There Are Only 37 Possible Stories, According to This 1919 Manual for Screenwriters

"Great literature is one of two stories," we often quote Leo Tolstoy as saying: "a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." That's all well and good for the author of War and Peace, but what about the thousands of screenwriters struggling to come up with the next hit movie, the next hit television series, the next hit platform-specific web and/or mobile series? Some, of course, have found in that aphorism a fruitful starting point, but others opt for different premises that number the basic plots at three (William Foster-Harris), six (researchers at the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab), twenty (Ronald Tobias), 36 (George Polti) — or, as some struggling screenwriters of a century ago read, 37.

The year was 1919. America's biggest blockbusters included D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms, Cecil B. DeMille's Male and Female, and The Miracle Man, which made Lon Chaney into a silver-screen icon. The many aspirants looking to write their way into the ever more celebrated and lucrative movie business could turn to a newly published manual called Ten Million Photoplay Plots by Wycliff Aber Hill. "Hill, who published more than one aid to struggling 'scenarists,' positioned himself as an authority on the types of stories that would work well onscreen," writes Slate's Rebecca Onion. In this book he provides a "taxonomy of possible types of dramatic 'situations,' first running them down in outline form, then describing each more completely and offering possible variations."




Hill's 37 basic dramatic situations include such "happy situations" as "rescue," "loved ones lost and recovered," and "a miracle of God"; such "pathetic situations" as "love's obstacles," "rivalry between unequals," and "a mystery"; and such "disastrous situations precipitated without criminal intent" as "possessed of an ambition," "enmity between kinsmen," and "vengeance." (Naturally, Hill also includes a separate category involving criminal intent.) These dramatic concepts then break down into more specific scenarios like "rescue by strangers who are grateful for favors given them by the unfortunate one," "an appeal for refuge by the shipwrecked," "the sacrifice of happiness for the sake of a loved one where the sacrifice is caused by unjust laws," and "congenial relations between husband and wife made impossible by the parents-in-law."

Already more than a few films new and old come to mind whose stories proceed from such dramatic concepts. Indeed, one could think of examples from not just cinema but literature, television, theater, comics, and other forms of narrative art besides. Situations we all know from real life may also follow similar contours, which plays no small part in giving them their impact when properly translated to the screen. Clearly aiming for timelessness, Hill enumerates plots that could have been employed in stories centuries before his time, and will continue to be long after ours. But what, exactly, is the relationship between plot and story? We now quote E.M. Forster on the matter, specifically a line from his Aspects of the Novel — a book for which Ten Million Photoplay Plots' first readers would have to wait eight more years.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Winston Churchill Praises the Virtue of “Brevity” in Memos to His Staff: Concise Writing Leads to Clearer Thinking

George Orwell and Winston Churchill didn’t agree on much. For example, while Orwell wrote with deep sympathy about coal miners in The Road to Wigan Pier, Churchill, as home secretary, brutally crushed a miner’s strike in Wales. Orwell’s early years as “an apparatchik in the last days of the empire… left him with a hatred of authority and imperialism,” writes Richard Eilers. Churchill was a committed imperialist all his life, instrumental in prolonging a famine in British India that killed “at least three million people.”

Importantly for history’s sake, they agreed on the need to confront, rather than appease, the Nazis, against both the British left and right of the 1930s. “At a time not unlike today,” says journalist Tom Ricks, “when people were wondering whether democracy was sustainable, when a lot of people thought you needed authoritarian rule, either from the right or the left, Orwell and Churchill, from their very different perspectives, come together on a key point. We don’t have to have authoritarian government.”




Maybe somewhat less important—but strenuously agreed upon nonetheless by these two figures—was the need for clear, concise prose that avoids obfuscation. In Politics and the English Language—an essay routinely taught in college composition classes—Orwell describes politically misleading writing as overstuffed with “pretentious diction” and “meaningless words.” These are, he writes, signs of a “decadent… civilization.” Churchill has had at least as much influence as Orwell on a certain kind of political writing, though not the kind most of us read often.

