On Writing

A Gun for Sale

Brighton Rock

The Confidential Agent

The Power and the Glory

The Heart of the Matter

The Third Man

The End of the Affair

The Quiet American

Our Man in Havana

A Burnt-Out Case

The Comedians

Travels With My Aunt

The Honorary Consul

The Human Factor



Graham Greene on writing:

In most of my novels I can remember passages, even chapters, which gave me at the time I wrote them a sense of satisfaction — 'this at least has come off.' So I felt, however mistakenly, with the trial scene in The Man Within, and later with Querry's voyage in a Burnt-Out Case, with the three-cornered love scene in The Quiet American, the chess game in Our Man in Havana, the prison dialogue in The Power and the Glory, the intrusion of Miss Paterson in the Boulogne chapters of Travels with My Aunt — I don't think a single book of mine failed to give me at least once a momentary illusion of success except The Name of the Action.
— from A Sort of Life, p.198

In most of my books, however well I might know the scene, there is one lay figure who obstinately refuses to live, who is there only for the sake of the story — Krogh in England Made Me, Smythe in The End of the Affair, Wilson in The Heart of the Matter, the journalist Parkinson in A Burnt-Out Case. The sad truth is that a story hasn't got room for more than a limited number of created characters. One more successful creation and like an overloaded boat the story lists.
— from Ways of Escape, p.250

Excitement is simple: excitement is a situation, a single event. It mustn't be wrapped up in thoughts, similes, metaphors. A simile is a form of reflection, but excitement is of the moment when there is no time to reflect. Action can only be expressed by a subject, a verb and an object, perhaps a rhythm — little else. Even an adjective slows the pace or tranquilizes the nerve.
— from A Sort of Life, pp.198-199

The main character in a novel must necessarily have some kinship to the author, they come out of his body as a child comes from the womb, then the umbilical cord is cut, and they grow into independence. The more the author knows of his own character the more he can distance himself from his invented characters and the more room they have to grow in.
— from Ways of Escape, p.8

There are, I think, a few points of academic interest in Stamboul Train. The young dancer Coral Musker had surely appeared at the Theatre Royal in Nottwich, like Anne, a character in a later book, A Gun for Sale, and I can detect in both books the influence of my early passion for playwrighting which has never quite died. In those days I thought in terms of a key scene — I would even chart its position on a sheet of paper before I began to write. "Chapter 3. So-and-so comes alive." Often these scenes consisted of isolating two characters — hiding in a railway shed in Stamboul Train, in an empty house in A Gun for Sale. It was as though I wanted to escape from the vast liquidity of the novel and to play out the most important situation on a narrow stage where I could direct every movement of my characters. A scene like that halts the progress of the novel with dramatic empahsis just as in a film a close-up makes the moving picture momentarily pause. I can watch myself following this method even in so late a book as The Comedians. I had long abandoned that sheet of paper — otherwise perhaps I would have written on it, "Scene: Cemetery. Jones and Brown come alive." It might even be said that I reached the logical climax of the method in The Honorary Consul where almost the whole story is contained in the hut in which the kidnappers have hidden their victim.
— from Ways of Escape, p.19

T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read were the two great figures of my young manhood (they meant more to me than Joyce, and as for Pound he was somehow always a very long way off – an explorer of whose survival at any particular moment one could never be quite certain.) I had not the courage to approach Eliot or Read myself. What interest could they feel for a young and unsuccessful novelist? So it must have been chance which led to my first encounter with Read, and I was proud, surprised and a little daunted when I received a letter from him inviting me to dinner. "Eliot is coming, but no one else, and everything very informal." To me it was a little like receiving an invitation from Coleridge — "Wordsworth is coming, but no one else."…(At that dinner with Eliot we had talked of Arsene Lupin — a subject which always helped Eliot to unbutton — perhaps for a moment it made him feel safe from ladies going to and fro talking of Michelangelo.)
— from Ways of Escape, p.28

Melody Yiu
Email me: greeneland -at- gmail . com

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