Now that we’ve sorted out the peripherals, we can get down the process itself and examine some of the rules of writing from a beginner’s perspective. A lot of what is written about the art of writing applies to those who’ve been writing a while. It’s easy to get bogged down in does and don’ts even before you pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard.
But before I begin, I must add a note about a point I made a few posts ago. Regulars to this blog might remember I was having a go at Stieg Larsson for leaving a plot point hanging – see the ‘Chekhov’s Rifle’ post. Well, I have some humble pie to eat. I complained that one of the main characters in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ had a perfect opportunity to use a weapon she had previously dropped into her pocket, but she didn’t. I wondered at the time whether Larsson had just forgotten about it.
I should have known better. I’ve just finished reading the sequel, ‘The Girl who played with Fire’ and what do you know? The weapon comes into play again, to great effect. He was just teasing us. My apologies – Mr Larsson obviously knew more about writing suspense than I’ll ever know.
Right, got that off my chest. Now here’s that writing advice I promised, in no particular order:
- Structure: don’t ignore it. And don’t try and buck the system if you haven’t been published before. A novel will usually have a beginning, a middle and an end. There will be a turning point after which nothing will be the same again for your characters. It’s what readers expect. Learn to recognise the point of no return.
- Construct your storyline around a dramatic theme. Your plot should have a strong premise or it will just peter out; you won’t be able to sustain it. Weak storylines are the downfall of many beginners. If you find yourself wondering, ‘So what?’ so will your readers.
- Start your story at the right point. See my previous post about creating tension. Get to the crux of the story quickly, hopefully in the first chapter, and keep the action flowing.
- Create lively and interesting characters that your readers will care about. If they don’t care, they will not turn the page.
- If you’re hoping for that elusive movie or television deal – and who isn’t – remember that producers are always on the look out for stories that translate easily to the screen. So that means lots of visuals. But great descriptions of setting aren’t enough – something has to happen, too.
- These days, short, punchy sentences are more acceptable than long rambling clauses full of commas. Stick to short and sweet, particularly of your punctuation isn’t up to scratch. But you’re addressing that, right? You might think that short chapters are a deplorable symptom of modern age text-speak, but have a look at Pride and Prejudice.
- To keep the momentum going, some writers advise leaving the writing session in the middle of a sentence, so they always know where they’re going the next day and thereby avoid writer’s block. Others write the start of a new chapter. Personally, I’d have to keep notes anyway; the next day I wouldn’t be able to remember what should be happening in the next sentence!
- Murder you darlings. Traditionally, this meant editing out and purple prose and flowery phrasing. These days it more often means getting rid of any phrases and paragraphs that don’t move the story forward, no matter how beautifully crafted they are. Just because you’re pleased with a witty turn of phrase, humorous repartee, or descriptive passage, doesn’t mean it should stay in. Every word has to earn its place. That said, there’s no need to delete them forever. I store all my darlings in a separate folder, where they wait patiently to be pressed into service. Nothing is ever wasted.
- Edit, then edit again. There are some great writing blogs around, several on my blogroll, with lots of good advice about writing style. Adverbs, adjectives, tenses, point of view, punctuation, spelling; all need attention and these areas are where beginners most often fall down. But wait until you get to the end. If you start editing as you go along, you will never, I repeat, never, get to the end
- And finally, write, write, write. You can’t after all, edit a blank page. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whenever and wherever. Show some commitment. Write the very best story you can and I promise you someone will want to read it.