Whilst I'd previously come across a number of the suggestions he offered for improved fiction writing, these were some of the most important and practical tips I've seen offered up in one session. And well worth sharing. (At this point I should say I've enhanced them and added further explanation, examples and links for your reading pleasure... you can stop applauding now.)
There is so much information and advice out there when it comes to fiction writing, if you're anything like me when I began this journey a couple of years ago, you're probably finding it hard to sort the gems from the pebbles and bits of broken concrete.
Well, this is a part of my attempt to help.
They appear below in no particular order (well, actually they do, the order he gave them to us in):
- a memorable and resonant title should emanate from the story itself and be reminiscent of a key theme or moment in the story
- use detail judiciously and effectively (don't over do it, provide detail as and when a director might use a close up shot)
- the opening sentence, paragraph and pages of your story should sing like Lady Ga Ga (insert another artist who makes you sit up and listen whenever you hear their voice) and is all most agents, editors and readers will look at before weighing up whether or not they want your book
- composing a satisfying closing chapter and paragraph (must draw all the strands of the story together and provide an emotionally and intellectually satisfying ending) is essential to bringing your reader back for your next book
- the beginning and ending of each chapter is very important: I once read you should bring the reader into a scene as late as possible and get them out as early as possible (imagine you're the manager of a B-list celebrity at a paid-to-attend gig); chapter beginnings and endings should sing (ala Lady Ga Ga, again), and link or connect up somehow with the ending preceding them (if a chapter beginning) or the beginning following them (if a chapter ending ...are you dizzy yet?)
- use a variety of sentence types in your writing (as a rule of thumb, short to increase pace and tension; long to draw out or dwell on a moment or an action or to create a sense for the reader of being held on to and not let go of); in general, effective fiction writing should contain a variety of sentences in terms of length, structure and sentence beginnings (because variety is the spice... you know how it goes)
- be aware of repetition -- in terms of motifs (such as the mockingbirds in To Kill A Mockingbird ) be selective and conscious of your choices of what reappears in your story, when and why (Don't repeat lines of dialogue or character ticks unless you are doing it intentionally for effect)
- use all five senses in your writing (sight, smell, touch, taste, sound) -- sight and sound are used most commonly whilst the others can often be ignored, just as we use all our senses (all that we have at any rate) to explore and make sense of the world around us, so too it should be in fiction (for an unusual yet interesting read and an example of an author utilising a different sense -- smell -- check out Patrick Suskind's Perfume)
- construct a variety of character types (see Joseph Campbell/Christopher Vogler's archetypes for suggestions) that complement and conflict with one another and give them names that reflect their personality and roles in the story
- show, don't tell -- for example, describe the character "shifting his weight from foot to foot" or "pressing his fists against the lining of his trouser pockets" or "the beads of sweat rolling down his side" instead of saying he was nervous
- choose a point of view from which to tell the story (narrative point of view) and stick to it, unless you are writing a novel with alternating narrative points of view (in which case you are probably far more experienced than I am and do not need to be wasting your time reading this list; you've probably got book signings to attend and hefty advance cheques to cash... go on then, stop gloating)
- incorporating a well developed plot (whether you are a pantser or a plotter) into your novel is essential if you are seeking to develop a readership beyond your immediate family and friends; Joseph Campbell/Christopher Vogler's 'Hero's Journey' model is one structure you might consider for your plot; at the very least (I think) you need a three act structure
- be prepared to write several drafts (at least) of your project; remember what Hemingway said.
And, keep writing!