The Art of the Novel
I was recently commissioned to write a chapter for a new creative writing book, called The Art of the Novel.
My chapter is about how not to bore your reader – a subject I think I’m qualified to write on as people have accused A Kill in the Morning of many things, but being boring is not one of them!
Seventeen other published authors contributed an eclectic range of chapters on subjects like characterisation, perspective, and plot twists. Almost all the authors write in an informal tone and give useful, practical advice.
The Art of the Novel: Who’s in it?
A wide selection of published authors, almost all more established and successful than myself. Here’s the full list:
- Leone Ross – on magical realism.
- Tom Bromley – on comedy.
- Jenn Ashworth – on writing from reality.
- AJ Dalton – on perspective and authorial intrusion.
- Nikesh Shukla -on how to get your first draft finished.
- Stella Duffy – on writing for yourself versus writing for the market.
- Mark Morris – on characterisation, particularly in horror stories.
- Alison Moore – on creating a world that feels real
- Nicholas Royle – on the ‘death of the author’.
- Alice Thompson – on surrealism.
- Kerry Hudson – on attention to detail in your writing.
- Toby Litt – on making things difficult for yourself (and how not to).
- Livi Michael – on writing historical novels
- Joe Stretch – on writing coming of age novels
- James Miller – on place and setting
- Sarah Butler – on getting published (and not giving up).
- Will Wiles on plot twists.
- Me, Graeme Shimmin, on not being boring.
The Art of the Novel: Exercises
As well as their chapter, each author contributed a favourite creative writing exercise. Mine was to use the Killogator™ logline generation formula to write a one- or two-sentence logline for your story.
The Art of the Novel: Top tips
The authors all gave three ‘top tips’ for the aspiring writer. These were mine:
- You have to realise the first draft isn’t the end. You need to write at least three drafts before you even attempt to get your book published. There will be at least three more drafts if they buy your book.
- Keep learning and improving. Read all the classic examples of the kind of novel you want to write, buy books about writing techniques, do creative writing courses, join critique groups, online and in real life, and really listen to your feedback. Learning is the key difference between eventual success and ongoing failure. Everyone always says not to give up, and it’s true that you shouldn’t, but you have to get better too.
- Commercial publishing is a relationship business. You either have to know people or be extremely lucky if you want to get commercially published. So you need to know how to network. Where do you start? With other authors. Support each other. Help each other. They move in the circles you need to get into.
The Art of the Novel: Lists of Recommended Novels
Similarly, we all added a list of ten recommended novels. These were mine:
- The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers.
- Greenmantle by John Buchan.
- The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler.
- Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household.
- From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming.
- The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.
- The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré.
- The Hunt For Red October by Tom Clancy.
- Fatherland by Robert Harris.
- Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.
The Art of the Novel: Who’s it aimed at?
Nicholas Royle, the editor of The Art of the Novel, says this:
This book is not just for students of creative writing. It’s for readers, for readers of novels, for readers curious about novels and maybe curious about writers, for other writers, maybe short story writers or poets or scriptwriters who want to write novels, for other novelists who might feel a need to hit the refresh button, to pick up some tips, for novelists who are also teachers of creative writing.
I’d say the book is definitely worth reading if you’re a creative writing student or an aspiring author. I’d be aware, though, that it’s not a step-by-step ‘How to Write a Book’ book, but a collection of interesting and thought-provoking essays. The tips are all good, the exercises useful, and the recommended books will give you quite a reading list!
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