these days of high-priced paper 
and expensive production, very few papers do this. 

It is hard to make the amateur understand that 
a magazine is first and foremost a business pro- 

264 The Lure of the Pen 

position, as much as a shop or a factory. The 

editor must make it pay ; and in order to do this, 

he must publish the type of matter 

A Magazine 

is first and that his readers are willing to pur- 
foremost a 
Business chase. Each magazine appeals to a 

Proposition . _ . . r . it/ 

definite section of the public (or it 
should do so, if it is to be a success). No one 
magazine appeals to every human being. Some 
want sensation, some want art, some want fash- 
ions, and so on. And as it is impossible to include 
everything in any one publication, each editor 
aims to please a certain class of tastes — good, bad 
or indifferent, according to the policy of his paper. 
And he knows to a fraction almost, what will 
suit his public, and what they will not care about. 

How does he know? 

It is part of his mental and business equip- 
ment: the knowledge often costs him years of 
study and observation; and it is one of the quali- 
fications for which he is paid his salary. 

And because he knows what his public will 
buy, and what they do not want, he purchases 
MSS. accordingly. It is immaterial to him 
whether the writer needs money for charity, or to 
support an aged relative, or merely to soothe a 
bereaved soul: the only question he considers is 
whether the public will want a certain MS. or 

When Offering Goods for Sale 265 

not. He is not engaged by the proprietors to aid 
charity, or to minister to the necessitous; his work 
is to provide goods that the public will buy — just 
like any other business man. And he is unmoved, 
therefore, by irrelevant appeals. 

Of course he has other matters to look to as 
well as the providing of goods the public will buy; 
he helps to shape public opinion, for instance, and 
raises, or lowers, the public taste. But so far as 
the amateur is concerned, the point to remember 
is the fact that an editor is in no way influenced 
by the writer's need for pecuniary assistance. If 
he were, his post-bag would be a hundred times 
heavier than it is already, and it is quite heavy 
enough as it is! 

In the same way, only more so, a publisher is 
concerned with the selling qualities of a MS. rather 
than with the writer's private affairs. 

XT . , . , A Publisher 

He is running a business concern with ls not an 
a view to some margin of profit. Pre- ^J^thropy 
sumably he has a wife and family to 
support, rent, rates and taxes to meet (in addition 
to helping to pay for the war) — like any other 
man. And he spends his days in the dim, fusty 
airlessness of a publisher's office for the purpose 
of making a living out of the books he publishes. 
Therefore, he is not likely to be inclined to bring 

266 The Lure of the Pen 

out a book, which his business experience tells him 
the public will never buy, merely because (as one 
sender of a MS. recently put it) "the moral of 
my essays is really beautiful, and it will do people 
good to read them, if even they do not bring in 
profit. Read them yourself and you will see that 
I am not exaggerating." 

Possibly the moral of a MS. is quite good : but 
it may not be the particular brand of goodness 
that the public is willing to purchase at the mo- 
ment; and the publisher knows it is hopeless to 
put it on the market in that case. 

Equally it is useless to expect him to be in- 
fluenced favourably simply because your earnings 
are ear-marked for charity. At the end of the 
year, should he see that the money he paid for a 
certain item was a dead loss, it would be no con- 
solation to him to remember that the author had 
devoted the cash to a "Seaside Holiday Home for 
Men on Strike" in which she was interested. 

Therefore spare him all such data. The less 
you add to what he has to read daily, the better. 
An accompanying letter is really unnecessary — 
only it is useful to affix the stamps to, for the 
return of the MS. if rejected. 

Profuse explanations are all beside the mark, 

When Offering Goods for Sale 267 

and give an amateurish, unbusiness-like look to a 
communication. Whatever you may write about 
yourself on your MS., in praise thereof, or in 
extenuation, everything resolves itself down — in 
the publisher's mind — to the one simple question : 
Is this what the public wants'? 

Many a beginner is convinced his MS. would 
sell, if only it were printed. It is natural that we 
have a certain amount of belief in our 

. . , , . r , "We think 

own work, more especially if we have we ca n 

given much time and thought to it. v ^iu© of 8 

Moreover, we possibly see points in JJ^Eui 

it that no one else can ; we see what a pul)li8llor 


we meant to put down, without in 

any way realising how far our actual writing falls 

short of the ideas that were in our brain. The 

outcome of this partiality for our own writing, is 

a certainty that people are not able to do us 

justice if they do not think as highly of it as we 


But the publisher is better able to judge of the 
selling possibilities of a work than the author; it 
is his business; he is at it all day long. He has 
no personal feelings involved, his main concern 
being to make a book a profitable concern; and 
his experience teaches him pretty accurately what 
the public will buy and what it will leave on his 

268 The Lure of the Pen 

hands. He may occasionally make a mistake 
(though it is surprising how seldom an expert 
publisher does make a wrong estimate, considering 
how various are the MSS. that pass through his 
office) ; but when he does, he more often errs on 
the side of being over-sanguine, and giving the 
author the benefit of the doubt, than in the direc- 
tion of turning down anything that might have 
made his, and the author's, fortune. 

Some writers are convinced that the style of 

their MS. was too good for the editor who rejected 

it, and altogether above his intel- 

A Consoling- 
Thought— ligence. This is a consoling thought, 

no doubt; but unfortunately it does 

not take one any further. 

I know that instances are occasionally quoted 

(always the same instances, by the way), where 

books that ultimately achieved some success were 

declined by several publishers before they were 

finally landed. But in some of these cases the 

books in question were so very much off the beaten 

track as to be verging on f reakishness — and no one 

living can guarantee a forecast of how the public 

will receive a freak! Here and there one finds a 

publisher who enjoys a gamble, and will risk a 

little on such uncertainties; (sometimes he gets 

his reward, more often he doesn't) ; but the ma- 

When Offering Goods for Sale 269 

jority prefer a safer, even though less exciting, 
course ! 

One other matter may have contributed to the 
refusals these MSS. met with — possibly they were 
offered to publishers who did not handle that 
particular type of work. Publishers usually spe- 
cialise in fixed directions, just as magazine editors 
do. No one attempts to cover the whole range of 
reading; a glance at any publisher's catalogue will 
show this. A MS. turned down by one, as being 
useless to the section of the public in which he 
is interested, may be taken by another, who reaches 
a totally different class of reader. 

Therefore do not despair, if your story does 
not get accepted the first time of asking. There 
may be a variety of reasons why that particular 
publisher or editor did not want that particular 

But in any case, don't sit down at the first 
rebuff and say, "What's the good of anything? A 
genius has no chance nowadays any more than 
poor Chatterton had!" (By the way, I have 
heard several desperate, would-be authors men- 
tion Chatterton and liken their own predicament 
to his, but not one has ever chanced to be able 
to quote me a line of his work!) There is no 
need to feel that the bottom has dropped out of 

270 The Lure of the Pen 

the universe, because your MS. has been returned. 
Try elsewhere. 

