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Posts Tagged ‘Write Away by Elizabeth George’

* Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

Elizabeth George is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read all of her Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers novels, and marveled at the way a native Californian has been able to capture the nuances of life and police procedure in the UK. I was very excited when I found “Write Away” and was able to learn how she did it.

“Write Away” describes how George goes about the daily task of getting words on paper, and also a variety of techniques that she has found useful. But, for me, the most valuable aspects of the book were her observations about creating character and settings.

Stating that analysis of character is the highest human entertainment, George admonishes authors not to bring a character to a book unless he or she is fully alive before the book begins. Create an analysis of each character, including biographical facts and a full psychological profile. Know each character well enough to understand how he or she will react in the situations which the novel will then pose. Only then can you begin to write your story.

George tells us to reveal characters slowly, allowing the character to effect events and be effected. Show flaws, mistakes, lapses of judgment, and weaknesses. Characters, she says, are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, and confusion, not in their joy and security. Obvious, perhaps, but so easy to forget when you’re writing.

George’s approach to setting is just as rigorous as her approach to character. Her goal is that each separate location should create an atmosphere and trigger a mood, but cautions that descriptions of place should be part of the narrative and should never interrupt the flow of the story. She visits each place that she will represent, camera and tape recorder in hand, seeing the land, sky, climate, sounds and scents, seeking to feel the emotions evoked by the setting. She works quite hard to describe settings which stimulate the reader’s senses and imagination.

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“conflict” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 25, 2007

·   plots must have conflict  ·   Events occur as the conflict unfolds  ·   Conflict is a form of collision  ·   Conflict can be created by resistance against a character’s desires. Resistance can come from within the character himself, from nature  ·   Conflict adds tension to the novel  ·   The story’s conflicts are reflections of the theme  ·    Put your characters into conflict  ·   Look for subplots (which provide opportunities for conflict) based on character’s strengths and weaknesses  ·   Opening scene either possesses or promises excitement, intrigue, conflict, foreshadows problems; establishes atmosphere, place, some characters (not necessarily the main characters)  ·    Characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security  ·  What does the character do when under stress·   conflict is what brings characters to life and makes them real for the reader  ·   Put the character to the test by putting him into conflict; he then springs to life, forced to make a decision, to act on that decision  ·    create a situation where the characters are bonded together and are unable to escape being in conflict with each other; then “heat” the situation  ·  conflict is a character’s will in collision with something else  ·   a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real  ·        conflict works best when it is rising conflict, builds over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur  ·     start with an idea that contains one of: the primary event, the arc of the story (beginning, middle, end), or an intriguing situation that suggests a cast of characters in conflict  ·     Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let the tension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.  ·   foreshadow future conflict with the present dialogue  ·   after writing dialogue, evaluate it. does it add tension? does it demonstrate conflict between characters?

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“endings” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

·   I always know the end in advance  ·   after the climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters  ·   you need to end every story you begin 

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“beginnings” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

·   Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)  ·   primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel  ·   begin at the beginning, before the beginning, after the beginning (permits non-linear narrative … back stories)  ·   starting just before the beginning – must have a scene that illustrates the status quo of the main characters before the primary event occurs  ·   start before the beginning by illustrating the character’s emotional status quo; good chance of hooking the reader  ·   start at the beginning by introducing simultaneously both the characters and the primary event … “The bodies were discovered by …” the reader is thrust immediately into the story and the characters  ·   start after the beginning, after the primary event has occurred  ·   In A Great Deliverance, the novel starts with a priest on a train, going to London, reacting to some important (but not revealed) event that we will later learn was the primary event of the story  ·   Opening scene either possesses or promises excitement, intrigue, conflict, foreshadows problems; establishes atmosphere, place, some characters (not necessarily the main characters)  ·   must hook the reader (first task is to keep the reader reading): Follett – Key to Rebecca – opening scene introduces but does not identify character, shows aspects of the character’s behavior that are intriguing, mysterious  ·   opening – establish place by specific memorable details – atmosphere, mood, tone  ·   opening – illuminate theme or plot or place  ·   opening – illustrate agendas of characters 

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“don’t do” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

