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

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A manual for reading and writing better, from the acclaimed author of The End of Mr. Y and Our Tragic Universe   Exploring how fiction works, this manual shows you how you can learn to understand it well enough to crack open any fictional narrative, and, if you like, start creating your own. Have you ever had your heart broken, or broken someone else's heart? Have you ever A manual for reading and writing better, from the acclaimed author of The End of Mr. Y and Our Tragic Universe   Exploring how fiction works, this manual shows you how you can learn to understand it well enough to crack open any fictional narrative, and, if you like, start creating your own. Have you ever had your heart broken, or broken someone else's heart? Have you ever won an argument but later realized you were wrong? Have you ever tripped in public or spilled wine on someone else's carpet? Have you ever tried to help someone who didn't want to be helped—or even someone who did? Have you ever been in trouble, big or small? Have you ever felt trapped? Have you ever gossiped, felt bad about it, and then found that you've been the subject of gossip yourself? Have you ever basically felt like a chimp in a pair of jeans, caught up in endless drama and with no idea of how the universe works? This is an ode to secret power of stories, and a guide to cracking those powers open. 


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A manual for reading and writing better, from the acclaimed author of The End of Mr. Y and Our Tragic Universe   Exploring how fiction works, this manual shows you how you can learn to understand it well enough to crack open any fictional narrative, and, if you like, start creating your own. Have you ever had your heart broken, or broken someone else's heart? Have you ever A manual for reading and writing better, from the acclaimed author of The End of Mr. Y and Our Tragic Universe   Exploring how fiction works, this manual shows you how you can learn to understand it well enough to crack open any fictional narrative, and, if you like, start creating your own. Have you ever had your heart broken, or broken someone else's heart? Have you ever won an argument but later realized you were wrong? Have you ever tripped in public or spilled wine on someone else's carpet? Have you ever tried to help someone who didn't want to be helped—or even someone who did? Have you ever been in trouble, big or small? Have you ever felt trapped? Have you ever gossiped, felt bad about it, and then found that you've been the subject of gossip yourself? Have you ever basically felt like a chimp in a pair of jeans, caught up in endless drama and with no idea of how the universe works? This is an ode to secret power of stories, and a guide to cracking those powers open. 

30 review for Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Hebblethwaite

    The infinite monkey theorem says that, given enough time, a monkey with a typewriter will almost certainly produce the complete works of Shakespeare just from tapping the keys at random. As Scarlett Thomas points out in the introduction to this creative writing book, though, writers don’t work that way – they write with purpose (though of course that’s not the be-all and end-all of a finished work), and don’t have unlimited time. This is one of the recurring themes of Monkeys with Typewriters: t The infinite monkey theorem says that, given enough time, a monkey with a typewriter will almost certainly produce the complete works of Shakespeare just from tapping the keys at random. As Scarlett Thomas points out in the introduction to this creative writing book, though, writers don’t work that way – they write with purpose (though of course that’s not the be-all and end-all of a finished work), and don’t have unlimited time. This is one of the recurring themes of Monkeys with Typewriters: that writing is more than a technical exercise, even if you can see some of its workings. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book had the publisher not sent me a copy on spec, because I’ve no ambitions to write fiction. But Thomas has such a distinctive style of writing fiction that I was intrigued to see what she had to say. It turns out that Monkeys with Typewriters is interesting for readers as well as aspiring writers. Thomas is less concerned with telling her readers ‘how to write’ as encouraging to think more deeply about how what they read and write works. The first half of the book is devoted to ‘Theory’, and especially to examining the mechanics of plots. Thomas goes from Plato, through Aristotle and Nietzsche, to Northrop Frye and Christopher Booker, examining (and sometimes criticising) the different ways plots have been analysed and classified. There’s plenty of food for thought here, even for a non-writer – I like Thomas’s distinction between story (the chronological events that happen) and plot (how those events are arranged by the writer), which I hadn’t thought of in the way before. It’s also fascinating to see the connections Thomas makes, such as when she highlights the similar basic narrative arcs of Toy Story, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and an episode of Supernanny. Underneath it all is an enthusiasm for writers to find and do their own thing; after presenting her idea of ‘the eight basic plots’, Thomas invites her readers to devise their own taxonomy. After ‘Theory’ comes ‘Practice’. Some of the material in this section (such as the chapters on having ideas and the practicalities of writing) is inevitably going to be of more specialised interest – but, even then, it’s not unengaging. The rest will surely get any reader thinking anew about characterisation, narration, and how sentences work. Thomas is an excellent guide through her examples, drawing on classic and contemporary texts alike (from Anna Karenina and Middlemarch to The God of Small Things and number9dream). For her, it’s not about one size fitting all, but about whatever works in context. And this section might well cause you to add one or two books to your to-read list; it only took Thomas to quote one short sentence (‘The lawn was white with doctors’) to convince me I ought to read The Bell Jar. Whether you want to write or not, Monkeys with Typewriters is the kind of book that renews your enthusiasm for reading in general, a book that believes – and encourages its readers to believe – that great fiction matters. Thomas ends her book with a checklist of key questions for writers. The last one is: ‘If the only copy of my novel was stranded on the top of a mountain, would I go up to rescue it?’ Perhaps the key message of Monkeys with Typewriters is that the only fiction worth writing – and reading – is the sort for which you would head up that mountain. And I’d say a book which argues that is one worth reading.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Connor

