Thursday, 5 January 2017

Favourite books on How to Write

It's that time of year again. 2017 opens up and fresh starts are in the air. New beginnings. Hurrah! Ding-ding...silence please - as this happens to be the time in my schedule when I have to gear myself up to begin writing a NEW suspense thriller.

The first thing that happens when I consider starting a new book is terror sets in. I crumple inside with weedy thoughts of 'Er, how do I do it? What's that again?'  You'd think after having written five novels (with another for release later in the year), I'd know what I'm doing, wouldn't you? Far from it. I always face the same feeling of panic and ineptitude when I consider starting from scratch again. A blank page is only ever a blank page.

That's where experience kicks in. Experience tells me I've done it before, so I ask myself 'how did I do it, exactly?'

My first response if that I need to be 'ready' - and for me, being ready is about having a great initial idea, a hook for how a book will grab a reader. Then I need a sketch of a plot - not so much that I know every single twist and turn, but enough so I have a sense it would work. I map out plot points within a three-act structure on a time line and also as a list at this stage - but everything can be shifted around at any point. I also start to get a feel for who is involved. Whose story is it? Who will the narrator be? Will it be in the present or a mix of time-frames? Will there be just one point of view or more voices telling their own side of what happens? An unreliable narrator?

This is the point where I go back to some of the 'how to' books I've found useful in the past. I think, like many writers, I'm still looking for that magic formula, that road map of how to make a novel work! I know it doesn't really exist, but there are some rules and pointers out there and here are some of the books I use to help keep me on the straight and narrow (in no particular order):

Patricia Highsmith Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction
Stephen King On Writing
Louise Doughty A Novel in a Year (I read this years ago before I'd ever written a word of fiction and thought a novel in a year was 'outrageous', 'ridiculous', 'impossible' - then wrote one in a few months!)
James N Frey How to Write Damn Good Fiction
James Scott Bell Plot & Structure 
Orson Scott Card Characters &Viewpoint

Something else starts to happen when I know I'm ready to write. I find the novel starts 'writing itself' when my back is turned, doing other things. By that, I mean that bursts of dialogue come at me while I'm watching an unrelated film or break through my sleep at two o'clock in the morning... I have notebooks everywhere in the house so I can catch these will-o'-the-wisp snatches of conversations. They are important - they are the voices of the people in the story, they set the tone of the book and I need to grab them and keep them safe. I hold these in a pc file called 'scraps' until I know where they will fall in the narrative.

Today I will start sketching maps of the house where my main character lives and the area where the story takes place. And I've already got an opening sentence... 

Embarking on a new novel is like taking a huge breath, holding my nose and diving in. Here goes...

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   Inside the Whispers is the latest Psychological Thriller from AJ Waines 
(and FIRST in the new Dr Samantha Willerby Series)

(The first four novels can be read in any order)

  •  Over a Quarter of a Million books sold worldwide
  • Girl on a Train  a Number One Bestseller on Kindle in UK and Australia (2015 & 2016) 
  • The Evil Beneath Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' (UK Kindle charts)
  • Awarded Kindle KDP Top 10 'most-read Author' in UK (2016)
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