  • avoid preaching 
  • avoid dealing with too many ideas at once
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    “character” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·   Analysis of character is the highest human entertainment  ·    Human character is the greatest of puzzles  ·   What we take away from a good novel is the memory of character  ·      Characters effect events and events effect characters  ·    Real people have flaws; no one wants to read about perfect characters  ·   Issues of self-doubt  ·    Characters who make mistakes, have lapses of judgment, experience weakness, are interesting  ·    We want to cheer when the character (finally) comes into her own  ·    Characters learn from unfolding events  ·    A character is (best) revealed slowly by the writer  ·    Characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security  ·   begin with a name; names can suggest anything to the reader (personality traits, social and ethnic background, geography, attitude)  ·    Names influence how a reader will feel about a character  ·   Create an analysis of each character, facts, a full psychological profile  ·   Do not bring a character to a book unless he or she is alive before the book begins  ·   Create character in advance; use personality quirks and telling details; know your characters, who they are, how they’ll react  ·    constantly ask questions about what each character would do in the situation in which he finds himself  ·   become the character’s analyst  ·    understand your character’s core need  ·  What does the character do when under stress? (generally the flip of the core need) : delusions, compulsions, addictions, denial, illnesses, self-harming behavior, manias, phobias  ·  what is the character’s attitude toward sex, what is his/her sexual history  ·    What does the character want in the novel?  ·    As you write, frequently refresh your memory about your characters  ·   the behavior of a character is rooted in who that characters is and what has happened in the scene (and before)  ·    we all suffer from guilt, fear, worry, doubt  ·   a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real  ·        conflict works best when it is rising conflict, builds over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur  ·   at the climax, the character stands before the reader fully revealed  ·    a reader can bond with a character if there is something in common  ·   Every character has two landscapes: (1) external, (2) internal  ·   External landscape: select details which will resonate with the reader  ·   Internal landscape: emotions, wants, needs, reflections, speculations, obsessions  ·  Allow characters to reflect – reveal what’s in their heads  ·     characters in a novel are more interesting if they have lives outside the (action of) the novel, before the novel was written, and after.  ·   We admire characters who face and prevail over situations we ourselves have experienced, who unflinchingly examine themselves, learn from their mistakes, meet challenges with courage 

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    “point of view” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·  must be clear about point of view in each scene   Objective viewpoint ·  writing is journalistic, like a reporter; provides facts, but not thoughts and feelings of characters – tough to carry off well  ·  objective narrative can create an aura of intrigue about a character or a situation – precisely because the reader does not know inner thoughts or feelings, but it also minimizes the reader’s intimacy    Omniscient viewpoint. · Must be adept to remain truly omniscient and not just slip in and out of different characters points of view  ·  the narrator knows, sees, hears all  ·  the narrator enters into the mind of every character  ·  the viewpoint of the narrator is not necessarily that of the author  ·  omniscient narrator is a story teller; the reader sinks into the story; the narrator is not confined to the time or place of the individual scene (like a reporter would be) but can provide history about the characters as well as what’s in their hearts and minds  Character viewpoints. ·  Reveal only what the chosen character would see, know, think, feel in each scene in which the character is participating  First person. ·  Stay with one narrator throughout the novel. In that character’s head and none other. Terrific intimacy, authenticity. BUT this one character must be in every scene, which is a challenge to plotting  ·  Shifting first person. Multiple first character viewpoints. Each section or alternating chapters told by a different first person narrator. Challenge: each “I” must be utterly distinct  ·  Shifting third person. NOTE: no viewpoint shift within a scene, unless …  ·  can combine first person with shifting third person (that’s what I did in A Good Conviction·  too many narrators slows down the pace of a novel  ·  narrator can be reliable or a devilishly clever liar, likable or not  

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    “plot” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·   plots should not insult reader’s intelligence, no holes in plots, characters who are real  ·   create subplots that illustrate the same theme through different situations  ·   every scene advances either the plot or one of the subplots (or it doesn’t belong)  ·   using a piece of information from the character analysis, twist the story one more time ·   keep aware of what the reader knows or doesn’t know at each point in the story  ·   Ask questions about each character  ·   Work with your characters to design the plot  ·   Plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in  ·   primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel  ·   Events must be organized with an emphasis on causality  ·   The first event (scene) triggers the event that will immediately follow it  ·   High drama: direct conflict between characters, discovery, revelation, personal epiphany  ·   Plot must have climax, and climax itself must have a climax  ·   Post climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters  ·   Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)  ·   I always know the end in advance  ·   subplots arise out of a novel’s theme, mirror the theme  ·   you need to end every story you begin   ·   theme – the basic truth about which you are writing. ·   you may not know the theme in advance, but it will emerge (???) ·   the writer’s object is to keep the reader reading  ·   if a plot is essentially believable, it can sustain a suspension of belief  ·   every story needs plot points, critical moments when events change 

