Reading for Writing

I just finished reading The House of Green Turf – a romantic thriller by Ellis Peters. She is better known as the writer of the Brother Cadfael mysteries. I have read lots of commentary on how to become a (better) writer and one of the most consistent pieces of advice is to read in the type (genre) that you are trying to write in. This advice would be more help if I was clear on the name of the type I am trying to write. The House of Green Turf is listed as an Inspector Felse mystery and Ellis Peters is called a mystery writer; I think she would have been called something different if she were stuck with today’s categories.

Today, a book that concentrates on the emotions of the characters in the book is considered a romance or possibly women’s literature. A mystery seems to nearly always be concerned with a dead body. The House of Green Turf puts in a dead body but definitely not as the primary driver of the story. The emotions of the central actors are definitely what drives this book

The midpoint of the book is also a useful study object. The climax of a story seems as if it should be near the end but the action that sets off the climax is nearly always exactly half way through. As I have worked my way through commentary on writing and gone back to look at books that I enjoyed, I am often shocked at how much atmosphere an author can create with just a few words. Agatha Christie managed this several times with her books about Mesopotamia.

In The House of Green Turf an opposite effect seems to be in operation. Peters creates a very menacing atmosphere with a lot of words (I’m not criticizing the amount). She wrote in a totally different way when she wrote Brother Cadfael. There’s surely a lesson here if I could analyze how Peters did the two different flavors!

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