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With Elizabeth George, in the thriller factory

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How do you write? Are you following a plan? Do you still know exactly what will happen to the killer and the victim? When a thriller finds himself in front of his audience, questions arise and often revolve around his working method. Skillful or modest, some take refuge in impressionist remarks suggesting that the act of creation remains a mystery familiar with the inexpressible. More precise, others generously deliver a few leads and tips.

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Elizabeth George goes further. In From idea to perfect crime, the American writer, born in 1949 in the State of Ohio, offers us a “manual book” which invites herself into the privacy of her “writing workshop”. On more than 300 pages, with method and pedagogy, she dissects her practice by taking as an example one of her thrillers, The Red of Sin (2008). At the same time, it offers the reader practical exercises and some wise reading tips.

Go to the field

Although passionate about England, where she places most of her novels, “Queen Elizabeth” is perfectly American in her pragmatic and detailed approach to the knowledge she intends to transmit. She says she has developed her method to avoid the tedious and discouraging rewriting requested, at the beginning, by her editor. From these corrections, she deduced that she absolutely had to be more precise and more realistic in the construction of her sets. In order to get to know her characters in depth, she also imagined designing them “upstream” from the actual writing.

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First step therefore, and first chapter of the book, research. A mixed user of internet resources, Elizabeth George usually goes out into the field herself. A good way, she tells us, “to put an end to the fear of the blank page and to tame the chaos of our thoughts”. She takes notes, photographs houses and landscapes, visits companies or workshops, meets the inhabitants and completes interviews and walks with readings.

“I’m just looking for places that tell me their story. I’m not making any decisions about what role they’ll play in the plot – if at all they play one, ”she explains. In this regard, she adds that “the most important thing, when one integrates part of the research into the novel, is to do it in a natural way, as a logical step in the progress of the plot, rather than as a explanatory break in the story, which would arrive like a hair on the soup ”.

Identify the characters

Once she has defined what she calls the crux of the plot – the murderer, the victim, the motive of the crime – Elizabeth George begins by naming her characters. Based on a sheet listing different qualities and particularities ranging from size to gait and place of birth to political or leisure trends, it then constitutes a roadmap for each of them, freely writing down what goes through it. head, but without falling into pure subjectivity. “My secret,” she explains, “is to create my characters after doing my field research. During my trip, I spot things and learn things that will help me determine their personality. ”

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This is all just the start. We let you discover the rest, the art of conceiving good dialogues or what Elizabeth George calls the CAMAP (Combine Anti-Moulin A Paroles), an action which accompanies the dialogue and thus allows to show rather than to tell. Generous to the end, the author finally shares her secrets to re-reading a manuscript. Before concluding: “I hope you will understand that novels do not come out of nowhere at the snap of your fingers. Each author has their own way of reaching the finish line, that’s mine. ”


Elizabeth george
“From idea to perfect crime – My writing workshop”
Translated from English (United States) by Laura Bourgeois and Anouk Neuhoff for the excerpts from “Le Rouge du péché”.
Les Presses de la Cité, 332 p.

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