Saturday, December 2, 2006

It's All in the Character

For the past month, I've been reading and studying Elizabeth George's book on the craft of writing. I should acknowledge that George is my all time favorite mystery author. I've read all of her Inspector Lynley series, some of them more than once. She creates such a sense of authenticity in her characters - they're all so richly developed, with intriquing story lines and intricate lives and personalities. Her recurring characters - Lynely, Havers, St. James, Deborah and Helen-have their own story arc that carries a well developed plot line of its own. Her novels are almost like getting two good reads for the price of one!

Having read about 3/4 of her book on writing, I can now understand how she accomplishes these marvelous books. George is a master planner - none of this "fly by the seat of your pants," "sit at the keyboard and let it all hang out" stuff for this woman. She spends weeks, even months, creating detailed character analyses for every character, travels to the locale taking photographs, taping interviews, researching history, creates complicated plots lists and summaries - all this before even beginning to actually write the story. She is, by her own admission, a left brainer - in fact, she writes that she has to caution herself to sublimate the left brain's tendency to take over once she actually begins writing the novel itself.

I'm particularly intriqued by her complex character analyses for each character, which is the first writing she actually does once she has a basic idea in mind and has completed her (also complex) research process. After choosing a name, and defining the role in the story, she free writes a present tense narrative about each character, employing a stream of consciousness method to "free up" the right side of her brain. She becomes the character's analyst, knowing everything about them. While creating these detailed character analyses, George says that "essential elements of the plot become apparent." In essence, this work does very important double duty in the noveling process.

Later on, as she actually writes her rough draft, she keeps character "prompt sheet" posted near her computer. These sheets provide short reminders of the characters physical characteristics, background, most important strengths and weaknesses, core needs and ambitions, motivation, and sexuality.

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