Category Archives: Drafting

Feeling drafty!

A couple of days ago I listened to a live talk on Facebook by publisher Scott Pack on the five most common mistakes people make when submitting their manuscripts.  The most interesting point to me was when Scott said that in his experience about half the people who submit are sending a manuscript too early.  He said some of these manuscripts might even have been very good after a third or fourth draft, but they were rejected.  The reason this struck a chord with me is that I have done this myself many times.  Caught up in the exhilaration of finishing a book, I’ve rushed it off into the outside world without another thought.  If you think about it, it’s like pushing your baby out of the door and into the cold alone without even a coat and hat.  In fact you haven’t put any clothes on them at all!  They are not going to survive!

How do you resist the temptation to submit too early?  It’s difficult, but you have to start thinking in terms of first draft, second draft, third draft and so on and move your expectations so that submitting becomes connected with the fifth draft, or the sixth one, or whenever you decide you can’t possibly do any more to improve your work.  The first draft is just a sketch.  Or the naked baby again.  Don’t let anyone see your work naked!

It was a big leap for me when I understood that in the first draft anything goes because no one will see it and it’s not going anywhere.  You’re free to make mistakes, experiment, write huge chunks that will never be used, or introduce characters that make absolutely no sense later.  It doesn’t matter, because the editing stage will take care of all that.  Every time you edit or redraft your work you will see a huge improvement.

Everyone’s different of course, but to give you an example this is how my own drafting process goes:

  1. First draft – write longhand in a notebook, preferably using the same pen.  Lose the pen.  Panic.  The muse has gone!  Try writing with another pen.  Realise it’s going to be okay.  Maybe even better.  Phew.  Find the original pen.  Panic.
  2. Second draft – type up first draft on to the computer, editing as I go.  Correct the problems at the beginning caused by having a different middle and end to the ones I intended.
  3. Third draft – correct printed out second draft using a pen (any pen – the superstition has mysteriously gone).  Perform a massive facelift plus possibly invasive surgery (of the manuscript, not me).  Result can be a fifty percent improvement (of the manuscript, definitely not me).
  4. Fourth draft – print out third draft and put away in cupboard.  Agonising wait, preferably for a month.  Desired outcome: the ‘I don’t remember writing this!’ effect.  Edit again feeling like an older, wiser person.
  5. Final fifth draft – the paranoia edit.  Recheck on screen or paper, tidying, honing and searching for typos and cliches.  Realise I’ve used the word ‘look’ a million times on one page.  Wear out shift + f7 looking for alternatives. Gah!

Bing!  It’s ready.  Submit and prepare to repeat stages 3-5 if rejected.  Meanwhile buy new notebook and pen and start next project at stage 1.

Happy drafting!

You can still read Scott’s broadcast on Reedsy’s Facebook page to find out about the other common mistakes.  The question and answer session at the end was very useful too.

Writing in rhyme

CautionaryTales-Belloc-Blackwell-coverRhyming stories have always been popular with children.  From Hilare Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children to Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter’s The Dinosaur that Pooped series, rhyming stories have had a place on our bookshelves and no doubt always will.  There’s something very satisfying about reading a good rhyme – it’s like putting the last puzzle piece into a jigsaw.  And rhyme and rhythm are great at helping with reading skills as well as making text easier to remember and above all – fun!

But for writers rhyming stories can pose a bit of a problem. It’s widely believed that rhyming books are much harder to get published, and this is to some extent true as it’s harder for the publisher or agent to sell translation rights.  The text either has to be translated word for word, losing the rhymes in the process, or almost completely rewritten.  However, the popularity of rhyming texts is testament to the fact that publishers are still publishing them; you only have to look at the success of Julia Donaldson.  But the text has to be good.  The rhymes have to delight.  There are plenty of pitfalls to stumble into when writing in rhyme, so I’ve put together a few tips that might help when you’re coming up with your own rhyming story.  The tips are geared towards picture book writers but hopefully will assist with any rhyming-based writing activity.the dinosaur that pooped

