We reveal how to scribble your way to success...
Fancy taking the literary world by storm? Whilst there’s no single recipe for a fab novel, there are a few skills absolutely every fiction writer must possess if they want to hit the big time. The good news is that you can count them all on one hand!
1. How to craft compelling characters
If your readers don’t care about your characters, it’s a bit of a given that they won’t be invested in your action. Make your characters come alive by following the ‘four C’s’:
complexity, consistency, conflict and, erm...idiosyncrasies.
Complexity: One dimensional characters are the worst. Give them flaws as well as strengths. Even Dumbledore, one of the most zen wizards in the Harry Potter universe had his demons; his youthful pride leading to terrible tragedy.
Consistency: At the same time, your character’s actions need to be in keeping with their personality. To take the Dumbledore example, we know that the character has a very far-sighted nature, thinking about the greater good for humanity rather than the here-and-now. So his neglect of younger sister Ariana whilst forming grand plans with Grindelwald as a youth makes sense.
Conflict: This is pretty self-explanatory. Give your characters something to contend with!
Idiosyncrasies: It’s the little things that make a character memorable. All Doctor Who fans know and love the Eleventh Doctor’s bow-tie obsession, just like Star Wars’ Yoda is instantly recognisable for his topsy-turvy speech patterns. So get creative and make your characters stand out from the crowd!
2. How to show, not tell
Overloading your readers with info in the form of a summary is boring. Instead, trust in your readers’ ability to infer certain things from what goes on in your story. Really, it’s the difference between saying:
‘Harry Styles was really sad because his bandmate Louis had tragically been kidnapped’
‘Harry felt himself choking up. A salty tear fell onto the photo, blemishing Louis’ perfect face. No matter who took you, I will get you back. At any price, he thought.’
Quite the difference, eh?
3. How to create the element of surprise
It’s tough to get right - wowing your readers with a brilliant twist that doesn’t leave them scratching their heads in bewilderment. That’s why foreshadowing is so important; scattering little hints throughout your story before the big reveal.
Apologies for using Harry Potter yet again to hammer this home, but J.K. really is the master of this. SPOILER ALERT (for if you’ve been living on another planet all these years), there are tons of hints that Professor Quirrell is really a vessel for Voldemort, like Harry’s scar hurting when the teacher is around. We don’t notice this because Rowling distracts us with the red herring that Snape’s to blame. So, to keep your readers guessing, you’ve got to be sneaky!
4. How to master structure and grammar
For most authors, this isn’t the most the exciting part of the writing process. But like it or not, having a firm grasp on the nuts and bolts of writing is essential to good storytelling. So be vigilant –dig out that dictionary, think about the impact of various sentence lengths, and always use exclamation marks sparingly.
5. How to treat writing like a ‘real job’
If you’re serious about writing, you need to put in some hard graft. Of course, it’s not all blood, sweat and tears; and you should always write for enjoyment above all else. But own your craft –take your work seriously and keep ploughing on even when the going gets tough. If you’ve got the talent it’s a sure-fire way to success.
What do you think makes a good writer? Share your wisdom in the comments.