Creative writing: How to write a novel by Richard Skinner


02 August 2018
Richard-Skinner-by-Christian-Patracchini-61070.png Richard Skinner by Christian Patracchini
Richard Skinner, one of the UK's leading creative writing teachers, offers his top ten tips
Creative writing: How to write a novel by Richard Skinner Images


Richard Skinner, one of the UK's leading creative writing teachers, offers his top ten tips

1) Write from your stomach, not your head or heart.

Countless times, I’ve seen new writers start writing far too early. When you think you have a good idea for a novel, wait. Think it through, turn it over in your mind, let it sink in. You can be too much in love with an idea, or overthink it—only start writing when you have a good gut instinct about it.

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2) The ‘necessity’ of writing comes before its beauty.

Good writing is all about the simple ABCs of storytelling. What do you need to write in order to nail this scene? If you wake up every day convinced you are going to write a beautiful novel, you most probably won’t. Your novel’s beauty is up to others; your job is to stick to what you need to do in order to tell your story.

3) Try to write a story you think no one will publish.

Yes, sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it, but if you’re writing for the marketplace, your book will strike the reader as hollow and cynical. Write the book that you want to write, out of sheer love, not because you want to make lots of money.

4) Plotting is finding the desire lines through your story.

Try to find the simplest way of telling your story, the path of least resisitance. It’s like standing in a stream—you can feel the current, can’t you? You can see ahead of you how the stream runs. Go with the flow.

5) Twist your plot like a screw, don’t hammer it like a nail.

New writers often start writing too early and then they run out of steam at 40-50 pages. They ‘front-end’ the whole story into those pages. They haven’t yet learned that a plot needs to be sustained and developed over a much longer period of time. Don’t play your cards too quickly; keep them close to your chest for as long as possible.

6) If a character wants to become rich, rob them first.

As an author, you are in the unique, paradoxical position of wanting your characters to succeed but also needing to stop them from achieving their aims too easily. Characters must pay some kind of price for what they desire and that cost is our investment in their story.

7) Character is the congruence of features that helps to facilitate plot.

Aristotle said that ‘there is no such thing as character other than habitual action’. Character is active, dynamic—a verb. Character is ‘doing’.

8) Dialogue is more like two monologues that only sometimes connect.

Having your characters talk ‘evenly’ back and forth to each other, like a game of ping pong, can lead to dreary, two-dimensional dialogue, but having them talking ‘at odds’ with each other, addressing their own issues instead of the other person’s, is a brilliant way of revealing character and showing the conflict within and between them.

9) Don’t use adverbs.

As Elmore Leonard said, ‘Adverbs are a mortal sin.’

10)  Keep going!

You will only know how you need to edit your book once you’ve finished a draft. There’s no point editing until you’ve finished, so keep going.

Writing a Novel: Bring Your Ideas To Life The Faber Academy Way by Richard Skinner is published by Faber & Faber (£9.99) Richard Skinner is an author and the director of the fiction programme at Faber Academy, where he created the flagship Writing a Novel six-month course in 2009.



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