Saturday, 12 April 2008

How Janet Evanovich Writes

The first curious thing about How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, is that the cover of the book proclaims that it is written by Janet Evanovich ‘with Ina Yalof’. Surely she’s not implying that the secret is to find an unknown collaborator? The second oddity is that we are then told at the outset that there is actually a third author, Evanovich’s daughter Alex (but ‘for design purposes Alex’s name isn’t on the cover. Bad enough we had to fit Evanovich on once, let alone twice!’)

I felt this was all rather baffling, but once I’d overcome that initial reservation, I began to find this quite a fun book to dip into. As one would expect with Janet Evanovich, the style is warm, easy and accessible – she uses a Q&A format and right from the start places stress on the need for strong characters. She reckons that ‘all writers are people-watchers’ and rejects all that talk about characters ‘taking over’ from the writer: ‘Writers control the story and the characters.’

Some of the advice is pretty basic and generalised, but Evanovich does make many sound points. Unsurprisingly, another key message is ‘show, don’t tell’ and that ‘a plot requires a goal to pull the story forward.’ She also makes the very good point that book sales depend upon the publisher. However much self-promotion one attempts, if the books aren’t in the stores, nobody will buy them. This is one of the great sobering truths of being a published writer. I guess.

She offers copious examples from her own work of how she applies her principles in practice. The extracts encouraged me (no doubt the intention) to have another look at her Stephanie Plum books, which I haven’t kept up with in recent years. Inevitably, the focus on Evanovich’s own work limits the usefulness of this book for people who want to write different types of crime fiction, especially, if they have already read one or two ‘how-to’ guides. Even so, it’s a lively addition to the bookshelves and I found it entertaining.

1 comment:

Patricia J. Hale said...

Helpful review. Thank you.