Title: The Jane Austen Writer’s Club
Author: Rebecca Smith
Genre: Non-fiction/writing advice
Published: 1st October, 2016
Synopsis: Pretty much anything anyone needs to know about writing can be learned from Jane Austen. While creative writing manuals tend to use examples from twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers, The Jane Austen Writers’ Club is the first to look at the methods and devices used by the world’s most beloved novelist. Austen was a creator of immortal characters and a pioneer in her use of language and point of view; her advice continues to be relevant two centuries after her death.
Here Rebecca Smith examines the major aspects of writing fiction–plotting, characterization, openings and endings, dialogue, settings, and writing methods–sharing the advice Austen gave in letters to her aspiring novelist nieces and nephew, and providing many and varied exercises for writers to try, using examples from Austen’s work.
*Show your character doing the thing he or she most loves doing. In the opening scene of Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot looks himself up in the Baronetage, which is the Regency equivalent of Googling oneself. That single scene gives us a clear understanding of the kind of man he is and sets up the plot.
* Use Jane Austen’s first attempts at stories to get yourself started. Write a very short story inspired by “The Beautifull Cassandra,” a work of eighteenth-century flash fiction.
The Jane Austen Writers’ Club is a fresh primer on writing that features utterly timeless advice.
As a writer aiming for publication, books about writing and writing processes are both a source of interest but also something met with a little hesitation: if it relies too much on saying a certain way of writing is the best way, or that writers must always use certain processes, or ignores that each writer has their own way of working through a plot, I’m instantly put off. Some books will tell you to start in the middle and attempt to discourage the novice writer from starting at the beginning – as Dame Julie Andrews sang, a very good place to start. Whereas the writing books that simply encourage thinking about writing, that give exercises, advice, tools and don’t try and imply that starting at the beginning is just as useful as starting anywhere, and encourage the writer to do what works for them, are the ones I am drawn to. Rebecca Smith’s The Jane Austen Writer’s Club falls into the category of encouraging and helpful writing aids. Having the book divided into chapters for planning a novel, character, setting, point of view, dialogue, secrets and suspense, techniques used by Jane Austen, journeys, food, and finally, the life of a writer, allows for linear reading but also dipping in and out of specific chapters. Each chapter has excerpts from the canon of Jane Austen’s work, accompanied by discussion of the basic concepts, what Jane did and finally, a variety of exercises.
After reading the book, I attempted the arrival exercise – I was unsure of where to start and end, and may revisit it, but I know they are doable. There are a few exercises that might be best left until the story or novel you are working on are completed, at least, I think I will find these sorts of exercises most useful at this stage, but the others I can come back to when I am stuck, or wondering what comes next. Of course, it is likely that some exercises will lend themselves to some stories more than others, or maybe I can just write anything in them when I need to work something out. At any rate, these exercises and the tone of this book are much more accessible and useful than ones that appear to have disdain for people starting at the beginning, or for people who get to a point where they feel like they need to step away. Some writing advice ignores the need to take a break at times, to live life. Rebecca Smith acknowledges that there will be times when a writer needs a break, or when life gets in the way and writing time must be sacrificed for family or illness. Her encouraging words to find time, find a space but also to respect the balance between writing and the rest of your life are what worked for me. And this is the best way to approach a writing help book: to acknowledge everyone has a different process and not everyone can just block out the world and write.
A very useful guide for writers, students, teachers or just fans of Jane Austen who are interested in her process – and who knows, these words and exercises might just inspire someone who has never written a story to give it a go.