  • Put the stronger rhyme second
    When you’ve got two rhyming words that end your lines, think about positioning them so the weaker rhyme goes first, followed by the stronger rhyme.  This gives the impression that a great rhyme has slipped naturally into place rather than just because it fits.  For example, in my book Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip, Professor McQuark is looking at the other inventions in the science fair and the couplet reads as follows:
    “A yo-yo with slo-mo, a door with a zip,
    But nothing as fine as the Oojamaflip.”
    This is much stronger than if I had written it the other way round, where it would sounds like I have come up with the “door with a zip” invention just to fit the rhyming pattern.  Of course I have, but positioning it first makes it seem like I haven’t!
  • Don’t forget the rhythm
    Rhyming books aren’t just about the last words, they are about rhythm too.  Imagine a song where you have to fit the words to the notes.  If in doubt, read it out!  You’ll soon hear where the words don’t fit.  You can also beat the rhythm out on the table (or get your drum kit out).  Try this with master rhymers Julia Donaldson or Dr Seuss to get an idea of the ‘beats’ you might use.
  • Don’t mess with sentence structure
    You do need to think about positioning your words, but try not to end up with a strange sentence structure just to fit the rhythm.  Chief suspects are the words  ‘it’ and ‘did’ which are sometimes sneaked into rhymes in order to make up the right number of syllables, such as in this made-up example:
    “The clock it struck twelve, time to leave for the show,
    So off to the big circus tent we did go.”
    If you don’t speak like that in real life, it won’t sound very convincing in a rhyme either.  If you find yourself tempted, try to rethink the sentence so you get the right number of syllables in a more natural way.200px-Fairuse_Gruffalo
  • Alliteration is good in small doses
    “She ran to her shed and she banged and she battered,
    She sawed and she sanded, she clanged and she clattered.”
    Yes, I love alliteration, but almost too much.  I have had whole lines rejected because I have turned them into tongue twisters.  So use as much alliteration as you like, but make sure you can say it without getting your tongue in a knot.
  • Look for internal rhymes
    An internal rhyme is a rhyme occurring in the middle of a sentence.  For example, in the Professor McQuark extract above, “a yo-yo with slo-mo” rhymes with itself and adds a little extra icing to your rhyming cake.  It’s amazing how often an internal rhyme can slip in, so if you see one, celebrate it.
  • Don’t let the rhyme tell the story
    It’s hard to let a brillant rhyme go, but sometimes you have to when it just doesn’t fit the story.  The rhyming words should serve your story structure, not dictate  it.  Try to think of what you want to say, then say it in rhyme, rather than thinking of the rhymes and then making them into a story.220px-Seuss-cat-hat.gif
  • Harness the power of repetition
    Fortunately for picture book writers, children love repetition.  Not only do they like to hear the same story again but they like the same phrases again.  The Gruffalo is a great example of this with its repeated phrases, the repeated scene with a variation for each animal and ultimately the story itself repeated but reversed.  A repeated phrase allows you to reuse rhymes, but beware of overdoing this as readers still need a surprise or two along the way.

And finally…

  • Make it look easy
    Good rhymes look easy but may be anything but!  Personally I find that sometimes the rhyme just pops into my head, but more often than not it’s a result of a long dog walk and twenty minutes of washing up before the right word or phrase is finally sifted from the detritus of my brain.  I also find that most rhymes can be improved by twiddling with the sentence or swopping an odd word here and there, to make the rhyme look more natural.  And don’t feel guilty for looking in a rhyming dictionary or online, but try not to let it seduce you with its long and clever words.  Sometimes the best rhymes are the simplest.

You’ve read my advice and are raring to go.
But if you have other tips, please let me know!