In 1940, Churchill issued a memo to his staff titled “Brevity.” He did not express concerns about creeping fascism in bureaucratic communiques, but decried the problem of wasted time, “while energy has to be spent in looking for the essential points.” He ends up, however, saying some of the same things as Orwell, in fewer words.

I ask my colleagues and their staffs to see to it that their Reports are shorter.

  1. The aim should be Reports which set out the main points in a series of short, crisp paragraphs.
  2. If a Report relies on detailed analysis of some complicated factors, or on statistics, these should be set out in an Appendix.
  3. Often the occasion is best met by submitting not a full-dress Report, but an Aide-memoire consisting of headings only, which can be expanded orally if needed.
  4. Let us have an end of such phrases as these: “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations…,” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect…." Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.

Reports drawn up on the lines I propose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon. But the saving in time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.

The message “cascaded through the civil service,” writes Laura Cowdry at the UK National Archives. A 1940 article in the Times picked up the story. But the problem persisted, as it does today and maybe will till the end of time (or until machines start to do all our writing for us). Frustrated, Churchill issued another admonition, shorter even than the first, in 1951.

Official papers are too long and too diffuse. In 1940 I called for brevity. Evidently I must do so again. I ask my colleagues to read what I wrote then… and to make my wishes known to their staffs.

These memos, Cowdry notes, “may shed some light onto government communications work of the past,” and on the Churchillian style that may have taken hold for decades in government documents, as well as—of course—far beyond them. His emphatic statements also articulate “key elements of good communication that would resonate with the thinking of any modern communicator,” whether Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, or Cormac McCarthy, who has become a sought-after scientific editor for his strict minimalism.

Churchill did not seem overly concerned with wordiness as a political problem. Orwell did not approach the problem philosophically. That task fell to the Logical Positivists of the early 20th century. In his attempt to explain the wordiness of both undergraduates and world-renowned thinkers, “neo-Positivist” philosopher David Stove goes so far as to ascribe overwriting to “defects of character… such things as an inability to shut up; determination to be thought deep; hunger for power; fear, especially the fear of an indifferent universe….”

Something to consider, maybe, when you’re looking at your next draft email, Facebook comment, or Slack message, and wondering whether it actually needs to be an essay….

via Bob Rae

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Roald Dahl Gives a Tour of the Small Backyard Hut Where He Wrote All of His Beloved Children’s Books

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe BFGThe WitchesMatilda: Roald Dahl wrote these and all his other beloved children's books in a hut. Just fifteen feet long and ten feet wide, it served him for 35 years as an office in which no meetings were held and no calls taken. For four hours a day, broken into two-hour morning and afternoon sessions, it was just Dahl in there — Dahl and his paper, his pencils, his sharpener, his coffee, his cigarettes, his increasingly eccentric collection of artifacts from his own life, and here and there the occasional spider web and goat dropping. It was all part of an effort, explains Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown, "not only to recreate his own early childhood but to improve on it."

"As a boy in the 1920s," Treglown writes, "Roald used to hide up in a tree in order to write his diary." But the hut, constructed right behind his Buckinghamshire home, "was a more substantial place to work, where he could commemorate, and fantasize about, his past."




On his side were items like "his father's silver and tortoiseshell paper knife," a "tablet fragment with a cuneiform inscription found in Babylon" — a souvenir from his time in the King's African Rifles — and, "saved from operations," pieces of his own femur and spine. In his hut, Dahl wrote "surrounded by these fetishes, snugly wrapped in a sleeping bag, sitting in an old armchair, his feet on a trunk which was filled with blocks and tied to a leg of the chair, to prevent it from slipping."

"I couldn't possibly work in the house, especially when there used to be a lot of children around," says Dahl in the 1982 clip at the top of the post as he approaches his hut. "Even when there aren't children, there are vacuum cleaners and people bustling about." He then goes in to demonstrate his writing routine, which involves the pouring of coffee, sharpening of precisely six pencils "to a fierce point" (a step that had its own procrastination value), the brushing away of the previous day's eraser dust (onto the floor, where it has remained ever since), and the situation with the armchair and sleeping bag. "Finally you get settled, you get into a sort of nest, you get really comfortable," Dahl says. "And then you're away."

