Creating Compelling Characters

Plot is key, but not at the expense of character. We’ll go anywhere with a full character but question every move with a thin one.’

Jonny Geller, CEO of literary agency Curtis Brown

Creating unique and memorable characters is a must for every fiction writer. It’s what makes our stories interesting and resonate with the reader.

And for series writers, the strength of our characters is what makes the reader want to come back for more. Plot alone isn’t enough.

So how do you do it?

Come up with a good backstory? Through in a few quirks and a great car?

No.

To create a your readers will fall in love with you need to dig deeper:

1. Really know your character

I’m not just talking about his/her favourite colour or when his/her birthday is. You need to know your character as well as you know yourself.

To quote one of my favourite literary charactersAtticus from To Kill a Mockingbird– you need to:

Climb into someone’s skin and walk around in it

2. Use plot to define your character

Show how your character reacts to a difficult situation. Let your readers see him/her in action.

How someone deals with a problem tells us a lot about them AND it lets you ‘show not tell’ the reader what your character’s made of.

3. Create contradictions

Create interest through contradictions. A vegetarian who wears leather. A Buddhist serial killer. these are extreme examples, but you take the point.

In real life no-one is straight down the middle. Your characters shouldn’t be either.

4. Give your character flaws

It’s tempting to try and create ‘nice’ characters because we want our readers to like them. But actually characters with flaws are much more interesting, especially when those flaws get them into trouble.

Think Thomas Hardy here. His best loved characters were deeply flawed and those flaws ultimately lead to their downfall.

 

Editing Secrets

Three Editing Secrets to Improve Your Manuscript

You’ve done it! After months and months of hard work and sleepless nights, you’ve finally finished your first draft. Time to send it off to agents and publishers? Think again. This is where the hard work really starts.

Now it’s time to go back to your first page and begin all over again. It sounds soul destroying when put like that but actually turning your first draft into a polished manuscript can be the most rewarding part of the writing process.

Here are some tips about how to go about it:

  1. Take a Step Back

To be objective you might want to step away from your novel for a while. This is the time to go on long walks or out for lazy lunches. Not only do you deserve the break, it will also give you the chance to come back to your work with a fresh pair of eyes.

  1. Read Your Manuscript in One Sitting

This may sound daunting but it will enable you to see the bigger picture. Instead of worrying about individual sentences, assess your novel in its entirety. By reading it in one go you’ll spot plot and character inconsistencies as well as passages that need tightening.

  1. Question, Question and Question

Does the novel have a clear beginning, middle and end? Are the characters engaging and three dimensional? Are they driving your plot or vice versa? Is there enough conflict? What does your protagonist want? What are the barriers to them achieving their goal?

By looking at your novel in this way, through the eyes or a reader rather than a writer, you will end up with a manuscript that is nuanced and compelling.

And most importantly by taking the time to edit carefully you’ll end up with a piece of writing you can be truly proud of. Good luck!

3 Traits All Good Writers Share

A recent study identified three key traits all good writers have in common. How many of the boxes can you check?

1. Good Writers Express Themselves Succinctly

As short story author Mary Gaitskill puts it:

‘Writing is … being able to … go through everything you wanted to say, finding the right words, giving shape to the images, and linking them to feelings and thoughts.’

Good writers don’t waffle or get caught up in the detail. Instead they get to the nub of their argument and use the ‘best words, in the best order’ to express it.

2. They read. A lot

Ezra Pound famously said:

‘Literature does not exist in a vacuum.’

Nothing inspires us as much as what we read. Other writer’s ideas and forms of expression give birth to new thoughts in our own heads.

Reading inspires us. It improves our vocabulary. And it gives us an insight into ‘how it’s done’.

When Nobel prize winner Jose Sarama was recently asked about his daily writing routine. He said:

‘I write two pages. And then I read and read and read.’

3. Great Writers are Addicts.

Drugs. Alcohol. Plenty of the best known writers have been hooked on substances but I’m referring to addiction of a different kind here.

Truly great writers are addicted to the art of writing itself. For them the discipline isn’t sitting down at their desk, it’s getting up again afterwards.

These writers carry notebooks about. They don’t look for the perfect writing spot. They’ll write anywhere. On the Tube. Waiting for the bus. Under a tree or in a noisy café. It doesn’t matter. So long as they’re writing, they’re happy.

 

Secret to Writing Great Dialogue

Struggling to make your dialogue authentic? Try eavesdropping. On the bus. In restaurants. Standing in line at the check-out. It doesn’t matter where you do it- just make sure you have a notebook handy.

Look for:

  • The pauses between the conversation, and where the speakers pick up and drop off from each other
  • How one person dominates or leads
  • Unusual expressions or contractions
  • How it flows

Earwigging on random conversations is a time-honoured technique used by countless well known writers.

As Charles Haas (screenwriter- Gremlins 2, Matinee and Over the Edge) said:

“I do pay attention to what people are saying. I think it’s a good writing technique because it builds up one’s ear for dialogue and vernacular.”

The most convincing dialogue comes from real people in real situations. By listening to how people talk to each other you can identify different speech patterns and come up with some great lines. Plus, if you’re a bit nosy like me, you can have a lot of fun too!

My favourite eavesdrop came a few weeks ago at a pub in Shepherd’s Bush.

‘I don’t fancy locust, babe,’ a man said into his cell-phone shaking his head and sleeving beer foam off his top lip.

I’ve no idea what they were talking about but I am glad I wasn’t invited round for supper.

London Book Fair: What Does 2017 Hold in Store?

Good news for publishers at London Book Fair last week- sales of physical books are up for the second year running. Meanwhile eBook sales have dropped by 4%.

The shift has been driven largely by the sale of adult colouring books and cookery books. While Nielsen found that 16-24 year olds are using books as a break from digital devices.

Could this be the start of a new trend?

Maybe, maybe not. What is clear though is our love affair with celebrity memoirs is coming to an end (phew!). A few famous names announced book deals at LBF last week. But the advances they’ve been paid are significantly lower than in the past.

However our lust for psychological thrillers shows no sign of abating despite what many agents at London Book Fair were saying about the genre peaking. As Jonny Geller from Curtis Brown said-

Readers still want psychological thrillers’.

Long live books!

How to Hook Your Readers with a Killer Opening Line

Top tips for writing the perfect first line for your novel

Writing the opening line of your novel can feel daunting and for good reason- if you don’t get it right your reader is unlikely to keep going.

You need to hook your reader. You need to draw them into your story. And you need signpost where you are headed. It’s no easy task but hopefully these tips will help nail your opening and keep your reader turning the pages

  1. Start with a Statement

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” – Pride and Prejudice

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina

Both these novels use statements to open their stories and set a mood and theme for the rest of the narrative. What’s interesting about them is that the authors each make a controversial comment about seemingly uncontroversial facts to make them striking and interesting.

  1. Say Something Surprising

Many of the most famous novels have opening lines that are surprising. For example:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984

What a genius way to show the reader they are entering a world where something is rather wrong.

And how about-

“Marley was dead: to begin with.” – A Christmas Carol
-which creates intrigue and suspense brilliantly.

  1. Encapsulate your whole novel in the opening line

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” – The Metamorphosis

In this one sentence Kafka shows us Samsa’s entire journey.

Writing the perfect opening line isn’t easy. It takes time to craft and you may come up with a line only to discard it for something better along the way. But don’t give up. When you find the right one you’ll know- and so will your reader.