Barriers to Writing

Recently I’ve been thinking about what stops us writing, and why.  It’s a very odd phenomenon, but one that seems almost universal amongst writers, that we continually procrastinate when we should be writing.  And yet we love it!  We love that feeling of creating something from nothing, the buzz of flying through a world of our own creation.  We feel miserable when we don’t write.  But we still find it hard to start.

Why should that be?  If you like singing, sing.  If you like writing, write.  Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Here are some reasons why I think we put up these barriers to creativity, and some suggested solutions.  If you have any more solutions, let me know!

  • Overwhelming

    Writing is probably the most demanding of the arts, because you are literally creating something from nothing.  The whole world of Harry Potter is simply lines on some pages.  The rest is JK Rowling’s imagination.  You may say art is similar, but at least an artist has materials, a palette, brushes.  A writer has twenty-six letters and nothing more.  The act of looking at a blank notebook or screen can be so overwhelming that it can stop you writing a single word.

    Suggestions

    Try writing a train of thought, anything that comes into your head, just to get you going.  Write a daily diary, just a few sentences or impressions.  Jot down snippets of conversation.  Write down a ‘found poem’.

  • Confidence

    Having enough confidence in your writing is a daily battle for any writer, published or unpublished.  Who doesn’t hear their inner critic carping on and telling them everything they write is rubbish?  My productivity increased hugely when I learned to ignore this destructive inner editor.  I just tell him/her that I’ll change it later if I don’t like it, but for now it’ll do thank you very much.

    Suggestions

    Ignore the critical voice.  That’s for the editing phase later on.  Try entering some small competitions to increase confidence in your writing.  Read writer’s success stories – they succeeded because they persevered.  Be happy to make mistakes.  No one has to see them if you don’t want them to so who cares?

  • Too much to do

    It’s easy to put writing at the end of a long list of tasks.  Or not to be able to relax until your workspace is sorted.  Or simply not have enough physical hours in the day to write.  If you are truly a writer you need to learn to put writing at the top (or near the top) of your list.  You’ll feel better for it, and if you write before you do household tasks you’ll find you’re thinking of your plot as you do other things.

    Suggestions

    It’s tough to write if your work hours don’t allow you much spare time.  The solution is learning to write in short bursts.  You do get used to it, and even a few sentences each day builds up quickly.  I write for fifteen minutes a day while I have breakfast.  I often do more, but that is my regular slot.  My book is progressing slowly but surely during that time.  When my children were young I wrote a complete book during their weekly swimming lesson, half an hour at a time.  Sitting in that changing room surrounded by screaming children and stressed parents was completely chaotic, but funnily enough, writing took me out of it.

  • Feeling disheartened

    When you’ve been trying to get published for a long time, it’s only natural to feel disheartened and wonder if it’s worth slogging on.  If you feel like that I recommend finding an outlet so you are producing something that the world sees.  This could be a blog, a self published book, articles for local publications, competitions, twitter poetry – any opportunity that will allow you to express yourself and feel validated in your output.  When I wasn’t getting published in fiction, I started writing sketches for my local am dram society.  This led me on to entering play competitions, and I won Best Script at Pintsized Plays.  Now I have short plays being performed all over the country.  It wasn’t an avenue I had imagined myself pursuing, but now I love it, and it kept my spirits up while I was submitting to children’s publishers.

    Suggestions

    Explore other avenues.  Try self publishing, for example through Amazon Kindle.  Enter competitions.  See if you can write for local magazines.  Start a blog reviewing books.  Enter poetry competitions.  Make a scrapbook or family history book.  See yourself as a writer of anything, not just your genre or field.  You may find more opportunities that you thought.

  • Writer’s block

    My view on writer’s block is that it doesn’t exist.  But sometimes you may find yourself going through emotional situations that are too draining to allow you to concentrate on writing.  If that happens, be kind to yourself.  Don’t worry about the writing, it will be there for you when you’re ready.