If it is declined by five or six different pub- 
lishers, then you may safely conclude that it is 
not the kind of work the public will buy at the 
moment; or it may be that your writing is not 
sufficiently mature. In that case, put that MS. 
aside, and tackle another, something quite fresh. 
I never think it is worth while to try and re-write 
or re-construct the rejected MS. — at any rate, not 
till you are tolerably advanced. It really takes 
no more time to write something entirely new. 

"If only I could get an introduction to an 
editor, I am sure I could get my work taken." One 
often hears this said. Yet there never was a 
greater delusion than this idea that introductions 
work the oracle. It would be a different matter if 
an editor, or publisher, had a surfeit of good work, 
and really did not know what to discard : in such 
circumstances (which won't occur this side of the 
millennium !) an introduction might help to secure 
attention for an individual writer. 

But as it is, the editor is only too anxious to 
purchase good work when it comes his way; he 
does not wait for any introduction. If a MS. 
strays into his office that possesses the qualities he 

When Offering Goods for Sale 271 

is looking for, he writes the author forthwith, his 
one desire being to purchase the MS. 

Still, if you really feel you must be armed with 
some such document, it is as well to be quite sure 
that the introduction is a desirable one. Here are 
two letters that reached me by the same post. 

The first was from Miss Blank, a stranger, who 
said — 

"My friend Mr. Dash, who thinks very highly of 
my work, has urged me to let you see some of it, 
as he thinks it is just the sort of thing you will be 
glad to have for your magazine. He is writing a 
letter of introduction. I shall be glad if you will 
name a time for a personal interview, as I can 
better explain" — etc. 

The second was from Mr. Dash, an acquaint- 
ance of long standing, who said — 

"There is a certain Miss Blank who is anxious 
I shovld write her a letter of introduction to your- 
self — which I do herewith. I know nothing what- 
ever about her, save that she seems to be a first- 
class nuisance. I have never seen her, haven't a 
ghost of a notion if she can write : probably she 
can't. But she happens to be the sister of the 
fiance of the daughter of my mother-in-law's dear- 
est and oldest friend ; and any man who values the 
peace and happiness of his home endeavours to 
propitiate his mother-in-law, especially when she 
has mentioned the matter six times already. There- 
fore I trust this introduction is in order." 

272 The Lure of the Pen 

The desirability of a personal interview with 
an editor is another delusion to which the amateur 
clings. As a rule nothing is gained 
interviews (but a good deal of time is lost) by 
desiratoi© m talking a contribution over before the 
Quinary MS. is read. After all, the MS. is 
the item by which the author stands 
or falls. If it is good, and what the editor wants, 
he will take it — and take it only too gladly; if it 
is not good, or not what he wants, no amount of 
preliminary conversation will secure its accept- 
ance; for no matter how delightful the conversa- 
tion may have been, he does not print that; it is 
the MS. itself that decides the crucial question of 
publication or no publication. 

In some cases a preliminary letter is desirable: 
it may be advisable to ascertain beforehand wheth- 
er an editor is open to consider an article on 
a doubtful subject. But if you wish to avoid 
inducing a sense of irritation in his soul, do not 
ask for a personal interview, since in all probabil- 
ity, if he is as rushed as most editors are nowa- 
days, he will turn down the matter forthwith, 
rather than spend time on talk that may lead 

It must always be borne in mind that these 
are overworked, understaffed, hustling times in a 

When Offering Goods for Sale 273 

very complex age; and the newspaper and maga- 
zine office feels this more keenly than any other 
branch of the business world, simply because 
periodicals must reflect the spirit of their day 
and generation, and keep the readers in touch 
with all that is going on, — and "all" is a large, 
and constantly changing, order at present. This 
means that the editorial offices are always more 
or less in a state of tension; there is no time to 
spare for interviews that may prove fruitless; the 
day is seldom long enough to get in all that is 
certain to be profitable to the paper. 

Therefore, say what you have to say by letter 
— and say it clearly and briefly. The editor 
forms his judgment by what you say, and if he 
wants to talk the matter over with you, he will 
soon let you know. 

"But I always feel I can explain myself so 
much better in a conversation — no matter how 
brief — than in a letter." This is a frequent plea. 

The public, however, will judge you by what 
you write, not by what you say; if you cannot 
express yourself well in writing, you may speak 
with the tongues of men and of angels yet it will 
avail you nothing where the publication of your 
MS. is concerned. If you cannot write about 
it so that the editor can understand, the public 


274 The Lure of the Pen 

are not likely to be able to comprehend it any 

Women are particularly prone to ask for an 
interview, and this because they instinctively rely 
to some extent on the appeal of their personality 
in most of their business transactions. By far 
the wiser course, however, is for a woman to ex- 
press herself so well in her writing that the office 
simply tumbles over itself in its anxiety to make 
her personal acquaintance. And I have known 
this to happen on more than one occasion. 

Nevertheless, men can also distinguish them- 
selves when making calls. The card of a stranger, 
bearing a Nebraska address, was 
irrepressible brought to me one afternoon. He 
urged that his business was of great 
importance. Finally I saw him. He was a most 
intelligent-looking American, and, like the ma- 
jority of his countrymen, was not long in coming 
to the point. He said he had written some poems, 
and promptly placed before me a sheaf of MS. 
I told him I would look at them if he would leave 

"Just you run your eye down these," he said. 
I protested that I could not possibly do his work 
justice if I skimmed it in any such manner. Then 
he explained that these were not poems — the mas 

When Offering Goods for Sale 275 

terpieces would come later — these were press 
notices of some poems he had had printed in a 
Nebraska paper. I read a few; I had never even 
heard of the majority of the papers that reviewed 
his work; but he seemed to take himself very 
seriously, one had not the heart to shatter his 

Then he produced the bales of poems. He 
watched me so eagerly I was obliged to read some. 
I besought him to leave the rest with me, as I 
could not decide so important a matter hurriedly. 

"Oh, but just read this one," he persisted. "Mr. 
Blank of our city — never heard of him? You 
do surprise me! — he says he considers it as fine 
as anything your Percy B. Shelley ever wrote." 
In a moment of abject weakness I said the poem 
was fair. Then the heart of that man warmed 
towards me; he told me of his hopes, his plans 
and his aspirations, and I tried to sympathise with 
them. I could not do less, since I owe America 
much for kindness and hospitality it has shown 
me on many occasions. 

When at last he rose, reluctantly (he had stay- 
ed an hour and a quarter), I offered him my hand. 
He took it with a hearty grip. 

"Well, I'm real glad to have known you," he 
said. "It's been a genuine pleasure to have this 

276 The Lure of the Pen 

talk with you, for you are, without exception, the 
most informed and intellectual person I've met 
since I've been in your country." I felt immedi- 
ately remorseful that I had grudged him the little 
chat; he was evidently a discerning young man. 

"The pleasure has been mine," I assured him, 
and inquired how long he had been in England*? 
"I landed at Southampton at ten o'clock this 
morning," was the response. I smilingly tried to 
disguise the sudden lapse of my enthusiasm. I 
must have succeeded, for he next said: 

"And now I guess I'll go down and fetch up 
my wife. She's been waiting in the street outside 
while I came up to see what you were like. I 
size it she'll just enjoy making a little visit with 

It is only natural that an author should be keen 
to know the verdict on his work, once he has sent 
it out to try its fortune. But it is 

cannot useless to get impatient because no 

always be or 

Read as news of it is forthcoming next day. 

