1. The first thing I would suggest is to read lots of books, of all genres and none at all. They will all add to your experience when you go to write. You might find that you set out to write a thriller but ended up writing a comedy caper. Do not despair. You can only write what you can write. It’s fine!
2. I like to start a novel in the middle of a dramatic incident or its immediate aftermath. Something huge has just happened. What is our protagonist going to do about it? I learned this from Shakespeare. The opening scene of Macbeth happens immediately after a bloody battle in which Macbeth has been victorious. The three witches are discussing his fate. You can’t really improve on that!
3. Know your characters really well. You don’t have to put all this in the book, but you should know what they want in life, what scares them, what is their weak point, what would they do when they are at home on their own on a Wednesday afternoon? You really need to know them inside out to be able to draw on those fears, strengths and vulnerabilities when you need to.
4. Give your characters choices, but have them make the wrong decision. Therein lies the drama! When you know your characters well enough, this will be easy.
5. Defy expectations. Don’t take the next logical step in the story. Find a reason for that not to be possible.
6. End each chapter with a hook that will make the reader want to turn the page. ‘…and then they went to sleep’ does not make me want to turn the page unless I know that there’s an axe-murderer behind the bedroom door.
7. If you are featuring a murderer, the reader will want to know why he/she is a murderer. It’s easy to write about a murderer who goes about killing young men on their 25th birthdays, but we want to know why. What is the significance of the pattern? Have that worked out before you start to write the character.
8. Pace. I can’t underestimate how important this is. You must always be building towards a big revelation of some kind. There may be several times when the bady guy/gal is going to be caught, but something gets in the way. Make this as unexpected as possible. Your story is a pressure cooker. It’s ok to let some steam off now and then, but we need an explosion at the end. The best part of a game of Jenga is when all the bricks you have carefully constructed come crashing down.
9. Don’t try to write another Gone Girl or to write like another writer. Find your own unique voice. You really don’t want to sound like anyone else. They already exist.
10. Keep the kettle on. This requires gallons of tea.
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