    Suggestions

    Take your time and do things that you can manage.  Read a writing magazine or visit a library.  Watch a TV adaptation of a favourite book.  Write what you feel like writing, not what you feel you should be writing.

I hope some of my suggestions are helpful.  How do you break down your barriers to writing?  I forgot to mention, a cup of tea and a snack also help the flow!

Chapter One

It seems very appropriate for the beginning of the year to be discussing how to write the opening chapter of a novel.  I always imagine a new year as turning over the first page of a book – the adventure is all before us and anything could happen!  And something nice already has happened, as I was honoured yesterday to attend the New Year’s meeting of Harpenden Writers to set their in-house competition entitled ‘Chapter One’.

The first chapter is a real challenge for any writer.  It is as important as the climax of the book – even more so, because it has so many other jobs to do.  As well as introducing characters, setting, the style of the author and the bones of the plot, the opening chapter also needs to perform a double wow – hooking the reader and also attracting the attention of agents and publishers.  No wonder it can be so hard to write.

What are considered the greatest opening chapters in literature?  It’s a hard list to make, but after sifting through my own choices, various opinions on the internet (most of which are based mainly on the first line) and suggestions from the Harpenden Writers, I’d suggest the following top ten in no particular order:

  • The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
    Celie is raped by her step-father.  She relates the tale in her own matter of fact way.  If this is what happens on page one then things are going to be tough for her and for us as readers.
  • Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
    A fatal ballooning accident kickstarts an obsessive relationship.  Killer opening which some believe the rest of the book never quite matches up to.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    Mrs Bennet tries to persuade Mr Bennet to visit the new young bachelor in town and get him to marry one of her daughters.  Deceptively simple, perfectly pitched.
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
    A man sells his wife at a country auction.  Great example of a cataclysmic event which creates a stomping good plot.
  • The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
    Nick has dinner with Tom and Daisy and hears of the existence of Gatsby.  Eloquent, elegant, understated.
  • 1984 by George Orwell
    The clock strikes thirteen and Winston Smith is living another day under the boot of Big Brother.  An immediate plunge into another world that is terrifyingly possible.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    Huck’s unique voice pulls us straight into his story.  After sketching out his new life with the Widow Douglas he is off for more mischief with Tom.
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
    ‘I am Born’ – the first chapter does exactly what it says on the tin.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
    Starts as it means to go on – bleak, uncompromising, sad almost beyond words.  Line breaks indicate changes – there are no chapters because the normal divisions of time have disintegrated with civilisation.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    One page of gob-smacking prose which raises horrifying questions we simply have to know the answers to.

To help us identify what makes a great opening chapter, we examined the beginning of Pride and Prejudice.  Giant hailstones rained down with a deafening clatter as I attempted to read aloud from my Kindle and I just hope it wasn’t divine intervention engineered by Jane Austen in response to my portrayal of Mrs Bennet!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first line by itself is in possession of every quality an opening chapter needs: the characters (single, rich man); the plot (fortune hunters are after him); the style (dry, arch) and the hook (so who will catch him).  Few but Austen could pull this off in one line.

The rest of the chapter deftly places us at the heart of the story by showcasing Austen’s brilliant characterisation.  We are introduced to Mr and Mrs Bennet and we understand their relationship and the inequality of their marriage.  He has become a long-suffering husband who is reduced to scoring victories through quiet sarcasm, which she is a nag, a gossip and a social climber.  Nevertheless, Austen loves them and we can see that in her affectionate treatment of their foibles.  Impressively Austen also manages to introduce through the Bennets’ conversation no less than ten other characters!  Of course we hear about the impressive Bingley and his four or five thousand a year, but we also learn that the Bennets have five grown up daughters, we hear the names and main character traits of three of them, we know which ones each parent prefers and we even have the first mention of Sir William and Lady Lucas as a rival family the Bennets need to keep up with.  There’s also a couple of side characters thrown into to the gossipy mix.  All this is done in so natural and deft a way that we happily throw ourselves into chapter two with a good basic knowledge of and fondness for the family.