    Over the years, I’ve amassed a whole shelf of ‘how to’ books on writing. Some have disappointed me. Their blurbs promise the allure of unlocking the deepest, darkest secrets of constructing the perfect narrative but don’t always follow through. Others are invaluable and I find I recommend them time and time again to writing students and consultancy clients. But, for the most part, they tend to focus on one aspect of the craft. A lecturer in creative writing at the University of Kent, Scarlett Th Over the years, I’ve amassed a whole shelf of ‘how to’ books on writing. Some have disappointed me. Their blurbs promise the allure of unlocking the deepest, darkest secrets of constructing the perfect narrative but don’t always follow through. Others are invaluable and I find I recommend them time and time again to writing students and consultancy clients. But, for the most part, they tend to focus on one aspect of the craft. A lecturer in creative writing at the University of Kent, Scarlett Thomas has gathered together in Monkeys With Typewriters a wide ranging amount of material – on plot, characters, narrative mode and the craft of line-by-line writing – and boiled it down in a common sense way. She writes with such warmth and reader-friendliness that you feel like you’re getting a personal, one-to-one tutorial. The book contains an impressive summary of theory, especially on plot – thousands of years’ worth of it - into readable and manageable form. You don’t have to go away and read Aristotle or Plato, because Thomas boils it down to what you need and presents it in a practical way. But, having been shown the way, it would guide you through what you need to know from these classics. More than that, though, Thomas’ book is a rare gem: a guide to which can also be read by non-writers who want to understand the power of story. Some parts are a guide to creative processes in general: the chapter ‘How To Have Ideas’ comes out of Thomas’ research into ideation (idea generation) and is a brilliant method which could be put to use in everyday life (not just when planning novels). ‘How To Write A Novel’ somehow demystifies a process that our culture somehow turns into a dark art. Not that Thomas is saying it is an easy thing. Just that if you want to write and you think you have it in you, you can approach novel writing with a light heart. ‘If writing feels to you like a job or a chore, then your idea isn’t good enough. It’s as simple as that.’ Monkeys With Typewriters will have a prominent place on my ‘how to’ bookshelf from now on. And yes, I’ll be recommending it to everyone I know who writes and/or loves stories.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ape

    I don't think you need to be writing or ever have any intention of writing a book to enjoy Thomas' Monkeys with Typewriters. For anyone studying literature, or even film and screenplays in fairness, or people who love their literature and want an insight into the inner workings of fiction, this is well worth a read. Scarlett Thomas is one of my favourite writers, and also a lecturer at some uni somewhere on creative writing. From her lectures on the various aspects of fiction writing, she has put I don't think you need to be writing or ever have any intention of writing a book to enjoy Thomas' Monkeys with Typewriters. For anyone studying literature, or even film and screenplays in fairness, or people who love their literature and want an insight into the inner workings of fiction, this is well worth a read. Scarlett Thomas is one of my favourite writers, and also a lecturer at some uni somewhere on creative writing. From her lectures on the various aspects of fiction writing, she has put together this book and very good it is too. There are two parts, theory and practice. On types of stories, what makes a story work, characters, voice, good and bad writing, getting started and so forth. She makes much reference to her own writing as well as several famous novels (classics and contemporary), film and even some tv programes. Because essentially stories are EVERYWHERE. You will find yourself analysing the book or film you're watching at the time and wondering what type of story it is. By the end of this you appreciate how much thought and work has to go into a novel, and just what an overwhelming achievement this is when its a good novel. Now, whether every one has to be conscious of planning every little detail that is explained in this book, or whether a whole lot comes naturally is an entirely different matter. There's certainly plenty of tips, suggestions and food for thought in here. I sometimes felt as though it was saying 'my way is the only way' which I don't really agree with. People's minds work very differently. Not just on a level of I like yellow socks, you like striped socks, but how we view the world, how we experience, how we interpret, how we work... some people like months of prep for the best work, others work best under more pressure and limited time. So I'd take some of this book as suggestions rather than YOU MUST. For instance she suggests writing 250 words a day. Which may work for some people, but personally I couldn't think of anything worse. It makes it sound like homework, and why do you need to be watching the word count anyway? You should be too involved in your writing. Just have fun and let it flow. It doesn't even necessarily have to become a novel. She also makes a comment that seems to imply that everyone is writing for the readers even if they won't admit it - she is - and she can't understand why anyone would write just for themselves - for then where is the point of writing it down at all? Hmmm... see what I mean about different people's minds working in really different ways. Some people really do write for the pleasure of it, and just for themselves. And there's nothing wrong with that. But yes, just a few minor niggles. Definately worth a read. Sadly, before I came to this I was reading one of her most recent books, The Seed Collectors (having read everything written prior to that. I did mention she's one of my favourites?) and I really didn't like it. It was all right for what it was, but it really wasn't the kind of story or characters I come to rely on Thomas for, so it was a disappointment. And there's another point. Quite a lot of this is simply a matter of personal taste. One man's treasure is another man's trash and all that...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Clara Mars

