Monday, 28 March 2016

Writing for beginners (16)

Planning Your Novel (Pt 2)

Following on from the previous post, other aspects of planning your novel might fall under the rather pedestrian heading of ‘product research’.

Target market. If you don’t know yours, an agent or publisher might not, either. Having a clear audience in mind will help you during the writing process, and later, when pitching it.
What’s the competition? What work might it be compared to, and where might it 'fit'?
Chapter length. The fashion is now for shorter chapters, useful for increasing tension and making for a faster pace of narrative. Again, check the competition.
Word count. Has it got the legs to be a book, or is it merely a short story with lofty pretensions? LocationIf it’s a real place, get to know it and get it right. If made up, it can help to ‘borrow’ a mix of genuine locations and scenery to add realistic texture and colour.
Setting. Contemporary, historical or future? The detail must be convincing, as the backdrop descriptions serve to identify time, place and atmosphere.
Viewpoint. First-person viewpoint allows only a single point of view - you are in your storyteller’s mind all the way - whereas using the third-person allows other viewpoints and perspectives, giving a broader scope. Some books have both, alternating between the two, but this needs treating with skill to avoid confusing the reader.
Character names. Ideally, these should match the period, location and even the age or class of the characters. A mismatch can cause the reader to stumble, chipping away at their enjoyment.

Other points which might impact on your writing:
The title. Has it been used before (recently), and could yours cause confusion to the reader/buyer? An impulsive click on an online site can be an easy mistake for a reader if two similar titles are close together, and disappointing for the author, for whom every sale counts in numbers and royalties. An additional reason for having a title you like is because it allows you to feel that this is yours and nobody else’s. Try getting passionate about ‘My Next Book’. Doesn’t quite work, does it?
Series or stand-alone. What if, heavens to Betsy, an interested publisher asks for a second book with the same characters? Readers and publishers love series, and for you this can lead to follow-up sales and the likelihood of a prolonged career. It would also involve some fundamental decisions about your writing output and forward planning, as a series calls for longevity of characters and an ever-growing biography – as well as plans for their future. And producing a number of stand-alones requires a constant supply of fresh ideas, each having to be constructed from new. It has been said that a succession of individual novels is like a bus journey; the vehicle stays the same but the passengers must change.
Direction and outcome. Ultimately, this is about where your story – and the readers – are going.
You have to decide:
Is the journey emotional, physical or psychological – and where will it take them?
How? Will it be through action, drama or trial and tribulation?
Who is involved? (The good, the bad and the in-betweens).
What obstacles will they meet along the way? High points: love, danger, thrills. Low points: loss, uncertainty and disappointment.
In most stories, the main characters have to change in some way. Something must happen to them, so that the reader can follow their development.
Research. Becoming bogged down in the detail is a real danger, but in order to get things right, you have to consider all avenues and how far you want to go. (At least with an excess of research, you might end up with enough material for another book!)
Internet. Fast, vast and efficient, but too much late-night on-screen activity can lead to eye strain, pale skin and a tendency for neighbours to view you with suspicion.
Bookshops. Whether testing the market by studying similar books or gathering background information, getting close to the look and smell of the market place is a great motivator – you just can’t wait to be part of it.
Visiting real places. Much more fun – and healthier – but time-consuming.
Newspapers/archives. If your book is fact-based, or you need historical detail, you might need to consult facilities like the British Library archives in Colindale, north London.
Real People. If you know anyone with expertise or knowledge useful to your novel, it is worth plumbing this valuable resource. It’s always a surprise to find just how much people love talking about their jobs and experiences.
How and When. Do you research before you start writing, as you go, or after the first draft? The plain answer is, whichever suits you best. Deciding on the how and when before you begin will help you make the best use of your time and resources.
All that’s left now is to decide when to begin the actual writing - now or later?

I jest. There’s never a later.

Start now.

·       Think about the ‘look’ of your book and its physical characteristics.
·       Plan the research as well as the story. One will undoubtedly impact on the other.
·       Consider future writing plans and how the current project might affect them.
·       If you have a clear idea about your book, it will make the writing so much easier.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Book review - 'A Dying Breed' - Peter Hanington

When I'm in what my wife calls 'full book mode' (usually anywhere from 20,000 words on), it's rare for me to read books by other thriller authors, as I worry about subliminally taking on another 'voice', which might affect my own writing.

However, since I also review books, it's not something I can escape entirely. It doesn't happen very often, but some books can affect my work in another way - my habit of spending a few minutes late at night making notes for scene drafts, to give myself a head start for the following day's work.

One such title came my way last week, and pretty much put paid to any of my late night scribblings, it was so good.

'A Dying Breed' is a thriller by former BBC Radio 4 member Peter Hanington (Two Roads publishing), and my full review can be read on the Shots Magazine website right here.

If you like John Le Carré or Frederick Forsyth, you will definitely like this one.


On the subject of thrillers, permit me a reminder that my own latest Marc 'Watchman' Portman spy thriller, 'HARD COVER'  is out on the 31st March in hardback (July 1 outside the UK).

See top right for cover detail.

Signed copies are available from Goldsboro Books - who also ship worldwide if you just can't wait.

Otherwise, all the usual places.


Sunday, 6 March 2016

My Latest articles in Writing Magazine

The April issue of Writing Magazine includes my 'Beginners' page, this month's title being 'Critique Your Way to Better Writing'.

The usual advice for would-be writers is to read, read and read. That way you can see what published authors are doing and get a sense of what the market wants.

More than that, though, you can see how authors do it by analysing their use of writing style, characters, beginnings and endings, grammar and so much more.

This doesn't mean you have to copy them, but you can certainly emulate the way they put a story together. And the secret here is to critique a book rather than being a critic. By that I mean you can analyse the strengths of a book and the weaknesses, and learn from them.


The New Author Profile this month is Ayisha Malik, whose debut 'Sofia Khan is not obliged' came out in January via Bonnier imprint Twenty7Books.

Described as 'a heartwarming romantic comedy', the theme of the book is about a London-based hijabi (a woman who wears the Islamic head-covering or scarf), who has sworn off dating men... then is asked by her boss to write a Muslim dating book.