A Writer’s Workbook

Before we start our prep sessions for NaNoWriMo we thought we’d let you in on a little secret.

This is a huge help when it comes to taking on NaNoWriMo, especially for the first time. It’s a really handy workbook that has pages and pages of prompts to get you thinking about your novel. We think if you’re doing the challenge and have a spare £12 you should definitely buy it. There’s a link to the Amazon page here, or it’s also available in a lot of book shops, such as Waterstones.

Look out for our first preparation session later this week, where we’ll be looking at ways to really get to grips with your novel.

National Novel Writing Month: An Introduction

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National Novel Writing Month is a writing challenge in which writers aim to write 50 000 words in a month (November). This equates to about 1667 words a day, which for most writers is between one and two hours of writing. If you’re not sure how long 50 000 words is, 100 000 is a pretty standard length for an adult novel, with 70 000 being about standard for a young adult novel.

NaNoWriMo is a great way to get writing. It gets you into a really good routine of writing every day, whether it’s in your work break or just before bed, and it also connects you with thousands of writers worldwide.

We know, it’s only September and NaNoWriMo doesn’t start for over a month, but there’s lots of planning and preparation to do. Being a month away means you only have one month of planning and preparing for what may well be the biggest writing challenge you’ve ever faced.

We think it’s important to plan, even if it’s only smallest bit, because otherwise what are you going to write every day? If your plan is just to do writing exercises daily that’s fine, but do you have a book of prompts to help you get going? Or maybe your plan is to write a book of short stories, do you have a theme you want to stick to or ideas that you already have for each one? Not having these things might mean that when it comes to writing you get stuck so just decide to leave it for another day. And then of course these leftover words build up until you’re left on the 29th with 20 000 words to write.

So are you up for the challenge? Follow our blog for writing advice and weekly preparation sessions, then you can sign up to the challenge on the official page here.

Great Opening Lines

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The Telegraph’s top 30 opening lines

Following on from last week’s post on how to write your first page, here is a link to the Telegraph’s 30 greatest opening lines in literature. It really is worth looking at them, to see whether you agree that they’re great or not and to think about why they made the list. They haven’t included my favourite opening line of all time though. Mine is from The War of the Worlds, written by HG Wells:

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

I love this opening so much. I love that straight away you know you’re reading science-fiction, you know the story is going to be about aliens and the voice comes across really strong to set the tone for the rest of the book. The idea of humans being studied without being known is introduced quickly, making the reader feel a little on edge, and I think that’s great. To me it’s a strong start to an even stronger novel, and it’s a standard I look for in opening lines when starting to read any new book.

Is there a book opening that you really love? Or do you disagree with any of the openings given in the Telegraph’s top 30? Let us know in the comments below.

Focusing on the First Page

The first page of your novel is by far the most important one, not only because it’s the first impression your readers will get of you, but also because it could secure you a publishing deal. I’ve met a lot of literary agents who say they read the first page of a manuscript sent to them and then decide from that whether to read the rest of the submission or reject it. It really is that important, and that’s why we’ve written this post to help you write the perfect opening.

Don’t overload

By the end of the first page we want to know where we are, who the protagonist is and if possible we also want a vague idea of what’s going on. Don’t try to put too much more into it because it might overwhelm the reader. If you want to really set the scene and pack the detail in then do it, but try to make sure you haven’t just written a long list of adjectives. The most important thing though is to keep your number of characters down to as little as possible. I’ve read a few books where there have been so many names on the first page that I’ve lost track of who’s who and had to go back and reread to get my head around it. Having to work so hard to understand the first page of a book is sure to make your readers put it back on the shelf

Make your first sentence unforgettable

The first sentence of your book sets the tone for the entire novel. Whether it’s speech, a description or an action, it needs to grasp your reader tightly and not let go. It’s up to you how you structure this sentence; it can be short or long, descriptive or direct, you just need to make it pop. I’ve known authors to spend hours on that one sentence, rewriting and editing endlessly to get it right, and in the end it’s worth it. Try writing a few different ones for your novel, and then give them to some friends or your family and get them to tell you which they think is best. And then edit it again until even you think it’s pretty damn good.

Make your protagonist stand out

Whether your protagonist is the hero we root for or the narrator we hate, you’ve got to make them interesting. There’s got to be something about them that makes the reader want to follow their story and learn more about their life. This first page is your chance to intrigue the reader. You shouldn’t reveal everything there is to know about this character yet, but give a little something to make them want to know the rest. Something as simple as a good voice or an unusual look can make a character really stand out in a story. If you’re having problems getting your protagonist right, take a look at this post on how to create a character.

So there’s our three top tips on writing the first page of your novel. Maybe you feel there’s something in your story that breaks one of these rules, and that’s fine. Just make sure you have a strong reason for it.

Have you written a first line that you need to test out? Post it in the comments below and see if our readers want to hear more.

Creating a Convincing Character

Without good characters a story won’t be interesting, and without an interesting story you won’t get readers. Imagine your favourite book, and then imagine it without your favourite character; it doesn’t work, does it? You have to have a developed and realistic character for your story to really stand out, and that’s what we’re here to help you with.

To write a good character that’s enticing and believable you need to know as much about them as you do about yourself. This includes knowing about their childhood, their first kiss, that time they broke their leg playing hockey, everything. Even if you’re writing about an eighty year old man you need to know all these things about his life so you can really get him on the page. It sounds like a lot of effort, and it is, but it’s definitely worth it and could be the difference between a publishing contract and a forgotten manuscript.

So how can you get to know your character so well? It can be quite enjoyable to make up a back story for your character, and we think a great way to do it is just by answering a few questions. We often use the questions below with writers who are struggling with their characterisation, and it really helps them to develop their characters. Try answering them for your protagonist, and then maybe have another go at answering them for your antagonist.

  1. Name
  2. Age
  3. Describe what your character looks like
  4. Education/occupation
  5. What’s your characters earliest memory?
  6. Describe your characters childhood
  7. Describe the relationship your character had with their parents and siblings as a child
  8. Describe the relationship your character has with their parents and siblings now
  9. What does the character want from life? What is their ambition?
  10. What personality flaw(s) does the character have? Remember, no one is perfect. Your character will have at least one flaw.
  11. What is their greatest fear? Was this fear caused by anything in particular?
  12. What are people’s first impressions of this character?
  13. Write about their first love
  14. Write about a particularly important moment in your characters life. This can be anything, from a day at school to getting married.
  15. Write about a time when your character was unhappy
  16. Write about a time when your character was at their happiest

These questions could carry on forever, and the more you do the better your character will be when you get them on the page. Do this at the start whilst planning your novel, and then if you feel like you’re losing touch whilst writing you can look back at your answers or write more about different parts of your characters life.

Do you have anything else you like to know about your character before writing? Let us know what you write about in the comments below.