    I got through Part I of this book, which is 131 pages, in random intervals over about 7 days. I swallowed Part II, which is 228 pages, in one sitting. The difference between these two parts lies, I believe, in whom they are written for. Part I of this book discusses the different types of plot in length, peppered with examples from both contemporary and classic novels, movies and TV Shows including Middlemarch, Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Sex in the City. If you are familiar with these referen I got through Part I of this book, which is 131 pages, in random intervals over about 7 days. I swallowed Part II, which is 228 pages, in one sitting. The difference between these two parts lies, I believe, in whom they are written for. Part I of this book discusses the different types of plot in length, peppered with examples from both contemporary and classic novels, movies and TV Shows including Middlemarch, Gentleman Prefer Blondes and Sex in the City. If you are familiar with these references, it really can help to apply the point. She used examples from Plath's The Bell Jar, my favorite book, and this connection made me really "get" what she was talking about. But, when you're unfamiliar with one of them... good luck. At one point she provides detailed plot mapping between the two movies Gentleman Prefer Blondes and There's No Business Like Show Business. Call me an uncultured teenager, but I haven't seen either of these films and attempting to follow the 11 page discussion of them was difficult to say the least. Some people may be content reading her quick summaries and then diving into how they apply to theory, but as an annoying perfectionist, it was a struggle to stop myself from putting down the book and going to watch or read whatever she was referencing in order to fully understand the example. Besides, I feel as though Part I is directed towards people who want to understand stories and plots, not necessarily people who want to write. As Thomas explains, understanding plot types definitely aids in structuring plots of your own, but if you're picking this book up because you're expecting something similar to King's On Writing, I'd recommend you skim or even skip Part I. Part II of this book, in my opinion, is invaluable. It reminded me of why I want to write in the first place, which you can sometimes forget after reading about the specifics of plot, language, and bad writing. Thomas provides a matrix to help get your creative juices flowing (which definitely helped me!), many hands on activities to demonstrate things like "the economics of word usage", and tips on characterization that got me thinking about whether I have a "super-objective" lurking in my unconscious. My favorite section was "Writing A Good Sentence". I know I’m definitely going to be rereading this part multiple times to remind myself of its divine advice. Overall, I would absolutely recommend! (Also, sorry for the un-italicized book and movie titles. Usually I'm better about that type of thing but I can't figure out the formatting on here)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ben Thurley

    This is an engaging and thoughtful work on writing fiction, majoring particularly on analysis of plot and some of the nuts and bolts practicalities of how to write fiction, particularly a novel. Following Northrop Frye and Christopher Booker, Thomas identifies what she sees as the major basic plots that fiction writers can draw from – for her there are 8: tragedy, comedy, quest, rags to riches, stranger comes to town, coming of age, mystery and "modern realism" which can have plot in the same wa This is an engaging and thoughtful work on writing fiction, majoring particularly on analysis of plot and some of the nuts and bolts practicalities of how to write fiction, particularly a novel. Following Northrop Frye and Christopher Booker, Thomas identifies what she sees as the major basic plots that fiction writers can draw from – for her there are 8: tragedy, comedy, quest, rags to riches, stranger comes to town, coming of age, mystery and "modern realism" which can have plot in the same way that pretty much most of our lives have plots, that is not at all. All of which seems fair enough, and she offers enthusiastic readings of some great novels along the way. I haven't read any of Thomas' novels, so can't comment on how well the teacher practises what she preaches, but most of the practical advice was clear and constructive – generating, testing and discarding ideas, entering into the truth of a character's experience, building up from scenes and so on. I found the discussion on writing a good sentence too reductive, though, because of her obvious preference for fairly plain, minimalist prose. The subjective judgements around what makes for "good" writing are not made as explicit as they could be, and I would have liked to have heard more about musicality and rhythm, balance and lop-sidedness – ways to sooth or unsettle a reader at the level of a sentence. Over all, though, a useful read for aspiring writers trying to think more carefully about their craft.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex Everette

