Taking tips from Elizabeth George

by nancy on December 7, 2011

I’ve been reading my way (again? still?) through Elizabeth George’s excellent fiction writing book, Write Away while I work on Reinventing Rita. I’m trying to resist the temptation to go “full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes” because, while that works well for me when doing short fiction, it doesn’t work so well on novels.

However, I know that I am not willing to go through all the pre-planning process that she does: detailed character biography, step outline, running plot outline. (Am I just lazy or afraid that I will grow bored with the story if I do too much left-brain stuff ahead of the right brain part?)

So I am creating my own hybrid: making notes of where the plot is going, the internal and external conflicts, and other details that are easy to keep straight in a 5,000-word work but not so easy when the piece is projected to hit 75,000!

And, most importantly of all, what the theme is—what the story is about. Not the plot — this happens, then this and finally this — but the story behind it. I realized that if Reinventing Rita is about a woman who is faced with creating an identity for herself that isn’t that of a caregiver (first she had parental responsibilities, then was caregiver for her mother but now she is on her own), then her actions and emotions have to reflect that challenge.

And then of course, she has to deal with her grief at losing her mother. As George writes, “Characters need to act in character, so as I am writing the plot outline, I frequently refresh my memory about the characters I’ve created…to see that their responses align with their core needs…”

Serendipitously, I have been contacted by several publicists on behalf of their authors who have written books on dealing with grief and being a caregiver. They, of course, are hoping that I will pitch articles using their clients as sources, which I will. But I am looking at them also as expert sources for this project as well: those people who get thanks in the acknowledgments section of a book for their “invaluable assistance and insights.”

So Rita is moving along, although now that I have done the step/running outline, I realized I need to shift some dates around. It’s necessary that Rita goes from one caregiving role to another, which means it all has to move up a bit on the timeline. Aggravating, yes, and this will require a lot of rechecking but it’s easier to do now at 21,000 words rather then when there are 75,000 to plow through!

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