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

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  395 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Exploring great plots from Plato to The Matrix, from Tolstoy to Toy Story, Scarlett Thomas’s new book is for writers and readers who want to unlock any narrative and create their own. Filled with creative exercises, structures, and charts, Thomas’ manual breaks down the fiction writing process and demonstrates that everyone has material to write about, whether they believe
Kindle Edition, 480 pages
Published June 1st 2017 by Soft Skull Press (first published September 6th 2012)
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4.16  · 
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 ·  395 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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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 ...more
Rachel Connor
Nov 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Clara Martin
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
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 ...more
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 ...more
Finn Longman
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Liz Fenwick
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Robert Day
May 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: knowledge, writing
I dare not review this book.
But I like it.
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!!!
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aloisius M
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Exercises are particularly useful
Aimee Dyson
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant book. Very helpful and inspiring. Uses a good range of examples from classic literature to pop culture examples to support points.
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great information for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
Nov 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Feb 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

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.
Italo  Perazzoli
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark Flanagan
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
Matt Corton
Jul 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
May 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-the-shelf
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 ...more
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: digital, non-fiction
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 example ...more
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Carmen Marcus
Jun 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. Many 'how to write' books are repetitious and bilious with sentiments about the spiritual journey of a writer. Yes that's all lovely but if you want to get the work done, tool up with the knowledge of the craft and have a novel at the end of it - this is the book you need. You'll keep going back to it, as well as using it as a springboard to new discoveries. In fact I've just used one of the exercises now to get things moving with my second novel. It works by making you work.
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Challenging, powerful and indispensable. Thomas doesn't just teach you ways to write, she forces you to grow some balls and reject the things that don't work for you.

And that can only mean one thing: independent, educated, ambitious and curious writers.

Don't read this if you think you're already fabulous because you, personally, will learn nothing.

Read this is you're serious, a rebel, crazy, and a masochist.
Steve Gillway
I enjoyed this as I also "teach" writing, but not creative writing. I was struck by some of of the similarities, most notably specificity and the need for real examples. Her explanations are clear and give insight to a world I've spent long periods in. I worry that she has made a rod for her own back, in that people will be more critical when judging her novels. I have requested her new book from the library, so I hope to read it soon, but will I analyse it intensely? I am not sure.
Gina Lyle
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really great. A guide to plot, narratology, sentence structure and the practical realities of novel writing, Monkeys with Typewriters is honest and enthusiastic. Well-structured and drawing on the classical and the contemporary, the book isn’t elitist or patronising. It’s an eager and convincing ‘call to pens’ for anyone with any interest in writing or reading fiction. If you’ve got novel ideas, or want to be a better reader, Thomas’ truthful discussion is a very wise place to start.
Jul 29, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, writing

I'm not interested in writing fiction. But I love this author so I want to check out her non-fiction voice and live in her head for a little while. :)

In the past, I have had a weird infatuation with books with the how-to-write theme. Good ones I can remember off the top of my head: Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, Anne Lamott, Brenda Ueland.
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Scarlett Thomas was born in London in 1972. Her widely-acclaimed novels include PopCo, The End of Mr Y and The Seed Collectors. As well as writing literary fiction for adults, she has also written a literary fantasy series for children and a book about writing called Monkeys with Typewriters. Her work has been translated into more than 25 languages.

She has been longlisted for the Orange Prize, sh
“Some writers, notably Anton Chekov, argue that all characters must be admirable, because once we've looked at anyone deeply enough and understood their motivation we must identify with them rather than judge them.” 23 likes
“I have sometimes told people, probably wrongly, that there’s no point in writing at all if you don’t feel that there’s something you absolutely have to explore. The idea that someone may want ‘to be a writer’ but have no idea of what to write is quite paradoxical, in one way. After all, why write things down if you don’t have a burning desire to communicate something? But actually, most people who want to write do have things to communicate, they just don’t necessarily know what they are yet. I have themes and ideas in my mind constantly, as do many other people. I care about things in the world and I want to express this somehow. Part of becoming a writer is working out which of all the strange thoughts you have in a given day are worth exploring further.” 0 likes
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