On the book tour for Elizabeth Brooks’ new book called ‘The Whispering House’, Elizabeth shares her top 10 tips for aspiring authors.
When it comes to writing novels, Iâ€™m not a great believer in rules. As soon as I think Iâ€™ve come up with a hard and fast Law of Writing, which must never, ever be broken, Iâ€™ll come across a brilliant author who breaks it: â€œCut down on adjectives!â€ But Dickens uses adjectives like thereâ€™s no tomorrow. â€œShow donâ€™t tell!â€ But where does that leave ‘Dulse’, by Alice Munro which opens with a deft resumÃ© of the main characterâ€™s life so far? â€œStick to one characterâ€™s point of view!â€ â€œMake it clear whose story youâ€™re telling!â€ â€œMake sure your character has a good reason to do what he does!â€ But Chekhov violates all of those and moreâ€¦
So Iâ€™m offering tips, not rules. Theyâ€™ve helped me over the years, and I hope theyâ€™ll help you too.
Fill the page with something. Anything. Write the National Anthem backwards if nothing more useful occurs – at least you will have broken The Curse of the Blank Page. Now youâ€™re free to splurge your novelistic thoughts.
Be precise. I used to think being a good writer meant constructing elaborate sentences out of unusual words. Itâ€™s not. Itâ€™s about being attentive to life, and finding the right words to describe your observations.
Let your characters do their thing. The best novels are messy, questioning, and open-ended. Tolstoy intended ‘Anna Karenina’ as a morality tale, warning against the evils of adultery, until he went and brought Anna alive with his words. The result? A poor morality tale, but a very great novel.
Think about viewpoint. I apologise if this is self-evident, but it came as a total revelation to me, several years ago. There I was, merrily hopping in and out of my charactersâ€™ heads, wondering why their story lacked coherence, when my agent said, â€œHave you thought about writing from just one personâ€™s point of view?â€ â€¦ Eureka!
Donâ€™t worry about being original. In fact, donâ€™t give it a thought. Originality is just you, writing at your authentic best, about what interests you most deeply.
Show donâ€™t tell.This one eluded me for years, because I didnâ€™t know what it meant and was too embarrassed to ask. It just means that â€œJoe feels angryâ€ is a weaker description than â€œJoe yells and throws her tea at the wall.â€ The first washes over me, the second pulls me in.
Keep an eye on the bigger picture. Crafting a good sentence, word by word, clause by clause, is a difficult thing to do. Structuring a whole novel â€“ making scenes and characters that fit together, move along, maintain balance and resonate â€“ is also difficult. Doing both at the same time is not impossible, although every now and it might make you clutch your head and emit a silent, Munchian scream into the void.
Write because you want to write and not because you want to be a Published Author. If youâ€™re writing for the sheer love of it, youâ€™ll end up with something good.
Be disciplined. Exercise your writing muscles regularly, even when it feels like a thankless slog. That Thomas Edison quote about genius being 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, is true.
Read and read and read. The more you read, the better youâ€™ll write. This might sound like a statement of the blindingly obvious, but I once met an author at a literary festival who claimed he was â€˜not mad on readingâ€™, and it scarred me for life. How can someone claim to be a writer and not a reader? How? Itâ€™s like saying â€˜Iâ€™m not mad on food, but Iâ€™m keen to be a chefâ€™.
I began this post in an easy-going frame of mind (â€œHey, who needs rules?â€) but it didnâ€™t last. I thought it might not. Sorry. Listing tips is such an enjoyably bossy thing to do.
Please feel free to take everything with a pinch of salt, except for number 10.
You can buy ‘The Whispering House’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.