This week we’re very lucky to have Sue Moorcroft Sunday Times and international bestselling author send us a writing tip. Sue is worth reading, she has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle, won the Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary; and she’s been nominated for several other awards, including a RoNA.
A writer of short stories, serials, columns and writing ‘how to’, Sue’s courses have appeared all over the world!
Her current release is Let it Snow, in which Lily the heroine searches for her half-brothers. Lily’s quest takes her from the frosty cottages of Middledip village to the snowy mountains of Switzerland. The ebook is out now with the paperback and audio available on the 14th November 2019
- A tip from Sue Moorcroft
You’ve written a story, a good one. You’ve created a high-stakes conflict to hurl at your central character and had her or him solve it via a pivotal moment. Your setting’s vivid; your characters jump from the page; you’ve spoken your dialogue aloud. There’s no overuse of adverbs, repetition, passive or loose sentences. Your metaphors and similes are poetry.
And yet you’re not satisfied.
Where do you look for that extra ingredient to catch the eye of an editor or judge?
How about a specific angle in your structure? An easy example of this is the ‘epistolary form’, which means a story told in the form of correspondence. For years – centuries, I suppose – it often meant letters but now we’re equally likely to see email or other electronic communication. For the purpose of this post I’m going to use the word ‘message’.
Maybe it’s because we’re taught not to read the messages of others that reading one within a story can be so intriguing? You can tell an entire story in the form of messages or just introduce one at the right moment.
We tend to write (text/message/e-mail) in our own voice or some version of it. You can use this fact to create a strong impression of the character responsible. This can be especially useful if you want to bring out the voice of a character who has no viewpoint and little or no dialogue.
A teenager’s text or WhatsApp:
hope u & dad r ok. thx 4 sending my course work can’t believe I forgot it lol.
A solicitor’s letter:
Dear Mrs Bell
I am writing to update you on …
A love letter:
Hey, sexy buns …
A threatening note:
Some people should know when to shut up …
Everyone knows you’re …
Messages can be a brilliant way of getting information over to readers without the dreaded ‘infodump’. If you’re writing about a character with an unusual medical condition, creating a message board for the sufferers in your story provides an accessible way to get background detail across.
Big Bob: What I find the hardest to deal with is the shakes from the meds. Anyone else get this?
Little Ted: It’s a stress when you’re trying to talk to a girl, isn’t it? I spend a lot of time with my hands jammed in my pockets.
This personalises the condition you’re trying to convey and prevents your story plunging into passages that sound like a medical text book.
Here are a few ideas for utilising written communications in fiction. Just add imagination:
o Social media posts
o Diary entries
o Log book entries
o Reports (medical/school/work/prison)
o Sticky notes
o Blogs/blog comments
o Newspaper/magazine articles
o Excerpts from books
o Songs or poems
Note: It’s important to be aware that it may not possible to use lyrics from songs or excerpts from books without gaining permission from the rights holder. Check out the relevant copyright law, especially if the author is alive or died less than seventy years ago. Or write your own!
“Booksellers are Pragmatists,” says Crispin Drummond, proprietor of P&G Wells independent booksellers in Winchester, “not Romanticists.”
P&G Wells have been in the business of selling books for over 200 years. Crispin was sold the shop on College Street after one too many glasses of wine. His only credentials — he liked to read. A year of learning on the job followed. He learned that the horror stories are true; there are too many books, chain-stores are closing and yes, authors are getting a bad deal from publishers.
The bookseller is firmly on the side of the customer and P&G Wells’ first policy is to give thoughtful customers a wide choice. So, when looking at new titles, deciding what to stock, he considers the customer and listens to their wavelength. The bookseller will think on over 50,000 titles, of those they will stock roughly 8,000. For a pragmatist, choosing those titles is blissfully free of the sentimentalities suffered by the romanticist. Of course, he doesn’t do “blissfully”.
“The average British reader only buys 3 books a year.” Crispin reports, “5 at most.”
The bookseller’s customers will not be swayed by the Best Seller label, they can get those anywhere. It is the fresh books that sell. P&G Wells supports a far larger number of authors than any of the chain stores, regardless of who publishes them.
To get your book on the P&G Wells customers’ shelves, it must be well-written, it needs to have something new, bring something special to the shelf. The customers would not forgive the bookseller for offering them something that was run-of-the-mill. They do not buy the same-old, same-old.
“Obviously, the booksellers’ best time of the year is Christmas.” Crispin told the members and guests gathered, “When the ideal customer is the one who wants to buy presents for every member of their family. And P&G Wells has just the book for each of them.”
Crispin is the Hampshire Writers’ Society treasurer. He is the bookseller in the foyer at every Tuesday night meeting.
Report by Lisa Nightingale
“A thriller writer needs to gain the trust of his reader.” E.M. Davey informs the gathered guests and members of the Hampshire Writers’ Society. With this in mind, he seeks out genuine ancient text, quotes and voices from those who were there, actually on site at the time to use in his conspiracy thrillers.
No stranger to the media, Ed decided on the use of the pseudonym E.M Davey, after being confused one too many times with Ed Davey MP. His day-job is in investigative journalism, harbouring a stint in undercover filming with a passion for travel and he uses it all to influence his thrillers. He grins when he points out that his job is exciting and a lot of fun. If the anecdotes he regaled us all with are anything to go by, his novels will be full of fascinating characters, beautiful settings and bustling cities.
“There’s something about that world that attracts absolute nutters!” he assures us.
It was the British Museum that captured his interest in history and he went on to study it at University. That was 15 years ago and he confesses to still uncovering ancient unknown civilisations. Clearly, he remains fascinated.
After pin-pointing the idea that will spark a novel, Ed totally immerses himself in his subject. He reads up extensively on it, attends exhibitions about it, watches documentaries on it and visits the setting. Seeing himself as a magpie, collecting snippets of information that will interest people, he’s never without his diary and now has a shelf of colourful, one-off, first account records for the 60 or so settings that he has visited.
“Find your Investigator’s Friend.” he advises.
Ed’s was invaluable when after researching in China he arrived home to find he’d been so blown away by the setting, he hadn’t taken any notes and for a writer so bullet pointed as E.M. Davey that wasn’t good.
“Its like being a bad, tabloid journalist, taking a quote and blowing it out of context.” he says.
A knowledge of the law is handy, although a writer, no matter how absorbed in their subject should have a care for the humanity in people. Those who have only recently passed-away may have family trusts set up.
There’s no right way to writing a novel, he tells us. In fact, Ed’s wife writes in the exact opposite way to his organised, chronological plotting, arcing, drafting and editing.
Ed’s system is to equip himself with a large Black and Red book which he then divides into colour coded sections in which to file his research. When the book is full, he creates a word document for each part and transfers all the information.
He then makes around 50 bullet points and begins dropping bits and pieces of story, character, setting in between these until an unashamedly large first draft is formed. A hard edit is then embarked upon, followed by 2 or 3 more until the final edit is down to roughly 80,000 words.
Here, Ed imparts a piece of advice that he was given when concerned that his books were boring. “Remember, none of your readers have read any of your book before. So, it is bound to seem boring to you; especially after 2 or 3 hundred reads.”
Report by Lisa Nightingale