from Amazon.co.uk here
Born in 1949, Elizabeth George wrote since the age of seven yet tended to avoid writing seriously as an adult until much later, finally getting her third attempt at a novel published in 1988. From that point on, she has written a novel almost every year, to great acclaim. She has won several writing awards and taught writing techniques. Much of her writing experience and teaching has been distilled into this excellent book.
Writers must read. It’s surprising how many would-be writers hardly ever read books. They can read and speak English, so they can write, can’t they? Well, probably not... They should read books on the subjects that interest them, the types of books they want to write, as well as books on how to write. In my time I’ve received so many manuscripts that lack even the basic understanding of page layout, sentence construction, paragraph formatting and punctuation – and yet all these basics are plain to see in any printed novel if the fledgling writers bothered to look.
Like all art forms, writing has to be practised and learned. Good writing is a combination of the craft and the art. You can’t teach someone to use the right vocabulary, to paint word-pictures in the reader’s mind – that has to come from within. But you can teach the technique of writing – and this is what George does with the aid of many examples from her own and other writers, such as PD James, Stephen King, EM Forster, Harper Lee, Toni Morrison, Martin Cruz Smith and Dennis Lehane.
There isn’t a right way to write a novel. There are thousands of authors and probably all of them have different approaches. But what the majority do have is bum glue - discipline. If you don’t sit down and write, then you don’t get the work done.
That’s the other thing to recognise – it’s work – hard work. Just because the writers enjoy what they do, it doesn’t mean that it comes easy to them. They have to apply themselves. And this shines through with Elizabeth George. She’s meticulous in her pre-writing planning.
Yes, you need to know what you’re going to write before you start, who you’re going to write about, what it will concern and probably how it will end. That requires planning and research. Not every writer plans in detail or even at all, but George advocates that the whole process of writing is far easier if you have a plan and she starts off by getting the idea then expanding on it to see if it has legs, then concocting the primary event that will propel the story from its beginning – in essence, the plot.
Then you need to people the world your story depicts – list the characters both generically and also specifically. By doing this, you’ll reveal relationships and sub-plots you hadn’t thought of, which is often a great feeling. You must always bear in mind that character is story and dialogue is character, too.
Then comes the research. The great danger with research is that it becomes so interesting – and time-consuming – that you never get round to the writing phase!
Up to now she still hasn’t begun the book. It’s still going on in her head in the subconscious. Now she creates the characters in depth then the settings – which include landscape – the physical places and the inner landscape of the characters. This is followed by a detailed step outline which will probably contain phrases and dialogue to be used in the actual writing, but it’s all steam-of-consciousness writing at this stage. A plot outline – where the logic of the storyline is checked - is the last preparation. All this has involved the craft of writing.
Now comes the decision where to start the novel – at the beginning, before the beginning or after the beginning, where the beginning is the primary event, the main plot. Once you’ve made that decision, it’s time to start writing the book!
The first rough draft of the novel is, to her, the easy bit – because she’s done all the background and familiarisation. The story flows and she can concentrate on the art side of writing. Usually, she writes three drafts – the third being the finished novel, ready for the publisher.
Of considerable use are her examples and guides in the final section. Here she reveals the Seven-step Story Line, breaking down the structure of a novel into seven major elements. Then she discusses The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler (a book I’d recommend for all budding writers or scriptwriters). This model actually divides a story into twelve parts that follow a pattern long-established in Western mythology.
If you aspire to being a writer and you haven’t read any ‘How to’ books on the subject, this is a good place to start; if you have read similar books, this is still worthy of your attention. Aspiring or accomplished, as a writer you’ll take away something from this book.
So, if you fancy yourself as a writer, read. In particular, read this book and learn from it.
Of course, if you want another viewpoint, you could try my book Write a Western in 30 Days, which reviewers point out is useful to writers of all genres, not just westerns!
E-book available from Amazon.co.uk here
and from Amazon.com from here