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Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life    by Elizabeth George order for
Write Away
by Elizabeth George
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Who better to explain the 'Writing Life' to us than someone as talented as renowned mystery author Elizabeth George (who has also spent several years teaching creative writing)? I have read several books on writing and, while some were more inspirational, and others provided unique insights, I find Write Away most useful in terms of specific practical advice on the details of the process and how to make things work.

George tells us that it takes a combination of art and craft, and that the latter can be taught while the former cannot. Her book on writing is divided into Overview, Basics, Process, and Examples and Guides (the latter includes a very useful 'character prompt sheet'). She illustrates her points throughout with examples from her own novels, as well as from the writings of authors who range from John Le Carré and Stephen King to William Shakespeare. She begins each chapter with an entry from her writing journal, which shows how difficult it can be even for an established bestselling author. George emphasizes that 'Story is character' - that is real, flawed people who grow and change - and she tells us in detail how to go about designing a character. It seems like a combination of imagination and psychoanalysis. She tells us to know our characters well before we begin.

Regarding setting, rather than the traditional write what you know, George tells us to write about a place you want to know, one that you can get passionate about, then tells us to go there and get all the sensory impressions, the 'total place experience'. She advises that 'plot is what the characters do to deal with the situation they are in' and emphasizes conflict to keep the reader connected to the story. I like her terminology of events in the novel as 'dramatic dominoes' (scenes should trigger future events) and enjoy T. Jefferson Parker's comment, 'When my story stalls out on me, I've played my hand too soon.'. She describes her own outlining approach, while noting that others do it differently. Pointers on point of view (I like her acronym 'THAD' for 'Talking Head Avoidance Device') and dialog are extremely useful, as are techniques to maintain suspense.

I could go on and on, but if you have a serious interest in acquiring the craft of writing, then Write Away makes an excellent addition to your shelves. It's a master course from a generous and gifted writer, who has applied both natural talents and a polished craft to her own storytelling. Elizabeth George's final words ... 'You will be published if you possess three qualities - talent, passion, and discipline.'

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