    Even having just finished this book I can tell it's going to be something I read over and over (and over...). This is a great building block for those learning to write, which I need to put onto a list of great building blocks to recommend to people. Thomas not only explores various aspects of creating and building a novel (or, more generally, fiction) but how to reach the point of creating and how we can witness it in fiction we already love. She helps us to see where to start building characte Even having just finished this book I can tell it's going to be something I read over and over (and over...). This is a great building block for those learning to write, which I need to put onto a list of great building blocks to recommend to people. Thomas not only explores various aspects of creating and building a novel (or, more generally, fiction) but how to reach the point of creating and how we can witness it in fiction we already love. She helps us to see where to start building character, how to further it, and how it's used in works like Anna Karenina or Great Expectations. Throughout the book there are interactive exercises for the potential writer to create ideas or engage with what good and bad writing is to them. There were a few points where I started to worry that the lessons would become "this is how you must write fiction" but she always manages to stop and remind us of our creative liberties and nearly endless possibilities. I'm in a writing workshop right now (which she actually warns against in the last pages for reasons I entirely understand) and I wish I could shove this book into the hands of my classmates. It's not that I don't want to do the work of helping them figure out what they're doing- it's that Scarlett Thomas has found ways to express many of the things I already want to tell them.

  7. 4 out of 5

    M F

    This was amazing. The greatest thing about it, I think, was that until the very end, she didn't tell you what to do. It was literally the embodiment of 'show don't tell' -- instead of saying, "Okay, so your book works like this? Then do this," she would talk about a type of plot through examples, by analysing another book or film, so that the plot wasn't abstract but was very concrete. At times it's also downright funny, but it also raised a lot of questions. I was feeling great about my writing p This was amazing. The greatest thing about it, I think, was that until the very end, she didn't tell you what to do. It was literally the embodiment of 'show don't tell' -- instead of saying, "Okay, so your book works like this? Then do this," she would talk about a type of plot through examples, by analysing another book or film, so that the plot wasn't abstract but was very concrete. At times it's also downright funny, but it also raised a lot of questions. I was feeling great about my writing process until the last chapter, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by how much preparation she puts into writing novels before she starts ;) I realise my technique is somewhat unconventional, however. And who knows? Maybe I'll try this way next. My copy was borrowed, but I'm going to have to get a copy for myself so that I can scribble all over it, highlight it, cover it in post-it notes ... she said so many great things that that's really the only way I can think of going about it. I'll definitely be revisiting sections of it whenever I'm stuck.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Liz Fenwick

    I firmly believe that certain writing craft books are needed at certain times in your career. Thanks to Cally Taylor's recommendation I fell upon this book at the right time for me. It works it's way through literary criticism, plot, characterisation, sentence structure and beginning a novel. At each section she gives concrete examples on why things work. which I found extremely helpful - especially on plot and characterisation. It wouldn't be a book I would recommend to a real beginner but it i I firmly believe that certain writing craft books are needed at certain times in your career. Thanks to Cally Taylor's recommendation I fell upon this book at the right time for me. It works it's way through literary criticism, plot, characterisation, sentence structure and beginning a novel. At each section she gives concrete examples on why things work. which I found extremely helpful - especially on plot and characterisation. It wouldn't be a book I would recommend to a real beginner but it is ideal once you have a novel or two under your belt.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robert Day

    I dare not review this book. But I like it. Honest. There's humour. There is expressed experience. There's a fear that if say anything more, it will come back to haunt me.. in some strange way.. No! Please don't hurt me!!! I dare not review this book. But I like it. Honest. There's humour. There is expressed experience. There's a fear that if say anything more, it will come back to haunt me.. in some strange way.. No! Please don't hurt me!!!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Fung

