F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Advice to a Young Writer

F. Scott FitzgeraldF. Scott Fitzgerald offers this advice in response to a short story sent to him by Francis Turnbull, a Radcliffe College student and family friend.

“… I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at the moment. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly … It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile …

The amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see. That any how is the price of admission.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learnt all he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming – the amateur thinks he can do the same.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice, then, is to use genuine experience with heightened emotion when creating characters and stories, especially when first starting out. It takes many years of learning the tricks of the trade to be able to take seemingly small and trivial events as subject matter and make them interesting and absorbing to readers.

Summary

F. Scott Fitzgerald advises that we mine our lives for the big, wrenching events and emotions when starting out as writers. It will make our characters more authentic and impactful. We should expand our range as we master our craft.

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