We also have the bones of the plot in place: Mrs Bennet needs to marry off her daughters and she needs to act quickly before anyone else can pinch the best prize.  We don’t know yet about the Bennet estate being entailed away on the nearest male heir but we do sense that the family needs outside help if it is to survive in the manner to which it is accustomed, and that there are various cumbersome social barriers that need to be broken through before this can be achieved.

The setting is quite starkly presented, but we do gather that this is a domestic scene and the beginning of the plot suggests the rest of the novel will probably stay in that sphere.  It is obviously historical and of its time period, and the family are of middling wealth – rich enough to be looking for husbands rather than jobs for their daughters, but poor enough to be somewhat desperate.

The chapter also introduces Austen’s style: conversational, arch, humorous, affectionate, fast-moving and deft.  We know what we are getting from the first line onwards: Austen’s voice is always true.

And finally, the hook.  Are we pulled in by this chapter?  Do we feel emotionally involved enough to continue?  All the elements have been expertly put in place, so that anyone who enjoys this sort of novel will feel compelled to continue.

So there we have it: a model first chapter.  We have the killer first line, the characters, the plot, the setting, the style and the hook, all done in an understated, efficiently brilliant way.  For a complete contrast see the opening chapter of Lolita.  And remember, if you want to analyse first chapters of classic literature most are now free on the internet, either through the Amazon Kindle store and other ebook retailers or through Project Guttenberg where you can read classics online or download them.

Good luck to the Harpenden Writers taking part in the Chapter One competition – I look forward to reading your entries and getting thoroughly hooked!

Theory of Productivity

“One on, one off and one in the wash.”  That’s the mantra our grandparents used when referring to their laundry, and that’s the basis of my new theory of writing productivity!  But while Granny had three jumpers, you’ve got three writing projects on the go…

ONE ON

This is your current project – your baby.  It’s a first draft so you carry it around everywhere, possibly in a battered notebook.  You’re twenty-thousand words in and you daren’t look back, you’re just pounding forward until you hit your target.  It may be rubbish, it may be a work of genius.  You’re just trying to get it down on paper.

ONE OFF

This one’s much less stressful.  You’ve done the full draft and it’s either waiting in a drawer to cool off or you’ve started the edit.  You have a huge sense of satisfaction when you look at all that work, but you know there’s still some way to go.  You’ll be pruning and polishing this one for some time but it’ll be worth it.

AND ONE IN THE WASH

It’s out there!  Not literally in the washing machine hopefully, but out in the real world, landing on the desks (or email inboxes) of publishers or agents.  This is your first child who’s left home, and you’re using some tough love.  Whenever she comes home she’s getting booted out again until she comes back holding that contract!  But you don’t worry too much about her.  You’re too busy with your one on and one off.  Hopefully she’ll make it, but if she doesn’t, there’s even better to come.

Why not try my theory of productivity and see if it works for you?  If you’re immersed in a big writing project with nothing to send out, why not try entering a small competition or online writing opportunity to give you something to look forward to?

Keep writing!

Lou

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Redrafting Checklist

As promised, here are my notes on Jude Evans’ seminar ‘Redrafting Your Work’, given at the Winchester Writers’ Conference on 2nd July 2011.  Although it is aimed at children’s writers, I’m sure Jude’s advice would be useful to anybody looking to improve their first draft.

I have also typed the notes up as a tickable checklist, so if you would like to print this off (and tinker with it to suit you) please download as a Word document by clicking on the link below.

DOWNLOAD REDRAFTING CHECKLIST

REDRAFTING YOUR WORK

(notes from Jude Evans’ seminar at Winchester Writers’ Conference 2 July 2011)

Put away your book for 2 weeks!  Now re-read.

FIRST REACTIONS
Does the mood and atmosphere come through strongly?
Are the characters convincing?
Does the writing flow?
What are the best bits?