    This is not the best book I ever read, but that's not why I gave it five stars. I found it a truly different, compelling and helpful book on writing. I've read a fair number of books on writing, even the acclaimed book 'On Writing' by Stephen King which seems to be so many people's bible. The problem with many books on writing is mainly twofold, in my opinion. First, many regurgitate the same information and exercises. Write what you know, don't use too many adverbs, blah blah, and don't explain h This is not the best book I ever read, but that's not why I gave it five stars. I found it a truly different, compelling and helpful book on writing. I've read a fair number of books on writing, even the acclaimed book 'On Writing' by Stephen King which seems to be so many people's bible. The problem with many books on writing is mainly twofold, in my opinion. First, many regurgitate the same information and exercises. Write what you know, don't use too many adverbs, blah blah, and don't explain how to do this in a unique way. Well, after you've heard a thousand people giving you this advice the next thousand gets tiring. The problem is that people include it because it's good advice (I guess I would if I were writing a writing book) but it's ALL they say and they don't say it in a very interesting or innovative way, or give you interesting ways to combat or see the problem. The next is far more subjective. The writers voice needs to speak to you. One reason, I believe, that Stephen King's writing book is so successful is because he's so successful outside his writing book and his voice speaks to people. Scarlett Thomas and her approach spoke to me. We all know the story of Monkeys with Typewriters and it was a cute way to start. However after this Scarlett delves into discussing Plato's Cave and Aristotle's Poetics and its relationship to how to tell a story. As I'm a big fan of the ancient philosophers, I ate this section up and was hungry for more. Soon after was the dissection of the Fairytale as an equation. I love analysing things and I love fairytales. She's got me again. This is my kind of person and I would love to sit down with her for a meal. Part Two of the book is more about practical exercises. There are some truly unique exercises here, like the character matrix. Also her discussion of how to break down and understand a character, I found helpful. I felt the discussion of a good sentence was more like brainstorming - I feel there is no real definition of a good sentence, it is what you feel sounds right. It is too tricky to define. It is like love - you'll know it when you feel it. You certainly know when you don't feel it. People have different ideas of sentences they fall in love with. I remember reading a forum on best opening sentences of a novel and many quoted "The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed." by Stephen King (The Gunslinger, the Dark Tower) To me this is not a bad line, it's full of action and to the point, but it does not particularly hook me compared to many other opening lines in books but it's all about taste, isn't it? Everyone has something that gets them really into a book. For an explosive start, I prefer something like "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." by Margaret Atwood (The Blind Assassin) I think it asks far more questions. But not everyone would agree. And some of the best sentences are not that concise whereas some concise ones are rather ordinary. Sometimes the addition of some extra adds value to one reader whereas others find it unnecessary and annoying. Oh well. Back to the whole "The Author Must Speak to You" bit and not every author can speak to everyone in the same way. I recommend this book, but I guess everyone will get something different out of it. It's composed of two very distinct parts - the first analyses the story process and the second gives exercises and tips. I enjoyed both but some people might only be there for one of the parts. I do believe the parts can be read separately.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Also published on my blog. I’ve actually had this for a couple of years as I read that a writer I like (I forget whom) used it and recommended it. And honestly, how can you not love that title? For me it will always be associated with that scene in HHG where Ford and Arthur have just been picked up by The Heart of Gold and Arthur is accosted by an infinite number of monkeys who want to talk to him about their Hamlet script. Which brings me to a point about referencing things – which this book does Also published on my blog. I’ve actually had this for a couple of years as I read that a writer I like (I forget whom) used it and recommended it. And honestly, how can you not love that title? For me it will always be associated with that scene in HHG where Ford and Arthur have just been picked up by The Heart of Gold and Arthur is accosted by an infinite number of monkeys who want to talk to him about their Hamlet script. Which brings me to a point about referencing things – which this book does A LOT. On the one hand it is very useful to see concrete examples and analysis of everything from classic literature to reality shows in order to gain a good understanding of how plot works and how basically everything fits into a relatively narrow subset of narratives and styles. On the other hand, if you don’t know the thing she is talking about, it loses its impact a little IMO. For instance I have not read Great Expectations (or if I have it’s so long ago that I don’t remember anything from it), and it is used throughout the whole book a lot as an example. Sure, she does go into some detail about the scenes she’s using to illustrate something, but it resonates a lot more if you’re familiar with the work. This is not really a criticism, just more of a heads up that what you get out of those sections is also somewhat dependent on what you have read/seen. The book is divided into two sections, the first one of which is theory. Having studied literature in university the theory section was of course familiar, but it’s been quite a few years since I graduated and it was nice to get a recap. And if you have not done any literature studies this bit will definitely help you get an understanding of the basics. The second section is about practice. From how to have ideas (which sounds a bit weird because why would you want to write if you don’t have ideas – but it’s useful to structure ideas you already have also), to how to write a good sentence, to how to actually start writing a novel. There’s a lot of this I wasn’t able to apply to my first draft (which is aaaalmost finished!) as I read the largest part of this book in the few days leading up to NaNoWriMo and then just wrote like a madwoman for all of November. I will say that it’s still useful advice further on in the process and also with an eye on revision. And I have no doubt I will return to this book in the future. I do not agree with everything Scarlett Thomas says (like referring to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a comedy – I honestly feel that this is trying too hard to fit everything into the categories you have decided on) but I definitely found a lot of the book useful. And of course you can pick and chose what you want to adhere to. It’s nice to get concrete advice on everything from plot, to sentence structure to how many words your novel should have from someone who has actually published novels. It’s full of useful information without getting heavy, and I like Thomas’s style. I am curious to read one of her novels now.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Not bad as a how-to guide for first-time writers. Scarlett T. writes in a friendly, chatty style. That informality inevitably leads to rambling. On the plus side, you feel she's talking directly to you and telling it straight from the heart. She's been in the trenches (teaches at Kent Uni) and has been published. So it's very much a down-to-earth, 'this is what worked for me' approach and it might work for you, too. I see now that the advice is divided into 'Theory' and 'Practice'—very broad ca Not bad as a how-to guide for first-time writers. Scarlett T. writes in a friendly, chatty style. That informality inevitably leads to rambling. On the plus side, you feel she's talking directly to you and telling it straight from the heart. She's been in the trenches (teaches at Kent Uni) and has been published. So it's very much a down-to-earth, 'this is what worked for me' approach and it might work for you, too. I see now that the advice is divided into 'Theory' and 'Practice'—very broad catch-alls. The theory bit takes the would-be writer back to different ideas about what storytelling consists of, from Plato's Cave and Aristotle's Poetics (highly recommended by the au.), through Russian Vladimir Popp's list of the multitude of steps in a decent story, to Northrop Frye's Five Basic Plots, Christopher Brooker's Seven Basic Plots, and the author's own Eight Basic Plots - until your head is spinning. The 'Practice' half is more useful and more directive. There's a lot of advice on 'how to have ideas'— the au. has a 'matrix' system for coming up with them, and then there's a run-through of tenses and viewpoints, with some clear explanation of the Free Indirect Style. This is followed by advice on characterisation—for me, the meatiest section of all. In the chapter on How to Write a Good Sentence, I've underlined advice on metaphors, synecdoche, metonymy (I had no idea what the last two were). And finally, the au. returns to some advice about getting started, getting beyond the blank page, not joining a writer's group, saving your work securely, and persisting. I'm still not certain what the author thinks of Monkey Theory - that mathematically proven suggestion that even monkeys could write Shakespeare, given enough monkeys and enough time and typewriters. Is she saying anyone can do it? Any human writer is better than a monkey—that's probably it. In sum, an engaging and occasionally insightful guide, but be prepared to go with the flow, as it's uneven in quality, not always original, and quite disorganised (perhaps not surprisingly as the material is drawn from various lectures).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alys The Book Wyrm

