10 tips to write a best-selling novel
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” so says Charles Dickens’ famous opening line in The Tale of Two Cities. Although these words are amongst the most quoted in literary history, writing a book takes a lot more panache than a killer first sentence.
Jo Wroe, an award winning writer best known for her educational work in the UK and the US, is running workshops at Dubai International Writers' Centre which aim to teach the process to aspiring novelists. There are a few budding wordsmiths in the ShortList office, so we called her for some tips and, judging by tip #1, she’s a fan of Dickens too.
Don’t overuse clichés. Like once upon a time.
I wish that all writers knew. That nobody cares about your story. Your job is to make them care.
Look for story inspiration. In my experience, most people have ideas for stories, it’s just hard translating it into the written word. But if you really are in search of an idea, I suggest you either buy a book with creative writing exercises or take a class, and then do as many exercises as possible. Sooner or later, something will lift of the page and ask you to pay attention to it.
Don’t start with a novel. Launching into the monumental labour of writing a novel before experimenting with lots of short stories is a common mistake writers make. Short stories are a great way to try out your voice, plot development, characters, tenses, points of view - and many great novels have started life as a short story.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to develop a story. Different approaches work for different people. What’s best for one writer is not best for another.
Follow the energy and you’ll probably end up somewhere interesting. Some writers like to plan a lot before they start writing, some don’t. I’d say the most important thing is to start writing where you feel the energy is. If it’s a character who has presented themselves to you, write about her or him, if it’s a location, write about that, if it’s a plot idea, try and develop it.
Know your characters well. As the writer you will probably know far more about your characters than makes it onto the page, but your knowledge of them enables you to write them into being with enough authority and feeling to make them authentic to the reader.
Make it digestible. Length has to depend on the book, but chapter-wise it is generally accepted that small chunks are more palatable than great big ones.
Your style will emerge. Write as honestly and precisely as you can about what interests you, and your voice will come through in time.
Some words should be banned. It’s a close competition between ‘just’ and ‘really’.