I’ve read a lot of ‘how to’ books about the craft of writing, but so far my favourite has to be Elizabeth George’s Write Away.
As you’d expect, with George as its author, the book includes some great tips for writers of crime fiction, but also covers all the standard aspects of novel writing that are relevant across every genre.
I find her approach reassuringly practical. She has taught writing for a number of years, and is a strong believer in what she calls ‘mastery of the craft’. She says: “A thorough knowledge of the tools of our trade is what gives us something to turn to when we run into difficulties. Without this knowledge, we are at the mercy of a Muse who may turn fickle at the very moment when we’re desperately depending on her fidelity.”
Her writing in this guide is engaging and informal. Each aspect of creating a novel is dealt with in a logical and thorough way, with plenty of examples from the works of successful authors to illustrate her points. It’s an approach which aids understanding and also means you don’t have to take anything on trust.
If you’re a fan of hearing how other writers work, this is also a great book to read. George gives lots of interesting examples of the ways in which she approaches writing personally, from planning a novel to fleshing out characters, which I found both interesting and useful.
The book ends with a wonderfully thoughtful chapter called ‘The Process in a Nutshell’ which goes from Step One – the idea, right through to Step Fourteen, where the novel is complete. Alongside each step she makes a note of where in the book to look for advice about that particular stage. The index is also thorough, so once you’ve read the whole book and tried to absorb what is actually a lot of information, it’s a simple matter to revisit any topic if you need to jog your memory.
I think it’s this sort of attention to detail, along with the readability of text, that makes the book such a success from my perspective.