7 tips on plotting your novel - make the ground move beneath the reader's feet.

October 11, 2016
I receive a lot of manuscripts from new writers. I send them out to book clubs and often read them myself. However, sometimes it's difficult to read beyond a few pages. The story becomes simply a collection of words and I no longer care what happens in the rest of the manuscript.
The main part of writing any story is making the reader care. You have to make us want to turn the next page. Grab our attention so that we don't notice that our supper is burning or that we have missed our stop on the train.

Let's start with plot:
1. "Kill you darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribblers heart, kill your darlings." So says the master of engaging plot, Stephen King. And he is so right. New writers sometimes grow so fond of the characters they have created that they wrap them in blankets and carry them through the plot. Preserving them for what? The next book? Trust me, unless they go through the tunnel of hell there will be no other book.
Don't be afraid to push your character overboard. We don't read novels for safety, we read them to escape our lives and enter another that is so much more exciting.
2. Have multiple layers in your plot. No one wants to read John lost Jane, John found Jane. We want to read that John lost Jane because he liked Sally; but Sally owed a debt to Jane because when they were at school Jane's parents took Sally in when her parents died; in the meantime, Jane has met Harry; he's bereaved but finds her funny and uplifting, especially since his wife died; John goes back to find Jane; but Jane is selling all her goods to travel the world with Harry.
3. Challenge your characters. The reluctant hero is a firm fixture in Greek mythology and that's because we understand the hesitancy of being called to do something greater than we have ever done before. We fear stepping outside our field of experience. We understand why the character initially says 'no.' But as a stronger case grows, conflict builds, the decision is removed, the hero takes the call to action and our story moves forward.
4. When a character's lifestyle changes it should be transformed. Nothing familiar should be left - domain, setting, friends, life philosophy. Challenge your character to survive.
5. A betrayal or loss has to be total. When the character's friend nips in to take an expected promotion, there can be no going back and saying, "Oh, I know you didn't mean it." They are enemies from here on. Keep your character strong.
6. Know where you are going. No one likes to take a journey and end up back where they started. The same with a novel - move your characters forward in life, either with what they have learned, their status, their geography. We, the reader, expect the ground to move beneath our feet.
7. Supporting characters need momentum too - whether they slow down or speed up the main journey, they need purpose.
 
Posts on character, setting and opening pages will follow.
 

Child migrants - a little more history

October 5, 2016
I've been a little bit obsessed by child migration recently. This is due to the fact that I've been editing Listen to the Child, a novel which tells of British children shipped out to Canada in the 1870s and distributed as indentured labour to farmers there, and reading The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay, a contemporary autobiography of a young Afghan boy sent to Europe with people smugglers.
Both books shine light on children far from home with no parent to care for them.
Gulwali is sent...
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Child migrants - then and now!

October 3, 2016
Child migrants are the topic of our next novel. Listen to the Child by Elizabeth Howard tells the story of children shipped from London's overcrowded streets to the wide open farms of Canada in the 1870s. This was before Dr. Barnardo and others took up the practice. The missionaries believed they were doing the right thing, that God had shown them this green and promised land and that by taking children from thieving, prostitution and gambling they were rescuing them from the sins of the worl...
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Your Desert Island books

April 8, 2016
While I put my interests almost firmly in the non-fiction camp when choosing books to take to a desert island, it seems, dear readers, that you prefer the classics.
The Hobbit, Heart of Darkness, Wuthering Heights and D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love came top in the books you chose. The Hobbit seemed popular because many of you read it in impressionable youth. The others, all for romantic reasons. One reader said Women in Love reminded her of university days with their earnest discussions of soci...
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Desert Island books

April 4, 2016
Friends often ask me about the books I enjoy, and I recommend Hookline titles, of course - something for everyone right there.
However, when I really think about my favourite books, the ones I would take to a desert island, non-fiction titles come up on top. I'm not sure why, maybe my journalist heart still beats, the thrill of the true life story. And my favourite book is Wayward Women; A Guide to Women Travellers, edited by Jane Robinson. It includes brief biographies of women in history who...
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New writers can learn from The Martian

March 7, 2016
Let me begin by saying I don't enjoy science fiction. I have never yearned to read more sci-fi than I have ever tasted.
I read The Martian because I had to - it was a reluctant purchase for book group and I feared never getting beyond 20 pages. I hadn't seen the film and didn't care to, no matter that it was tagged as 'comedy'.
However, I have to say The Martian is brilliantly constructed and many new writers could take lessons from its author Andy Weir.
Throughout the read, I desperately needed...
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Welcome to a good (free) read

February 25, 2016
Sometimes a good novel slides away unnoticed - lost to readers who might have enjoyed a few hours with its story.

Terms by Ben Lyle seems to have slipped into this category. It certainly hasn't had the rush to read we hoped for. Netgalley reviewers loved it. Hookline readers who received it gave it their thumbs up. Beyond this, discovery has been slow.
So rather than wait and hope, we're putting the novel out there - online to download, chapter by chapter, day by day, for free. We're willing to...
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In the beginning, make us care

January 25, 2016
A huge amount is written about first line - and rightly so! However the first bite to a novel is the first chapter. Draw us in with an acute scene of real drama and we'll be with you for the rest of the novel. Sharp writing and crisp characterisation will make us hang on till the very end.
However, great opening chapters are rare - it's tough to lead the reader into 80,000 words, opening the door to unknown characters, setting and conflict, creating a single scene that wraps together enough na...
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Art in books

January 8, 2016
Novels set in the art world tend to be popular with readers:
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham
All these works allow us to look at the artist or the obsessions they elicit.
At Hookline, we have our own art in a novel. The China Bird by Bryony Doran concerns an art student and her quest to draw a stranger who suffers from scoliosis. While others shy away from this lonely, and physically twisted character, the art...
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The window on a novel

January 4, 2016
Covers are the windows to a book. A bad cover can cost a publisher readers. But who decides what makes a good cover?
Authors often have a cover in mind when writing a book. When considering the cover, editors look at demographics and who are the likely readers of a manuscript. Designers, well, they want to make a mark, and good designers like to make a profound mark.
In reality, it is readers who decide a good cover - if it turns them away, it's a bad cover.
So, we've decided our original cover ...
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About Me


Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books - where book clubs and readers choose the novels that go to print.

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