The footage also includes views of Dahl's much more traditionally well-appointed main house, including its billiards table around which he and his local friends would gather for a twice-weekly session. The game had its influence on Dahl's writing life, and indeed his writing hut. Among his "snooker pals" was builder Wally Saunders, whom Dahl hired to put it up in the first place (and whose formidable stature and ear size would, nearly thirty later, inspire the title character of The BFG). As he explains on the British Children's program Going Live, he even covered his handmade wooden writing surfaces, which he placed across the armrests of his chair, with green baize, a material he found easy on the eyes.

When Dahl died in 1990, his writing hut went untouched for two decades. But eventually, as explained in this ITV News clip, the simple building couldn't withstand further exposure to the elements. So began the project to move the interior of the hut, eraser dust and all, to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire. Luckily for Wes Anderson, this happened after he came to Dahl's home to seek permission to adapt The Fantastic Mr. Fox from the writer's widow Felicity. So compelling did she find Anderson's vision that she even allowed him into the "hallowed writing hut," the ideal space in which to commune with Dahl's spirit. The hut may now no longer be whole, but that same spirit continues to course through the imaginations of generation after generation of young readers.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Behold Octavia Butler’s Motivational Notes to Self

Handwritten notes on the inside cover of one of Octavia E. Butler’s commonplace books, 1988

I was attracted to science fiction because it was so wide open. I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining. —Octavia E. Butler

Like many authors, the late Octavia E. Butler took up writing at a young age.

At 11, she was churning out tales about horses and romance.

At 12, she saw Devil Girl from Mars, and figured (correctly) she could tell a better story than that, using 2 fingers to peck out stories on the Remington typewriter her mother bought at her request.

At 13, she found a copy of The Writer magazine abandoned on a bus seat, and learned that it was possible to submit her work for publication.

After a decade’s worth of rejection slips, she sold her first two stories, thanks in part to her association with the Clarion Science Fiction Writing Workshop, which she became involved with on the recommendation of her mentor, science fiction writer Harlan Ellison.




She went on to become the first science fiction writer to receive a prestigious MacArthur “genius” award, garnering multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for her work.

An asteroid is named after her, as is a mountain on Pluto’s moon.

Hailed as the Mother of Afro Futurism, she won the PEN American Center lifetime achievement award in writing.

But professional success never clouded her view of herself as the 10-year-old writer who was unsure if library-loving black kids like her would be allowed inside a bookstore.

Identifying as a writer helped her move beyond her crippling shyness and dyslexia. As she wrote in an autobiographical essay, "Positive Obsession":

I believed I was ugly and stupid, clumsy, and socially hopeless. I also thought that everyone would notice these faults if I drew attention to myself. I wanted to disappear. Instead, I grew to be six feet tall. Boys in particular seemed to assume that I had done this growing deliberately and that I should be ridiculed for it as often as possible.

I hid out in a big pink notebook—one that would hold a whole ream of paper. I made myself a universe in it. There I could be a magic horse, a Martian, a telepath….There I could be anywhere but here, any time but now, with any people but these.

She developed a lifelong habit of cheering herself on with motivational notes, writing them in her journals, on lined notebook paper, in day planners and on repurposed pages of an old wall calendar.

She held herself accountable by writing out demanding schedules to accompany her lofty, documented goals.

And though she wearied of the constant invitations to serve on literary panels devoted to science fiction writers of color, at which she’d be asked the same questions she’d answered dozens of times before, she was resolute about providing opportunities for young black writers … and readers, who found reflections of themselves in her characters. As she remarked in an interview with The New York Times

When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.

Her brand of science fictiona label she often tried to duck, identifying herself on her business card simply as “writer”serves as a lens for considering contemporary issues: sexual violence, gun violence, climate change, gender stereotypes, the problems of late-stage capitalism, the plight of undocumented immigrants, and, not least, racism.

