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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 25 February 2019

"Write Away" by Elizabeth George

This is a brilliant little guide to the craft of writing novels by the author of the Inspector Lynley series of novels of which she has written twenty as well as seven other fiction books. Clearly a prolific writer she suggests that her success is due to 'bum glue': when she is writing she writes five pages a day on the first draft and fifty (!) pages a day on the second draft.

But this is not an inspirational 'you too can be like me' book; rather it is a manual of tips and techniques. She is superb when she tells how to create characters:
  • “Real people have flaws. We're all works in progress on planet Earth ... No one wants to read about flawless characters ... Would anyone want a person like that as a friend, tediously wonderful in every way? ... A character possessing perfection one area should possess imperfection in another.” (p 9)
  • “As individuals we're all riddled with issues of self doubt ... So, in literature, we want to see characters who make mistakes, who have lapses of judgement, who experience weakness from time to time.” (p 10)
  • “Characters learn something from the unfolding events, and the reader learns something too, has the character is revealed slowly by the writer, who peels away a layer at a time.” (p 11)
  • “Make certain you are putting them into conflict.” (p 12)
  • “When I'm designing a character, I begin with a name ... it's impossible to create a character without one.” (p 12)
  • “You cannot bring a character to life in a book unless he or she is alive before the book begins.” (p 13)
  • “The creation of characters allows me to understand how each will talk - what his actual dialogue will be like - as well as how his narrative voice will sound ... The words a character uses, the syntax he employs, and his diction thus become another tool to reveal him to the reader.” (p 14)
She also is careful to distinguish between setting, place and landscape:
  • Landscape is “the broad vista into which the writer actually places the individual settings of the novel, sort of like the canvas” (p 34)
  • “What I generally do is begin by going to the place ... I consider the land itself ... what grows upon it ... its shape and its texture ... the marks that succeeding cultures have left upon it ... its buildings and how they alter from one area to another.” (p 37) The sky: “clouds ... deep colour ... moisture ... the stars” (p 38) The climate and the weather. “The sounds and scents of a place” (p 38) “Wildlife or the lack of wildlife” (p 38) “What people do there or are not able to do there” (p 38)
She points out that characters have internal landscapes:
  • “What a character looks like, how he dresses, the house in which he lives, his office, his car, his bicycle, his boat, his apartment ...” (p 39)
  • “The simplest way to achieve landscape of a person is to use specific and telling details.” (p 39) Start with stereotypes and tweak them. (p 40)
  • "We all possess emotions, psyches, and souls. We have wants and needs. We engage in reflections, speculations, obsessions ...” (p 41)
  • “I’ll attempt to choose an incident or a topic that, reflected upon [by the character], can serve as a metaphor for the state of a character’s soul.” (p 41)
She is also very interesting on plot and offers a number of possible plot maps:
  • The Seven-Step Story Line
  • The Hero’s Journey
  • Gustav Freitag’s Pyramid
  • Three Act Structure
  • Double Plot: two interwoven plots
  • Hourglass: two plots which run separately until they converge in the middle and then separate again
  • Picaresque: separate events related by theme and by characters.
There is also a great many really useful practical tips in this superb book. If I can't write after reading this I can't write. For example, she lists "eight ways to wield the hook" and considers the pros and cons of different narrations. Her fundamental attitude is that the writer must "seduce the reader to continue the story.”

It is quite brilliant.

And by the way, “What Agatha Christie did was to fashion her scenes so that the clue was present but so was the red herring. And the scene pivoted around the red herring, not around the clue.”

Other books about how to write include

February 2019; 285 pages

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