Peter James is the UK’s biggest thriller writer. With more than thirty books under his belt, which have been translated into thirty-seven languages and sold over 19 million copies, James has won countless awards, including the Best Crime Author of All Time, and has had a number of his books adapted for film, television and the stage. Suffice to say, it is not hyperbole to refer to James as one of the the most successful writers on the planet. “How has he done it?” we hear you cry. Well, luckily for you, Peter James was kind enough to provide some terrific advice to baby writers.
Image Via PeterJames.com
When asked ‘What is your advice to would-be thriller writers, or aspiring writers in general?’ James responded:
Characters. I think that there’s an inseparable trinity in any great thriller of character, research and plot. I put them in that order deliberately, because first and foremost, we read books to find out what happens to characters we meet and engage with from the first page. They don’t have to be ‘nice’ people, but they have to engage and fascinate us. You know, Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs is not a nice character but he engages.
I put research in second position because people who read are smart. I think when we read we don’t just want to read a great story, we read because we want to learn something about human nature and the world in which we live, and I think you can tell very fast if an author doesn’t know their subject, if an author’s writing about a lawyer but they’ve clearly never sat in a lawyer’s office, or they’re writing about a gun and they’ve never held one, or someone flying a plane and they’ve never sat at the controls of a cockpit, it’s apparent. It’s understanding what you’re writing about.
Plot is obviously important, but if you don’t care about the characters, and you don’t think the author’s done their research, the plot’s not going to matter because you’re not going to read on.
So in terms of the best tips I can give you, these are:
1. Create engaging characters.
2. Research every aspect of what you are going to write.
3. Know the ending that you want to get to – I find this enormously helpful – it may change as I approach it but it gives me a vanishing point on the horizon to aim at.
4. Think of a series of high points for your book – and make sure each one is bigger than the previous one.
5. Write something 6 days a week – it is crucial to get into a flow – find an amount that you can write each day, whether is is 200 words or 2000 words, and rigidly stick to them because that will get you into a rhythm.
6. And finally… Have fun! If you enjoy writing, that will come through in the pages!
It’s time for National Novel Writing Month, a hellish and delightful month-long exercise for writers of all skill levels and prior experience. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of fiction by the end of November, creating a bit more every day (1,667 words, to be exact). The outcome of NaNoWriMo is often a mix of joy and incredible frustration. Here are six pieces of serious advice from famous classic and contemporary authors to help get you through every step of the NaNoWriMo process.
Few authors ever write the proverbial ‘Great American Novel,’ but many believe that classic writer and humorist Mark Twain is one of these few. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn author advises: “get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” While you don’t need to, say, drop everything and move to London to write your WWII period piece, you should also know more about WWII than to say for sure it happened. Make sure you have insight into the small details of the places, times, and circumstances you address— even if you feel familiar with them already! Others may share your experiences but feel differently about them. You may also find that immersing yourself in the mood and tone of a topic can make your work more atmospheric.
If J.K. Rowling, international celebrity author of the Harry Potter series, needs to warm up… don’t feel bad about needing the same thing! She writes:
“You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is. It’s like learning an instrument, you’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot, ‘cause I wrote an awful lot before I wrote anything I was really happy with.”
First drafts are more than just mistakes to be rewritten— they’re actually a necessary part of the process. If you’re a new writer just starting out, every sentence you despise is just the next step towards a sentence that you love. The only way out of the self-hate spiral is through it!
5. Consider your words.
Image via independent.co.uk
So you’ve gotten to the most important part of writing your novel— writing it. Conveniently, this part is usually also the hardest. It’s a challenge to be objective about your own work, and while it’s easy to tell whether or not you’re meeting the word count, it can be substantially less easy to tell whether or not the words are what you hoped they would be.George Orwell, classic author of 1984and Animal Farm, has a series of blunt but helpfulquestions:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:
1. What am I trying to say?
2. What words will express it?
3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
And he will probably ask himself two more:
1. Could I put it more shortly?
2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
6. Finish the story.
Image Via pixabay.com
While the Internet is full of awesome writers’ resources, too much of a good thing can turn into a thing that distracts the absolute !@#$ out of you. The purpose of something like a character sheet isn’t to help you end up with a filled-out character sheet. The point is to end up with a complete character… who then lives inside a complete story. As John Green, celebrity author of heart-wrenching novels Looking for Alaskaand The Fault in Our Stars, so eloquently puts it: “go spit in the face of our inevitable obsolescence and finish your @#$&ng novel.” You can find this wisdom and the rest of his NaNoWriMo pep talk here for advice, inspiration, and blatant common sense.
One last piece of blatant common sense: always save your drafts!
It’s Labor Day weekend and you know what that means? Time off! And what does time off mean? Time to write! Yes, that right. Time to write. Not to time to sit looking at your laptop waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s time to actually do it. Here are ten quotes from authors to inspire you to really get down to business and use your time off wisely this Labor Day Weekend!
Language can never live up to life once and for all. Nor should it. Language can never “pin down” slavery, genocide, war. Nor should it yearn for the arrogance to be able to do so. Its force, its felicity is in its reach toward the ineffable. — Toni Morrison
Usually, I have a lot of acquaintance with the story before I start writing it. When I didn’t have regular time to give to writing, stories would just be working in my head for so long that when I started to write I was deep into them. — Alice Munro
I’ve read widely in the world’s literature, European, Asiatic, American … In other words, I cannot cut off and will not attempt to cut off what is my experience and what is afterall, the world’s experience. There is a great deal of intercommunication in the world. A lot of people tend to forget that. As long as I find the means of expression, a form of communication which does not alienate my immediate readership and I do not deliberately cram my work with foreign references to a point where the work is indigestible — these are faults which should never be permitted by any serious writer. — Wole Soyinka
Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution. — Michael Moorcock
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. — Anton Chekhov
Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too. — Sarah Waters
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. — Neil Gaiman
It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen