1. Start you novel with a bang, don't be tempted to lead your reader gently into your novel. You need a baited hook, so you can reel in your reader. This is doubly important when trying to sell your novel, because, if you haven't gripped the editor in the first few minutes, a rejection slip is heading your way! Think of all the great first lines you have ever read, which ones stick in your mind. Don't start at the very beginning, unless the very beginning is exciting or intriguing. Try this example see what you think:
- Emma woke from a deep sleep to the shrill of her alarm clock, groaning she stretched, as she did every morning. Throwing back the duvet, Emma was shocked by how dark it was in her room. She groped in the dark, looking for her bedside lamp, flicking the switch, nothing. Stumbling from bed and negotiating clothes flung carelessly on the floor, Emma turned on the main light. Again, nothing. The hall and kitchen light, nothing. Total blackness, a complete absence of light, finally Emma realised something was very wrong. Shaking uncontrollably, she held her hand in front of unblinking eyes. Emma came to the only explanation that made sense. "I'm blind." she whispered, then screamed. Everyone in Emma's street would have heard her scream, if Emma had not been dead for the last five hours.
I wrote this as an example of a way to hook your reader in this short opening passage. The hook is that Emma isn't just blind, she is dead. This is actually a great writing exercise, write a short opening paragraph for a novel with a hook in it. If I was going to write this book I would call it 'A Day in the Life of the Newly Dead' and set the action in real time over one day.
2. Make your characters larger than life. Write about strong, active characters, rather than passive wimps. Use your knowledge of your character's faults to change perceptions during the novel. This doesn't mean every hero should be a tall, dark and hansom billionaire, who is kind to small animals and children, who we discover is an axe-wielding monster. As I wrote the last sentence, Mr Darcy popped into my head and he is a perfect example of a larger than life character, for whom the author controls our emotions. Mr Darcy is rich, hansom, arrogant with enough pride to fill the millennium dome twice.
He is my favourite romance hero. Why? Jane Austen created a flawed human being and then showed us why he is flawed. Wickham, a truly perfect character on the surface, colours our opinion of Mr Darcy, as do his own actions in the beginning of the book. I have heard it said that Mr Darcy is transformed by love, which is I think is poppycock. Austen shows us all Mr Darcy's flaws whilst Mr Wickhams are all hidden. We, as readers, experience Mr Darcy through Elizabeth Bennett's eyes and those eyes are prejudiced by her own position in the world. I could write about this forever, but basically a great author can change a character in a word and, if they have created a truly great character, the reader will love them.
3. Conflict drives a plot forward. Conflicting styles of writing are not good, unless they add an extra meaning to the plot. If you have a character who has a split or multiple personality or, as in Dracula, you are writing from multiple viewpoints conflicting styles would add to a novel. Conflict, whether internal or external, is the backbone on which your writing and your characters hang.
4. Remember cause and effect or put another way every action has a reaction. Thinking of an example for this, I was drawn strangely back to Pride and Prejudice. Lydia's elopement with Mr Wickham is a direct result of her mother's silly ways and her father's lack of care for his younger, more foolish daughter. However, without this catastrophe Mr Darcy could not be the hero who saves the family from the shame of Lydia's lack of morals.
5. Don't be a know it all or let your character be one either. Don't tell me, show me! If you, as an author or through your character, lecture me on you pet subject, I will react in the same way I do in real life, switch off.
6. Character speech or why-aye-tha-lads. Fill you character speech with dialect, colloquialisms, slang and swearing and you will make your novel almost unreadable. That isn't to say all your character should speak in received English; a smattering of character generated slang or dialect is acceptable. If you decide to create a vampire from the middle-ages, read Chaucer before you allow your character to talk. Choosing a few words that we, as modern readers, wouldn't recognise or use in the same context adds to the believability of your character, as long as he/she is willing to translate.
7. Engage all the readers senses. You talk to me about freshly baked bread, I can smell it. Tell me that a baby's skin feels like warm velvet and smells of sweetened milk and I can experience it for myself, as a reader, from my own experiences. As a reader, all of this will be an unconscious response to the words on the page, but they will add something, an extra level of engagement between author and audience. After all what is language expect a written code for our mental images of the world. If you write the word "tree", each reader will have their own unique image of a tree filed away inside their head.
8. State the blooming obvious. Don't let your reader flounder, just because it's obvious to you, doesn't mean it is to them. You may know why your vampire crosses the road, your reader doesn't, unless you tell them or show them his/her motivation. If are writing a mystery novel and the clues aren't in the text, your reader will feel cheated. I will never forget reading the first ever who-done-it written by Edgar Alan Poe, Murder in the Rue Morgue and being horrified. All who-done-it novels, then and since, are basically a puzzle. However, what horrified me and I'm sorry if I'm going to ruin this story for you, but the orangutan did it! The author gave us a locked room conundrum and then gave us an orangutan. I felt cheated as a reader and very disappointed.
9. Make notes, write a diary, describe your front room or anything in your world. If you burn dinner, describe the effect of the acrid smoke on your eyes or the ear blasting sound of the fire alarm driving you insane, as you rush to open all the windows. The written word is your tool and crafting it into an enjoyable text is the craft you, as a writer, are perfecting.
10. Finally, research and then research some more. All writers should be avid readers. If you read a book once in a blue moon, then, in my opinion, you need to go away and cultivate a love of literature before you start. Learn how to loose yourself in someone else's creation. That isn't to say you want to change your style of writing, but you do need to conform to certain standards and conventions. Decide the type of novel that suits you, then analyze why. What do certain authors do that "turns you on" as a reader. It's still possible to discover a word that is new to you. Do you know what picaresque mean? I didn't and I have an English degree. My husband had never come across the word and he has a PhD. What does picaresque mean? Do what we did and look it up in a dictionary.