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How To Write A Novel According To Jane Austen

A masterclass (in literary form) from the Queen of Fiction herself.

25/10/2016 9:31 AM AEDT | Updated 25/10/2016 1:24 PM AEDT
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An Austen descendant has released a new book featuring some of the novelist's best advice.

There are few things that have stood the test of time like a Jane Austen novel.

It's been more than 200 years since the beloved English novelist released new work yet her characters remain relevant, inspiring Hollywood movie adaptations, television series, critical essays and interpretations across multiple mediums.

Although Austen was never publicly acknowledged as a writer in her own lifetime, since her death she has become a literary icon with many Janeites wishing they could resurrect her from the dead, if only to get her take on the modern world.

What would she make of online dating? The rise of goth fiction? Equal pay? KIMYE?

With time travel not yet an option, author Rebecca Smith -- who happens to be the five-times-great-niece of Austen herself has brought us (and aspiring writers the world over) the next best thing -- a comprehensive guide to writing like Jane Austen.

Smith uses hand-written letters and illustrations penned by Austen herself to delve into her methods for character development and plotting right through to sticking to a deadline and the importance of writing about things you understand.

Ahead, Smith shares some of the lessons featured in her latest book, The Jane Austen Writers' Club.

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Be a people-watcher (and listener)

"Jane Austen boasted in a letter to Cassandra on May 12th 1801 'I have a very good eye at an Adultress'. Watching is important but listening is too. The way Jane Austen created such distinctive voices for her characters is testament to how good she was at that –- the contrasting voices of sisters, Lucy and Nancy Steele in Sense and Sensibility are brilliant examples, or look at the difference between Fanny Price's father's diction and that of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park."

Find somebody you trust to edit your work

"Even the greatest writers have editors. We know that Jane's sister, Cassandra, and best friend, Martha Lloyd, read her work before it was published. I think her parents would have too. It was Mr Austen who sent First Impressions (the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice) to publishers first of all. Jane's publishers would have made some changes to her punctuation and spelling, but if we look at her surviving manuscripts it's clear that she wasn't expecting to make many changes. She wrote right up to the edges of the paper and any additions were made on little pieces of paper that she pinned into place. A genius like Jane Austen needed a lot less editing than the rest of us."

In the face of rejection, keep writing

"We know that Jane Austen got up early so that she could play the piano and have time to herself before the rest of the household was up. She would absent herself from things like card games to work, though people often thought she was writing letters. She had to make time and snatch it where she could. Jane Austen seems to have just powered through the difficult times – working on or returning to another novel when one had been rejected. Jane wasn't always 'in the mood' for writing, but her solution was to work until she was: 'I am not at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am.' (Letter to Cassandra, Godmersham, 26 October 1813). She was speaking here of letters, but I think the rule applies."

Suspense, suspense, suspense!

"Jane Austen pointed out that just because something happened in real life didn't mean it would work well in a novel. Anna's father had broken his arm but carried on with normal life straight away. Jane knew that readers would likely lose faith with a storyteller whose character did the same: 'I have scratched out Sir Thos. from walking with the others to the stables, &c. the very day after breaking his arm; for, though I find your papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book.' (Letter to Anna Austen [Jane's niece], 10th August 1814). Jane knew exactly how to write a convincing and enchanting page-turner."

Bloomsbury

The Jane Austen Writers' Club by Rebecca Smith is published by Bloomsbury ($32.99) and is out now.

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