    As a student studying the course that Scarlett Thomas teaches, (but at a different university) this was very helpful to gain another perspective and teaching style- to be clear, I like my tutors, it was just another perspective. Scarlett Thomas also introduced me to some new writing exercises that I've found very intriguing and useful, and I'm looking forward to having this in my library for many years to come As a student studying the course that Scarlett Thomas teaches, (but at a different university) this was very helpful to gain another perspective and teaching style- to be clear, I like my tutors, it was just another perspective. Scarlett Thomas also introduced me to some new writing exercises that I've found very intriguing and useful, and I'm looking forward to having this in my library for many years to come

  14. 5 out of 5

    Salli

    An easy read, like the debinling of the monkey and typewriter myth. Concentrates on what actually to do ina few but major areas, lots of examples. I still don't fully understand styles of narration but I loved the part on how to wrtie a good sentence. I would recommend as a read if you are starting out.lots of clear advice. If you are versed in advanced criticism and theory this might not add anythinbg to your knowledge An easy read, like the debinling of the monkey and typewriter myth. Concentrates on what actually to do ina few but major areas, lots of examples. I still don't fully understand styles of narration but I loved the part on how to wrtie a good sentence. I would recommend as a read if you are starting out.lots of clear advice. If you are versed in advanced criticism and theory this might not add anythinbg to your knowledge

  15. 5 out of 5

    Aloisius M

    Great tips for budding, advanced and just crazy writers I studied this book from an academic perspective and it really made me think more clearly about my writing. The approaches and techniques that Scarlett Thomas shares are fantastic and have really helped me develop my writing preparation.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fayette

    It took me awhile to get through this book simply because it was so meaty. Very much like taking a course on writing, and if you are thinking of writing a novel you definitely should consider reading it. Thomas also uses various book excerpts, and since I had several of these books on my shelf I took some breaks to read them. (The Bell Jar; The God of Small Things) I can recommend this approach.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    Exercises are particularly useful

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeweleye

    Great information for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aimee Dyson

    Brilliant book. Very helpful and inspiring. Uses a good range of examples from classic literature to pop culture examples to support points.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    A wonderful book about writing fiction! One of the best imho.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John

