Why should you be wondering how to write like Charles Dickens? Because there’s a lot you can learn from him.
Charles Dickens is hailed as one of the best literary writers. He’s also considered to be the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Born in poverty, in England, Dickens relied on his writing for his income. It’s also surprising to see him being considered a literary genius when he hadn’t even finished his formal education.
Charles Dickens and Writing
Dickens was forced to leave school and work in a factory to help make ends meet and pay off debts that had landed his father in prison. He first became popular in 1836 when he started publishing a series, namely The Pickwick Papers. His series was loved so much that in a few years, he was considered a literary celebrity on an international level.
From then on, Dickens truly hit his stride as a writer. He was responsible for editing a weekly journal, a duty he fulfilled for 20 years. In his lifetime, he wrote a total of 15 novels, 5 novellas, and hundreds of non-fiction articles and short stories. Some of his works such as A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations are still adapted into musicals, movies, and cartoons today.
Clearly, there’s a lot that writers can learn from Charles Dickens. Many literary authors such as Tom Wolfe, George Orwell, and even Leo Tolstoy highly praised Dickens work for his style, characterization, and realism.
Learning how to write like Charles Dickens is going to be a difficult task, especially because he has attained legendary status. His work has made millions and readers in all generations love, laugh, and cry. Luckily, we’re here to help you focus on the core areas that Charles Dickens focused on. The following are some ways that you can learn to write just like Charles Dickens.
1. A Story Idea Which Resonates with Readers
Pick a story idea which will resonate with your readers, regardless of their age. Charles Dickens work was produced in the 1895’s yet readers can still pick up his stories and connect with them. A timeless classic from Charles Dickens work is A Christmas Carol.
When you break it down, it has all the elements which make it resonate with different readers:
- Timing – Christmas – Global Holiday
- Main character – Ebenezer Scrooge – Unique because of his hate for a holiday which spreads joy
- Setting – London
- Healthy Values – Forgiveness, restitution, kindness, and repentance
- Unique Perspective – The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future
- Conflict – Internal struggle of Scrooge to pick between love or money
- Crisis – Loneliness and impending death
- Climax – A decision that only Scrooge can make
- Resolution – Change of heart which occurs instantly
- Conclusion – Restoration of Scrooge’s relationships
Your story idea also needs to be somewhere along these lines. You need to pick themes and map each element of your idea to make sure that you’re not missing out on a crucial detail here.
2. Create Characters which Are Unique and Memorable
Plenty of memorable characters are found in the worlds of Charles Dickens. He makes sure that readers are able to connect to his work. Plus, all his characters are well rounded. They have their flaws but that’s exactly why they spring up from the text and pull at the reader’s attention.
It’s not just relating to one story either. Dickens fame is reliant on his unique characters, including David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Ebenezer Scrooge. These characters have distinct traits which make them stand out. Additionally, Dickens also spent a lot of time developing the supporting characters in his work.
There’s a reason why many people liked Oliver Twist. Twist was the main protagonist but other characters such as Fagin, Bill Sikes, Artful Dodger and even the kind Rose Maylie who adopts Oliver were all properly created.
Based on this, don’t be afraid to spend time on your characters and make them come to life. Your readers will thank you for the effort here.
3. Listen to Your Readers to Stay on Track
Charles Dickens is famously known for having written according to his readers’ reactions. Since his work was produced on a series-basis, Dickens had time to actually consider the response he generated and make any changes in the story as needed. These changes were generally well met and increased his readership.
At that time, Dickens was probably the only writer who paid such attention to his readers and considered what they wanted from the story. He created characters, improved storylines and also enhanced the personality of his characters, based on what he heard every day from those around him.
By being open to feedback in this manner, you have to make sure that you’re able to develop your stories and improve your work drastically as well. It should be noted that not all writers have the luxury of getting instant feedback as they are not working on series-based work.
In this case, though, thorough market research is going to be your best friend. Look at your genre; take a look at the most popular work and analyze why it’s popular. In fact, if it is possible, do a small poll online and ask readers what they look for in a story. This will only help you become a better writer.
4. Describe Everything Vividly
Dickens work has a unique quality. He had a knack for writing descriptions which could bring the story to life. Readers could not just imagine the scene; they could smell it, feel it and even hear the people that they were reading about. In this case, you have to make sure that you describe everything in as much detail as possible.
However, be very careful when applying this. It sounds brilliant and easy but if you’re not careful, you’ll end up writing loads of filler content. In this case, you want to make sure that you are able to be brief but also as descriptive as possible. Granted, this can take some time to master so don’t be too quick to rush yourself.
