WriteStuff – Part Two


Introduce your main character immediately. No ifs or buts on this one. Lead your reader by the hand and introduce them to each other: Meet Joe – I’m going to tell you a story about him.

Dialogue: put some on the first page, or as soon as humanly possible, preferably from your main character. We need to hear his/her voice, both audible and narrative. We need to get a feel for what they are, and most importantly, what the inner need is that drives them through the torture you as a writer are about to inflict on them. Scan through any page of a novel and your eye will inevitably be drawn more readily to the dialogue than the description.


Again remember that a commissioning editor will only want a sample of your first 2 or 3 chapters initially. Write for them first, your eventual customer second. You need to make the editor want to see the whole novel. How to do that? By the same principals you should apply to all of your novel. Conflict, inner need, obstacles, action and change. Drive the story from the very first page.

The reader does not yet need to know how your hero got to the precipitating event that starts the novel. They will give you time to fill them in later with the backstory. What you need to do to make the book unputdownable, is put questions in the reader’s head. Always deliver on your promise to answer the questions or they will feel cheated. But answers can be rationed out, some immediately, one at least only at the end of the book.

As you go along, you can raise more questions like a trail of breadcrumbs leading the reader onward. Think of it as an overlapping series of circles. From the first, you can see and then enter part of the second, and so on.

WriteStuff – Part One

In WriteStuff entries, I want to share some guidelines I wrote down for myself about writing fiction.

1. THE OPENING       

Start with the precipitating event or character’s decision that marks a change which leads to the whole thrust of the novel – then write fast and furiously, never looking back. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just get the story in your head down on paper. Don’t stop until you get to an end.

When you do look back through it, you will almost definitely go “Ugh”. It doesn’t matter. You have the most important elements down; beginning, middle and end. You have a story. So what if the end is poor? At least it is an end. I believe nothing kills a nascent novel more effectively than anxiety about what you have already put down, and where it’s going to.

The first draft is the truly creative part; you are discovering the story for yourself in a raw and wandering exploration of your fictional world. Relish in it. Enjoy it. You are blazing a trail for later when the heavy machinery follows behind making that meandering path into a slick straight highway.

So what if you characters seem a little incomplete at first? You will get to know them as you go along, see their place in the story when the first draft is done, then round them out in the re-write.

So what if you make appalling grammatical errors? Write like a child where imagination is all. The child does not worry that it is not presentable. Technical second, emotion first.

Your first draft should be all about passion and fire and imagination. Put your clinical editor’s head on later.


Go for a killer first sentence if you can. Think Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of time… Fantastic. In one line he managed to sum up the whole story. And that’s what you ought to try, if not in the first line, then the first paragraph. Try to hint at the theme of the novel and foreshadow what is about to happen. If you’re really lucky, you might hit on something that encapsulates the whole story.

If you can’t come up with the killer line, then at least make it solid and assertive. You need to grab a commissioning editor’s attention here much more than a potential reader’s. Remember that a reader who has invested hard-earned cash to buy your book will not throw it aside if your first words are less than awesome. They will give you time to engage them, which you must do within a couple of pages. Editors, having nothing invested, are not quite so patient. Get the deal first, then change your opener later if you need to.

Top Ten Books

I’ll be adding posts on the ‘Top Ten Books’ over the coming weeks. I’ve added a menu option to archive them. I’m going to look at what are, for me, the lessons that can be learned from how the authors write. They’re not necessarily my favourite books, but they are very interesting for various reasons, which I hope to explore.

So watch this space.