Bestselling author, Phillipa Ashley, shares her most important writing tip to aspiring authors.
Develope confidence in your own voice and creating memorable characters.
For the aspiring authors out there, here’s a writers tip from Allegra Houston, author of ‘Say My Name’.
Writing screenplays teaches you a lot about structure, and about getting meaning into the story that’s not spelled out on the page. I think that’s a very useful discipline for all storytellers. I also love ten-minute writing exercises. They don’t give you enough time to think: it’s improv for writers. And that’s where the sparks, the energy, the originality, come from.
Dialogue. Dialogue makes the world go round, or at least a book come to life. I believe there should be lots of it and it should feel natural, so that’s what I’d recommend nailing.
If your aim is to write light, humorous fiction, then it’s important that the process is as fun as you can make it. I think we can all pay too much attention to that inner critic – the voice in our head that keeps telling us, ‘This is awful. You’re wasting your time!’ In fact, a first draft is usually going to be pretty ropey with billions of faults, but the important thing is to keep on, and finish it, then go back and polish it up. Also, do bear in mind that commercial fiction does need to rollick along at quite a sprightly pace, so be ruthless at cutting and trimming back, as you edit. You want your reader to be pulled along with you, desperate to know what happens next.
Every author has a unique process for writing. Here are my basic rules to write a literary suspense novel:
Location, location, location.
Actually the writer’s location doesn’t matter a bit – it’s where everyone else in the family is that is important. I’ve been known to lug my laptop from room to room trying to find a secluded spot to work on my current project. I’ve resorted to taping do not disturb signs to doors, hiding out in the woods behind my house, and even leaving the state to do my writing. You would think that just waiting until the dead of night when everyone was asleep would be the most effective time for a suspense writer to create. It’s dark, the only sounds are creaky, whispery moans with periodic coyote howls and owl hoots. Not for me ~ too scary.
Food and beverage is a must when preparing for a marathon session of writing. As for food, nibbly snacks like trail mix, grapes, or M&Ms are best. Avoid any food that requires a spoon, a fork or two hands as it impedes the writing process. However, it can be done. My drink of choice is a big (huge really) Diet Coke with lots of ice and a skinny straw – the size of the straw does make a difference. When you’ve written yourself into a corner or a particular character is giving you fits, alcohol is perfectly acceptable. Just be careful with this or in twenty years you may find yourself writing your tragic memoir from a detox center or jail, whichever comes first.
Your personal comfort is paramount when writing. Some people need complete silence in order for the creative gods to smile down on them. Not me, I need some noise. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Avett Brothers set at a rather high volume. If it is too quiet I can hear my family beyond the locked door asking me to fix them something to eat.
After these first three basic needs are met, it’s time to get down to the business of writing your novel.
The premise for your literary suspense novel needs to be, well, suspenseful. Like most writers, I’m a collector of possible topics for my novels. I scan newspaper headlines, listen to talk radio, and pay special attention at social gatherings for possible storylines (just kidding, friends). Interestingly, as a writer of suspenseful, domestic dramas, I am constantly asked by well-meaning people about the awful childhood I must have experienced. I guess it would add an air of mysteriousness to me if that was the case, but I’m proud (and relieved) to have had a blissfully uneventful childhood with two great parents. However, it is perfectly okay to infuse life experiences into the creation of your suspense novel. For example, the premise of my new release, Missing Pieces, a woman travels to her husband’s hometown and learns that he isn’t quite the man she thought she married. Now, in my own personal life, I know my husband. In fact, we live in the town he grew up in. There’s no way he’s keeping any secrets from me. I could tell if he was. Really.
The characters in your literary suspense novel need to capture the hearts and minds of your readers. Develop characters that your readers instantly care about. Once readers become invested in what happens to those who inhabit your books, they will stick around to the very end. Sarah from Missing Pieces is a regular working mother and wife who is faced with the horrifying reality that her husband may have been involved in a murder. Since her husband is less than forthcoming, Sarah has to do her own investigating and is shocked by what she learns.
You can buy Missing Pieces from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.
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