    Now I really want to re-read Our Tragic Universe and The End of Mr. Y

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Just what the world of writers needs, eh? Another book telling us how it should be done. Only not quite. Where this book differs from others is she tells us what's worked for her and why it's worked but she tries very hard not to lay down rules or guidelines or whatever you want to call them without acknowledging that others have achieved the same ends by very different means with one, to my mind, important exception which I tend to agree with: If you're not willing to climb to the top of a moun Just what the world of writers needs, eh? Another book telling us how it should be done. Only not quite. Where this book differs from others is she tells us what's worked for her and why it's worked but she tries very hard not to lay down rules or guidelines or whatever you want to call them without acknowledging that others have achieved the same ends by very different means with one, to my mind, important exception which I tend to agree with: If you're not willing to climb to the top of a mountain to rescue the only copy of your manuscript then what are you doing thinking you're a writer? But why in a market already clogged with similar books did she feel the need to write another? She writes: "No one, it seemed, had written a contemporary writing book that covered everything. There were plenty of books out there, though. Some focused on ‘giving yourself permission to write’. Some suggested automatic writing. Some had exercises in perspective and general technique. Some of them were very good. I encouraged all my students to read On Writing by Stephen King, How Fiction Works by James Wood and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. But there was no single book I could give my students to read that covered everything I thought they should know." Did she manage to write that "one book"? Sadly, no. That doesn't mean her book is not a worthy addition to those other three required texts she mentioned above. It takes a novice (this is really not a book for a seasoned writer although I did pick up a few things from it) from desire, through the planning stage (and even pantsers have to do some planning) and leaves them equipped to begin work. She doesn't try to write the book for you but she makes sure you've considered everything even if you feel the need to reject her suggestions and find your own way. Read my full review on my blog here.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    I could not stand this. Inconcise as a writer's guide, but most annoyingly was the over use of paraphrasing from other authors and sources. It felt like Scarlett has a really well honed voice herself, but felt insecure about properly embracing it. I could not stand this. Inconcise as a writer's guide, but most annoyingly was the over use of paraphrasing from other authors and sources. It felt like Scarlett has a really well honed voice herself, but felt insecure about properly embracing it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Italo Perazzoli

    Can Creative Writing Be Taught? In my opinion it cannot be taught for one simple reason none except myself can know the existence or not of my internal voice. Monkeys With Typewriters written by Scarlett Thomas, is a useful book for readers and writers. This book is divided into two parts; Theory and Practice with examples ranging from the classics, like "Poetics written by Aristotle to Great Expectations - by Charles Dickens" to modern fictions. In order to answer to the first question I can say th Can Creative Writing Be Taught? In my opinion it cannot be taught for one simple reason none except myself can know the existence or not of my internal voice. Monkeys With Typewriters written by Scarlett Thomas, is a useful book for readers and writers. This book is divided into two parts; Theory and Practice with examples ranging from the classics, like "Poetics written by Aristotle to Great Expectations - by Charles Dickens" to modern fictions. In order to answer to the first question I can say that this book will help you to find your voice and then translate it into words. The most important clues are: "My theory at the time was that if students could read better, they'd write better" (Monkeys With Typewriters written by Scarlett Thomas) and " All good writing is specific rather than abstract, and precise rather than vague." (Monkeys With Typewriters written by Scarlett Thomas. She also recommends to take into consideration the matrixes (no matrices) for planning of the plot, and also what kind of "voice" a character should have, because it is simple to write a novel, but it is difficult to write it with its skills, and these skills comes from practice and thank to a analytical reading. This book is also useful to readers after having read carefully "What's Drama - Aristotle" for understand the narrative, the tragedy and Pathos.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Writing is something I do and have done daily for as long as I can remember. It is something I can't imagine not doing. Writing fiction is another animal entirely and, despite having tried and failed in repeated attempts at sustained fiction writing, I continue returning to it like a lamb leading itself to slaughter. It's because I enjoy reading fiction so much that I believe that I should be able to write it, but whether that's the case or not, I repeatedly come back to hurling myself at the tas Writing is something I do and have done daily for as long as I can remember. It is something I can't imagine not doing. Writing fiction is another animal entirely and, despite having tried and failed in repeated attempts at sustained fiction writing, I continue returning to it like a lamb leading itself to slaughter. It's because I enjoy reading fiction so much that I believe that I should be able to write it, but whether that's the case or not, I repeatedly come back to hurling myself at the task, usually after reading something by some author purporting to show me the way in. I've read a few of these books, but this one by Scarlett Thomas is undoubtedly the most straightforward nuts-and-bolts guide that I've come across, arising as it does largely from her lectures as a creative writing professor at the University of Kent. I'm not saying that this book will get your novel (or mine) off the ground, but it's a good place to start. More here.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I haven’t read many how-­to writing books, so my reading was not comparative to other books of this kind that are out there, which I am assured is many. I thought it was very helpful and well­-organized. The tone was mostly conversational which I found nice. I actually did one of the exercises, which ended up being kind of illuminating. There was quite a lot of repetition throughout the book, but I found that helpful in a hammer­-it-home kind of way. I’ve read a lot of the books she uses as exam I haven’t read many how-­to writing books, so my reading was not comparative to other books of this kind that are out there, which I am assured is many. I thought it was very helpful and well­-organized. The tone was mostly conversational which I found nice. I actually did one of the exercises, which ended up being kind of illuminating. There was quite a lot of repetition throughout the book, but I found that helpful in a hammer­-it-home kind of way. I’ve read a lot of the books she uses as examples, which probably made a big difference. I like that she used films to illustrate some of her points (particularly Adaptation) because I find movie details easier to remember than details from novels. I feel like this would be a good book to revisit after getting enough distance from writing something to see if there are parts that can be tightened and sharpened in various ways.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    What a thoroughly useful book! It is quite thick, but doesn't cover all aspects of writing. The reason? It is extensive and detailed on the aspects it does cover, which includes a deep look at the history of plot as the first half, with the second half consisting of a lot of useful advice and activities for developing one's fiction writing. When the switch from plot discussion to writing practice came it seemed a little jarring, however by the end of this book I was scrambling to write and put t What a thoroughly useful book! It is quite thick, but doesn't cover all aspects of writing. The reason? It is extensive and detailed on the aspects it does cover, which includes a deep look at the history of plot as the first half, with the second half consisting of a lot of useful advice and activities for developing one's fiction writing. When the switch from plot discussion to writing practice came it seemed a little jarring, however by the end of this book I was scrambling to write and put the advice and strategies Thomas shares into practice. This book has come about from years of Thomas developing and refining her teaching methods, eliminating strategies that didn't work and honing those that helped her students shine. I'd recommend it to any fiction writer, particularly to beginners who are stuck.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matt Corton

