Write Away – Advice From Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George writes mysteries, intricately plotted, full of rogues and oh-so-human heroes, set in wild or innocent corners of England. Her words hook you as soon as you read the first page. When I purchased her book, Write Away, I thought, what a great person to learn from.

Write Away Five ElementsI distilled her suggestions into five essential points (see diagram) with notes to augment each point. Although George presents them in sequence, the diagram shows them in a circle because that’s how I think of them – interconnected aspects of a work of fiction.

  1. Story is Character, bullets remind me that I must understand my characters’ core needs and the pathology of their actions when these needs are thwarted, unique episodes from the past that have shaped them, their sexuality and their burning desires.
  2. To remind me that Setting is Story I have listed atmosphere, landscape, landscape of the person and internal landscape. George tells us that good writers explore each of these settings. A broader and more complex way to think of setting.
  3. Plot must consist of conflict, laid out in a series of what Elizabeth George calls dramatic dominoes. Plot contains high points, a climax and resolution. George pays particular attention to a novel’s opening which must establish a character’s emotional state, promise excitement, suggest conflict, theme and problems, describe the atmosphere and place and grab the reader with some sort of hook.
  4. Voice is a character’s defining way of speaking and thinking. Voice reflects background, education, social position, history, biases, desires and beliefs.
  5. Dialogue moves the plot forward, provides information about conflict, theme and plot, adds to tension, reveals character, and suggests subtext. It must also serve the action of the scene.

Elizabeth George offers further advice on plotting:

  • Plotting is what the characters do to deal with the situation they are in
  • You need conflict to have plot
  • Think of the events in the novel as dramatic dominoes; your scenes should tip from one domino to another to another.
  • Ensure you have high points of drama which will deeply involve the reader
  • You must have a climax and a climax within the climax
  • Your story needs resolution, a point where you tie the loose ends together and illustrate the nature of change that has occurred in the lives of your characters
  • Continually open up the story by creating scenes in which you lay down dramatic questions; make partial disclosures, answer one question but create another one
  • Play the information out with great care – don’t give things away too soon

What works for me is to briefly describe the idea of my story, then write down the themes I want to explore and areas of conflict between and amongst characters.

Then I build each scene from the following prompts:

  • Setting – where does the scene occur (remember that setting consists of atmosphere, landscape, landscape of the person and internal landscape)
  • Narrator – who has the primary voice in a given scene, the scene will unfold mainly from their perspective; what does the scene reveal about the characters
  • Basic Outline – I use bullet points consisting of two or three sentences
  • What are the dramatic dominoes? – which scenes are causally related to this scene; those scenes will follow, not necessarily immediately but at some point
  • What questions are left open? – what questions will the reader wonder about and turn the page to find the answers

These notes from Write Away help me outline the story while keeping these five elements ‘front and centre’. For me the writing then flows more easily and I can keep the bigger picture of the story in mind.

All of which does not mean that the process is quick or without many edits, but it does add coherence to my efforts. Guess I’m not a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of person.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Manuscript evaluation – by an expert

Kyle ContestLong time readers will know that A Writer of History is not a place for advertising an individual author’s book or some new author service — or how to reduce your wrinkles or burn more calories, for that matter — however, I cannot resist telling you about a contest Barbara Kyle is running – with the opportunity to win a manuscript evaluation from such an accomplished author and instructor.

I had the pleasure of attending one of Barbara’s writing workshops (you can read about it here) and can confidently say that the winners of her contest will benefit greatly from advice on character development, building tension and conflict, using setting to advantage, developing an opening hook, and the creation of superb prose.

Here are the details:

Contest Opens to Win a $1200 Manuscript Evaluation by Bestselling Author Barbara Kyle

Barbara Kyle is offering a contest for writers in which the Grand Prize is a full manuscript evaluation: a value of $1200.

The contest is open to anyone with a work of fiction or narrative nonfiction. It’s free to enter. Writers enter by sending a writing sample of up to 1500 words. Entry deadline is 30 April 2015.

“And here’s the great thing,” says Kyle. “Winners will have up to a year to send me their manuscript. If the work is ready now, that’s fine, they can send it as soon as they get word they’ve won. But if they need more time to complete it, that’s fine too. They have up to a year.”

The Grand Prize is Kyle’s evaluation of a full manuscript. Second prize is her evaluation of a manuscript’s first 50 pages. Third prize is her evaluation of the first 25 pages.

Full details about the contest and how to enter are at www.BarbaraKyle.com.

Barbara KyleKyle is the author of the acclaimed Thornleigh Saga series of historical novels (“Riveting Tudor drama” – USA Today) and contemporary thrillers including Beyond Recall (under pen name Stephen Kyle), a Literary Guild Selection. Over 450,000 copies of her books have been sold around the world. Her new novel, The Traitor’s Daughter, will be published in June 2015.

Through her mentoring, Kyle has launched many writers to published success, including bestselling mystery author Robert Rotenberg, historical novelists Ann Birch, Tom Taylor, and Barbara Wade Rose, award-winner Steven T. Wax, and debut novelist Marissa Campbell.

“Now it’s your turn,” Kyle tells aspiring writers. “Enter the contest for a chance to win an in-depth analysis of your work – your first step toward success.”

You can also contact Barbara Kyle via email: bkyle [at] barbarakyle [dot] com.


How Do Prolific Authors Do It?

This post – taken from my earlier blog One Writer’s Voice – seems just as relevant to me now as it did two years ago. PS: the cover is for his latest book released this month.

two-by-two-nicholas-sparksDuring a writing course I took in 2012, four authors discussed their writing process. Not all four were prolific, but two were; one writing three books every year (adult, YA and young readers) and another writing one book every year. These two authors had different processes, but both involved ‘bum in seat’ discipline.

Last Sunday’s New York Times included a list of Nicholas Sparks’ sixteen novels [now twenty] and the number of weeks each novel remained on their hardcover fiction list. Regardless what you think of his stories, the results are interesting and, some might say, impressive. Sparks has not repeated the success he had with The Notebook (56 weeks), but each subsequent novel has earned between 12 and 29 weeks.

In an interview with Writers Digest, Sparks advises writers to ‘write what readers want to read, which isn’t necessarily what you want to write’. He goes on to say:

I think it’s important to understand that it [the publishing industry] is an industry in which the publisher has to sell your book, and if they don’t think there’s an audience for your book, you’re probably not going to get it published. I also think it’s important to realize that to get published, you’re not competing against me, or Stephen King, or John Grisham—we have spent years developing audiences that we bring to the table. So, you have to write better than we do, or more originally, or have more original stories, or work in a genre that has a need. I think it’s important to realize that readers are forgiving to a point, in that if you don’t put out your best possible work every time, your audience will begin to fall.

In an interview on ThinkTalk.com, Sparks discloses that he writes one book at a time, a minimum of 2000 words a day, 5 or 6 days a week with the first draft typically ready in four months. Apparently, he spends another two months on edits to get it to final completion.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Wish it were so. Comments on Sparks’s approach or anything else related to the topic are welcome.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.