Where can a would-be writer go for advice on how to write? There are countless books with titles along those lines, but where is the very best advice to be found?
Australian crime writer Peter Corriss once told me: “Don’t go to books on writing, but start with the books you love reading and try to write like them—that will get you started, and from there you’ll develop your own style.”
Very wise advice. In fact, in many ways, the best advice. But to that I can add one writer whose advice on writing is first class: P. G. Wodehouse.
Performing Flea by P. G. Wodehouse is actually a collection of letters he wrote to his friend Bill Townend (a fellow writer). In those letters Plum Wodehouse (as he was known to his friends) shares his day by day struggles with plotting and book construction in a way that will teach a would-be writer more than any formal text book. You want to know how to build a plot? Read Performing Flea.
The other lesson that can be learned from Wodehouse is the writing of English prose. While there are many masterful writers of English prose (C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are among my favourites) there is something special about Wodehouse. Evelyn Waugh called Wodehouse “the master” on the basis that he included an average of “two completely original similes on every page.”
In The Country House Murders I even quote one of those Wodehouse gems about a man being surprised and looking like “the man who, when bending over to pick flowers beside the railway line, was struck in the small of the back by the Cornwall express.” Now, that is memorable writing! (Wodehouse himself must have liked it—he used it more than once.)
In short: the craft of writing is best learned by paying very close attention to your own favourite authors.
(Performing Flea was published in 1954, and republished in the anthology Wodehouse on Wodehouse in 1980.)
Kel Richards is the author of Marylebone House's popular 'Country House Murders', set in the 1930's. Current titles include:
This post originally appeared elsewhere and is used with permission.