Today Stephen Lloyd Jones, author of The String Diaries and Written in the Blood, tells us his top 5 writing tips.
Top 5 tips for writers in this genre
Let me say, right from the off, that with only two published novels under my belt it feels a little presumptuous to start offering writing advice. Instead, then, here are five things that I try to keep in mind when I’m writing. If they give you a little help along the way, so much the better.
Tease. Obfuscate. Deceive.
You want your audience hanging on every word, right? You want them to say, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t see that coming.’ You want them to tense up as they realise things are not at all as they seemed?
So, don’t give them everything on a plate. Take off at a sprint, while they dash after you with one hand cupped to their ear. If you can see a busy junction up ahead, slow down and take their hand. Lead them gently into the middle of the traffic, then throw a hood over them and scarper. Dole out information – and misinformation – like a miser, as if it’s the most valuable resource in the world.
Do all this while remembering that they are likely more intelligent than you, more well-read than you and must be treated with complete respect at all times.
Be a perfectionist.
I rewrote each page of THE STRING DIARIES over twenty times before I decided it was ready for an agent to look at. The first three chapters – which form the initial part of any submission package – went through around forty or fifty drafts. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many times I revised the vital first pages . . . but we’re talking easily over one hundred.
These figures might seem a little excessive but they shouldn’t scare you. There are only so many literary agents and editors out there. You don’t get a second chance. So don’t screw it up by sending out anything but your very best work.
Be confident to the point of arrogance until you are published, then listen to every bit of advice you can get.
Halfway through writing THE STRING DIARIES, I started to read about the submission process and the likely chances of success. If I wasn’t such an obstinate fool, I should have abandoned the book right there. It seemed that my chance of even landing an agent was around one in five thousand. Dreadful odds for a two-year time investment, don’t you think?
Then I thought, ‘You hear a lot about novels submitted in green biro, manuscripts with human teeth marks, crazy stuff. What if, say, I’m in the top 1% when it comes to those submissions? That puts my chances at one in fifty. What if I’m in the top 0.1%? That gives me a one in five chance! Per agent! It’s what sustained me while writing the second half of the novel.
Once I found a publisher, of course, I abandoned that particular suit of armour and listened to every scrap of advice I was given . . . and acted on nearly all of it.
Don’t just write for the eyes.
Visual descriptions are important, but I become immersed in a fictional setting far more quickly if all of my senses are engaged. When a writer offers me sounds and smells, a funny thing happens in my brain. I feel myself being transported.
As a (numbingly) simple example, try visualising the sea. Done? Now add the taste of sea salt and the cry of seagulls. Better, isn’t it?
Google Street View is a valuable tool.
My stories take place in multiple locations, scattered all over the world. While writing WRITTEN IN THE BLOOD, I was working on scenes set in California’s Yosemite National Park, Budapest, Northern Canada and Switzerland. While I’ve visited those locations, the ability to take memory-jogging virtual drives through them was invaluable. It really is an amazing resource.
High in the mountains of the Swiss Alps Leah Wilde is about to gamble her life to bring a powerful man an offer. A promise.
Leah has heard the dark stories about him and knows she is walking into the lion’s den. But her options are running out. Her rare lineage, kept secret for years, is under terrible threat. That is, unless Leah and her mother Hannah are prepared to join up with their once deadly enemies.
Should the prey ever trust the predator?
Is hope for future generations ever enough to wash away the sins of the past?
With a new and chilling danger stalking them all, and the survival of their society at stake, they may have little choice…”