Page-turners don't happen by accident, they're constructed.
A handful of writers have a gift to be able draw upon story structure intuitively. (Very few.) Some writers happen upon a number of the elements of a page-turning story by accident in their first novel, almost unwittingly it seems. But it's likely they've been turning the first story around in their heads for many years.
Most writers work using multiple revisions to structure and re-structure to include make their story gripping for readers, after the first draft. We had a session at The Novelry on narrative structure with Louise Doughty recently (available in our Catch Up TV area for members). As she showed, the virtuous shape of a novel emerges in the later drafts. (We work with writers to fast-track the process, and we have a few short cuts up our sleeve to raise the work between drafts with some heavy lifting between writer and tutor.)
Writing and Re-writing...
One of our 'Hero Books' for novelists writing their novels with The Novelry is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and many of us are looking forward to the new movie adaption which airs on Netflix on October 21st.
If you don't know the story, here's the premise:
Working as a lady's companion, the orphaned heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. Whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to his brooding estate, Manderley, on the Cornish Coast, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers. Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with 'the other woman'.
Described by Sarah Waters as one of the most influential novels of all time, the famous opening line of Rebecca (1939)...
We are delighted to announce the addition of The Soho Agency to our roster of literary agencies to whom we pitch our authors' finished novels. (Read more about The Soho Agency and see our full list here.)
From the Desk of Marina de Pass, Literary Agent.
My Career in Books...
I remember vividly the two experiences I had with career advisors in my life – one just before I left school, the other at university. Both involved a lot of leaflets, an advisor who had no idea who I was as a person, but who was sure that I should trust the dreaded aptitude test that would absolutely tell me what I should do with my life. Both times the test revealed I was most suited to a career as one of the following: lawyer, accountant or investment manager. Three very respectable and accomplished careers – and yet I was horrified. I worked for a couple of weeks doing research for an investment management firm – the people were lovely, the work actually quite interesting for an...
With our thanks to Ruth who will be joining us for a Guest Author Session this month.
From the Desk of Ruth Ware.
It's a lock-in.
I've always loved locked room mysteries. I love reading them – I find a really clever puzzle with finite possible solutions is somehow that bit more satisfying to solve than a novel where anyone could have wandered in off the street and stabbed their victim.
I also love writing them, as the fact that I keep returning to the locked room structure attests. There's something about setting yourself a challenge – a small cast of characters, a confined setting, a strictly limited set of options in terms of suspects, victims and murder weapons – and trying to be as creative as possible within those parameters that really sets my imagination sparking.
And in fact the first grown-up crime story I can ever...
Sometimes I wonder, do you, what people who don't write do with their thoughts? And what they plan to leave behind them too.
'Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?' Mary Oliver.
I started writing by putting down thoughts in poem form, and I think many writers start that way. We forget over time that here was the spark, and as our novels develop, it's good to be reminded of the ache of the thing, or the mischief of it; the pilot light. In this week's blog, our tutor Emylia Hall serves up some light for your darker days.
From the desk of Emylia Hall.
When I’m in the middle of a sprawling novel draft, I turn to poetry. You’ll find me with my head bent over my collections just like a beachcomber looks for treasure, hoping for a secret from the deep. Maybe it’s because there’s something particularly possessable about a poem: a few spare stanzas glint with the kind of truth that you can hold in the palm of your hand; a...
From the Desk of Katie Khan.
There are many choices to make when you begin writing a novel. Some you can choose from a starter menu - present or past tense, first person or third? - while others you will discover off-menu along the way, making what may feel at the time like a mistake. Personally, I’m fearful of going off-menu after learning, at the tender age of nine, that frogs taste like chicken, but with a lot more tiny bones.
Fiction is more forgiving. The brilliant thing about making mistakes in novel writing is you can fix many of them in a later draft. If you read your novel like a critical reader, rather than as the writer, and you’re willing to do the work, you can absolutely salvage and sharply improve the book.
Writing is rewriting.
But let’s talk about the menu because choosing wisely at the outset can save pain later. The first thing I like to do, when I have a plot and story in mind and ready to be written, is to audition the voice.
From the Desk of Clare Pooley:
Let me share a secret with you: The Authenticity Project is not actually my first novel. Lurking in the very bottom of a bottom drawer, is a bound, annotated and rather dusty manuscript of another book called Can’t Get You Out of my Head.
That story did the rounds of most of the literary agencies in town, and out of town, and gathered a full gamut of form rejections. I read and reread all the usual platitudes; we receive thousands of submissions, the market is extremely competitive, we hope you find the right home for your novel. I even had a couple of requests for the full manuscript, leading to weeks of refreshing my email inbox in feverish anticipation, composing the victory speech for my book launch in my head, before receiving a whilst there was much to admire, we just didn’t love it enough. Looking back at it now, I see that my first book had a pretty good premise, some interesting characters and a rollicking plot. What it...
Blood Orange was my first published novel. It was not, however, my first completed manuscript. I started writing back in 2009, beginning with a short story about a man who deliberately killed the tree that he and his wife had planted in memory of their dead son. Its hold on her was too great, so he gouged at its roots and poured in salt. Thinking about it, it wasn’t a bad story, although I had no idea how to present it on the page. Despite years of reading, and a degree in English, I couldn’t work out how to present dialogue. And at barely two thousand words, it gave me no confidence that I could complete a longer narrative.
My next (and last) short story gave me a little more encouragement. I was very proud of the first line, ‘It was the twelfth of August, and the grouse were preparing to die.’ Sadly, no one else appreciated that genius, nor did the rest of the story live up to it in any way. But at five thousand words, it showed I could go on for...
August is the cruellest month for writers. As it draws to a close, we salute all of you who have made it through the month with your manuscript a few words longer.
August is that 'jolly' month with the pitter-patter of Fitflops about the house, the teens and their friends rattling around your writing desk, presuming upon your goodwill, enjoining you to take part and have 'a good time'. It's a curse on the cardigan-clad novelist misanthrope trying to write pleasant things about humankind by dint of the contrivance known as fiction.
Lunch with a glass of wine in the sunshine with your loved ones? Again? Really? Must we?
We know you’d rather be writing. But how about writing when you’re not writing? Here’s how to get away with it and not be caught. (Followed by some September advice for getting back to work in earnest, Hemingway.)
Perhaps one of the defining characteristics of writers is that we like our own company; we value the quiet...
We will be kicking off with a week on plot, with some plot-busting tips, a worksheet and a special boot camp Monday 7th September with the author of Apple Tree Yard, the redoubtable Louise Doughty. Members can sign up at our class booking page here.
The immersive programme of events for this writing season at The Novelry includes live sessions with former Publishing Editor of Penguin's Doubleday imprint Marianne Velmans and guest tutors, bestselling authors, Louise Doughty, Harriet Tyce, Ruth Ware, Paula Hawkins, and Jessie Burton.
If you join us in the first week of September, you'll have 7 relaxed and inspiring days of lessons in the Ninety Day Novel course to consider and hone your idea, before your first tutor session.
At that first session, we sign off on together on the best idea to achieve your goal, and you start writing. You could be holding your novel manuscript in...