Thursday, July 08, 2010

Novel advice

A friend of mine has written a novel. It's his first - and he finished it, which is an achievement in its own right. Knowing that I have some experience with both writing and editing (I have edited novels for money) he asked if I would have a look at the first two chapters.

Like most beginning writers he was very nervous about the whole thing, and feeling vulnerable. Yup, been there. Anyway I thought I'd post my response to him here:

There were two things I had a problem with between your first and second chapter, although the first chapter is really a prologue. But they are related.

The ch.1 is not terribly interesting, it's all quite vague and in generalities, lots of "the greatest" this and "the best" that, plus the whole chapter is "telling the reader stuff" and "telling the reader stuff" and "telling the reader stuff". Way over the top. But ch.2 is very precise, it's about something happening to somebody.

Readers need someone to focus on and identify with, that's not possible in ch.1. To achieve that the reader has to become part of the creation process in the writing, you need to let them figure stuff out, let them wonder, make them think "what's going on?". Readers (viewers, whatever the medium) are not mere spectators (not even in music) - at least not if it's good. If it's good they join in. That's why ch.1 is tedious.

But look at ch.2, the reader knows nothing about what's going on. We're introduced to this character who is young and apparently a slave. And something's going on with something in his leg ... wow, weird, interesting, different. I immediately start thinking up possible scenarios about what's going on.

At least I would except...

Having read ch.1 and ch.2, I know the plot. It's obvious - okay I may not know the details, but I know the general trajectory. Ch.1 gives it all away.

It's good for you to know the backstory - in fact it's vital - but not the reader. The story needs unravel, ideally in an unexpected but logical way - the more unexpected (but still logical) the story is the better the reader will like it.

Anyway, now you've done that you need to read this:

I know it says screenwriting, but the stuff about novel writing starts halfway down.

And to any any other budding novel writers out there: No, I will not read it.


What's on the turntable? Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow" by Jethro Tull from "Broadsword and the Beast"


Sofluid said...

Some good advice there!

Adaddinsane said...

Well I thought I'd post the response, since I'm chuffed as a buttie* about it:

I spent until late last night (early am today!) correcting all chapters and I need fresh eyes.

Peculiar. Having read your comments, it was as if I was viewing the pages from a completely different angle when I started to re read. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

My work here is done.

* for my US readers, "chuffed as a buttie" means "as happy as a sandwich". Hope that makes it clear.