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It’s safe to say that whatever else one thinks about Edgar Allan Poe—besides inventing the mystery story and giving sneaky people in Baltimore something to do for many years—his mastery of setting and mood is unassailable.

edgarllanpoe1So when Poe, in The Philosophy of Composition, decides to proffer some ideas on writing, it’s best to listen up. His advice has less to do with inspiration or imagineering than it does with planning, plotting, and mapping the whole thing out beforehand. Not one for winging it, Poe. That’s how you end up with The Fall of the House of Usher, or The Raven, which he dissects in detail.

A couple highlights:

Figure out the ending — “Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before any thing be attempted with the pen.”

Keep It Short — “If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression — for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and every thing like totality is at once destroyed.”

What Poe doesn’t say, after all this, is: If you don’t have a story worth telling, none of this will mean much of anything. But it’s worth remembering.

(h/t: Open Culture)