Write Away : One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2/25/2010
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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Bestselling author Elizabeth George has spent years teaching writing, and in Write Away she shares her knowledge of the creative process. George combines clear, intelligent, and functional advice on fiction writing with anecdotes from her own life, the story of her journey to publication, and inside information on how she meticulously researches and writes her novels. George's solid understanding of craft is conveyed in the enticing manner of a true storyteller, making Write Away not only a marvelous, interesting, and informative book but also a glimpse inside the world of a beloved writer.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
An Overview of the Craft
Story Is Characterp. 3
Setting Is Storyp. 17
Nothing Without Landscapep. 29
Plotting: "It Is the Cause, My Soul"p. 39
The Basics
Yes, There's More About Plot. But First...p. 47
Onward from Ideap. 53
The Start: Decisions, Decisionsp. 65
As There Is Viewpoint, So Is There Voicep. 76
Voice: You Gotta Have 'Tudep. 97
Dialogue: Speak the Speech, If You Willp. 106
Tricks of the Dialogue Tradep. 119
The Scene: Okay, So It Is Rocket Sciencep. 129
Knowledge Is Power, Technique Is Gloryp. 157
Loose Endsp. 167
Baby Steps Firstp. 177
The Value of Bum Gluep. 190
Tidbits from Q & Ap. 198
Examples and Guides
Gimme a Map, Pleasep. 207
All About Characterp. 216
Turning Places into Settingsp. 230
Final Wordsp. 253
The Process in a Nutshellp. 255
Notesp. 258
Indexp. 261
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Write Away
One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life

Chapter One

Story Is Character

Am I kidding myself about being a "creative artist"? Can I possibly be a creative artist if I approach this effort in so methodical and left-brained a fashion?

Journal of a Novel,
June 25,1997

A large piece of Plexiglas covers the top of my desk. Beneath this shield, I keep bits and pieces to serve as inspiration or to cheer me up in those moments of bleak despair when I'm wondering why I've taken on onedifficult project or another. Among these items I have a copy of John Steinbeck's letter to Herbert Sturz on the subject of The Grapes of Wrath -- I find his comments about critics particularly smile-producing -- as wellas pictures of my dog, of myself grinning inanely alongside a wax effigy ofRichard III from Madame Tussaud's waxworks in London, and severalquotations from writers on one subject or another. One of those writersis Isaac Bashevis Singer who, in an interview with Richard Burgis in 1978, said the following:

When people come together -- let's say they come to a littleparty or something -- you always hear them discuss character. They will say this one has a bad character, this one has a goodcharacter, this one is a fool, this one is a miser. Gossip makesthe conversation. They all analyze character. It seems that theanalysis of character is the highest human entertainment. Andliterature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning realnames.

The writers who don't discuss character but problems --social problems or any problems -- take away from literature itsvery essence. They stop being entertaining. We, for some reason, always love to discuss and discover character. This isbecause each character is different and human character is thegreatest of puzzles.

That's where I want to begin, then, in laying the foundation for myexploration of craft: with character.

Not with idea? you may ask, aghast. Not with where a writer getsideas? What a writer does with ideas? How a writer molds ideas into prose?

We will get to that. But if you don't understand that story is character and not just idea, you will not be able to breathe life into even the most intriguing flash of inspiration.

What we take away from our reading of a good novel mainly is thememory of character. This is because events -- both in real life and infiction -- take on greater meaning once we know the people who areinvolved in them. Put a human face on a disaster and you touch peoplemore deeply; you may even move them inexorably toward taking anaction they might have only idly contemplated before that disaster wasgiven a human face. Munich '72, the Achille Lauro, Pan Am 103, OklahomaCity, 9/11 ... When these tragedies become human by connecting themto the real people who lived through them or died in them, they becomeimprinted indelibly on the collective consciousness of a society. We startwith an event as news, but we almost immediately begin asking Who? about it.

It's no different with fiction. The trial of Tom Robinson is maddening, disturbing, and heartbreaking in its injustice, but we remember the triallong after it's over because of Tom Robinson's quiet dignity and because ofAtticus Finch's heroic representation of the man, knowing all along that hisclient is doomed because of the time, the place, and the society in whichthey both live. To Kill a Mockingbird thus rises to the level of timeless, classicliterature not because of its idea -- the innocence of childhood set into anugly landscape of prejudice and brutality -- but because of its characters. This is true of every great book, and the names of those men, women, andchildren shine more brightly in the firmament of literary history than do the stories in which they operated. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Jemand Scout Finch, Captain Ahab, Hester Prynne, Sherlock Holmes, Heathcliff, Ebenezer Scrooge, Huckleberry Finn, Jack-Ralph-and-Piggy, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, George Smiley, Anne Shirley, LauraIngalls ... The list can stretch from here to forever. With the exceptionof the last, not a single character is a real person. Yet all of them are, becausethe writers made them so.

Once we have begun it, we continue reading a novel largelybecause we care about what happens to the characters. But for us actually to care about these actors in the drama on those printed pages, they must become real people to us. An event alone cannot hold a storytogether. Nor can a series of events. Only characters effecting events andevents affecting characters can do that.

I try to keep some basic guidelines in mind when I'm creating mycharacters. First, I try to remember that real people have flaws. We'reall works in progress on planet Earth, and not one of us possesses physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological perfection. This should betrue of our characters as well. No one wants to read about perfect characters. Since no reader is perfect, there is nothing more disagreeablethan spending free time immersed in a story about an individual wholeaps tall buildings of emotion, psyche, body, and spirit in a singlebound. Would anyone want a person like that as a friend, tediouslyperfect in every way? Probably not. Thus, a character possessing perfection in one area should possess imperfection in another area.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle understood this, which is one of the reasons that his Sherlock Holmes has stood the test of time for more thanone hundred years and counting. Holmes has the perfect intellect. Theman is a virtual machine of cogitation. But he's an emotional black holeincapable of a sustained relationship with anyone except Dr. Watson, and on top of that, he abuses drugs ...

Write Away
One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life
. Copyright © by Elizabeth George. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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