She sidestepped utopian science fiction, believing that imperfect humans are incapable of  forming a perfect society. “Nobody is perfect," she told Vibe:

One of the things I've discovered even with teachers using my books is that people tend to look for 'good guys' and 'bad guys,' which always annoys the hell out of me. I'd be bored to death writing that way. But because that's the only pattern they have, they try to fit my work into it.

Learn more about the life and work of Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006) here.

I shall be a bestselling writer. After Imago, each of my books will be on the bestseller lists of LAT, NYT, PW, WP, etc. My novels will go onto the above lists whether publishers push them hard or not, whether I’m paid a high advance or not, whether I ever win another award or not.

This is my life. I write bestselling novels. My novels go onto the bestseller lists on or shortly after publication. My novels each travel up to the top of the bestseller lists and they reach the top and they stay on top for months . Each of my novels does this.

So be it! I will find the way to do this. See to it! So be it! See to it!

My books will be read by millions of people!

I will buy a beautiful home in an excellent neighborhood

I will send poor black youngsters to Clarion or other writer’s workshops

I will help poor black youngsters broaden their horizons

I will help poor black youngsters go to college

I will get the best of health care for my mother and myself

I will hire a car whenever I want or need to.

I will travel whenever and wherever in the world that I choose

My books will be read by millions of people!

So be it! See to it!

via Austin Kleon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

Martin Amis Explains His Method for Writing Great Sentences

Why does Martin Amis writes sentences well? As a novelist, he naturally has a high degree of professional interest in the matter. But why does he write sentences so well? One might put forth the influence of his father Kingsley Amis, author of Lucky Jim, an enduring contender for the title of the funniest novel in the English language. But given how seldom one acclaimed novelist sires another — an event, in fact, nearly unheard of — the heritability of literary talent remains unknowable. As for the direct influence of Amis père on Amis fils, we can almost entirely rule it out: not only did Kingsley never encourage Martin to follow in his footsteps, only once did he offer any kind of writerly advice.

"We sat in high-bourgeois splendor, my father and I," writes the younger Amis in his memoir Experience, "having a pre-lunch drink and talking about his first published story, ‘The Sacred Rhino of Uganda’ (1932: he was ten)." The father-son dialogue runs as follows:

— It was awful in all the usual ways. And full of false quantities. Things like: ‘Raging and cursing in the blazing heat …’

— What’s wrong with that? I mean I can see it’s old fashioned …

— You can’t have three ings like that.

— Can’t you?

— No. It would have to be: ‘Raging and cursing in the … intolerable heat.’

You couldn’t have three ings like that. And sometimes you couldn’t even have two. The same went for -ics, -ives, -lys and -tions. And the same went for all prefixes too.

43 years later, Martin Amis would find himself in the role of literary advice-giver, delivering his father's principle of writing onstage at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The process of imbuing every sentence with "minimum elegance and euphony," he says in the clip above (drawn from a longer interview viewable here) involves "saying the sentence, subvocalizing it in your head until there's nothing wrong with it. This means not repeating in the same sentence suffixes and prefix. If you've got a confound, you can't have a conform. If you've got invitation, you can't have execution. You can't repeat those, or an -ing, or a -ness: all that has to be one per sentence. I think the prose will give a sort of pleasure without you being able to tell why."

Clearly writing a sentence that has "nothing wrong with it" goes well beyond adhering to the rules of spelling and grammar. And even after you've eliminated all ungainly repetition, you may still have considerable work to do before the sentence rises to a standard worth upholding. There are other questions to ask: do you, for example, truly possess each and every one of the words you've used, not just in meaning but sound and rhythm? In order to do so, Amis recommends acquainting yourself more intimately with the dictionary and thesaurus. If all this makes the task of the aspiring writer sound needlessly daunting, follow instead the much simpler advice Amis provides in the clip just above: "Get to the end of the novel, then worry, because you've got something in front of you that you can work on. Save the anxiety for the end."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Write Only 500 Words Per Day and Publish 50+ Books: Graham Greene’s Writing Method

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Nobody can write a book. That is, nobody can write a book at a stroke — unless aided by aggressively mind-invigorating substances, and even then they seldom pull it off. As professional writers know all too well, composing just one passable chapter at a sitting demands a Stakhanovite fortitude (or more commonly, a threateningly close deadline). Books are written less one chapter at a time than one section at a time, less one section at a time than one paragraph at a time, less one paragraph at a time than one sentence at a time, and less one sentence at a time than one word at a time. Graham Greene wrote his formidable body of work, more than 50 books, including novels, poetry and short fiction collections, memoirs, and children's stories, 500 words at a time.

