I think that most writers admire J.K. Rowling. We’ve heard how she spent hours writing her books in an Edinburgh café (I vote for Nicholson’s, but Edinburgh café owners seem entangled in a heated debate regarding which one she actually preferred, and I have heard a number of possible options, never quite sure as to which one is the true one. Could it be she frequented more than one??). We know how her manuscripts were declined by an astounding number of publishers (something that most writers experience), how she was broke but still wrote and how eventually she managed to turn things around for herself. The rest is history, and I guess that most authors, whether self-published or trad-pub, pray night and day that they will have her good fortune (I know I do).
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that anything she suggests in terms of writing tips, this time on E-books India, is taken pretty seriously. As you know, I am not one to follow rules but I think that in this case, she makes some good points:
- Write strategically: don’t advertise or disclose details that are tell-tale regarding the rest of the plot. Make your story mysterious, leave tips but do not reveal how you are planning to end the book. Especially if you are writing a series of books, you really want your readers to be anxious to see what happens next, so telling them the plot from the first book misses the point. Yesterday night, a very good friend called me and said –after having read books 1 and 2 of my series- that I was despicable for killing a hero (whom I had not killed, but my friend assumed I had) and that he hadn’t slept all night, wondering what happens next? Naturally, I felt very proud of myself and offered to send him book 3 so that he could read the next installment – and let his wife-to-be sleep (we’re going to his wedding on Thursday).
- Make you characters flawed: we all like to read about people that are amazing – but not too much so. We still need to be able to relate to them, even if we find them incredible. Part of our relation to them includes their flaws. Characters cannot be perfect because they are unrealistic. I think there is an important balance to be maintained, with a realistic character that borders on the boring on one end and a character that is absolutely astounding, but practically impossible to identify with on the other. So, make your characters interesting, stimulating, capable of doing admirable things, but also flawed. Characters with a twist!
- Background characters have to remain in the background: choose which characters are vital to the story and develop their background – as long as it’s relevant to the story. Writing pages upon pages of background stories about secondary characters will exhaust most readers, especially if they don’t see the significance to the general plot. I know that my previous post was about how long books sell better than shorter ones, but let’s not abuse this
- Be fearless: Let’s face it: if we write about what we know, we will write about ourselves. And most of us are common, normal, boring, ordinary characters. The trick is to use our imagination to give this conventional character the wings to fly with. Have them do something incredible without making this act appear out of place. Complexity being part of our life, two-dimensional characters are uninteresting. Three-dimensional ones are the ones people like to read about.
- Write for yourself. I know that you have probably heard this one about a thousand times and are raising your eyebrows going, “oh, not again!”, but it’s true. If you write for yourself, readers will see the authenticity of your writing and will love it. If it has worked for J. K. Rowling, I guess that it’s bound to work for other people too. Hence, write about what you feel comfortable with. For example, I would probably be lousy at romance or historic novels, as I’m not comfortable with the genres. I would probably be better at mystery, but I love writing children’s stories and fantasy/sci-fi. Having defined the writing area within which I feel secure and confident, writing anything else would appear false and pretend. Therefore, I plan to follow J.K. Rowling’s tip on that one – at least for now!
As always, I welcome your feedback and will include it in updated versions of this post!