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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best writing courses I've read!, 2 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
The first Scarlett Thomas book I read was "The End of Mr. Y", after which I immediately went back and bought the other two (I haven't yet read her earlier stuff which I think has just been re-released in the wake of her recent success). I am also an aspiring writer, so the chance to learn something from an author I admire and enjoy reading was too much to pass up.

Now writing courses/manuals/whatever you want to call them come in all forms, many of them somewhat useless. My previous favourites have been books that aren't really writing manuals at all, such as Campbell's "Hero with 1000 faces", and King's "On Writing" (which is also a must read!) This book is not like them - it is actually built from the course notes ST has put together over the course of her teaching career. If the introduction is to be believed, it is pretty much the course notes presented as-is.

The result is a wonderfully illuminating book on what is needed to write well. She covers Plato, Nietzsche and Aristotle amongst others, before moving onto the "practice" section to help you develop your writing.

I think this would appeal to avid readers in general, simply as an explanation of how effective plots and characters are built, but for aspiring writers it is nothing short of gold dust.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Ape-Descendants Who Wish To Type Fiction Should Read This, 16 Nov. 2012
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This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
Scarlett Thomas has written genre fiction, ambitious (and successful) contemporary fantasy, and a few novels which are tantalisingly in-between. She is currently in mid-career as a university teacher of creative writing. We have here a book which owes as much to the former as the latter, so there are plenty of how-to and how-not-to tips which relate directly to the author's actual published novels, and many warm references to her students and the experience of teaching, and learning from, them.

Actually, 'warm' about sums it up. As with much of Scarlett Thomas's fiction, this is written with a warm, friendly, conversational tone. Unlike many chilly, glibly bullet-pointed guides to self-improvement, this is a book you can read in bed, then turn the lights out feeling you've just had a nice, positive chat. Encouraging the use of autobiographical material, alongside guides to the few basic plots, and engagement with a range of existing writing about fiction and drama, exemplified by reference to a wide range of movies as well as novels and short stories, Monkeys with Typewriters will empower most of us to write.

So having read it, will I now rush off to begin that long-planned first draft, or get out the floppy disc with my last full-length effort and have one more go at editing it into some sort of shape? Well, I'm a lot more likely to do either (and in my case, both) having reached the other side of this engaging and helpful book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly reader friendly, 5 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes me excited about the prospect of writing again, 24 April 2013
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This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
Writing takes stamina and it's easy to become lazy or disillusioned. This book has inspired me to get stuck back into it. I actually wish I'd read it years ago - it would certainly have helped me as a reader during my English degree. It's clear, pragmatic, practical, wise and witty, and it cuts through applies literary theory sensibly. No claptrap, no unnecessary abstract guff. I now finally understand the relationship between plot, story and narrative - and most importantly how to use the mechanics of plotting to create strong stories. (I'm also pleased to learn that my writing style has a name (indirect free style).)

Should be required reading for anyone from A Level English Lit students to experienced writers.

Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Writing Craft Book, 24 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
I loved this book and find myself repeatedly dipping back into it for ways to generate and work with ideas. It is one of the best writing craft books that I have read. However I wouldn't recommend it for your first book...this is more advanced.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great fodder for Academics, 29 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
Scarlett Thomas is the author of best-selling books such as The End of Mr Y and Our Tragic Universe, so her writerly background bodes well for this guide on ‘how to write fiction and unlock the secret power of stories’, and as a member of the Creative Writing faculty at Kent University, you know you’re in safe hands when you open this weighty tome on all things literary.

The academic background is soon apparent as the first section of the book looks at the theory surrounding fiction, calling into play Soctrates, Plato and Homer. The style is fluid and accessible, and illuminates great swathes of fiction, discussing the difference between narrative, story and plot, the eight basic storylines and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. If you’re put off by the classic nature of the chapters so far, then hold your horses, as part two focuses specifically on the practice of writing.

Thomas looks in depth at the process of creating a character, likening it to Stanivlaski's method of acting. The text is light on do-it-yourself exercises, and chooses instead to show examples of how other create their progagonists and supporting casts. There is the interesting example in the chapter entitled 'Writing a good sentence', where she suggests having a bank of words and setting yourself a 'budget'. Some types of words are cheap (E.G. Concrete nouns are free), while others will cost you dearly (Adverbs cost £20!).

This is a hefty book which should be drank like a fine wine, but not the sort of workbook that will sit by your laptop full of pencil scribblings. It's value is undeniable, but only to those prepared to put the work in to get the pearls of wisdom out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book, 23 Mar. 2013
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It turned my writing upside down and then again. I am grateful for the advice on writing one sentence at a time and paying attention at the choice of words.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and helpful, 8 Feb. 2013
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This is a very well written book; it should be be as it's by a writer trying to teach other writers how to write!
It needs to be taken slowly in order to absorb all the information and to practise the 'exercises' in order to benefit from the advice.
It's not an easy read, there is so much, at times quite intellectual, information one must be patient and work through the book methodically.
I would recommend this book to any aspiring writer.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Scarlett Thomas is a genius, 14 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
I think the title says it all, she really is, i'll read anything she writes, if you've never read anything by her before go and buy it all ..... now!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best writing book going, 21 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories (Paperback)
This is literally the best book I have come across on writing (and reading), in terms of accessibility and practicality.

It has lots of detail, examples from such a range that there's bound to be something you can relate to, and lots to make you feel both like you're on your way and have a long way to go.

For note-making, re-visiting, reusing. Get a hard copy so you can scribble in it, fold useful pages, and skip back and forth to consult the notes and appendices.

Note: The product description currently says that it is 252 pages. It is actually nearer 500. 400 pages make up the book and there are about 80 pages including the notes, appendices and list of books, films, etc mentioned throughout the text.

A must read for readers and writers alike.
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