Soon as 

they are Sometimes weeks elapse, sometimes 

months, before a MS. can be read. 
But since the publisher makes no charge for read- 
ing a MS. (and the reading costs money: some 
one's time has to be paid for, and it is some one 
who draws a fair salary, too), he must be allowed 

When Offering Goods for Sale 277 

to do it at his own convenience. If he has not 
asked you to send a MS., you cannot exactly 
dictate how soon it should be read. 

Naturally, it is read as quickly as possible ; this 
is to every one's interest; but this does not mean 
that it can be read the next day, or even the next 
week. Other authors may have preceded you. 

The amateur who sends letters of inquiry before 
one has scarcely had time to open the envelope, is 
doomed to have his work rejected. No office has 
time to write and explain that "the matter will 
be considered in due course," etc., so the MS. is 
merely returned. 

It seems impossible to make the average beginner 
understand that his is not the only story offered, 
and that things have to take their turn. 

Moreover, it is as difficult to please everybody 
as it was for the old man with the donkey in the 
fable. If MSS. are not returned immediately, the 
editor is bombarded with complaints from one set 
of aggrieved authors; if he is able to read them 
at once, and he returns them quickly, he is the 
recipient of uncharitable letters accusing him of 
having discarded the MSS. unread. 

There is an interesting story of a suspicious 
lady who prided herself on laying traps for the 
negligent editor — pages put in the wrong order, 

278 The Lure of the Pen 

others upside down, and suchlike devices with 
which every magazine office is familiar. At last 
she succeeded in proving that the monster who sat 
at the receipt of MSS. in one particular publishing 
house was a consummate rascal. 

"Sir," she wrote, "I have long suspected that 
you basely deceive the public into believing that 
you read their works, while in reality you return 
them unread. But at last I have caught you hot- 
handed in the very act. It will doubtless interest 
you to know that I purposely gummed together 
pages 96 and 97, very slightly, in the top right- 
hand corner. Had you fulfilled your duty and done 
the work for which your employer pays you a 
salary, you would have discovered this and de- 
tached the pages in question." 

The editor replied: 

"Dear Madam, — If you will take a sharp pen- 
knife, and remove the fragment of gum between 
pages 96 and 97, in the top right-hand corner, it 
may interest you to discover my initials underneath." 

"Should all MSS. be typed V is a ques- 
tion often asked. 
If y° n It is advisable to have them typed 

wish, your 

ms. to toe if possible, as this enables them to be 

Read: . . 

mate the read more quickly than if sent un- 
E^sy typed. Remember that your ob- 

ject in sending a MS. to a publisher, or 

When Offering Goods for Sale 279 

editor, is to get it read : therefore it is policy to do 
all in your power to facilitate the reading. 

Owing to the widespread interest in literature, 
and the universal desire to see oneself in print, the 
number of MSS. that reach the office of any 
general periodical of good standing, is immense; 
and the eye-strain entailed in reading is very 
great. It has therefore become necessary to ask 
for MSS. to be typed when possible ; though any- 
thing that was clearly written, in a bold readable 
hand, would never be turned down because it was 
not typed. What is desired is that a MS. shall 
be legible, so that it can be read with the least 
amount of detriment to the eyesight. Whereas 
some of the untyped work that is sent is a positive 
insult. I have seen tiny, niggling writing, crossed 
out and re-crossed out, till even the compositor 
(who is a perfect genius for reading the utterly 
illegible) could scarcely have made it out. And in 
all probability, such a MS. would be not over- 
clean, and would be rolled to go through the post. 

"If you are unable to make use of my MS., I 
shall be glad if you will kindly criti- 
cise it, and tell me exactly what you Stow 
think of it." *° * J 


This request is frequently made by 
senders of MS. And when they receive back their 

280 The Lure of the Pen 

work without any comment they will write and say, 
"At least you might have sent one word by way of 
criticism. If you had only written 'good' or 'bad,' 
I should have some idea why you declined it." 

I sympathise heartily with those who want ad- 
vice; I know how very difficult it is to get any 
guidance or criticism that can be relied upon to 
be disinterested. Nevertheless, I wish the student 
could see the number of queries, and the amount of 
work, and the heap of MSS. that arrive at the 
office of any prosperous periodical ; he would then 
begin to realise how utterly impossible it would 
be for MSS. to be criticised in writing. It would 
entail an extra staff, and an expensive staff at that, 
since such criticism is not work, like card indexing, 
that can be relegated to a junior clerk. Indeed, 
the sender of the MS. would probably be highly 
indignant if any one but the editor did this work ! 

When I explain to beginners that we have no 
time to write criticisms on rejected work they 
say, "But it wouldn't take a minute to write down 
a few words, seeing that the MS. has already been 

Unfortunately, it would take a great many 
minutes. In any case it takes some time (if only 
a little) to sum up concisely the merits and defects 
of anything. More than that, experience has 

When Offering Goods for Sale 281 

proved again and again that one little word of 
criticism will lead to more letters from the writer. 
And one has not time to read them ! The children 
of our brain are very dear to us; and so sure as 
any one passes an adverse criticism on them, our 
feathers stand on end, and we prepare to defend 
our one little chick like the most devoted hen 
that ever lived. 

Neither is it wise, I have found, to suggest a 
little alteration with a promise of publication 
attached. Two years ago I wrote to some one who 
had only had one short story published, indicating 
a new ending that would have improved her MS. 
immensely, and made it possible for me to take it. 

"My temperament requires that it shall end as 
I have written it. Kindly return my MS. if you 
cannot use it," replied the lady loftily. 

I did so. 

Last week the same MS. came back to me — 
much aged and the worse for wear — with a note 
that the author did not mind if I altered the ending 
as I had suggested. But two years is two years. 
And in the interval, while the MS. was travelling 
round to every other office, the subject-matter had 
got out of date. 

It is never politic to be touchy if by chance 

282 The Lure of the Pen 

some misguided editor does offer a word of 
criticism ! 

If you want your work published, and there 
is no loss of principle involved, conform to the 
publisher's requirements as gracefully as you can, 
even though, in your heart of hearts, you consider 
him woefully lacking in discernment. 

And you can comfort yourself, meanwhile, with 
the thought that when you are safely ensconced 
upon Olympian heights, you will even things up 
a little, and get back all of your own. I know 
one proprietress of several rejected MSS. who 
vows that whenever she "gets there," she will sit 
on the topmost pinnacle, and make all publishers 
and editors (including myself) walk up to her 
on their knees, dropping curtsies all the way! 

I was making for my office one day when a 
sportive-looking girl stopped me on the stairs. 
a popular "Just give this story to the editor will 
i^uBion you, please?" she began. "Give it 

right into her hands, won't you; don't let any 
underling get hold of it." 

I agreed. 

"And — I say — just tell her from me that she's 
to read it herself : , every word of it; I won't be 
put off with some assistant tossing it aside half 
read. I know their tricks." 

