05 July 2018

How to prepare your application material for a Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course

Writing your novel
by Anna Davis Our Courses, Writing Tips

All of our longer creative writing courses, in London or online (whether 3 or 6 months), have a selective applications process. When the closing date for the course arrives, the CBC team sit down to read everything we’ve received and select the 15 we consider to be the strongest from the applications received. We look closely at both the ideas for the novels-in-progress and the quality of the writing. We don’t expect your work to be of polished, publishable standard – these are works-in-progress, after all, and some of them are at a very early moment of the writing process. But we do want to find work that we think has potential. For each course we ask you to send in a one page synopsis for the novel you want to work on with us, plus your opening – up to 3,000 words (all sent in through our website with your completed application form). Here are some tips to help you make sure that your application stands out …

TITLE YOUR NOVEL IN PROGRESS: The title will be the first thing the CBC team sees of your work and first impressions are important. A great title can immediately make us sit up. Ideally your title should be memorable – and it should fit the genre you’re writing in. Even if you love a particular title, it’s not going to work well for your book if it’s misleading. However, if you don’t have the right title for your novel at the time of sending your application, it’s fine to just include a working title – and we would rather see a title you’re not quite happy with than none at all.

WRITE A ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS: We know it’s really hard to write a good synopsis – particularly if you’re still at an early stage of the writing and don’t know the full twists and turns of your plot just yet. We don’t expect your one-page synopsis to be in final form, and we fully expect that it will change dramatically across the course (why would you be doing the course if you weren’t open to evolving your novel substantially, after all?). But it really does help us to make our selection if we can get some idea of where your novel is heading. Some key points:

  • Put your (working) title at the top.
  • Next put 1-2 lines which gives us your pitch – or put another way, the line which poses the question asked by your novel or tells us what is at its heart.
  • Then set out your whole story in a brief and readable way. Don’t get bogged down with too much detail (these details will change anyway) and don’t mention lots of character names. We need the key points of your plot.

I’ve written a much more complete blog on how to write a synopsis – check it out here for more advice.

TIGHTEN UP YOUR OPENING: We ask you to submit your opening 3,000 words (We’re like any other readers – we like to start at the beginning!). You need to make sure your first 3,000 words really sets out your story.

  • You need a great first page. Make sure it introduces a character, tells us where and when your story is happening, and shows us straight away what genre we’re in.
  • Avoid clichés such as a person waking up in the morning or staggering about with a hangover on that first page.
  • Do give us something intriguing which gets your story going. Action doesn’t have to be big and explosive. We just need something striking or unusual or mysterious – something that makes us want to know more … A teenage girl in school uniform follows her friends off the bus towards the school gate, but then turns at the last minute, unnoticed by them and goes rapidly away down the street … A man sits by a hospital bed where a woman – maybe his wife – is clearly dying, but he is smiling broadly. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s often the unexpected or the contradictory that intrigues readers and gets them wanting to read on to find answers.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to wax lyrical with lots of showy language and super-long sentences. And don’t start by wiffling about the weather.
  • Don’t waste your 3,000 words by setting up all your main characters one by one, telling us all about their personalities and giving us their back-stories before you actually start the story. Move your plot forward from the off and show us your characters as they enter the action.

FORMAT YOUR WORK PROPERLY: This may sound petty, but it comes back to the idea that first impressions count. When you’re reading lots of applications it makes a massive difference when the work looks clean, professional and readable.

Key points:

  • Use an unfussy font – not too big, not too small (Times New Roman 12 point will do just fine).
  • 1.5 or double spacing between your lines.
  • Set the work out correctly, the way you’d see it on the page of a published book – ie, paragraphs indented (rather than with spaces between them), dialogue properly formatted etc.
  • Number your pages and put your name on them.

PROOFREAD: It’s a good idea to read your work aloud to yourself to make sure it’s flowing well. And be sure to check spelling and grammar before you send it off – if your work is riddled with typos it looks careless.

Selective entry courses currently open for applications: 

6-month Novel-Writing Course in London with Simon Wroe

The Marian Keyes Novel-Writing Scholarship for a place on our 6-month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell 

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction Online with Catherine Johnson  (scholarship place available)

We can’t wait to read your applications …

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Anna Davis, Curtis Brown Creative Managing Director
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Starting to Write Your Novel

12 Sep – 30 Oct
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Anna Davis, Curtis Brown Creative Managing Director
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Write to the End of Your Novel

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Edit & Pitch Your Novel

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Sarah McIntyre
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Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book

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