Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Pages That Demand to be Turned

People frequently ask me how I go about writing a novel. How do I make a story readable? How do you create a page-turner? They make it sound like a request for a few simple rules that will solve all problems. I’m sure there are better people than me who could give them the answers they want, but it’s me they ask. So I try to explain my own way of writing in simple terms but, in truth, it’s far from simple.

How many times have you started reading a novel but never finished it? I suspect most of us have, at some time, picked up a book with an interesting front cover and a tantalising blurb, only to find that the story doesn’t live up to expectations. It’s a bit like buying a cake that looks mouth-wateringly delicious while it sits on the deli counter, but when you get it home it actually it tastes rather insipid. You don’t buy one of those cakes again, and you don’t return to the works of that author.

So, as a writer, how do you write a book that lives up to expectations? How do you keep your readers hanging on to every word? The answer to that question could be encompassed within a whole course of instruction. But there are some simple ideas I have learned from other writers. These are the solutions that are meaningful to me, but they are most definitely not the only ones. Far from it.

Firstly, you need a rattling good yarn. Think of the obvious best-sellers and you’ll be thinking of books with stories that capture the reader’s imagination. They might not even be well-written. I can think of several poorly- written books (no names given here in case I get sued) that sold well because they were rattling good yarns. So start by getting a story in your mind that begs to be told.

Secondly, you need to dream up some memorable characters. Who could forget Richard Sharpe? Or Mr Darcy? Now ask yourself; why do those characters stay in your mind long after you have finished reading the books? What was it about them that made them memorable characters? Part of the answer lies in them being out-of-the-ordinary. Part of it lies in their behaviour. And part lies in a certain magnetism that can never be totally explained. How do you explain the attraction of a rough rogue like Sharpe who can kill and steal without a moment’s regret? How can you explain the attraction of an arrogant man like Mr Darcy?

Okay, you have your story and you have your characters. But that’s only the start. What you do next will determine how good your book will be. You must tell that story, fabricate the activities of those characters in such a way that the reader always wants to read on. And that is the most difficult bit of any writer’s task. The story must come alive, the characters must come alive and the pages must demand to be turned.

It’s as simple as that. Simple? Oh dear, no.

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