When Offering Goods for Sale 283 

One very popular delusion is that there is a 
conspiracy among the assistants in an office to 
keep MSS., and especially good MSS., from the 
eye of the chief! People will resort to all sorts 
of devices with the idea of ensuring MSS. reach- 
ing the editor's own hands. They are marked 
"personal," and "strictly private," or "please for- 
ward, if away"; and I had one endorsed, "Not 
to be opened by any one but the Editor." 

Yet what is gained by all this, save a definite 
amount of delay ? In any well-organised office, 
work has to follow a certain routine; MSS. have 
to be entered up by clerks as received, the stamps 
sent for return postage have to be checked and 
duly noted by the proper department, etc. Why 
delay the handling of the MS. for a few weeks 
by having it so addressed that it may follow the 
editor to the North Pole, and back, before it is 
opened, if the endorsements were obeyed 1 ? — which 
of course they are not. 

Let a MS. take its proper course. No one in 
the office desires to suppress genius; on the con- 
trary, great indeed is the elation of any member 
of the staff who discovers something worth pub- 
lishing. It is one great object of our business 

284 The Lure of the Pen 

If you feel you must call at an office in person, 
remember that the display of a little tact is a de- 
sirable accomplishment. When seek- 

A little . . , 

Tact and mg a post on his paper do not start 

^ow^mucii ky telling the editor that his mag- 
azine is poor stuff, and will soon be 
on the rocks, — as I once heard a lady tell the 
editor of one of the most famous monthlies in 
existence. When he inquired as to her experience, 
it transpired that she had had one story — and one 
only — printed, and it had appeared in a child's 

And it was another tactful caller who said, on 
leaving, after having absorbed five and twenty 
minutes of a busy assistant's time : "Well, perhaps 
you'll explain these suggestions of mine to the 
editor; though it would have been so much more 
satisfactory if I could have talked to some prop- 
erly qualified individual." 

Occasionally, however, a caller contributes 
something to the gaiety of nations, as in the case 
of the lady who came to inquire after the welfare 
of a MS. she had left with some one in our build- 
ing only the day before. (And, incidentally, she 
wanted to alter a word in it, as she had thought of 
one she liked better). 

I was passing through the Inquiry Office as she 

When Offering Goods for Sale 285 

entered, and she straightway explained to me her 

"I will find out who took it," I said, "I do not 
think you left it with me." 

"Oh no! it wasn't you," she replied emphat- 
ically. "I left it with quite a nice-looking 

The Responsibility 

THE responsibility attached to the busi- 
ness of writing is greater than in any- 
other department of work. The influ- 
ence of the printed page is so far reaching, that no 
writer can gauge to what extent he may be fur- 
thering good (or harm), when he puts pen to 

You can calculate exactly an author's cash 
value by his sales : but this does not give an equally 
accurate estimate of his moral value. 

Who would dream of measuring the influence 
of Punch, for instance, by the figures of its cir- 
culation 1 ? No one can say how many people will 
handle one single copy, or how many people will 
find in that single copy bracing laughter and 
healthy humour. The numbers printed each week 
can only represent a fraction of its actual readers. 

And the same applies to a good many books: 

they pass from one to another, are borrowed from 

libraries, borrowed from friends (often without 

being returned, alas!), and by varied routes they 

penetrate to out-of-the-way corners of the world 


The Responsibility 287 

where the authors would least expect to be able to 
reach the inhabitants. 

The most famous preacher living has not the 
possibilities of power that lie in the hands of 
a popular writer; and the gravity of this respon- 
sibility cannot be over-estimated. 

While this does not mean that we must take 
ourselves too seriously, it does mean that we 
must take our work seriously, and recognise that 
it stands for something more than money-making, 
even though money-making is not to be despised. 

To the beginner this may seem a weighty sub- 
ject and rather outside his orbit. But in reality 
this point needs to be taken into consideraion from 
the very earliest of our literary experiments. We 
must induce a certain attitude of mind, and keep 
definite ideals before us, if our work is to shape 
in any particular direction. 

And the probability is that you will have to 
choose between good and ill when selecting the 
theme for your first story. You will naturally 
look around and study the type of fiction that 
seems to be selling well, and perhaps you may 
light on something peculiarly noxious, since there 
is an assortment of such books being published 
nowadays. The book in question may have been 
designated "strong" (the word reviewers often 

288 The Lure of the Pen 

fall back upon, when they cannot find any adjec- 
tive sufficiently truthful without being libellous, 
to convey an idea of a book's malodorous quali- 
ties!); or you may have heard the book lauded 
by people who make a boast of being modern, 
up-to-date, or advanced. And as we none of us 
aim at being weak, or old-fashioned, or behind 
the times, it is not surprising if the beginner feels 
that he, too, had better try his hand at somehing 
"strong," if he is to get a reputation for ultra- 

Quite a number of novices choose unpleasant 
topics because, and only because, they fancy such 
themes show advanced, untrammelled thought, 
and "a knowledge of the world." They forget 
that of far greater importance than the extent of 
the writer's ability to defy the conventions, is 
the moral effect of a book on those who read it. 

I use the word "moral" in its widest sense. It 

is unfortunate that we have got into the habit of 

pigeon-holing literature — and espec- 

views are lally fiction — in very narrow compart- 

Neeaed ments. When we speak of a book as 

when Char- r 

acterismff "good," or "helpful," or "uplifting," 

literature to ' r ' .7 

we usually mean that it contains 
specific religious teaching in one form or another. 
Yet a book may be very good and helpful and 

The Responsibility 289 

uplifting without a single sermonic sentence, or 
anything approaching thereunto. 

In the same way, when we say that a novel is 
undesirable or immoral, we generally mean that it 
deals with one particular form of evil: yet there 
are books having little or nothing to do with pro- 
miscuous sex relationships that are pernicious and 
unhealthy in the extreme, and possibly all the 
more dangerous because their immorality is not 
of the kind that is definitely ticketed for all to 
see, and beware of, if need be. 

Everything tending to lower the tone of the 
soul is immoral; everything that debases human 
taste is unhealthy; everything that gloats on un- 
pleasantness, for the mere pleasure of gloating, is 
as devastating as poison gas; everything that 
preaches a doctrine of hopelessness, that spreads 
the black miasma of spiritual doubt over the mind 
is bad — fiendishly bad. 

But do not misunderstand me: I would not 

seem to imply that only fair things should be 

chronicled. There are certain facts of life that 

must be faced : sin cannot be ignored — but it must 

be recognised as sin, not be touched up with tinsel, 

and placed in the limelight, to look as attractive 

as possible. 

Poverty, grime, sickness, gloom cannot be 


290 The Lure of the Pen 

banished from every horizon; but they need not 
be dwelt upon exclusively without any alleviation, 
to the shutting out of all else. The wave of 
so-called "realism" that has swept over fiction of 
recent years has been a very injurious element in 
modern literature. It is bad from an artistic point 
of view, since it is one-sided, unbalanced, and not 
true to life itself, which invariably provides that 
compensations go hand in hand with drawbacks. 

Some people speak of "realism" as though the 
only realities were sordidness and crime; whereas 
the earth teems with lovely realities — beauty of 
spirit, beauty of character, beauty of thought, no 
less than beauty of form and colour. 

