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Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel

by Elizabeth George

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Elizabeth George details her writing process brilliantly and thoroughly in this mini MFA in writing book. Pick up a copy of her novel Careless in Red to read before diving into this book. Bit by bit , George walks through the novel as she explains the how and why of her writing process. A master class in fiction for serious writers. ( )
  JoniMFisher | Oct 5, 2021 |
In Mastering the Process: From Idea to Novel, Elizabeth George provides a detailed account of her process in writing a novel. In the prologue, she recounts the critical lessons she learned while writing her first novel. Develop an extensive knowledge of the place where the story occurs and the characters that will populate the book before writing. She states these lessons at the beginning of the prologue, then belabors them through the prologue and first chapter. I imagine some readers are not aware of the importance of these first steps. Readers cognizant of the importance of character and place can skip ahead to chapter two. Sadly, George’s excessive belaboring of easily understandable points is a routine occurrence.

Developing an intimate knowledge of the place where the story takes place requires extensive research and, if possible, actual visits to the setting. George travels extensively in researching the setting for her novels and takes photographs to create a visual record. She illustrates this point by pairing photographs taken during her travels with excerpts from a previous book that included details visible in those photos. This suggestion is excellent. Essential details about captivating places and events fade from memory as time passes. Alas, many of her greyscale photographs lack sharp focus. Perhaps they provided the information George needed in writing a scene, but the quality is distressingly poor. I wondered whether the original shots were poorly focused or the result of low-quality reproduction. If the latter, it’s a shame George didn’t take her negatives to a professional photographer to obtain images suitable for publication.

George develops a detailed character sketch for each character she imagines might be included in the story. She generally develops 15 or more characters for her stories. The only character created for a specific purpose is the murderer in a murder mystery. The others may not even appear in the published work.

Each chapter focuses on one or more general points about writing. Excerpts from a published story then follow to illustrate the points. The approach has merit, but the execution in this instance is flawed. George used one of her previous novels, Careless in Red, to illustrate her points. Using a single book she wrote eases the work required, but better examples are available in other works. George’s illustrative examples also go on far too long. Sometimes the lengthy examples were longer than the points they are illustrating. For example, one example was 14 pages long. The result comes across as somewhat of an ego-trip.

Furthermore, some of the points George is trying to make are not clear. Greater attention to explaining the principles would benefit readers more than lengthy examples.

Reading Mastering the Process is a lot more work than it should be, and notable flaws are apparent. However, George does provide useful advice and enough detail to make reading the book worthwhile. She carefully acknowledges that she is describing the process that underlies her noteworthy success as an author. She cautions that other approaches can be equally successful and better suited to some individuals. Readers would be wise to keep that in mind. There is no shortage of books on how to write a novel. I found the usefulness of Mastering the Process to rank somewhere in the middle. ( )
  Tatoosh | Jan 16, 2021 |
Well this was a massive disappointment. I’ve never read a George book and still after reading this have no intent to; they just don’t seem very interesting. If I’d known that this book was what felt like 25% writing advice and 75% the majority of the book Careless in Red, I wouldn’t have checked it out. I think it’s definitely written for fans of hers who want to write mysteries like her but not much else. I am slightly fascinated by her intense Anglophile-ism (Anglophilia?) as she’s American, yet she takes all these trips to England every year in order to write her series. ( )
  spinsterrevival | Dec 8, 2020 |
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