How Dorothy Dunnett Taught Me to Write

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know that my novel Painted Black is a suspense novel recently published by New Libri Press.

If you’re familiar with Dorothy Dunnett, you know that she is most famous for her two historical novel series, the Lymond Chronicles and House of Niccolo.  So you might wonder how an historical novelist had anything to teach to a suspense novelist.

World building is the key to the success of Dunnett’s novels.  This means so much more than just getting all the geographical and historical details correct. Language, characters, place, plot, theme and tone need to be layered and blended together in the same way I imagine an artist constructs an oil painting.

The characters are kind of like the paint colors.  From joyful Yellow Ochre to flamboyant Vermillion and Cadmium Orange to the darker tones of Burnt Sienna and Ivory Black.  Each color/character butts up against and is muddied by those surrounding it.

The language and tone with which you write is like the brush strokes, bold broad strokes here or subtle washes there.  Place is the details the artist chooses to call attention to or leave in the background.  The theme is the subject the painter chooses to portray and how to frame it: abstract, realism or romanticism. Plot is all of it put together: the layering of paint, the placement of the subject matter, the combination of colors chosen.

Dunnett paints her words in so many layers that I have read her books multiple times, but each reading find some new delightful something that I missed before or didn’t fully understand.  She builds a world I want to live in and do live in during the hours I spend reading her work.

Someday I hope to write a novel good enough to be read many times, each time as if you were seeing it for the first.  Until then, I hope people enjoy the world I did build, and look forward to my next Street Story with Jo Sullivan.

Here’s someone reading from one of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicle books, Pawn in Frankincense.  It may give you an idea of why I like her so much.

Your comments:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.