I was going to jump to editing in the next stage of my self-publishing series, but I’ve decided to slow down a bit and focus a bit more instead on the writing process. The writing process is obviously the hardest part, so it’s worth staying with this a bit longer.
Before beginning to write, you should collect as many books as you can lay your hands on, in your genre. Then start reading them closely (sometimes more than once) and start taking copious notes.
Things to note
- How the author begins and ends the story. Try to avoid the “dark and stormy night” trope.
- Who the characters are and how they fit into the story.
- Are the characters sympathetic? You need to be able to root for at least one of them. If you are not emotionally invested in them, how will you continue reading? They have to have a challenge to overcome, or danger to get out of.
- Pay attention to the dialogue and how it is written. Some authors religiously use “he said” and “she said.” Others (like me) try to keep the “said’s” to a minimum and you can figure out who is saying what by focusing on the story. I feel it flows better this way.
- Note the twists and turns in the story. How many are there and how did the author explain them to the reader? Are they credible? In thrillers though, you can get away with a lot because it’s escapist fiction and the reader won’t mind too much if a twist stretches credibility just a tad. You only have to look at Arnold Schwarzenegger movies to see this – jumping on a jet fighter and wrenching off the cockpit? Enough said.
- Did the author tie up all the loose strands at the end? How did they do it?
Basically, reading other peoples work will show you the different styles involved, and this can help you write your book too. Once you see “what works”, then you can apply it to your work.
In my thriller writing, my mentors are Daniel Silva, Michael Connolly, Lars Kepler, Barry Eisler, and Robert Harris. All my copies of their books have extensive notes and sticky labels attached. It may feel time-consuming, but producing good work always is. Make a list of your writing mentors and study their techniques religiously.