The slum at first glance does not look a pre- 
possessing subject; yet read "Angel Court": the 
writer who is a real artist can find gold even here ! 


By Austin Dobson 

In Angel-Court the sunless air 

Grows faint and sick; to left and right 
The cowering houses shrink from sight 

Huddled and hopeless, eyeless, bare. 

Misnamed, you say? for surely rare 
Must be the angel-shapes that light 
In Angel-Court! 

Xhe Responsibility 291 

Nay! the Eternities are there. 

Death at the doorway stands to smite; 

Life in its garrets leaps to light; 
And Love has climbed that crumbling stair 
In Angel-Court. 

From "London Lyrics," by permission. 

Those who acclaimed these recent books of so- 
called "realism" as works of exceptional genius, 
did not see that, far from being any such thing, 
they were, in most cases, preliminary manifesta- 
tions of a hideous malady, which has since cul- 
minated in all we understand by the word Bol- 

To dilate on ugliness, coarseness, harshness, 
without showing the counteracting forces at work, 
and to dabble continuously in dirt without show- 
ing the way to cleanliness, is not art, no matter 
how accurately every detail may be portrayed: 
it is merely systematised brutishness. 

Even themes with a rightful motive may be 
exceedingly harmful under some circumstances. 
Studies of dipsomaniacs, drug-victims, and the 
like, may be necessary as matters of psychologi- 
cal or medical research, just as studies of any other 
diseases are necessary; but they should be issued 
as such, and not put forward in the guise of 

292 The Lure of the Pen 

fiction intended for all and sundry among the 
general public. 

I have enlarged on this matter, because there 
has been a great tendency on the part of amateurs 
lately to revel in descriptions of crudity and re- 
pulsiveness, with never a thought as to the effect 
of such literature on the reader. At no time is 
it desirable to circulate indiscriminately, much 
less as fiction, reading matter that can only induce 
morbidity, neuroticism, depravity, doubt, or de- 
pression. But in an age like the present, when 
most of the civilised world is bowed beneath an 
overwhelming weight of sorrow, shattered nerves 
and physical weakness, it is positively criminal to 
manufacture pessimism, gloom and horrors, and 
scatter this type of literature broadcast without 
any sense of the appalling responsibility attaching 

There are three qualities which all authors 
should aim to incorporate in their writings if they 
_ „„. are to be a blessing rather than a 

Qualities ° 

which. curse to humanity: these are clean- 

cannot he J 

Dispensed ness, healthiness and righteousness. 

With i • i i • i 

They may be introduced in many and 
various forms ; and are often to be found in whole- 
some laughter, spontaneous gaiety, good cheer, 
breathless adventure, revelations of beauty, as 

The Responsibility 293 

well as in direct appeals to the higher nature. 
Anything that will arouse sane emotions, and 
divert the mind from self, is to be welcomed as 
a benefaction in this world of many sorrows. 

The late Charles Heber Clarke — better known 
to the public as "Max Adeler" — enjoyed great 
popularity at one time as a humorist. He was a 
man of strong religious convictions; and there 
came a day when he ceased to write his humor- 
ous pleasantries, seeming inclined to regard them 
as so much wasted opportunity. On one occasion 
however, a clergyman whom he met while travel- 
ling, on discovering his identity, grasped his hand 
and said, "You have made me laugh when there 
seemed nothing left to laugh about; you have 
helped me to get over some of my darkest days. 
I owe you more than I owe any other man in the 

"And when he had finished pouring out his 
gratitude," said "Max Adeler," (who told me 
this himself), "I began to wonder whether, after 
all, one might not be doing as much good in the 
world by making people smile and forget their 
troubles, as by preaching at them." 

To help humanity God-ward is the greatest 
privilege we can aspire to; but this can be done by 
other means besides the writing of hymns and 

294 The Lure of the Pen 

commentaries. Everything that tends to lift 
humanity from the low-lands of sorrow or sor- 
didness or suffering, and to point them to the 
great Hope ; everything that will aid them to live 
up to the best that is in them, and to strive to 
recapture some long-lost Vision of the Highest, 
will be helping in the great work of human re- 
generation that was set on foot by the One who 
came to give beauty for ashes. 

While only a few are entrusted with the mes- 
sage of the prophet or the seer, we all can special- 
ise on whatsoever things are lovely and pure and 
of good report; and we shall be of some use — 
if only in a quiet way — to our day and generation 
if we can help others also to think on these things. 

But one point must not be overlooked — and in 

saying this I am summing up most that has gone 

before: If a book is to succeed, it 

Goodness . ,, 

does not must be well written. 

Suiaess Because a certain number of highly 

unpleasant books have succeeded, and 
a certain number of highly moral books have 
failed, beginners sometimes consider this as an 
indication of public preference. What they for- 
get, or do not know, is this : The nasty book suc- 
ceeded, in spite of its nastiness, because it was 
well and brightly written; while the moral book 

The Responsibility 295 

failed, in spite of its goodness, because it was 
badly written and superlatively dull. If the moral 
book that failed had been as well written as the 
nasty book that succeeded, it would not only have 
done as well as the nasty book, it would have done 
a great deal better. 

All but a small degenerate section of the public 
prefer wholesome to vicious literature — but no- 
body wants a dull book ! And the amateur writer 
of good books often overlooks this latter fact. 

Therefore, bear in mind that it is not sufficient 
that you make a book clean and healthy and good; 
you must endeavour to make cleanness as attrac- 
tive as it really is, and healthiness as desirable as 
it really is, and God-ordained Righteousness the 
most satisfying of all the things worth seeking. 

When you can do this, you will find a fair-sized 
public waiting, and anxious, to buy your books. 

You will not know what good you may be 
doing — it is never desirable for any of us to hear 
much on this score, humanity is so sadly liable to 
swelled head ! But occasionally some one in the 
big outside world may send you a sincere "Thank 
you." When this comes you will suddenly realise, 
though you cannot explain why, that there are 
some things even more worth while than the 
publisher's cheque. 


Abbreviations to be avoided 
in verse, 247 

Abstract qualities to be 
gauged, 25 

Alexander, Mrs., Burial of 
Moses, 75 

Allen, James Lane, and local 
colour, 176 

Allingham, Wm., poem by, 170 

Allusions, hackneyed, 155 

Amateurs, what they need to 
cultivate and avoid, 47 

Amateurs, two classes of, 139 

Amateurs copying unawares, 

Amateurs and marriage offers 
in stories, 209 

Amateurs' lack of first-hand 
knowledge, 198 

Ambiguity, avoid, 157 

American writers and local 
colour, 174, 175 

Ancient facts undesirable ex- 
cept in text-book, 149 

Angel Court, Austin Dobson, 

Anthologies, verse, 75, 76 

Antiquated expressions, 52 

Arnold, Matthew, 75 

Article, settle object in writ- 
ing it, 147 

Articles that are not wanted, 
151 ; big subjects to be 
avoided, 155; "How to 

," editors overdone 

with, 154; which fail, 138; 
useful divisions, 136; ruled 
by form, 136; on subjects 
already dealt with, 153; 

study type of, in magazine 
you are writing for, 152; 
must be sent to editors in 
time, 150; must be topical, 
150; starting in the middle, 
Artist and detail, 100 
Artist's fragments, an, 167 
Artistic atmosphere, 178 
Artistic training and literary 

first attempts, 4, 98-100 
"Atmosphere," healthy and 
otherwise, 181; as a time 
saver, 180 
Atmospheric purpose of story 

writer, 89 
Audience, settle on your, 126 
Austen's, Jane, old-world "at- 
mosphere," 184 
Author's aim to help readers 