    As my dates and times state above, I first started this in 2013, but re-read and completed in about 2 weeks prior to today. I can't believe I didn't pursue this and complete it before. I've never read a more helpful book about writing - written clearly and with an energy and life that most 'textbooks' don't have. I absolutely loved this and, more to the point, learned so much that is going to help me with my next novel. I'd already made the leap from writing for myself to writing things people m As my dates and times state above, I first started this in 2013, but re-read and completed in about 2 weeks prior to today. I can't believe I didn't pursue this and complete it before. I've never read a more helpful book about writing - written clearly and with an energy and life that most 'textbooks' don't have. I absolutely loved this and, more to the point, learned so much that is going to help me with my next novel. I'd already made the leap from writing for myself to writing things people might want to read, but had no idea how to do that - I do now. Thank you Scarlett for having the courage and spending the time to do this. It was also very interesting to read this alongside a re-read of Our Tragic Universe, which I think really helped - as that deals, in fiction, with a lot of the same themes and subject matter being shown here. Loved it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Monkeys With Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas came out in October 2012, making this less untimely than most of my book reviews, and features the popular novelist and creative writing lecturer setting down, in a mere 400 pages (plus footnotes and appendices), her secrets to good writing. There are, you may have noticed, a lot of books on writing out there. So, as someone who has already done a whole Masters on the subject, did I get anything extra out of Thomas's contribution to the genre? Well, yes Monkeys With Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas came out in October 2012, making this less untimely than most of my book reviews, and features the popular novelist and creative writing lecturer setting down, in a mere 400 pages (plus footnotes and appendices), her secrets to good writing. There are, you may have noticed, a lot of books on writing out there. So, as someone who has already done a whole Masters on the subject, did I get anything extra out of Thomas's contribution to the genre? Well, yes and no. Read more on my blog. If you like. http://www.nickbryan.com/2013/01/monk...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Steven Pilling

    This is an interesting book. Not sure it would make you want to write a novel but if you are writing one i am sure it will help. What it does do though is cast a light on books or films you may know and potentially give you a new angle or a small change in your perspective. It still doesnt make me want to read any of her novels but she is an interesting writer and has a good perspective and an ability to find something interesting to say. Worth a read but check the books analysed before you read i This is an interesting book. Not sure it would make you want to write a novel but if you are writing one i am sure it will help. What it does do though is cast a light on books or films you may know and potentially give you a new angle or a small change in your perspective. It still doesnt make me want to read any of her novels but she is an interesting writer and has a good perspective and an ability to find something interesting to say. Worth a read but check the books analysed before you read it as it will potential spoil your reading of those novels.

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