Sitting down in front of a computer (or a notepad) faced with a blank page is a very scary moment. Every new book starts this way, though – a germ of an idea that somehow has to turn into 80,000 to 100,000 words if you plan to write a full-length novel. I always think ‘it’s never going to happen – it will all be over in the first chapter!’ then when I’ve finished I find myself having to cut chunks out because my book is far too long.
There are things you can do to make it easier to start, though, and here are my top tips.
1.Think about your characters in some detail. Get to know them – what they look like, how they feel about each other and even about life in general. It is so important to the story. I usually start here, because defining each individual’s characteristics and even finding a picture that I think represents them starts to give me ideas about what they might do, and how their story might develop.
2.Consider their journey in life to where they are now – their history. Your characters will have a past, and it might become an important aspect of the book. Not only might this help with your plot, but if you make a note of important dates in their life, it will later prevent you from making mistakes. I keep all dates in a spreadsheet, and because I have a character that runs through all my books – Tom Douglas – it’s important that I know when he was born, when he married (and divorced) etc.
3.Where is the action going to take place? Again, I research this very thoroughly in an attempt to help the reader visualise each building, street, room, in the way that I do. I make sure I have pictures to refer to. It isn’t necessary to have pages of description, but you can build in a taste of where the action is taking place by describing what your character can see, hear or smell as he or she moves into a new location in the story.
4.Do your research! If you are writing crime fiction, it isn’t wise to assume that what you see on the television is accurate. I have an advisor who is an ex Detective Chief Inspector, and he is so very helpful. For example, I didn’t know – until I spoke to him – that an approach path is laid down to a crime scene so that no evidence is destroyed. On the television people seem to just randomly trample all over the place, so it pays to check your facts.
5.Read your final version out loud. This is SO important and I can’t stress it enough. Listen to yourself as you speak, and you will pick up all manner of stilted conversation, repeated – and even missed – words. It’s time consuming, and you think you know your manuscript well, but you will be amazed at the difference it will make.
Most of all enjoy yourself, because if you don’t enjoy writing your book you can be fairly certain that people won’t enjoy reading it. I don’t know why that is, but I definitely believe it to be true. Write because you love it, and imagine every action, every word spoken in your head, and fall in love with (or, in some cases, hate) your characters.
Rachel Abbott’s latest novel is The Sixth Window (Black Dot)