Read again, this time with your red editing pen!  Be objective and break down the prose to look at it from different angles.

PLOT
Draw out a diagram/timeline of your plot and look at the narrative pace, the highs and the lows.
Is your plot watertight and logical?

OPENING
Does it compel the reader to continue?  What is the hook?
What can the reader identify with?
What makes it special?
Is it immediate?  Will the reader feel dropped in to the scene?
Use economy – don’t weigh down with explanation.

ENDING
Will it make the reader remember the book?
Does it make the reader feel the way you planned, eg inspired/shocked?
Use economy – don’t weigh down with tying up loose ends.
Does the resolution work?
Imagine a scene as a film – have you described enough to make it real?  If not consider adding movement or detail to bring it to life.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT
Research your market – look in Amazon, bookshops and libraries.
What are people talking about online, eg forums, mumsnet?
What is your strength?
Will your book sit well in publishers’ lists?  (If not, is it special enough to make it even though it’s different?)

WHAT IS YOUR BOOK ABOUT
Can you capture it in a few sentences?
Why would a child want to read it?
Is the message clear?

CHARACTERS
Are they memorable, individual and real?
Do they have quirks, attitude, humour?
Is their dialogue natural, eg own turns of phrase?
Do they behave true to character, not as slaves to the plot?

DESCRIPTION
Imagine a scene as a film – have you described enough to make it real?
Is the reader experiencing events as vividly as possible?
Is the description a high point, or dry and flat?
Are you showing, not telling?

STYLE/AUTHOR VOICE
Is it suitable for your audience?
Is it consistent?
Does it communicate what you planned?  (NB  Don’t worry about this when you are in the flow of writing – think about style and tone afterwards.)

PACE
Have you leapt straight into the story?  Are the hooks early enough?
Is there enough action or intensity?

SETTING/CONTEXT
Do you make clear the time of day/year?
…the country or place you are in?
…the place in history?
Is the world believable and real?
Are you drip feeding or doing an information dump?

AUDIENCE
Is it suitable for the age group in its
…length
…structure
…tone
…topic
…interest level
…reading level?
What makes it appeal?
Have you immersed yourself in their culture?

READ
Are you reading and analysing the work of others in your field?

CUTTING
Cut out anything that doesn’t contribute to the plot.
Are any characters or scenes taking the reader down a cul-de-sac?

BE OBJECTIVE
Read it aloud.
Discuss the plot with someone.  Can you describe it clearly?
Write yourself an editor’s review letter.
Write a synopsis – it acts as a mirror to your plot.
Get feedback on the synopsis from a friend – does it appeal?
Write a blurb.

Put the manuscript aside for 2 weeks.

Repeat until your book is the best it can be!

Keeping your mojo!

Did you know that the word mojo originally meant a charm or spell?  These days it is used to define a sort of self confidence or self belief, as in, ‘I’ve lost my mojo!’ or alternatively,  ‘I’ve got my mojo back!’

I did indeed ‘get my mojo back’ recently after hearing from an editor who is going to read one of my books.  Only read, not publish, nothing promised at all, but it was enough to put me back on my writing track.  I have to admit I’ve been neglecting things recently.  I know I’m only letting myself down, but I’ve been making excuses not to write, and that’s not like me at all.  Things have been busy and stressful, and somehow I forgot that writing actually makes me feel better.  If I make time to write I feel less stressed, not more.  I’m doing something that really fulfills me.

But we can’t rely on others to keep our mojo up.  We have to motivate ourselves.  It’s especially hard when you receive a rejection from a company you thought your work was perfect for, or when you check the results of a competition you were sure you’d do well in and fail to find your name.  So what can you do to keep that optimism high and your writing full of energy and enthusiasm?  Here’s a few tips.  I will try to follow them myself too.  Let’s see how we get on.

