- File Size: 1202 KB
- Print Length: 288 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060560444
- Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (October 13, 2009)
- Publication Date: October 13, 2009
- Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
- Language: English
- ASIN: B000GCFWWS
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Not Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,282 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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In reading about Ms. George on the website, I saw she had authored this book. I snapped it up immediately, and I have not been disappointed. The author admits this is HER way of approaching writing. It's not like she says there is only one way that works. So you will enjoy and benefit most from this book if her approach resonates with you. How can you tell? First, read a bunch of her books. Her stories are a cut above most bestsellers in terms of complexity of character, how the plot holds your interest and how beautifully she uses the English language. Setting is rich and contributes to the story. Dialogue sparkles. If you can't tell the difference between an Elizabeth George novel and a John Sandford novel, this book may not be for you. (I love John Sanford and have read all his books, but to me, his books are a great beach read, while Elizabeth George's books are more complex and compelling. Frankly, I'd be happy to be as successful as either one of them.) So, if you like complex stories that are well-done, and that is how you want to write, this book is for you.
Secondly, before purchasing the book, I read reviews. I always read the 1-star and the 5-star reviews and get an overall feel for them when I research a product. Most of the time, they give me what I need to know. If the bad reviews are short, illiterate and emotional, I usually can dismiss them. If the 5-star reviews are well-written, detailed and make sense and resonate with me, I go with them. Of course, I'm talking overall rather than particular reviews, but in the case of this book, it becomes clear that people who don't have a strong left-brain attitude (aren't logical, rational, analytical) may not like this book, because the author comes across as very left-brain, which I am. So I like it. If you are a seat-of-your pants writer who spurns research and making outlines, or if you are an author who has a chip on your shoulder about traditionally published or successful authors, you may not enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you already have a good grounding in grammar, spelling and composition, and if you can explain why you like one type of author's work over another, this book may appeal, because it can be the gateway to improved writing for you.
Some of the criticism in the reviews mystified me; well, in fact, most of it did. Some readers were annoyed that the author didn't just bullet-point tips. Duh. This romance with Sesame Street-style-learning has really gotten out of hand. If you don't like to read, it might be a sign you shouldn't be a writer. If you like to read but find detailed explanations with great examples a burden, then probably this book is not for you, but I honestly don't see how any book on writing can be good without going into detail and giving examples, simply because good writing and a good approach and success are somewhat subjective, and even defining terms can be challenging. And if you think becoming a good writer is something you can take a pill or get a shot for, you're dreaming. Elizabeth George takes you by the hand and gives you lots of great examples that help you get the 'aha' moments you need as an author who is wanting to express herself better and wow her readers. If it were easy to do or easy to explain in five steps, everyone would be doing it, wouldn't they?
It is also probable that if you are the type who is writing to market and cranking out eight novels a year, this book may not be for you, because to apply what the author suggests is time-consuming. Quality isn't quick. So if time is your main concern, this book may not be helpful to you.
I'll be reading this book more than once and taking some notes. It is quite possible I will tweak the processes she suggests in order to mold them to my personality, but it won't be huge changes. I am excited about beginning my next novel, because I can already see how I can improve in so many ways thanks to this book.
If you are willing to invest time, thought and effort into improving your writing and are a left-brain sort of person who is okay with taking the time to make outlines or lists and researching and thinking before you write, this book will give you everything you need to craft a better novel. I don't write crime fiction, but everything she teaches in this book applies to other genres. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to make the leap to other types of fiction, so don't let that hold you back. And I still want to take a workshop with Ms. George. Especially if it's in Tuscany. :)
Seeing the process behind the creation of something enables us to see it in a different light, and appreciate the final event in a way that is impossible without that knowledge.
Unlike many authors' works on "how I write," this is not a biography, not an egotistical wander down memory lane and certainly not an ethereally uplifting of the craft into the realm of either-you-have-it-or-you-don't.
George starts at the beginning, not giving us a useless miasma of "you get inspired by something" ... she talks about where she gets her ideas and then what she does with them in order to get them to work. Sometimes they don't, but she gives a blueprint (yes, with real questions that she feels one needs to know about the story) in order to assess the value of the idea and begins to discover it.
And she gets points with me for the simple fact that her character sketch questions are SO much more necessary than "what color is the character's hair?" and "What did he eat for dinner last night?" Because, let's face it, unless last night's dinner killed him, it really makes no difference to most plots.
She also tackles the relationship between plot and character and how they are symbiotic entities, informing and building on each other.
