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Novel Writing 1


This is the first excerpt from Novel Writing: 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall

We are running several excerpts from this title from the A & C Black Writing Handbooks series, by kind permission of the publisher.

The right choice

So what should you write? It’s been right in front of you all the time: what you love to read.

Why should you write what you love to read? First, because you’ve read books in a specific genre for so long, you’re aware of the kinds of stories that have been written in it. You also have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Second, your passion as a reader will translate into passion as a writer.

So what do you love to read? What kinds of novels do you gravitate to in the bookshop or library? Who are your favourite authors? If, like many avid readers, you enjoy more than one genre, which is your favourite?

You may be unsure what genre your favourite books fall into. Maybe you choose more by author – you enjoy a writer’s work and haven’t given any thought to its genre. Nevertheless, as a novelist you must know exactly what genre or subgenre you’re targeting. Years ago publishers maintained a ‘midlist’ for novels that didn’t quite fit genre criteria yet weren’t ‘big’ enough to be published at the top of the list. But in today’s sophisticated market of superclassification, the midlist is gone, and every novel must fit into a niche.

Editors think in terms of genre when they acquire books, mostly from agents, who think the same way when they take on books from authors, who need to think this way too. Many writers resist categorising their novels, insisting it will stifle their creativity. But a novel written without a genre in mind can be difficult if not impossible to sell. Challenge yourself to be creative within your genre’s conventions…

There’s no point in writing what you love to read if no one’s publishing it anymore. In order to write – and sell – what you love to read, you must change what you love to read. You can do this in either of two ways:

1. Switch to the genre’s currently popular form, if such exists.

2. Switch to a similar genre that is still being published.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you love horror novels – the paperback-original, ‘category’ kind, with covers featuring things like skulls and ferocious dolls. You buy these books second-hand and your research tells you this kind of horror isn’t being published these days. What do you do?

Start with option number one. Visit a large bookshop and your library, looking for recently published horror. You discover that horror is still being published, but the novels are longer and more sophisticated. Read a few of these books. If they appeal to you, switch to this currently popular form of horror as your target genre.

If they don’t appeal to you, try option number two. Now you’re looking for a ‘live’ genre you like as much as the one you’ve been reading. The genres likeliest to fit the bill are those that share characteristics with the genre you’re switching from. So you ask yourself what you like most about the horror novels you’ve been reading. You decide it’s that they’re (1) gory and (2) scary.

So look for a live genre that is gory and scary. How about serial-killer thrillers? They’re certainly gory and scary. Read a few. If you like them, read more, and if you still like them, make serial-killer thrillers your new target genre.

If serial-killer thrillers don’t thrill you, repeat the process until you find a genre you like enough to switch to. If you do switch, keep reading. You’re trying to bring yourself up to speed as quickly as possible, so you can’t read too much.

First excerpt from Novel Writing: 16 Steps for Success, Second Edition by Evan Marshall, published by A & C Black at £12.99.

The first excerptThe second excerptThe third excerptThe fourth excerptThe fifth excerptThe sixth excerptTo buy the book


© 2004, 2000 Evan Marshall