01 December 2015

#cbctips Collected – Anna Davis

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by Leonora Craig Cohen Events, Writing Tips

As part of Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh’s recent #DiscoveryDay Online – a Twitter based event for new writers – we ran a ‘novel-writing advice’ session. Our Director Anna Davis, plus published alumni Antonia Honeywell and Kate Hamer, took over the @cbcreative Twitter account to tweet some invaluable #CBCTips for writers. Here we’ve collected Anna’s top Twitter tips:

Opening
-Make sure your first page asks a question which the reader wants answered. Every novel is a mystery story!
-Don’t start your novel with someone waking up in the morning – about 60% of our applicants start that way.
-Don’t open a novel with a character’s hangover, or a bit of bland scene setting. So, so dull.
-The sooner conflict happens, the better. Conflict = drama = story = gripped readers!
-Get the action going quickly, BUT remember it’s not all about making things big and explosive. Subtle can be dramatic too.

Planning
-What is the central question of your novel? If people want to know the answer they will read on.
-When choosing whether to write in 3rd person, 1st person etc, think about your whole story and whose head it needs to come from.
-Writing a novel without any form of plan is like driving a car without knowing where you’re going.
-High concept ideas are great, but give yourself the freedom to play – you can always cut material later.

Central Characters
-Don’t spend ages introducing characters with their potted life stories before you make things happen to them.
-Central characters don’t have to be warm and likeable – but they shouldn’t be boring!
-Central characters need to be intriguing. Don’t feature someone you wouldn’t want to be stuck on a train with.
-Anti-heroes all good so long as they don’t drive the reader away. Easier to do annoying people when they’re not the central character.

Pacing
-Writers get bogged down trying to move characters around. We don’t usually need the bus journey there, ringing the door bell etc.
-Scenes in novels rarely need to be longer than 1000-1500 words. If yours goes on pages & pages, do some cutting.
-Use the 2-line drop (big gap between paragraphs) to jump-cut. When your scene has done its key business, get the hell out.
-If you’re bored, the reader is probably bored too. Cut the scene and move on to a livelier bit.

Style & Tone
-If you write lots of pounding hearts, unable to breathe etc very early in novel, you leave yourself with nowhere left to go.
-Don’t be too SHOUTY. Less can be more. Lots of us write dramatic scenes in shouty ways – go back and calm them down in the edit.
-Things to avoid: Don’t have anyone ‘padding’ about. Don’t have an ‘azure’ or ‘inky-black’ or ‘cerulean blue’ sky. Or crunchy gravel.
-OK, so that last one is a bit idiosyncratic – but honestly, I read a lot of novels. Just skip those worn-out expressions.

Form and Format
-Very long paragraphs are very offputting. Nobody likes to be confronted with a massive block of uninterrupted text.
-Don’t underestimate the importance of the basics – good grammar & spelling, paragraphs indented, dialogue set out properly.
-Make your synopsis no more than 1 page – and make it nice to read. Not too many details or character names.

Ending and Editing
-Endings don’t have to be happy but they should be satisfying – don’t just trail away.
-The end is just the beginning. If you’re a real writer, take the rewriting stage seriously. Interrogate your material!
-“Brush it till it shines” – I heard that from Jake Arnott but it might have been Raymond Chandler or someone said it first.
-Print out your work and read it on paper with a pen in your hand. Don’t read it ONLY on screen.
-Read your work aloud – especially dialogue – to see how it sounds and check it flows properly.
-Don’t send your novel to an agent until it is finished and you’ve made it as good as you possibly can.

And finally …
-Get the most out of your writing course: Read tutors’ and visitors’ books, listen to criticism but find your own solutions.
-Read, read, read and make sure you read new stuff, not just classics or your faves. But don’t chase trends.
-All these rules are made to be broken.
– But when you break the rules, do it for a good reason. Know WHY you’re doing it
-Sometimes you may need to give up on a novel – but don’t give up on writing. Nothing is wasted.
-Writing can be hell but when it’s good it’s VERY good. Keep writing, interrogate your material, read loads and THINK lots.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

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