With the emergence of ebooks, it has become relatively easy to become published. As a result, writing books has become an increasingly popular pastime in recent years. So it is hardly surprising that there are a growing number of creative writing classes and courses, handbooks and lectures, and alongside them many online articles and posts, offering advice and guidance on how to write.
The truth is that the ability to produce a good book cannot be taught, because successful books arise out of engaging ideas which in turn depend on creativity. In the words of F Scott Fitzgerald, ‘You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’ A good idea cannot be forced into existence. But once you have a story, and you feel it is one that genuinely deserves to be told, there are many ways to improve the quality of your writing, and these skills can be taught. While what we write about is personal and unique to each of us, we can all learn to improve the quality of our writing and so produce better books.
There is a great deal of brilliant advice available online about how to create engaging and memorable characters, how to work out plots with twists that are both plausible and unpredictable, and how to build tension, all of which are essential elements of a successful book. Not so much is written about the structure of books and the language we use. What is that makes some writers ‘readable’, while others come across as turgid, despite their clever plots and well thought out characters? How does a writer produce a ‘page turner’?
The structure of a book is crucial to the success of its pace. This does not mean the plot, or what happens in the story, but the speed at which the action unfolds. In one of my early books, the climax of a key subplot occurred near the end of the book and very shortly after that came the dramatic ending of the main plot. One of my beta readers pointed out that too much drama happened right at the end of the book, after a relatively slow passage in the middle of the narrative. By moving the resolution of the subplot a few chapters earlier, the structure of the narrative improved. The slow moving section became lively, and the focus on the main climax enhanced.
The pace of writing is also determined by the language used. To some extent this happens due to the flow of the narrative, as the plot of a book changes its pace. Any story will have periods of rapid action, interspersed with slower sections, but you can also use language to vary the pace of the narrative. Such variety is important if the readers’ interest is not going to flag. However, these changes have to be appropriate and must seem to add to the narrative, so you need to think carefully not only about how to change the pace of your writing, but also why it might be appropriate to speed up the story or slow it down.
There are three main ways of varying pace in writing, which can be broken down into paragraphs, sentences, and words. Long paragraphs work well for description. As a writer you are likely to have a feel for the rhythms of language and possess the ability to write lyrically. If this is something with which you struggle, you should spend time reading authors who write well. Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguru, Edith Wharton, Doris Lessing, Khaled Husseini, are a few whose names spring to mind, but there are many thousands more. If you read those more skilled at writing than you, the quality of your own work will improve. Following a long paragraph, a short paragraph can be very effective.
After paragraphs, changing the length of sentences gives writing more interest, but such change in pace must always be created with a specific purpose. A short sentence for the sake of a random change is pointless and will seem odd. Again, long sentences can be used for slow passages, which might be descriptive, or to build suspense, perhaps when the reader is waiting for something to happen. This can be used to build tension in the writing, making readers wait before hitting them with a series of short sentences, or even single words to speed up the narrative, making it exciting. Writing ‘Crash!’ has greater impact than ‘All of a sudden there was a loud crash.’
Finally, varying the length of the words you use can subtly alter the pace of your writing. This can be done by choosing multi-syllabic or monosyllabic words, according to the effect you want to achieve. In the same way, pace can be slower or faster depending on the length of the vowel sounds within words.
Steinbeck’s phrase ‘deep green pool’ slows the pace down, creating a relaxed atmosphere in Of Mice and Men, while short vowel sounds in ‘The sun that is young once’ speeds up the pace when Dylan Thomas writes about how quickly time passes.
Having said all that, however hard you work on your writing, your prose must appear effortless. That is the most important rule of all, because the more easily your writing flows, the clearer it will be to read. If possible, read your work aloud to ensure it sounds natural. It can take a lot of time to produce writing that seems to flow naturally, but the end result will be worth the effort. And if, like me, you have discovered a passion for writing, it will never feel like work!
(c) Leigh Russell
About Death Rope:
Mark Abbott is dead. His sister refuses to believe it was suicide, but only Detective Sergeant Geraldine Steel will listen.
When other members of Mark’s family disappear, Geraldine’s suspicions are confirmed.
Taking a risk, Geraldine finds herself confronted by an adversary deadlier than any she has faced before… Her boss Ian is close, but will he arrive in time to save her, or is this the end for Geraldine Steel?
For fans of Peter James, Faith Martin and LJ Ross
Look out for more DI Geraldine Steel investigations in Cut Short, Road Closed, Dead End, Death Bed, Stop Dead, Fatal Act, Killer Plan, Murder Ring, Deadly Alibi, Class Murder and Death Rope, plus the special Christmas short story, Killer Christmas
‘UNMISSABLE’ – LEE CHILD * ‘A RARE TALENT’ – DAILY MAIL * ‘BRILLIANT’ – JEFFERY DEAVER
Order your copy online here.