The Novelry Blog
Where the writers are.
From the Desk of Jessie Burton.
I’m writing this piece less than two days after finishing my sixth book. It isn’t due for another fortnight, but I’ve been thinking about and writing this one since May 2016, and it happens like this sometimes. There you are, thinking you will never see the light at the end of the tunnel, let alone walk through it into bright sunshine. And then you take yourself by surprise. The day is a normal one, you press the last full-stop, and it is done.
A few days before that, however, when I could see I was nearing the end, I felt extremely anxious. I was overwhelmed that I had come this far – having discarded over 96,000 words to get here, changing it many times, sitting in the dark with it for so long. I was swamped by the anticipation of the final push, by the awareness that the book was going to morph from a private into a public thing, and the fact that I would have to say goodbye to it once it was. I couldn’t...
First drafts are precious. They are tender, private, and for your eyes only. A first draft is a chance to tell yourself the story; to figure out the hopes and dreams of your characters (and, crucially, their flaws); to discover the world on the page. You might not have it all at the beginning, but you’ll certainly be one step closer by the end. A first draft needs to be coaxed, which is why we suggest you keep it to yourself – and why, when you work with your author tutor, we won't ask to see your prose too early in the process and suggest holding back on feedback until later.
Other writing courses may differ – I know this because I’d taken a few over the years. I have sat in classrooms workshopping 5,000 words of my classmates’ first drafts each week, during which I barely wrote a word of my own novel. I have read my early work aloud in the upstairs room of pubs across London and posted my burgeoning prose on blogs....
Writer's block? Go back to your novel gingerly and potter about in its grounds if you've been away. Read a little of it - possibly from the beginning if you're not too far in or the last three chapters if you are - make notes and sure enough you'll be back in the swing of things. It doesn't have to be 'important' in its themes or claims this book of yours. Your stage is not the world stage, but just as importantly the arena of the human mind, the theatre of the human heart. Entertain us - by all means make us laugh, make us cry - but help us walk in other shoes. Show us the lie of the land. Being other, being another, and your way of telling is what makes your work unique and worthy.
“Words were not given to man in order to conceal his thoughts.”
José Saramago, 1998 Nobel Literature Prize Winner.
You can sing your story low and lovelorn like Sinatra, or stalk across the page and sashay like RuPaul. But rest easy, you will be doing something meaningful...
From the Desk of Paula Hawkins.
I didn’t set out to write an unputdownable book, but when The Girl on the Train was published, I was told very clearly that I had, and that numerous train stops had been missed as readers were compelled to keep turning the pages.
Unputdownable hadn’t been an aim: I had wanted to write a crime novel about a young woman with a drink problem who suffers from blackouts, because I was interested in how her memory of acting a certain way related to her sense of guilt and responsibility for her actions.
You might want to write a book about the plight of women accused of witchcraft in the late sixteenth century, or about a southern African immigrant’s experience of life in London; your aim might be to write a book that makes people laugh, or reconsider their life choices, or a book that makes them too frightened to turn off the light at night.
Unputdownability is rarely a goal in and of itself. Not everyone believes unputdownability...
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...
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