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From Idea to Novel

by Elizabeth George

Pub Date: April 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9848-7831-1
Publisher: Viking

An up-close and personal class in writing a novel.

Most authors of how-to-write books provide numerous excerpts and samples of work from successful, published authors in order to show aspiring writers how it’s done. Hot on the heels of her last Inspector Lynley mystery, The Punishment She Deserves (2018), the award-winning George breaks this tradition by analyzing a single novel, Careless in Red (2008), one of her Lynley mysteries. The excerpts are extensive and sometimes quite lengthy, so expect spoilers. Throughout, the author calmly teaches by example, pragmatically walking readers through numerous sections of the lengthy novel. “What I actually want to do,” she writes, “is show you how a particular process that I’ve developed over time works for me.” Before George begins a novel, she conducts extensive research. Here, she includes photographs she took of the seaside in Cornwall where the novel is set and discusses how she was looking for a location to establish tone and atmosphere. What she discovered “ended up giving me an entrée into my novel.” Once she has found a “plot kernel” and the settings, “everything else rises from the characters: the subplots, conflicts, theme, motifs, agendas, and the shape of the through line of the story.” The author creates elaborate prompt sheets from which a character “rises up and tells me who he is.” In other chapters, George explores dialogue, voice, point of view, and plot development. A key to the George method of writing is the “THAD,” or “Talking Heads Avoidance Device,” which is an “action that accompanies dialogue.” Writers must “avoid writing a scene that comprises only dialogue and taglines.” The author concludes with a detailed discussion of the importance of revising. “I’m a perfectionist,” she writes, but she doesn’t include much on language or style. Each chapter includes optional exercises. The author’s nuts-and-bolts approach may be a tad too dry for some fledgling writers.

“Take what you like and leave the rest,” writes George early on. It’s good advice for approaching this book.