God-ward, 293 
Authors must have something 
in their heads to write 
down, 11 
Authorship compared with 
dressmaking, 5, 7 


Baby prattle in amateur verse, 

239 ,- 

Barclay, Mrs., White Ladies 

of Worcester, 41 ; The Ro- 
sary, 210 
Barrie, Sir J., and dialect, 195 
Barrie, Sir J., short stories, 91 ; 

Window in Thrums, 224 
Beautiful thoughts do not 
guarantee beautiful writing, 

Begin in the middle, 147 




Be natural, 48, 106 

Benson, Dr. A. C, 65 

Big subjects to be avoided, 154 

Birrell, Augustine, 65 

Blackmore and local colour, 

Blue pencil to be used by writer 
rather than editor, 252 

"Body," needed in writing, 123 

Bolshevism in literature, 291 

Booksellers as readers, 118 

Books that shriek, 38 

Books which survive. Why? 

Boothby, Guy, and proof cor- 
rections, 223 

Boudoir stories, 206 

Brain misuse, nature's revenge 
for, 36 

British Weekly, for style, 56 

Broad Highway, The, "at- 
mosphere" of, 184 

Browning, Mrs. and Christina 
Rossetti, 76 

Browning, Mrs., "Sonnets 
from the Portuguese," 244 

Browning's Paracelsus, 71 ; 
"rough-hewn" method, 70 

Bryant and Longfellow, 76, 77 

Bullock, Shan F., and local 
colour, 174 

By-gone models of amateurs, 


Cable, George, 176 

Cabmen, article on, 113 

Callers on editors, 274 

Canton, William, 42 

Caricature is not characterisa- 
tion, 142 

Carlyle's "rough-hewn" meth- 
od, 70 

Cattloguing instead of art, 140 

Causes of actions to be studied, 

Central idea, necessary to 
story, 79 

Character delineation needed 
in love-stories, 215 

Characterisation is not carica- 
ture, 142 

Characters in story, values of, 
84; should not be multiplied 
unduly, 220; should explain 
themselves, 216, 219; to be 
introduced early, 219 

Chatterton, 269 

Cheap books, the flood of, 38 

Chesterton, G. K., paradoxes 
of, 165 

Children, mistakes of writers 
for, 127 

Chimney-pot, evolution of the, 


Chimney-pots, Ruskin's chap- 
ter on, 44 

Choate, Joseph H., on Dickens, 

Choose topic from your own 
environment, 200 

Clarity, aim for, 161 

Classics, our purpose on read- 
ing them, in, 112 

Clarke, Charles Heber, 293 

Cleanness should be made at- 
tractive, 295 

Cleverness must not be obtru- 
sive, 109 

Climax, do not anticipate, 228 

Climax in article, 147 

Climax, never lose sight of, 89 

Coleridge's Kubla Khan, 75, 

Colloquialisms, avoid, 195 

Condensation, need of, 106 

Condensation never spoils be- 
ginner's work, 257 

Contrasts, incidents inserted in 
stories as, 86 

Copy, universal tendency to, 

Copying unrecognised by ama- 
teurs, 203 

Country of the Pointed Firs, 
The, 224 

Craddock, Chas. Egbert, and 
local colour, 176 

Cranford, 184, 201 

Creating an "atmosphere," 185 



Creation and copying, 203 
Criticise your own work, 129 
Criticism, editors have no time 

for, 9 
Crockett, S. R., and dialect, 195 
Curtailment of sentences may 

be carried to excess, 50 
"Curtains" are sound business, 

"Curtains," Dickens', 231 
"Curtains" necessary for se- 
rial publication, 231 
Cut down your MSS., 253 
Cynic really gets nowhere, 30 


Dante, why we read, m, 112 
David and Jonathan, 155 
Defects overlooked by fame, 

I2 4 
Delav in editorial decision on 

MSS., 276 

Delete superfluities in your 
MS., 254 

Denouement as a surprise, 
213, 225 

Detail, knowledge of, impera- 
tive, 21; study of, 100; too 
much, 92, 140 

Devices to reach editors, 283 _ 

Dialect an extra mental strain 
on reader, 194; requires ex- 
ceptional skill, 195 

Diary form of story, 191 

Dickens, Charles, an adept at 
"curtains," 231 

Dickens, central ideas of, 79 

Diffusiveness, 106 

Divine discontent, 197 

Dobson, Austin, Angel Court, 

Does the public want it? The 
publisher's question, 267 

Dog, the real, 19 

Doll heroines, 26 

Dombey and Son in U. S. A., 

Dream Days, Kenneth Gra- 
ham, 224 

Dreams of youth valuable, 235 
Dressmaking and authorship, 

Dull book not wanted by any- 
one, 295 

Dulness not necessary to good- 
ness, 294 


Earle, Mabel, Valley Song, 

Eccentricity will not secure per- 
manent interest, 122 

Editorial routine, 283 

Editors do not purchase MS. 
because first attempt, 263 ; 
have no time to criticise and 
advise, 280; only buy what 
pays to publish, 264; take 
time to read MSS., 276; un- 
moved by irrelevant appeals, 

Emotionalism, 184 

Emotions of author not always 
interesting, 220 

Ending, a happy one best, 226 

Entertaining, every book should 
be, 128 

Environment and circumstances 
to be studied, 19 

Environment, your own, as 

your subject, 200 
Every generation allows spe- 
cial characteristics of speech, 

49 . • r 

Exclusive information neces- 
sary, 45 

Extracts, lavish use undesir- 
able, 161 

Expressions, antiquated, 52 

Facts, ancient, to be omitted, 

Facts needed, 21 

Fame overlooking defects, 124 

Farnol, Jeffrey, and old-world 
"atmosphere," 184 

Feeding the brain with snip- 
pets, 37 



Fiction, monotonous character 
of MSS., 80 

Fiction, "strong," 287 

Field, Eugene, Limitations of 
Youth, 249 

"Fiona Macleod," 171 

First attempts rarely accepta- 
ble, 102 

First attempts in literature 
compared with art and mu- 
sic, 4 

First-hand knowledge, need of, 

First-person limitations, 188 

Forest of Wild Thyme, Alfred 
Noyes, 250 

Form as applied to articles, 136 

Formless fragments, 167 

Fragments, 166 

Framework of story, 82 

Freak writings cannot be fore- 
casted, 268 

GARDEN of Verses, a Child's, 
R. L. Stevenson, 250 

Genius, mistaken ideas of, 4 

Genius scarce, 13 

Gloom manufacture is wrong, 

Glow-worms as a hat-trim- 
ming, 153 

God-ward help in literature, 

Golden Age, Kenneth Graham, 

Goodness does not excuse dul- 

ness, 295 
Gosse, Dr. Edmund, 65 
Graham, Kenneth, Golden Age 

and Dream Days, 224 
Grandmothers in amateur fic- 
tion, 210 
Gray's Elegy, 67 
Green, Dr. S. G., and Pickwick 

