Rachel Connor's Reviews > Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories

Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas
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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.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 1, 2012 – Finished Reading
November 5, 2012 – Shelved

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