10 Writing Tips From Virginia Woolf

10 Writing Tips From Virginia Woolf


Virginia Woolf was an English writer. She was born 25 January 1882, and died 28 March 1941. A member of the Bloomsbury Group, her most famous works include the novels Mrs. DallowayTo the Lighthouse, A Room of Ones Own, and Orlando. She was married to author and publisher, Leonard Woolf.

Freddie Moore has distilled 10 writing tips from Virginia Woolf‘s classic essay Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown In the essay Woolf responds to an article by English writer Arnold Bennett, who argued that early 20th century authors were failing to write great novels because they failed to create tangible characters.

Read the full post here: Virginia Woolf’s Advice on Creating Memorable Characters by Freddie Moore

Moore writes: “Woolf’s essay is somewhat dated. These days, literary writers aren’t divided in two camps, being Edwardians and Georgians, but there still are so many great points to take from Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown. These are 10 solid rules from Woolf’s famous essay.”

  1. Practice character-reading until you can ‘live a single year of life without disaster’. (Character-reading is Woolf’s term for people-watching for the sake of constructing fictional characters)
  2. Observe strangers. Let your own version of their life story shoot through your head — how they got where they are now, where they might be going — and fill in the blanks for yourself.
  3. Eavesdrop. Listen to the way people speak, but pay special attention to their silence.
  4. Write characters who are both ‘very small and very tenacious; at once very frail and very heroic’. Let them have contradictions.
  5. Write about people who make an overwhelming impression on you. Let yourself be obsessed.
  6. A believable character is never just a list of traits or biographical facts.
  7. Illustrate your characters outside of the superficial standards of their time. Let them be complex.
  8. Any captivating protagonist should be someone you can imagine in “the centre of all sorts of scenes.”
  9. Find a common ground between you and your characters — “steep yourself in their atmosphere.” Learn to empathise.
  10. Describe your characters ‘beautifully if possible, and truthfully at any rate’.

Freddie Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her full name is Winifred, and her writing has appeared in The Paris Review Daily and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @moorefreddie

If you enjoyed this articleyou will love:

  1. Henry Miller’s 11 Writing Commandments
  2. Cornelia Funke’s Top 10 Tips For Writing Ghost Stories
  3. Margaret Atwood’s 10 Rules For Writing Fiction

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This article has 1 comment

  1. Bryan Fagan

    I live near a major University. Every now and than I take a walk around campus. I blend in, I observe and I create. it’s great.

    Wonderful list. Unfortunately every time I think of Ms.Woolf I become sad.

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