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  • Full of Flavor: Let’s Learn From the Writing of Charles Dickens

     HappiWriter updated 1 week, 2 days ago 4 Members · 5 Posts
  • riva pomerantz

    July 19, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    I have kind of a funny perspective on Dickens. I really dislike his books. They are not interesting to me; the plots are either too drawn out or too ridiculous to be believable, and I find them heavy or dull. However, I have always been amazed by his wide-ranging abilities and so I continue to plow through his works. Here is a real gem from The Pickwick Papers (an extremely boring read, IMHO, be’mechilas kevod Mr. Dickens!). What’s particularly note-worthy about these few gorgeous, descriptive paragraphs, is the incredible hilarity that occurs just a few chapters later. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking that our work needs to be “even”, with a single “tone” running across-the-board. Dickens disproves that theory, and so elegantly as you will soon see. Granted, the entire book is sort of a parody, so it’s actually the first excerpt that’s the exception to the general tone of the book, but I’m juxtaposing them so you can see just how disparate these writing styles truly are.

    Here’s the first excerpt, from page 60:

    On the left of the spectator lay the ruined wall, broken in many places, and in some, overhanging the narrow beach below in rude and heavy masses. Huge knots of sea-weed hung upon the jagged and pointed stones, trembling in every breath of wind; and the green ivy clung mournfully round the dark and ruined battlements. Behind it rose the ancient castle, its towers roofless, and its massive walls crumbling away, but telling us proudly of its own might and strength, as when, seven hundred years ago, it rang with the clash of arms, or resounded with the noise of feasting and revelry…..The river, reflecting the clear blue of the sky, glistened and sparkled as it flowed noiselessly on; and the oars of the fisherman dipped into the water with a clear and liquid sound, as the heavy but picturesque boats glided slowly down the stream.

    Now, behold, page 188:

    “You astonish me, sir,” said Mr. Leo Hunger. “It created an immense sensation. It was signed with an ‘L’ and eight stars, and appeared originally in a Lady’s Magazine. It commenced:

    Can I view thee panting, lying
    On thy stomach, without sighing;
    Can I unmoved see thee dying
    On a log,
    Expiring frog!

    Say, have fiends in shape of boys,
    With wild halloo, and brutal noise,
    Hunted thee from marshy joys,
    With a dog,
    Expiring frog!”

  • Fayge Y.

    July 19, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    So does it need to be even? Is what Dickens did a “don’t try this trick at home, novice writers” thing? How do we know if we can get away with it?

  • HappiWriter

    July 20, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    @riva I love reading these excerpts from famous writers. Keep ’em coming.

    @fayge-y do you think it has to do with context? The POV or tone of the scene? Is that enough of a license to change styles?

  • Elisheva

    July 20, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    I personally think only Dickens can get away with these type of things, besides for, like Riva, mentioned–these paragraphs are boooring (or maybe I just don’t have a taste for fine wine/ have no idea what’s going on from these excerpts).

    I do think that tone needs to switch up a little, though, as every novel has high and low parts, when the protagonist feels like they’ve got this, and there are always lower, more reflective moments. I wonder how to make those lower moments emotional and meaningful without having it contrast too much with the tone of the rest of the novel

    • HappiWriter

      July 20, 2021 at 4:14 pm

      Truthfully, I think voice/style is YOU. Once you write enough, you develop your own rhythm and style. I wonder if you have to worry that you’ll veer from your own style when hitting higher or lower moments.

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