Take your time and try to learn how to describe something in as few words as possible. It might appear difficult at first but as you continue to write, you will become better at bringing clarity to the reader, regardless of the where and how the story unfolds.
5. Let Your Readers Wait a Bit
One of the best ways that Dickens improved his readership and stole the heart of millions of readers across the globe was his ability to leave the readers wanting more. Charles Dickens made good use of cliffhangers to ensure that readers were always interested in the story. He also added twists that kept readers hooked to his every word.
This also meant that they were eagerly waiting for him to release the new installation. When another chapter would be released, his readers would be waiting voraciously to devour the story! Now, it can be difficult to do this when you’re not writing a series but you have to make sure to apply this to your work as well.
Wait a bit before you release the second book of your work. Again, there’s no pressure to make it a series. Just wait a bit, gauge the reaction of your readers and also work on the plot outline and other fine details of your next book. If your readers loved your first book, they will actually start to reach out to you to find out when you will be releasing more.
6. Be Disciplined in Your Writing Schedule
Always write with a schedule. Dickens led a busy life and was responsible for the editing of a newspaper journal for 20 years. Yet, when he wrote, he didn’t give in to distractions. While there’s no proof found regarding his writing schedule, it is said that he could write prolifically when he wanted.
In fact, A Christmas Carol was written, finalized, and published within six weeks. It was also evident that he was working with self-imposed deadlines. Thankfully, his efforts ensured that A Christmas Carol was released on 19th December 1843. Today, the story is over 175 years old.
If you also want to have a disciplined writing schedule, it is a good idea to try some timed-writing with the help of the Pomodoro Technique. This method can help you overcome distractions, focus on the task at hand and enjoy small breaks which allow you to rest and refresh your mind.
Plus, give yourself a word count on daily a basis so that you can easily finish your book on time. By dividing the total word count with the number of days available, you will also able to stop feeling overwhelmed by the work that you need to do.
7. Draw Inspiration from Around You
One of the most interesting qualities of Charles Dickens work is that all his stories draw inspiration from what was around him. The themes in his stories stem from areas that Dickens understood or wanted to raise awareness for. Oliver Twist stands out the most noticeably for this feature.
As a child, Dickens was forced to work in a factory, earning 10 shillings a week and looking after his siblings while his parents were in jail for their father’s debt. The harsh conditions that Dickens faced made a lasting impression on him and really brought the plight of small children to light. He also wondered how no one ever exclaimed to see a child working in a factory.
With an aim to bring such evils to light, Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist in which he detailed many of his accounts and wrote about what he saw. His work not only shocked many people but also ensured that changes were made in labor laws to prevent children from being exposed to such a harmful environment.
Similarly, you should try and draw inspiration from events, things, and even conversations taking place around you. Finding the source of inspiration, in this case, will help you have an authentic story which will have a large readership due to its message.
8. Opening Sentences that Gripped Readers
Charles Dickens mastered the art of having gripping opening sentences that got the reader’s attention instantaneously. Don’t think so? Think back to some of the most iconic opening sentences. Does the following line pop up in your head?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness….” – A Tale of Two Cities
This line is one of the most interesting opening lines that a story has ever had. It draws readers into the story so easily that before they know it, they have read the first paragraph and the first page and are now moving on to the next. Similarly, you should also try to have an opening sentence that catches the reader’s attention.
Not only does this masterpiece have the most interesting opening line but A Tale of Two Cities was hailed as one of the most historically accurate stories told. It’s literally the best example of Charles Dickens’s work and helps highlight his skills as a writer.
9. Being Innovative with Traditional Elements
Another area where Dickens’s skills shone was by taking some traditional elements and making them completely new. This added a unique touch to his story. A good example of this can be seen in A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens brings the Past, Present, and Future of Scrooge alive by turning them into ghosts that only he can see.
That’s a very interesting concept. Another twist here is that it plays on the superstitious element of ghosts where it is normally believed that seeing them can be bad luck, or they’re omens or messages from the other side. In this story, they certainly do have messages and tell that not heeding their warnings will mean bad luck for Scrooge.
Plus, in the story, you see two beliefs come to life – a dark, traditional belief of ghosts and ghouls and a light one related to Christmas. It’s seeing these two beliefs being brought to life that made the story so universally liked.
By paying attention to these things, you can write like Charles Dickens or at least emulate his writing style to a certain extent. Even if you want to write like him, try to add originality into your work!