At this point, I am a little over halfway through, and it is already in my top 5 books on writing craft . And while it leans toward the mystery/crime genre, her points and "system" are not tied to that genre.
She gives examples from her own work (the Lynley series), and from other mystery writers (P.D. James, Dennis Lehane). She introduces the exerpts telling you what they are demonstrating and then afterwards, picks them apart, so you aren't left wandering around aimlessly in them wondering which part of the exerpt the author was referring to.
And her chapter on POV is arguably the best I have EVER read (and I've read a lot because it s of particular interest to me). She gives examples of how people have pushed the use of each POV, why it works and what the pros and cons are. Including the usual hang-ups for amateur novelists and the limitations that you have to live with.
As if all this is not already fantastic, at the end she summarizes her process "in a nutshell," so that you can see in abridged form, what you have read through, and which gives you a means to begin and then to immediately locate the long chapter that deals with that particular aspect of the process.
The treat of this book is that it is a real craft book, written by a prolific author who is sharing tangible information on HOW TO ACTUALLY SET ABOUT WRITING A NOVEL. You know: Step 1...then Step 2....
While it will not be the natural approach for everyone (maybe not even many), it is actually a useful approach for writers to explore.
In my (very humble) opinion, this book is much more "useful" as a book on craft and novel-writing-approach than the oft-recommended Stephen King's "On Writing," which I have read and enjoyed, but is more of a memoir of King's life, of his struggles and of the need of the successful author to be willing to succeed through sheer bloody-minded determination. All of these have their place, but George talks about her process in a way that the reader can actually apply it (beyond just "apply butt-glue and never give up").
And above that, her inclusions of exerpts from her own "Journal of a Novel," detailing her own hesitations, fears, self-doubts...well, that is priceless. I especially loved her thoughts on John Steinbeck:
"I am filled with doubts. Why isn't Steinbeck filled with doubts? I think he's had one lousy day of doubt throughout the time of East of Eden. Is it because he has so many outside interests? Probably. I have so few. I've never been a hobby person, and when I start working on a project, all I can think of is finishing the damn thing. And there's Steinbeck, building desks, carving oars for his sons, buying a boat, decorating his little house in New York. Should a Nobel Laureate have a little more angst? I'd certainly appreciate it.
- Journal of a Novel, October 12, 1994"
Top international reviews
As a rookie writer, it helped me understand the technical process behind writing. Her advice is no nonsense and spot on. Not sure if it will work for everyone but i am a major fan of her work. It works for me.
I liked it very much!
Je le recommande vivement à tous les écrivains en herbe
Bei George beeindrucken mich die ausgefallenen Charaktere der Verdächtigen, die Einbindung der englischen Szenerie in die Romane, aber sie bekommt trotzdem das typisch Englische einfach nicht rüber, sondern stellt England dar wie ein Ausländer, der sich zwar gut auskennt, aber einfach kein Einheimischer ist. Ihr Protagonistenset sind klischeehafte Engländer vom ex-Proletariat (Havers) bis zum tiefstapelnden Adel (Lynley), und deren Sprache ist auch nicht englisch, sondern ein Englisch, wie es sich Amerikaner vorstellen. Auch Georges hanebücherne Plot-Auflösungen sind enttäuschend - bis zu den letzten 20 Seiten überzeugt jede Story, und dann wird's nur noch abstrus.
Doch als ich Georges Buch übers Schreiben las, wurde mir bewusst, weshalb Elizabeth Georges Romane so bemüht konstruiert wirken. Sie selber bastelt ihre Romane wie nach einer hochkomplizierten Origami-Anleitung. Dass sie das supergut kann, das zeigt schon ihr enormer kommerzieller Erfolg. Aber vom Schriftstellerischen ist sie höchstens Mittelklasse und kann sich neben so unterschiedlichen, aber hervorragenden Krimi-Autoren wie P.D. James oder Michael Connelly qualitätsmäßig nicht behaupten.
In Creative Writing Kursen gibt's folgende weitverbreitete Lehrmeinung: Die wirklich brillanten Autoren sind nicht in der Lage, über die Entstehung ihrer Bücher strukturiert zu reflektieren. Die mittelmäßigen Autoren können dies oft sehr viel besser, weil sie ihren Mangel an Genius mit solidem Einsatz von Techniken wettzumachen suchen.
Und damit ist Elizabeth Georges Gesamtwerk umschrieben: gute Technik, kein göttlicher Funke.