In one of his most beloved novels, 1951's The End of the Affair, Greene has his writer protagonist Maurice Bendrix describe a working method much like his own:

Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene. Every now and then during the morning’s work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my manuscript. No printer need make a careful cast-off of my work, for there on the front page is marked the figure — 83,764.

In his youth, Bendrix notes, "not even a love affair would alter my schedule," nor could one interrupt the nightly phase of his process: "However late I might be in getting to bed — as long as I slept in my own bed — I would read the morning’s work over and sleep on it."




Much of a novelist's writing, he believes, "takes place in the unconscious; in those depths the last word is written before the first word appears on paper. We remember the details of our story, we do not invent them." Greene, too, set enough store by the unconscious to keep a dream journal. A few year after The End of the Affair, writesThe New Yorker's Maria Konnikova, "he faced a creative 'blockage,' as he called it, that prevented him from seeing the development of a story or even, at times, its start. The dream journal proved to be his savior."

All of us who write, whatever we write, can learn from Greene's methods; Michael Korda got to witness them first-hand. In the summer of 1950 he was invited by his uncle, the film producer Alexander Korda, to come along on a French-Riviera cruise with a variety of major industry figures, Greene included. By that point Greene had already written a fair few screenplays, including adaptations of his own novels Brighton Rock and The Third Man. But each morning on the yacht he worked on a more personal project, as the sixteen-year-old Korda watched:

An early riser, he appeared on deck at first light, found a seat in the shade of an awning, and took from his pocket a small black leather notebook and a black fountain pen, the top of which he unscrewed carefully. Slowly, word by word, without crossing out anything, and in neat, square handwriting, the letters so tiny and cramped that it looked as if he were attempting to write the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin, Graham wrote, over the next hour or so, exactly five hundred words. He counted each word according to some arcane system of his own, and then screwed the cap back onto his pen, stood up and stretched, and, turning to me, said, "That's it, then. Shall we have breakfast?" I did not, of course, know that he was completing The End of the Affair.

This working ritual, a Korda describes it, suits the sensibilities of the writer, a convert to Catholicism who dealt with themes of religious practice in his work:

Greene's self-discipline was such that, no matter what, he always stopped at five hundred words, even if it left him in the middle of a sentence. It was as if he brought to writing the precision of a watchmaker, or perhaps it was that in a life full of moral uncertainties and confusion he simply needed one area in which the rules, even if self-imposed, were absolute. Whatever else was going on, his daily writing, like a religious devotion, was sacred and complete. Once the daily penance of five hundred words was achieved, he put the notebook away and didn't think about it again until the next morning.

Just as Greene's adherence to Catholicism lost some of its rigor in his later years (he claimed to have been converted by arguments, then forgotten the arguments), his daily word count decreased. "In the old days, at the beginning of a book, I'd set myself 500 words a day, but now I'd put the mark to about 300 words," a 66-year-old Greene told the New York Times in 1971. But such are the wages of the novelist's art, in which Greene felt a demand to "know — even if I'm not writing it — where my character's sitting, what his movements are. It's this focusing, even though it's not focusing on the page, that strains my eyes, as though I were watching something too close."

Greene wasn't alone in writing a certain number of words each day. According to a post at Word Counter, Ernest Hemingway got started on his own 500 daily words at first light. Ian McEwan says he aims "for about six hundred words a day and hope for at least a thousand when I’m on a roll." For the more prolific J.G. Ballard, a thousand was the minimum, "even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way." The near-inhumanly prolific Stephen King doubles that: "I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words," he says in his memoir On Writing. "On some days those ten pages come easily; I’m up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning, perky as a rat in liverwurst. More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day’s work around one-thirty in the afternoon."

