Sarah Pinborough reveals her top tips!
There are two things to bear in mind when starting to write fiction, and it makes no difference if you're 13 or 30 when you pick up your pen, these two things stay the same.
Firstly, don't be fooled. It's hard work. There is no magic muse that makes the words just flow out in a perfect stream of plot and characters that land merrily on your page with no effort. I don't even wish there was. Okay, I lie, some days I wish there was, but part of the satisfaction of writing is that it isn't always easy. That goes for most things in life. The harder you work at something, the better you feel when it's done. But you know that already. There are no shortcuts. C'est la vie.
Secondly, despite the hard work, there is no better feeling (for a writer, at any rate) than having made up people and places and events in your head and brought them to life on paper for other people to enjoy. It's brilliant. Readers and writers get to live a thousand lives through stories. The real and the unreal blur, and sometimes, when I see a place in London that I've written about, the fictional version of it is more real to me than the real one. Even when I moan and grumble, I still know, deep down, that there is no other job I'd rather do in the world than make shit up for a living. For all the hard work, the insecurity and often, the rejection, it's a great great feeling when you see your story in print.
So, with those two things in mind, here's a bullet point list of things I'd suggest to help you on your way:
1 – Read, read, read. If you don't read fiction, odds are on, you're not going to write very good fiction. If you're not a reader when you're young then maybe you like the idea of being a writer better than the reality of it. Go become a doctor. Or an estate agent. Anything else. Reading not only allows you to escape the world for a while, it will give you ideas on story structure, different types of narrative (first person or third etc) and will let you figure out what kind of genre you should write. If you read a lot of horror novels and never romance, then I'd advise starting out with a horror story not a romance one!
2 – Plan. At least know where your story starts and where it ends. You can figure out the middle as you go along, but it's always good to have an ending to work towards. It'll help you to get less lost as you go. (And we've ALL got lost in the middle of a story at times). Remember, you can change your ending. It's not set in stone and it's your story. But if you have a rough idea of where you're headed it'll make getting there a LOT easier.
3 – Characters are key. There's no point in having a really exciting plot if your characters are lifeless and dull. Your story should always be about a person. The events of your story should change your person (and it helps if the plot takes them very much out of their comfort zone) and by the end it should be clear that they've been on some kind of inner journey, not just a physical one! That's what they call the character arc. They start in one place and end in another.
4 – Write every day. Seriously. Sometimes you are really not going to want to. I have plenty of days when I'd rather clean the toilet with my own toothbrush than write but I force myself to do it, and I always feel better afterward – in that regard, writing is a bit like exercise! Set aside a time – even if it's just 30 minutes – a day which is your writing time. Even if you only write 100 words a day those words will add up!
5 – Try to finish your story. Even if you decide you hate it, you'll learn plenty just by making it to the end. Only finished stories and books get read and published after all. Getting to the end is key, even if you throw it away afterwards. But you might find you've got a good skeleton to flesh out and change in a second draft. By the third draft you may even having something you think is good. Note – getting to the end isn't the same as being finished. Writing is also re-writing.
6 – And finally, be wary of advice given by old and jaded authors. What the hell do they know anyway? ;-)
Now, get scribbling!