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    * process … in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·     learning something new in writing the novel is a source of energy for the writer  ·        the original idea prompts questions which expand the simple idea into a more complicated story idea  ·      next is research; identify what needs to be learned in order to tell the story  ·     research the specific locations where the story will take place  ·    details about where the characters live adds verisimilitude  ·      specific details: kinds of shops, kinds of houses, types of trees and plants, sounds, smells  ·    take camera and tape recorder on research hikes. Photograph constantly and speak notes onto tape. Transcribe notes every night.  ·     Talk to people, tape record everything  ·     next: create characters – generic list – names! The name of the character is the first chance to position the reader’s attitude toward that character. ·     Say the character’s name aloud – the  reader will.  ·     Write freely about each character, touching every area of their development and lives; develop a voice for each character; 3-4 page document on each character. What drives that character?  ·    Re-read these character analyses when writing.  ·        the deeper the character analyses, the more plot elements jump out  ·    consider how characters’ lives interlock, what the subplots might be  ·    doing the character analysis first allows the writing to be about art and not about craft.  ·      Having created all of the characters, I know their worlds and can create exact settings (not generic) for each   ·   render the setting with as much authenticity as the characters and events  ·   create settings – plan physical layout – each building, connections ·   develop a place I can own on paper, so the reader can experience the setting  ·     step outline – quickly list all the events in the story that can be generated from the primary event and that have causal relationships between them  ·      place these events in the best dramatic order – an order that allows the story to keep opening up and not shutting down  ·   make sure I maintain dramatic questions and do not play my hand too soon  ·    running plot outline – a present tense account of what’s going to happen in a scene, including point of view, stream of consciousness, how can I bring it to life  ·    bullet points for each scene  ·  I see the scene playing out in my mind – do this for every scene in the step outline  ·     rough draft – having done all the advance work, I can now involve myself in the sheer artistry of writing  ·    there are surprises and changes – new ways to steer the story, new elements, new dramatic questions, new ideas  ·   move back and forth – step outline, running plot outline, actual writing – write 5 pages per day  ·   read the hard copy of the rough draft; make no changes in the text; make notes about weaknesses, repetitions, places where story is not clear, where character does not emerge well  ·     I write myself an editorial letter, a guide to the 2nd draft  ·        write 2nd draft on the hard copy (not computer, can’t see it all at once on computer); about 50 pages per day  ·    revise manuscript; give to cold reader for an honest evaluation; with two sets of questions, one to have before reading and one to see after reading.  ·   Take comments, 3rd draft, send to editor  ·    Writing is a job like any other  ·   195. mentions Richard Marek  ·        196. examine every facet of character’s lives, needs, personalities, behavior prior to writing a single word of the novel  ·     write a minimum of 5 pages per day  ·   write every day (even on vacation) – stay situated in the novel – my novels are large, long and complicated  ·   Clear your life of the things that keep you from writing

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    “dialogue” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·   A character’s dialogue illustrates opinions, personality, education, economic background, attitudes, beliefs, superstitions, pathology  ·   Wield dialogue as a way of banishing doubt from the reader’s mind  ·    Dialogue can foreshadow events that will not take place until well into the story  ·    relationships take on life through dialogue  ·    natural speech isn’t fluid. Writing like that would be virtually unreadable  ·   Dialogue needs to seem natural even when it can’t be  ·    syntax reveals character: pedantic speech, casual speech, uneducated speech  ·    a character may have a signature word (or expression)  ·   each character has a distinctive way of using language  ·    dialogue needs to be concise  ·   dialogue should never be obviously expository  ·    dialogue is not supposed to be the way people talk all the time  ·   subtext – what the characters are really talking about beneath what they appear to be talking about  ·    to offset the direct nature of dialogue with minimal (or no) subtext (St. James and Deborah often speak directly, trusting each other), which would become repetitive and tedious, you need to have other scenes in which the dialogue is rich with subtext (Lynley and Helen rarely speak directly and often speak at cross purposes).  ·    a lot is going on, and much of it is not expressed  ·    subtext colors the scene. People don’t always say what they really mean. They don’t always state their thoughts and feelings directly. Sometimes they talk around a topic  ·   fancy tag lines such as snarl, moan, whine, growl (instead of said, asked, answered, replied) call attention to themselves. EG discourages using them at all. The reader will know if someone is snarling without obvious words to say so  ·        Adverbs can add a degree of precision, but draw reader’s attention to how the line is said rather than what is said  ·    Junk words. Use them only if they illustrate character. Otherwise delete.  ·    Suggest dialect rather than using full dialect. The reader will get it.  ·    In a long speech, maintain attention by showing other characters’ reactions, gestures.  ·    Interrupt the speech with a moment of thematically related action – sound of voices, wind against the windowpane, song on the radio in car which passes by.  ·   Intersperse some physical thing into the stream of dialogue (may reveal character, contain important information, be a metaphor)  ·    Indirect dialogue is a summarized form of dialogue, told in narrative style, which alters the pacing of the scene, compresses the dialogue while still allowing the reader to know that it was lengthy.  ·   after writing dialogue, evaluate it. Does it add tension? Demonstrate conflict between characters? Reveal some aspect of the character speaking or listening?  ·    Would some of the dialogue be more effective as indirect rather than direct?  ·    If the dialogue isn’t essential, get rid of it!

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    “voice” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·     voice is the tone that comes through the narrative when the point-of-view character is on stage  ·    voice comes from the character analysis you’ve created; if you’ve designed characters who come to life, highlighting the salient aspects of their personalities allows their voices to emerge  ·      a character’s voice comes from his background, education, position in society, personal and family history, prejudices and biases, inclinations and desires, belief system, what he wants for his life, his agenda in an individual scene, his arching purpose, his core need  ·    voice: use of language, vocabulary, attitude   ·      we’re inside his head, living the scene through him   ·     attitude reveals character   ·     reader can recognize connections to a character or can recognize that the character is very different (curiosity piqued?)

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