Book Review: How To Write A Novel by John Braine

John Braine - How To Write A Novel - Header

Creating regular Blog posts and reading more books has really ignited a passion I’d buried inside me for language. For Writing. My mind and my imagination starting to create ideas, characters and questions; longing to be given the freedom to express them. To write them down. And of course, as that desire starts to burner fiercer, to gain an increasing voice, you start to look for technical help.

Recently, I read On Writing by Stephen King and found it absolutely fascinating and insightful. Hints, tips and suggestions already working their way into my writing and while discussing this with my Father he suggested I read another book on the skill of the author – How To Write A Novel by John Braine – and offered to lend me his copy.

Queen Elizabeth 2 (Reading) - John Braine: How To Write A Novel

With my Father’s glowing recommendation and my desire to learn, I set about reading Braine’s advice and if I’m honest, I wish I hadn’t. Claiming I truly dislike his book will probably mark me out as a language simpleton, a freethinker, devoid of understanding and will probably define me forever as not being of sound talent or skill to fulfil my writing dreams but if I’m honest I don’t actually care. While I may not laud his book, follow it’s advice and create fiction of the finest Queen’s English, whatever I write, I will enjoy. Whether it’s formed proper or not.

And that is my first problem. This book seems to strip and remove the idea that writing is meant to be fun. John Braine preaches to his own paint by numbers agenda. Regularly as I advanced through the book, his idea on the construction of a novel became less and less about enjoyment and interest and more and more about the clinical rules that one must follow if one has any desire to produce a novel that will be published. I found he wanted to boil every part of every novel down to a reference, to a specific formula for guaranteed success. I truly felt reading this book as though I was under attack from somebody attempting to argue that spontaneity and writing cannot cohabit.

John Braine: How To Write A Novel

And this blind rigidity meant that the longer the book went on, the greater the overriding sense of arrogance in tone it became, I honestly believe John Braine truly thinks that there is no other way than exactly what he says to get a novel into print and that is blatantly wrong, because if every novel followed a path laid this strictly, no book would ever be sold and no imagination ever allowed to run free. The worse part to Braine’s absolute blindness though, is how he goes about justifying it. He sensibly references pre-existing works to illustrate his point. Except, his chosen references are far, far too long and never fully commented on to really make sense. And even worse, he even has the contempt to reference his own work to make his point. The first time he tried this trick I forgave me, the 3rd time, I lost all trust in anything he had to say.

I also found the time setting of this book virtually impossible to place. The style and language, the handlers contained within simile, even the references used to illustrate a point all seem to come from the 1940’s and 50’s. I read the book thinking I was listening to author writing literally post war. What ever I feel about the syllabus it teaches, you cannot argue anything over than that this book is dated. So, I nearly fell off my chair to discover after closing the final chapter, that it pre-dates me by only a handful of years arriving in the mid 1970’s!

Old Fashion Teaching - John Braine: How To Write A Novel

I don’t think that premature ageing in my mind was helped by the fact that I created very early on, and was unable to shake, the image of a Victorian class room. Individual desks lined parallel and perpendicular while the robed teacher strides between, lecturing, demanding, enforcing his lesson. The strictness and structure this book attempts to force upon you meant I never warmed into it, I never wanted to listen to what it said. It’s not friendly, it’s not inviting. If anything I was slightly scared of it. It only cares that you’re reading it to learn what it has to say and nothing more.

And as I said, that just isn’t for me, because there is no fun in that approach. Educational or Fictional. If I write a novel or not, if I am ever published or not, I don’t really care because underneath everything I write because I find it fun. I enjoy it. Stephen King implied regularly in On Writing that an author who enjoys his work, is truthful to his subject, and believes in himself and what he does produces an end product worth reading. Yet, according to Braine, King is wrong. Only meticulous planning, preparation and execution will produce anything of note.

Let’s just say, I know which view point I trust more and my Father now has his copy of John Braine’s How To Write A Novel back.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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