Papers, 232 
"Grip" needed for selling, 117 
"Grit" necessary in a novel, 



Hackneyed phrases, 155 
Healthiness, authors should 

aim at, 292 
Healthiness should be made 

desirable, 295 
Hearn, Lafcadio, and local 

colour, 174 
Heroine, the rose-petal, 209 
Hiawatha's appeal to children, 

"How to " articles over- 
done, 154 
Human characteristics to be 

studied, 18 
Human heart, pivot of great 

stories, 28 
Hysterical "atmosphere," 184 

Idea, original, lost, 160; ornate 
language cannot cover lack 
of, 160; starting, forgotten 
by amateurs, 126 ; the cen- 
tral, 79, 81 

Ideas and words, 59; as varied 
as human nature, 81; more 
important than rhapsodies, 

"Imaginative writing," 162 

Immoral fiction, 288 

Improbabilities, 162 

Inaccuracy in detail fatal to 
success, 23 

Incidents should not be crowd- 
ed, 220 

Income expected without train- 
ing, 4 

Indefinite style to be avoided, 

Ingelow, Jean, 75 

Inner workings of mind and 
heart to be studied, 26 

Interest readers, the need to, 

Interviews with editors unde- 
sirable, 272 

Introductions to editors useless, 



Invisible Playmate, 42 
Involved sentences, 159 
Isolation foolish for an author, 


Jacobs, W. W., and local col- 
our, 173 

James, Henry, long sentences 
of, 165 

Jewett, Sarah Orne, 176; 
Country of Pointed Firs, 224 

Journalists as models for the 
amateur, 57 


Kernahan, Coulson, 65 
Keynote of story, 79 
Kipling, Rudyard, and local 

colour, 174; short stories, 91 ; 

"The Recessional," 75 
Kipling's "Cat that walked by 

itself," 142; varied styles, 

Know your characters, 29 
"Kubla Khan," 75, 170 

LADY of the Decoration, 194 

Lady of the Lake, 173 

Landscape painting, 178 

Language, pleasing, 71 

Learning must not be obtru- 
sive, 108 

Leave off when finished, 147 

Length of story must be con- 
sidered, 134 

Letters, story in the form of, 

x 93 . ,. 

Life ever offering new dis- 
coveries, 29 

Literary student at disadvan- 
tage compared with students 
of arithmetic, 6 

Literature, an elusive business, 
7 ; good, what constitutes it, 
7; intangible, 8 

Little, Frances, Lady of the 
Decoration, 194 

Little Women, 201 

Local colour and American 
authors, 174 

Local colour subordinate to 
personality, 28 

Locality should be known to 
story writer, 220 

Longfellow, Bryant and Swin- 
burne, 76, 77 

Lovers' outpourings in ama- 
teur verse, 239 

Love-story difficult for ama- 
teur, 211, 224 

Love-story, need for character 
delineation, 215 

Love-stories outlets for girls' 
emotions, 221 


Magazine is a business pro- 
position, 264 

Main theme should make uni- 
versal appeal, 27 

Major, Charles, 184 

Mannerisms not tolerated, 164 

"Mark Twain" and preacher, 

Marriage offers in amateur 
stories, 207 

"Max Adder's" humour help- 
ful, 293 

Men and women as they really 
are, 29 

Mental "atmosphere," convey- 
ing our own, 187 

Mental food needed, 12 

Mental indigestion, 37 

Metrical composition, laws to 
be studied, 235 

Meynell, Alice, "Song," 238 

Minor details in stories, two 
purposes of, 86 

Mitford, Miss, Our Village, 


Modern English seldom used 
by amateur, 48 

Modern style gained by read- 
ing modern stuff, 54 

Modernity of style desirable, 



Money-making should not 
alone be object in writing, 

Monotony fatal to success, 120 

Moral books should be as well- 
written as nasty ones, 295 

Morley, Viscount, and prize 
poem, 73 

Motif important, 81 

Motives that prompt actions, 
26, 27 

MSS., proportion of accepted, 3 

MSS. rejected, reasons why, 
10, 148, 197 

MSS. should be typed, 278 

Music and art compared with 
literature, 4, 5, 6, 132 


Nature dissertations in ama- 
teur verse, 239 
Nature and mind, effects of 

nutriment, n 
Nature's revenge for misuse of 

brain, 36 
Negatives, double, 159 
New reliable matter will find 

acceptance, 46 
Newspaper leading articles for 

style, 54 
Notes of observations, 17, 20, 

Novel, "grit" necessary for, 

Novel, three-volume, 132 
Novel, wedding need not be 

chief aim of, 80 
Novelty desirable, 120 
Novice must train himself, 6 
Noyes, Alfred, 75, 250 


Object, be sure of your, 127 

Observation saves from pit- 
falls, 22 

Observation to begin just 
where you are now, 32 

Obvious not the whole of the 
story, the, 26 

Old-fashioned style not want- 
ed to-day, 52 
Old-world "atmosphere," 183 
Omar Khayyam, pessimistic 

"atmosphere" of, 184 
One-sided view of life due to 

isolation, 31 
Other people's brain-work not 

acceptable, 46 
Originality necessary, 46 
Originality not peculiarity, 164 
Original work is rare, 202 
Our Admirable Betty, "atmos- 
phere" of, 184 
Our Village, Miss Mitford, 

Out-doory "atmosphere," 185 

Padding stories, 85 

Painting, three-part basis of, 

132 . • ,. 

Peculiarity not originality, 

Peculiarity will not secure per- 
manent interest, 122 
Pedantic style, avoid, 161 
People, study of, needed, 30 
"Personal" marking does not 

carry to editor, 283 
Personal outlook of readers, 

Pessimism manufacture is cri- 
minal, 292 
Pessimistic "atmosphere," 184 
Pett Ridge and local colour, 

Phil May's methods, 255 
Pickwick Papers and school 

holiday, 232 
Picture palaces versus read- 
ing, 39 
Pigeons in war, amateur arti- 
cle on, 146, 149 
Plato, why we read, 111, 112 
Plausible imp, the, 257 
Plots, making, 108 
Plots, well-worn, 204 
Poems for comparison, 76 



Poems should have some defi- 
nite thought, 236 
Poetic idea in every poem, 237 
Poetry anthologies, 75, 76 
Poetry leads to good prose, 72 
Poetry, reading aloud, 74 
Poetry, the so-called "new," 

