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

Write Away by Elizabeth  George
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May 31, 08

Read in May, 2008

I love reading Elizabeth George's novels. They are, as she calls them, literary mysteries. And they are masterfully plotted. But also contain a lot of scene-setting verbiage that I regularly skip. These passages often seem to take me away from, rather than closer to, the dramatic tension of the current characters and plot.

But the passages remain in all of her best-selling books. So perhaps I should not have been surprised to find that she takes a great deal of time to craft those portions of the novels. It turns out, for example, that she goes to England and takes pictures of every major setting in her novels. And writes key scenes while reviewing her notes. She is impressively disciplined in her research and writing process, and the description of how she actually writes HER kind of novel was fascinating.

My biggest problem with this book though, is that she buries the lead. The interesting parts about her process are surrounded with a really boring English teacher like explanation of plot, character and setting. What we want to know is: How do you write your novels? What are your unique techniques/flaws/hangups? She reveals more in the small quotes in the head of each chapter than she does in 75% of the book. Her doubts, her daily fears, her huge admiration of other writers. This is what we crave - to learn about HER!

She finally includes two very small chapters on how she works, and how she organizes her day. They are followed by her admission that she finds it tough to let go of her left-brain organized self to get to the right brained creativity of writing. And that she has always lacked a lot of confidence about her talent. No kidding! A more confident writer would have started with the personal, and used it as a jumping off point for the theory and definitions.

So, a note to the author: as you write on p.168, Elizabeth, "when we care, we continue to read." I dropped this book twice early on because there was so little of your personality in it to motivate me to keep going. You are a best-selling writer who is hugely successful and anyone reading your book cares about YOU. Don't be afraid to put yourself front and center. This book seemed to have you hiding behind generic definitions way too long.

I did very much enjoy, though, the selections you chose of other writings, and disagree with other reviewers here that you shouldn't have included your own novels as examples. But you needn't pay homage to them in order to earn the right to tell us how you do what you do.
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