Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page
As the year draws to a close, so does the Great Novel Openings competition. This search for great novel openings caught me completely unawares with how many entries received, and also the high standard of many of the entries meaning that I decided to announce a long list first. Every entry on that long list showed promise and left the reader wanting more – absolutely essential at the beginning of a story. You must draw the reader in right away (and then keep them there…).
In summary, a promising novel opening must have:
- and/or a sense of mystery
Deciding on the short list was no walk in the park and here I imagine that some of my subjective preferences as a reader came into play. Looking at creative writing can be done objectively and subjectively and although I forced myself to try and be as objective as possible – trying to pick those entries that seemed strongest – there was not a lot in it in many cases.
Those entries that were shortlisted tended to also include one or more of the following elements:
- danger or the promise of future danger
- vivid description
Remember the entries were very short – only 500 words – which is not long to develop elements such as characterisation deeply. Vivid description can often be achieved in very few words and I am not just talking about description of setting here, but description of actions. Novel openings tend to be stronger when something is happening. So another likely essential element to add to the list:
The winning entry also showed the following element – something that is essential for a story that will really draw a reader in and not let them go until the end:
Congratulations to Alexander Velky, writer of the winning 500 words.
The winning piece started with detailed description – setting and action – and quickly built up suspense. Within 150 words, enough mystery had been initiated so that the reader would be asking “what happens next”. The winning excerpt also delivered characterisation: every word counted, description delivered plot and suspense as well as giving clues about characterisation.
I look forward to meeting Alexander shortly and thank everyone again who entered the competition.
2011 brings the second Writers Workshop Festival of Writing in York, 25-27th March, and among the fabulous writers, publishers and agents who will be speaking and leading workshops and courses are Ashley Pharoah, David Nobbs, Nicola Morgan, Kate Williams, Tom Harper, Phillippa Pride (Stephen King’s UK editor), Carole Blake and Patrick Janson-Smith. I’ve been delighted to be involved again assisting with the programming and planning. At the Festival itself I will be running a mini-course, along with the fabulous and funny Jane Lovering, on Characterisation which, I think, makes the critical difference between ok stories and great stories. The mini-course takes place on Friday 25th March.
Looking at next year’s diary, this isn’t the only teaching I’ll be doing in early 2011. In January I’m running a workshop for A-Level students who now have creative writing included in their A-Level English syllabus. Curtis Brown aren’t the only lit agency running writing courses – in April I’m leading a course over an entire weekend covering all the basic elements of novel writing: plotting, characterisation, pacing, suspense, dialogue, conflict, description. The dates are 15-17th April and full details are here.
During the summer I should be at Winchester Writers Conference. In the autumn two more weekends: an autumn writing retreat and a NaNoWriMo weekend.
Add to this the London Book Fair (April), the Romantic Novelists Association conference (July), the Frankfurt Book Fair (October) and the Festival of Romance (October) and no doubt a number of day events and book trade conferences, and that’s the year events-wise.
Exhausted just thinking about it.