Point, necessary to a story, 214 
Polish, 222 
Preliminary studies for perfect 

work, 101 
Press dates are long before 

publication, 150 
Proposals in fiction and real 

life, 212 
Psychological bearings to be 

noted, 24 
Publisher better judge than 

author, 267; not a philan- 
thropic agent, 265 
Publisher's requirements must 

be conformed to, 282 
Publishers specialise in fixed 

directions, 269 
"Pull together" your MS., 255 
Punch and a "curtain," 233 
Punch, influence of, 286 
Purpose, all writing should 

have a, 128 


Quiller-Couch, Sir A., 65 
Quotation marks, 161 


Reader's choice, rather than 
yours, for the reader, 151, 

Reading, aloud, 55, 74; helps 
you to judge the worth of 
information, 43 ; loss of the 
power of, 39; and nibbling, 
40; necessary for historical 
stories, 41 

Read only what you can read 
thoroughly, 40 

"Realism" in fiction, 290 

Reliability essential, 46 

Return of MSS., 277 

Reviewers, 118 

Rhapsodies do not constitute 
poetry, 236 

"Rich sonority," 54 

Righteousness, authors should 
aim at, 293 

Rives, Amelie, and local col- 
our, 176 

Rosary, The, heroine of, 210 

Rossetti, Christina, 75 ; and 
Mrs. Browning, and Tenny- 
son, 76, 77 

"Rough-hewn" method, 70 

Routine in editors' offices, 283 

Rubdiydt, pessimistic "atmo- 
sphere" of the, 184 

Rules, established, save our 
wasting time, 130 

Ruskin's "Chapter on Chim- 
ney-Pots," 44; defects over- 
looked, 124; Poetry of Archi- 
tecture, Queen of the Air, 
Preterita, 65; Sesame and 
Lilies, 65, 183; tangents, 


Schools for literature needed, 

Scott's Lady of the Lake, 173 
Secondary matter in story, 85 
Seeing yourself in print should 
not be alone the object in 
writing, 148 
Selection, instinct for, 139, 146 
Self-expression, craving for, 9 
Selling, the essential of book 

production, 119 
Sensational, the demand for, 

Sentences should be short, 221 
Serial publication necessitates 

"curtains," 231 
Sesame and Lilies, 183 
Settle your chronological start- 
ing point, 145 
Shakespeare language not nec- 
essary to amateur, 50 



Shakespeare and spiritual 
values, 28, 29; why we read, 
in, 112 
Sharp, Wm., 171 
Shaw, Bernard, cynical scin- 
tillations of, 165 
Shelley's Cloud, 75 
Short sentences an advantage, 

Short stories need same rules 

as long ones, 90 
Shrieking books, 38 
Skimming, danger of, 36 
Slang indicates ignorance, 62 
Slang, monotony of, 61 
Slangy style, avoid, 161 
Smile, making people, 293 
Snippets of reading, 37 
Sonnets from the Portuguese, 

Mrs. Browning, 244 
Sound, refined and otherwise, 

Spectator articles for style, 55 
Speeding up our sentences, 49 
Spiritual values to be noted, 24 
Spiritual values and Shake- 
speare, 28, 29 
Stale material, 45 
Start where you are, 224 
Starting-point, chronological, 

to be settled, 145 
Steel, Mrs. F. A., 91, 174 
Stevenson, R. L., Essays, 64; 

Garden of Verses, 250 
Story, "atmospheric" purpose 
of author, 89; balance of, 
135; assessing values of 
characters, 85; climax nev- 
er to be lost sight of, 89 ; 
contrasts, examples of, 87; 
cut out irrelevant particu- 
lars, 136; dovetailing inci- 
dents, 89; framework of, 82; 
get well under way early 
in, 134; historical reading 
necessary for, 41 ; keynote 
of, 79; length of, 134; the 
minor details, 86; the three- 
part basis, 132; incidents, 
select those that matter, 142 ; 

in form of diary, 192; in 
form of letters, 193; over- 
crowding with detail, 92; 
"slap dash" method of writ- 
ing, 92; told in clear man- 
ner most popular, 196; writ- 
ten in first person, limita- 
tions of, 188; written in 
third person usually best, 
188; secondary matter in, 

8 5 
Stories by masters, nothing 

merely a "fill-up," 86 
Stories, short, need same rules 

as long ones, 90 
Strauss' sound monstrosities, 

"Strong" fiction, 287 
Style, avoid indefinite, 156 
Style of writing should vary, 

Subjects must be of interest 
to readers, 119; not repeat- 
ed by editors, 153 ; unable to 
be studied should be avoid- 
ed, 19 
Successful books must be well- 
written, 294 
Swinburne and Longfellow, 76 
Sympathy needed to write con- 
vincingly, 29, 30 

Tact necessary to contribu- 
tors, 284 
Taylor, Ann and Jane, 124 
Tennyson and Christina Ros- 

setti, 77 
Tennyson's "Break, break, 
break," 171; "Flower in a 
Crannied Wall," 171 
Tennyson's poems for reading 

aloud, 74 
Thinking, formless, 171 
Third-person narrative usual- 
ly best, 188 
Thought transference, 59 
Thought, beware of labouring 
a, 160 



Thoughts, difficulty of writing 

them down, 98 
Three-part basis of story, 132 
Timothy's Quest, 224 
Topicality, keep an eye on, 

Training for authorship im- 
perative, 5 

Training yourself, 140 

Travellers, publishers', as 
readers, 118 

Typed MSS. most likely to be 
read, 278 


Ugliness is not art, 291 
Uncle Tom's Cabin, central 

idea of, 79 
Unpleasant topics, 288 
Unseen that counts, the, 24 
Using two words where one 

will suffice, 50 

Valley SONG, by Mabel Earle, 

Verse, abbreviations to be 
avoided in, 247 

Verse, amateur, 239 

Verse anthologies, 75, 76 

Verse-making, laws of, to be 
studied, 235 

Verse must voice world-wide 
need, 243 

Verse, worth reading, ama- 
teur, 239 

Verse-writing a useful exer- 
cise, 234; leads to good 
prose, 72 

Vocabulary of average person, 


Wax-Figure characters, 26 
Wedding need not be chief 
aim of novel, 80 

Well-worn plots, 204 

When Knighthood ivas in 
Flower, "atmosphere" of, 

Wholesome literature pre- 
ferred by public, 295 

Why, every, hath a where- 
fore, 160 

Why some books survive, 28, 

Wiggin, Kate Douglas, 224 

Wilkins, Mary E., and local 
colour, 175, 176 

Wilson, President, 171-word 
sentence, 221 

Window in Thrums, A, 224 

Wister, Owen, and local col- 
our, 176 

Woman's Magazine offered 
unsuitable subjects, 153 

Woman's Magazine at press 
some weeks before publica- 
tion, 150 

Wooden-horse heroes, 26 

Word, value of a, 66 

Word - picture, fragmentary, 

Word-picture study, 104 

Word-pictures, need to select 
incidents for, 141 

Words, greatest writers had 
no more than we, 251 

Words, subject should regu- 
late choice, 158 

Words, use simple, 67 

Words, using two when one 
will suffice, 50 

Write as you actually speak, 
48 _ 

Writing difficult to reduce to 
set of rules, 8 

Writing is hard work, 204 

Writer's influence greater than 
preacher's, 287 

Writing a serious responsibil- 
ity, 287 

Writing that lasts, 25 



University of California, San Diego 



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