  • Plan a writing routine.  Try to do a little each day if you can, even if it’s only one sentence.  It sounds silly, but if you can do one sentence you can go to bed thinking, ‘I did some writing today.’
  • Think of yourself as a writer.  Join a forum.  Do some research.  Buy yourself some fancy stationery.  Stroke it if you like!
  • If you haven’t already done so, make a mockup of the book you are working on.  Make a cover by wrapping an old book in paper.  Design the front and write a brilliant blurb on the back.  Make up some outrageous recommendations.  Then try to write the book that lives up to your claims.
  • Make a long term plan.  By Christmas you will have finished the first draft.  By Easter you will have done the first edit.  By next Christmas you will have submitted to agents or publishers.  Now divide up those deadlines into smaller ones.  Finish chapter.  Work out plot problem.  Write the tasks into your diary or calendar like any other task.
  • Take part in a motivational exercise such as National Novel Writing Month (find it at nanowrimo.org).  Or join a writer’s circle.  You can find these online if you can’t get out or are nervous about joining a physical group.  Look in yahoo groups.
  • Pick a competition or event to launch or showcase your work.  The Winchester Writers’ Conference in July allows you to meet up with editors and agents and show them your work.  The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition closing in October is a great opportunity for debut writers.
  • Remember that writing makes you happy.

Good luck and hold on tight to that mojo!

Notes from Winchester Writers’ Conference 2010 – Plotting: Literature’s Problem Child by Robert Goddard

Robert Goddard has published over 21 densely plotted thrillers, and I was eager to hear his tips on a subject I struggle with. The following bullet points are notes I took down while he was speaking which I hope may be useful to anyone else who wants to find out more about his plotting techniques. The main point I took away is that you have the find the method that suits you most; earlier Terry Pratchett said that in terms of plots he had an idea of where he wanted to go and let the writing take him; he shied away from analysing the process in case in doing so he destroyed it somehow! This in contrast to Robert Goddard who methodically plots each book – the hard part – and then simply fills in the details. Whether this is due to character, talents, personal preference or simply genre I don’t know – what I do know is that when it comes to plotting I need all the help I can get, and I got plenty at the Winchester Conference!

  • Plot is life – the world is full of plots.  However varied and bizarre your plots are, you will never be able to rival the variety and baroquery of real life!
  • It is easy to start a novel with an intriguing beginning, but not so easy to come up with a satisfying ending
  • Keep a chronological record – don’t lose track of the days of the week!  What season is it?  What time of day?  The atmosphere will feed into the story.
  • Murder is the most common crime to write about as it is one most people can understand, and also the one an ordinary person is more likely to get involved in.
  • The mobile phone has been a huge boon to writers as material for plots is literally shouted at you in the street!
  • So how do you turn it all into stories?  Where do you want to begin and end?  Choose an entry point (not the beginning) and a character (for thrillers, usually an innocent party who doesn’t understand what’s going on).
  • The person who solves the crime should be someone who has a personal stake in the outcome, not just a detective who comes and goes.
  • Spend time structuring the story.  Plot out biographies of characters, even minor ones.  Minor characters should have as much potential to surprise and affect events as majors.  Be consistent with their actions.
  • Don’t be afraid of not writing – you may spend months planning and jotting things down.
  • When you finally come to write you do not need to make anything else up – just watch your characters react to the events you have given them.
  • You really have to enjoy the process of plotting.  It’s like writing a bus timetable.  (NB I can’t remember what Robert Goddard meant when he said this, but hopefully it will mean something to someone!  Perhaps he meant it could be dull to put together but ultimately it gets you where you want to go!)
  • Masters of plot include Wilkie Collins, John Fowles, Donna Tartt and Michael Dibdin.
  • Writing should be fun!  Otherwise it’s just hard work.

Robert Goddard obviously really enjoys writing and it was great to hear him speak so passionately and demystify what, for some, can be a difficult process.