“This,” said Basil, “is what we call the survival of the fittest.”

Three-quarters of my family is in a cleaning mood at the moment, and as it’s Christmas break, that often means attacking the piles (physical or metaphorical) of things that have been hanging around all semester waiting for me to get to them. Mostly I only accomplish the doubtful progression of moving portions of the mess to other locations.

In the process, I pulled out some writer’s magazines that were handed out in the Craft and Theory: Prose and Poetry class I had. I read through them to see if I needed anything in them, jotted down a few ideas, and then threw them away, because they really weren’t that good. One of the flaws of a secular college is that nobody works off the proper presuppositions, so quite often they end up with the wrong conclusions (especially when you’re talking about art), or they might get the right conclusion, but the way they got to it is all wrong.

In no particular order, here are the worthwhile ideas I gathered from the three magazines:

The setting can be used to help the mood of a scene, subtly dropping hints when characters aren’t supposed to notice foreshadowing.

Playing is not wasted time. You can’t spend all your time writing, because your creativity will dry up. Writers know that anything can provide ideas, from a stray word to a picture to music to just going for a walk and feeling things with their five senses. Time spent not writing isn’t wasted time, it’s necessary, and though for ordinary jobs it’s true that time spent away is time not working, and therefore, from the point of view of usefulness, wasted time, that’s not so for writers. Or for any artists, I suspect.

The style of the writing, word choice, voice, syntax, sentence length, and the like, should reflect the content. Trying to write a tense scene and using long, sprawling, rambling sentences is going to be self-defeating. Trying to write from the point of view of an uneducated man doesn’t work if he notices things only a professor would look for, or uses words the average reader will have to look up in the dictionary. A bricklayer probably won’t be too interested in a collection of incunabula, for example.

And unless you want to hear about how I got startled on Sunday, and the violence that ensued, I have nothing else to say. I’m sure I learned something else about writing this semester, but I have to go through my notes first.

Quote is from Chesterton’s Club of Queer Trades, in which a philosopher resorts to violence, proving to his Darwinian opponents what their scheme of morality leads to.


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
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3 Responses to “This,” said Basil, “is what we call the survival of the fittest.”

  1. Is this what happened in Moby dick.? “Trying to write a tense scene and using long, sprawling, rambling sentences is going to be self-defeating.”


    • noliealcarturiel says:

      I haven’t read Moby Dick, but from what I’ve heard about it that seems likely. That sort of thing happens a lot in Victorian literature too, which had a taste for melodrama.


  2. Hope Ann says:

    ‘Playing is not wasted time.’

    Yes! I mean, a writer has to write sometimes, of course, but they don’t have to be writing every moment of every day. I make it a habit not to write on Sundays so I can relax and get my brain back on track. Or I’ll read or watch something, both to relax and because everything is a story and I can pull ideas from them for my own work. 🙂


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