Find an idea that excites you. Or sit tight and let that idea find you. Don’t think you have to find a subject matter that’s popular at the moment. Agents and publishers are always looking for something new – or a familiar subject with a different twist.
Experiment with different genres. You might think you want to write romantic fiction but try out something new as well. Write a chapter of a suspense novel. Or an historical. Or a sci-fi. You might be surprised at what comes out of your head – even if you didn’t know it was there.
Play around with viewpoint. Write one chapter from one character’s point of view in the third person. Here is an example of some opening lines:
‘ As soon as she walked into the town and spotted the man sitting on a wall, Alma knew she needed to go home. Quickly. ‘
Now see what happens if you write it from the man’s point of view,
He knew that woman, thought John. He just couldn’t place her name.
Now write each one in the first person.
As soon as I walked into the town and saw the man sitting on the wall, I knew I had to go home. Quickly.
I know that woman. I just can’t place her name.
Which one do you prefer? There is no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of finding the one that you feel comfortable with. You can also mix and match. In MY HUSBAND’S WIFE I have two viewpoints. Alison tells her story in the first person and Carla tells hers, in alternate chapters in the third person. It moves the plot along and helps distinguish between the two women.
Give each one of your characters a problem to solve. If there is no problem, there is no story. Once the problem is overcome, you can lull the reader into a sense of security and then give the character another mountain to climb! It’s called ‘upping the anti’ and will keep the suspense going.
Don’t confuse your reader with too many characters. Ideally they need to like at least one of them and hope that person will come right in the end and be happy.
To help visualise your characters in your head, cut out pictures from magazines and newspapers. Stick them on a noticeboard and have it near you as you write. It can also give you ideas. Why is that man’s hair flopping over his right eye? Is it hiding a scar? How did he get that?
Limit your chapters to a readable length which allows the reader to get into the story, but also gives them a break. I aim for between 2,000 to 3,000 words. Short chapters can be very effective every now and then to make a point and signify a big change in the plot.
Use dialogue to push the plot along and reveal character traits. Here is an example.
Hi, ‘ said John looking down from the wall. ‘Haven’t I seen you before? Wait a minute. It’s coming to me. High school. 1982. Alma, isn’t it?
Now add an extra word to give a better picture of John.
‘Hi,’ said John smoothly.
Immediately we see a confident suave man, whom I don’t trust. Even though I’m not sure why yet!
Use magazine pictures and postcards to help you visualise the setting. I’ve currently got a big noticeboard next to me with pictures of the sea. Part of my next book is going to be set on the coast. Always include the senses: colours, smells, noises, texture and so on.
Write something every day. I know this isn’t easy. But it’s essential to keep the flow going. Make time by giving up something else. Even half an hour will add up as the months go by.
Increase your chances of getting published by networking with others. Join Twitter. Set up a Facebook page. Attend literary festivals where you can talk to agents and publishers face-to-face. Have an ‘elevator pitch’ ready to give them. This is a short resume of your plot that you can give someone if you’re standing next to them in an elevator. Here’s mine.
‘MY HUSBAND’S WIFE is about love, marriage, murder and prison.’
I also have another line. ‘An eye for any eye. A wife for a wife.’
Be careful who you show your novel to. Friends and family can either be too keen to please or too critical. Find someone you trust. Or didn’t tell anyone and send it straight to an agent.
Enter writing competitions. Don’t expect to win, but use it as an exercise to write to length. If you do win, it’s a bonus which you can then refer to in your cover letter to an agent.
Don’t be disheartened if you get a rejection. There are lots of bestselling authors who were turned down several times for acceptance. Re-read your work and see if you can improve it. Then send it off again.
Consider a writing course but make sure you choose a tutor who is published in the kind of subject/genre that you are interested in.
Finally, believe in yourself. Many authors find themselves to be ‘overnight’ successes after years of hard work.
Enjoy writing. There’s nothing like it!
Follow me on Twitter @janecorryauthor