Lee Child's top five writing tips


21 October 2022
Exclusive advice from the global bestselling thriller author for Writers Online

1. Develop your own voice

Sometimes people ask how they can find their voice. Well, that’s one of those trick questions. You’ve already got a voice. One of the markers of being a potential writer is if you’re the sort of person who can have three or four other people sitting at your table listening to what you have to say. You must know if that happens or not. If it does, you already have a voice. Then it becomes about how to develop it, and how not to ruin it, how not to be intimidated into putting on that metaphorical suit and tie and adopting some phoney formality. It’s not about finding your voice. It’s about guarding it and keeping it real and authentic. It’s about keeping it yours.  

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2. Control your characters

Keep your main character at arm’s length. Don’t let him take over your brain, and don’t start making excuses for him. Creating a character that readers are drawn to is about writing honestly and authentically. It’s not about courting popularity. Let your readers decide what they think.

3. Don't just write. Edit.

  Best practice is to edit as you go. That’s what I call churning, or combing, or smoothing. But however skilled you become at that process, when you get to the end of the book and read it through, there will be more edits that you need and want to do. In my experience, this mostly happens toward the end of the book. When you’re in the groove, really loving it and racing through, full of energy and full of direction, you are prey to the danger of seeing things so vividly that what is obviously clear to you may not communicate through the words. I often have to add something to the final scene or the final important scene, because I realise that when I’m writing that scene I am experiencing it with such intensity that I am skipping over things.

4. Press on though the hard stuff

If you have given yourself a ball and chain earlier in the story, that is too bad. You’ve got to work it out. But not by going back. Do not go back and change it. This is reality. These are problems that the character is presented with. These are problems that the character has to solve. The more difficulty the character has, the more authentic, because life isn’t necessarily easy and you can’t turn back the clock. What happened, happened. Leave it alone and make the rest of the story fit.  

5. Believe in yourself

Trust yourself as a reader. Trust yourself as a writer. And if you’re happy with what you’ve written, then lots of other people will be too. That’s the perpetual message. You are writing for people exactly like you. Allow yourself to listen to the reader half of your brain. If the reader half is getting restless, pay attention to it, satisfy that need, and carry on.


Lee Childs' Writing Popular Fiction launches on BBC Maestro today. The full course costs £80.


Lee featured as a star interview in Writing Magazine in 2016, and you can read exclusive online content here.

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