“Graham Greene, the legendary English novelist once said in a famous interview that ‘Character is plot.’ This is the best advice I ever got as a novelist. When I sit down to write a book, I try to tell a compelling story about one single character. What this person is inside, and how they view the world is your story.”*
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Advice from successful authors is worth its weight in gold. I recently came across a site
called authonomy.com that’s loaded with help. One of the interviews in the “Writing Tips” section spotlights Barbara Taylor Bradford. Her first book, A Woman of Substance was a huge hit and she’s gone on to write 15 more. Worldwide, her titles have sold more than 60 million copies.
Here’s an overview of Barbara’s thoughts on novel-writing:
Character is everything: Begin with a character that your readers want to know and connect with and then “build the story around” what happens to him or her — and how they respond to the ups and downs they face.
A great opening chapter is a must: You need to hook both agents and readers from the very first pages — otherwise they won’t read further or buy the book. Not good. Go for an opening that’s “…instantly memorable. A great scene for your character. A wild flashback. Snappy dialogue demonstrating character.”
Select a genre: To be saleable, your book must be in an established and marketable genre, whether it’s romance, paranormal, crime. Once you select it, stay within the parameters of that genre. Straying from this framework can hamper your chances of being published.
Balance narrative and dialogue: While there’s no exact formula for the mix of dialogue and narrative, achieving a satisfying balance is important in sustaining your readers’ interest. Too much scene-setting and description can bore a reader and impel them to skip to the next action or bit of dialogue. On the other hand, too much dialogue can obscure the action that’s needed to move your story forward. So pay attention to the interplay of dialogue and narrative — and strive for a pleasing mix.
Don’t skimp on research: If you want to write a historical novel, then be sure to spend plenty of time delving into the geography, culture, and historical milestones of the period you’re writing about. For her trilogy called Ravenscar, Barbara read more than two dozen books (mainly biographies) from the period it was set in. The more you immerse yourself in the time you’re writing about, the more real your story will seem.
For help: Barbara recommends The Writer and Writers’ Digest.
* From an interview in the “Writing Tips” section of authonomy.com. Check it out!