Edgar Allan Poe on Writing Backwards and Other Advice

 Poe on Writing Backwards

“CHARLES DICKENS, in a note now lying before me, alluding to an examination I once made of the mechanism of Barnaby Rudge, says—“By the way, are you aware that Godwin wrote his Caleb Williams backwards? He first involved his hero in a web of difficulties, forming the second volume, and then, for the first, cast about him for some mode of accounting for what had been done.”

I cannot think this the precise mode of procedure on the part of Godwin—and indeed what he himself acknowledges, is not altogether in accordance with Mr. Dickens’ idea—but the author of Caleb Williams was too good an artist not to perceive the advantage derivable from at least a somewhat similar process. Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before anything be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.”

Poe on punctuation: “It does not seem to be known that, even where the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force–its spirit–its point–by improper punctuation.” He then goes on to defend  the use of the dash by saying “The dash gives the reader a choice between two, or among three or more expressions, one of which may be more forcible than another, but all of which help out the idea. It stands, in general, for these words—‘or, to make my meaning more distinct.’ This force it has–and this force no other point can have; since all other points have well-understood uses quite different from this. Therefore, the dash cannot be dispensed with.”

Poe on writing in short form

1) Decide on an ending. (In a short story, the reader is brought in near the climax.)

2) Commit to writing something that can be read in one sitting.

3) Decide the intent of the work. What is it’s desired effect? To inspire beauty, love, fear, etc?

4) Establish the tone of the work. How will you convey the desired effect? Through the use of humor, sadness, drama, etc?

5) Determine which characters lend themselves to the effective delivery of the work’s intent and tone.

6) Determine the setting in which the characters will deliver your message.

7) Using the decided upon tone, introduce the reader to the characters and setting while foreshadowing the climax.
  From Wikipedia: Edgar Allan Poe (born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

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