John Updike, no slouch when it came to productivity, recommended writing for a length of time rather than to a number of words. "Even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour, say — or more — a day to write," he says in an interview clip previously featured here on Open Culture. "Some very good things have been written on an hour a day." At The Guardian, novelist Neil Griffiths discusses his apostasy from the thousand-words-a-day method: "I'm writing a novel — an artistic enterprise, one hopes — but I was measuring my working day by a number." Switching to the "finish the bit you're working on" method, he writes, means he doesn't have "half an eye on what is going to happen in the next bit because without it I'll never make the day's 1000. My sole concern is the words before me, however many or few they are, and getting them right before moving on." And so, it seems, those of us trying to get our life's work written have two options: do what Graham Greene did, or do the opposite.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Cork-Lined Bedroom & Writing Room of Marcel Proust, the Original Master of Social Distancing

Many of us now find ourselves stuck at home, doing our part to put a stop to the global coronavirus pandemic. Some of us are taking the opportunity to write the ambitious works of literature we've long intended to. Such an effort of creativity in confinement has no more suitable precedent than the life of Marcel Proust, who wrote much of his seven-volume masterpiece In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu) in bed. The Paris Review's Sadie Stein quotes Proust's biographer Diana Fuss describing him as having written "from a semi-recumbent position, suspended midway between the realms of sleeping and waking using his knees as a desk."

He did it in a bedroom lined with cork, an addition meant, Stein writes, "not just to soundproof but to prevent pollen and dust from aggravating Proust’s allergies and asthma." Though the Spanish flu did make its way into France during Proust's last years, the writer had been worried about his own frail health since his first asthma attack at the age of nine.




He got the idea of lining his bedroom with cork from his friend Anna de Noailles, "a princess and socialite, a patron of the arts and a novelist in her own right," who also happened to be "plagued with debilitating fears and neuroses." You can visit faithful reconstructions of both of their bedrooms at Paris Musée Carnavalet, an essential stop on any Proust pilgrimage. So is the Hôtel Ritz Paris, which maintains a "Marcel Proust suite."

William Friedkin — yes, that William Friedkin — stayed in the Marcel Proust suite, "formerly a private dining room on the hotel’s second floor, where Proust often hosted small dinner parties," on the Proust pilgrimage he recalls in The New York Times. "I was told by the hotel manager that the room was reserved for Proust to entertain whenever he could venture out from his cork-lined bedroom at 102 Boulevard Haussmann." No doubt Proust "absorbed inspiration from conversations here, ones that made their way into his writing." In the last three years of his life, the writing almost entirely displaced the conversation: Proust spent almost all his time in his cork-lined bedroom, sleeping by day and putting everything he had into his work at night. A contemporary photograph of Proust's cork-lined bedroom appears at the top of the post, as recently included in a tweet by writer Ted Gioia calling Proust the "master of social distancing."

Just above, you can watch a talk on the writer's room and hypersensitivities (of both the aesthetic and physical varieties) that put him into it by Proust scholar William C. Carter, author of Marcel Proust: A Life and Proust in Love. What might Proust's father, the epidemiologist Adrien Proust, have thought about a new epidemic making the people of the 21st century look to his son?  Even if we don't take him as a model for writing life, this is nevertheless an appropriate moment to read his work (now available free online at the Internet Archive's National Emergency Library). "What Proust inspires in us is to see and to appreciate every seemingly insignificant place or object or person in our lives," writes Friedkin, "to realize that life itself is a gift and all the people we’ve come to know have qualities worth considering and celebrating — in time."

via Ted Gioia

Related Content:

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past on the Centennial of Swann’s Way

An Introduction to the Literary Philosophy of Marcel Proust, Presented in a Monty Python-Style Animation

When James Joyce & Marcel Proust Met in 1922, and Totally Bored Each Other

16-Year-Old Marcel Proust Tells His Grandfather About His Misguided Adventures at the Local Brothel

The First Known Footage of Marcel Proust Discovered: Watch It Online

The National Emergency Library Makes 1.5 Million Books Free to Read Right Now

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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