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This blog was featured on 05/23/2019
Dorothea Benton Frank on Themes, Process and the Power of Self-Editing
Written by
She Writes
May 2019
Written by
She Writes
May 2019

New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank, or “Dottie” as she’s affectionately known by fans and friends, will release her 20th novel this month. In Queen Bee, readers are transported to Sullivans Island, a common backdrop for Frank’s novels, and into the life of beekeeper Holly McNee Kensen. When Holly’s otherwise peaceful life is upended with family theatrics and neighborly nosiness, hilarity ensues.  

On the Importance of Place

Frank’s books are commonly set in dreamy, picturesque South Carolina. Here she shares why this particular place calls to her.

“I think when I started writing it was all about place,” she says. “I was writing because my heart was kind of screaming to go back to South Carolina. It was right after my mother passed away that I began to write. Usually that’s how it is, there’s some event in your life that you begin to write. What I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t be able to stop writing, I could probably use a little therapy for that but you know sometimes place is a character itself. A lot of people who write say that it’s easier to write about a place when you don’t live there because you long for it if you love it. I loved going to Sardinia. I did not go to Mexico City but I’m very familiar with what went on in Mexico City in this book (Full of Grace.)”

This excerpt was originally published on Page After Page. Read the full interview here.

On Selecting a Title

Frank’s book titles are decidedly feminine, often serving as a descriptor about the place or season.

Here she discusses the process of title selection:

“I usually submit a list of 15-20 titles,” she says. “Then I get feedback from the Sales Department, the editor and the Publicity Department. It becomes a group decision. They like something very commercial and I like something specific to the story.”

This excerpt was original published on VIP Jackson. Read the full interview here.

On Advice for Writers

Frank generously offers advice to aspiring writers, filled with the years-worth of wisdom she’s gathered from producing bestseller after bestseller.


“First I write an overview. I want to think about what I want to talk about. What’s the point of this story? What kind of character should tell this story? Where should it take place?

As for the plot, I would advise an aspiring writer to take the novel they love the most and take the thing apart.”

She suggests asking the following questions while analyzing the novel:

  • How many characters are there?
  • How many chapters?
  • Is it first or third person?
  • How long are the chapters?
  • How long does it take to meet all of the characters?
  • How does the action take place (usually it’s about 70 or 75 percent into the book and then you take the last 75 pages to wind up the book).

“You also have to decide if you are being too serious or somber. Don’t be vulgar. It depends upon the audience that you want to reach. That has to be decided on the front end.”

This excerpt was originally published on VIP Jackson. Read the full interview here.

First Drafts

“Unless you swim in the gene pool of John Milton, chances are your first draft will be an odiferous compilation of goobers, repetitions, awkward transitions and holes,” Frank warns. But fear not, she says, it’s all part of the process.

“Just do the math and keep moving forward. Four pages a day for 100 days is 400 pages and roughly 100,000 words. I write Monday through Friday, print on Friday, edit over the weekend in red, and enter changes on Monday. Then I reprint and put it aside for reference. Use the old noodle. If Uncle John had the flu in Chapter Two, remember to ask how he's feeling in Chapter Three. When your first draft is complete, let it rest for a few weeks and then read it again in one fell swoop.”

Themes & Characters

“There must be a reason you want to write,” says Frank. “What do you want to say? That society is morally bankrupt? That you hate war? Think about it. Decide on your themes and write them down. Build it into a story around characters that can carry the load. Write a six to eight page synopsis. The sooner you KNOW your characters, the easier writing becomes.”

Self Editing

“The sooner you understand what to do, the less tortured you will be,” she promises.

She suggests asking the following questions:

  • Does every scene help move the story forward?
  • Are all characters critical to the story?
  • Did you repeat yourself?
  • Do your characters stand on their own?
  • Can you tell who's talking without knowing who it is?
  • Are you rambling like I am now?
  • Did you say quintessential more than once in the book?
  • Are there surprises for the reader?
  • Did you balance dialogue with narrative?

“Use that red pen!” she says. “Be brutal!”

The excerpt above was published on Dorothea Benton Frank’s website. Read her full blog post here.

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