These are the main ideas synthesized of Elizebeth George's suggestions for exciting novel writing.
- Define the basic or core need each character has in his life
- Then arrange for his effort to meet his core need to be thwarted
- Develop the character’s sexuality
- Figure out an event in the character’s past that had a huge impact on him
- Decide what the character wants in the novel
Also I would like to quickly mention she talks about not self publishing too quickly when it is obvious that revising is still needed. I was skimming about her on google that in an interview she talked about picking up a professional looking mystery novel and after one sentence knew he was self published and the opening went something like this. The detective was lost in a daydream and someone called. Elizabeth said that she could see that they did not understand the basics of the writers craft.
First instead of having references for the experience of a daydream and perhaps going into dialogue of a telephone conversation. The professional looking novel book jacket masked the self published work inside. A working draft published. I could easily see myself do something like that. I will take that advise to heart. My writing looks like that sometimes, well maybe a lot of the time.
When I wrote my two working draft novels my need for clinging to explanation rather than character, plot, setting, dialogue and away we go had not happened yet. We all have to start at this stage. I remember going through different stages in art school. I still kind of two stepped around this place of explaining and it is a huge gift that I ever get past it even momentarily. Which I felt was evidenced by my blog on Josephine Boneparte experience in a prison during the French Revolution called "Lucky Lady Liberty". Although any working draft is very cool at whatever stage it is at because no book ever got written without putting something down.
Next after we blather out our first draft the 100K word slog that we would like to send instantly to an agent to nestle on their slush pile to take care of it for us. Elizabeth suggests at this point take it and give it to your best friend. Ask your friend to write you a one page letter with suggestions on how to improve it. After making any small improvements take the pages and lay them out and cut and paste it using a glue stick. This should just take one day. Then go back and make any corrections with the new manuscript. Then you should have your first official draft to continue with. Now the writing craft comes into play.
When I started my efforts to be a novel writer. I read two books given to me by my writing mentor Eric. He had bought them at this store we like in Paris. In fact I called over there this morning to ask the mystery writers name as I had forgotten it and she instantly knew of whom I spoke. The bookstore is called the "Red Wheel Barrow", the name based on a lovely poem and I have only been inside one or two times. The only books I have bought there personally were the most recent Alice Munro book and the second book of Obama's as the first book was sold out at the time.
What I used from Ms. George's tips were a list for characterization and just some of the first ideas of how to get started. The list to fill out for each character are: Name: Age: Height: Weight/ Build: Birthplace: Colour Hair/eyes: Physical Peculiarities: Educational Background: Sexuality: Best Friend: Enemies: Family Core need: Pathological manoeuvre: Ambition in life: Gait: Strongest Character trait: Weakest Character trait: Philosophy: Political leaning: Hobbies: One-characterisation: (actual description likely to be used in the narrative)
I liked several things about the author. That she had a Bachelors in Elementary Education and later got a Masters in Psychology and was a therapist. She was from the midwest and moved to the west with her family. Most of her stories were incredibly complicated and big fat books full of details. I wanted to write a big fat book full of details.
My old landlord and writing mentor had also bought me Caroline See's "Making a Literary Life", also detailing how she went about becoming a successful writer while being extremely funny and a bit crazy and bratty. I adored her. So with these two books to influence me and my dear friend Eric nervously hovering around I commenced and have made a writing philosophy of my own of sorts.
I like to call it 15 and 15 plus 1 the mystery charcter that arises spontaneously. You write 15 main recognizable settings than add a setting of magic. Then 15 characters who all have issues, sexuality and pasts, with the basic story in mind including the mystery element. Well I think the word for idea born of Elizabeth George, Caroline See is called a cathachresis. I don't know if that word really exists I think I saw it written somewhere once for me it is when two meanings make a third meaning. Also just taking a sheet of paper and drawing 16 suqares each representing a chapter and just doing a quick story board of the novel. Or any novel you know well. When I am bored I doodle story boards sometimes for kid's books ideas.
For me taking these characters and settings I outline each chapter and writing a paragraph on what happens and note each character that would appear or scene. This was a guideline in my first novels. With this one paragraph and the foundation of the setting and the actors ready to appear made it fairly fluid. The writing part came rather easily after the initial preparation. I used Elizabeth George's list for characterizations. The preparation was about 20 pages of character and settings descriptions and outline of each chapter.
So taking the ideas of how to live like a writer like Caroline and the mechanics from Elizabeth the kind worrying of Eric and the dash of me. My next step after writing the 15 character sketches and 15 settings plus 1. All being developed in various ways. I would continue this trajectory by using Carolines suggestion that not more than 2 hours of revisions a day. Basically you just sit there typing red rum red rum and get confused after a while. I liked that Caroline had a lot of tips of how just to live like a writer. Write in the morning. Errands in the afternoon. Saturday chores and Sunday relaxing with the family.
I also appreciated how Elizabeth talked about how her first manuscript is not published and how she wrote it over a summer I think if I remember correctly. Yet how she improved because of this effort. Then I loved Carloline's humor always poking fun at ourselves and the experience of wanting to be a writer and sharing her own experience. I will be eternally grateful for the funny image I still have in my head of the various freaky ways we express outselves; the comic bombing out in front of their friends, the metal sculptures in the back yard that only mom will love and of course the writer with nothing to show not even a real poetry reading.
My own philosophy after doing the basic character and setting sketches. Is that I have to move to a place of just letting the characters take over. I follow them around. One of my favorite writers is Wally Lamb. I never felt so imersed in a book in my life. And he often said he just got the characters started and just watched what they did. I love that alchemy of the writers craft. Also lastly as this is getting to be a bit of a ramble is that if I took on a personnae like Maya Angelou who is a poetess and public speaker, her reading a poem at Clinton's inagauration was really important for me. So I try to keep these things in mind that there is some magic in writing and entertainment and if we are lucky we achieve something higher the plus 1 thing.