Create some tension

Are you sure you’re starting your story at the right point? Are you approaching it from the best angle?

There’s an old joke about a driver who stops an elderly man and asks directions. The old man considers this for a while before replying, ‘Well, to begin with, I wouldn’t start from here….’

Sometimes, if you follow the strictly chronological sequence of events, you risk revealing too much to your readers and depriving them of the satisfaction of working things out for themselves. This is equally true of chapters, scenes and even whole novels. Should you describe a scene in detail, as it happens, or would it be better to come in later, after the event and leave the reader to fill in the gaps and draw their own conclusions?

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What if?

Continuing the theme of writer’s block, here are some prompts to use when faced with that daunting blank page. I’ve used most of them at one time or another; they’re great for getting your imagination going. Sometimes just changing the sex or occupation of a main character can trigger lots of ideas. They work well when you’re free writing – just putting down the first thing that comes into your head frees up your writing muscles. You can arrange them into some sort of cohesion later, or if it’s no good, throw it away and start again. They’re particularly good if you’ve written yourself into a corner and trying to find an ingenious way out.

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Words, words, words

If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to read. All the advice from the experts is the same: Read. Make time for it; enjoy it; learn from it.

Discovering a new author is thrilling; I have to read their entire back catalogue as soon as possible. The excitement I get from reading a truly great book is, funnily enough, beyond words. It’s one of the most satisfying things I know. I couldn’t put it better than Holden Caulfield, J D Salinger’s protagonist in ‘Catcher in the Rye.’

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

Obviously, I’m endeavouring to be that special author, but simultaneously I’m a devoted reader and it all takes time, which I never have quite enough of. I wish there were 26 hours in a day and 8 days in a week. I wish I was independently wealthy and didn’t need to go to work – it seriously impedes my writerly progress.

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