|By Johannes Vermeer
It's said everyone has a book inside them. These days it's tricky to forecast what is going to be the next blockbusting best-seller that spawns a film franchise, but all successful writers have something in common. E.L James, J.K Rowling and J.R.R Tolkien don't only share a love of initialising. Each of them did more than dream. They buckled down and did the work: day after day of drafting, researching, writing, re-writing, editing and reading. It doesn't matter whether they had help with some of the grunt work. The fact is, their ideas wouldn't have made it around the world if they hadn't had the conviction to start putting them into words and then kept going until their stories were told.
I can't promise that your dream project will outsell Shades, Potter or TLOTR, but there's nothing surer than this. To be in with a chance, you'll have to get your masterwork written. Here are three top tips for doing just that...
1. START... in the right place. I wrote Lady Rascal because I'd got bogged down while studying an Open University course on The Enlightenment. I really wished some of those posh, privileged gentlemen doing the Tour of Europe could get a taste of how the other half lived. My hero Philip Adamson has a lot in common with the Paris he's visiting: despite grand appearances, there's trouble on the horizon. At the same time, heroine Madeline discovers that changing her appearance can get her out of trouble. As I was writing an historical romance rather than a text-book on Eighteenth-century Paris, I wanted to get Philip and Madeline together on the page as soon as possible. Madeline's career as a revolutionary ends with a bang right at the beginning of the book, when Philip assumes her looted finery means she's an aristocrat in danger. She's swept off her feet, and whisked away to a new and completely alien life.
2...AND THEN... make sure your plot has enough twists to keep your reader turning the pages. A good way to tell if you're on the right track is how easy it is to stop writing. If it feels like your fingers are pushing through treacle, that's a warning sign. If you're scribbling or typing as fast as you can, desperate to capture the movie playing in your head, there's a chance your reader might be carried away by your story, too. Ironically, it's when the words are flowing easily that you should finish for the day. Then your enthusiasm will carry over to the next session, and you'll be raring to go. With that method, there's no sitting down in front of a blank page, wondering what to write. You've been thinking about your next scene since the moment you stopped work the day before, and that's a great way to avoid the scourge of Writer's Block.
3. FINISH...in a way that will satisfy your reader. They should have learned a lot about your hero and heroine along the way - and maybe something about themselves, too. Tie up all the loose ends of your story. Never introduce a character or plot thread and then abandon them, thinking no one will notice. Someone always does! Nemesis, the last book in Lindsey Davis' Falco series, deals with huge, emotion-wringing themes of life, death and family relationships. I lapped all that up but discovered, too, that I'm an obsessive when it comes to animals. I thought I'd be the only reader left worrying over the fate of one of the most minor of minor characters - Nero (aka Spot) the ox. I needn't have worried - he wasn't forgotten after all. If his disappearance hadn't been explained at the end, I would have felt Nemesis was like the old jigsaw puzzle of Great Britain's counties we had when I was a child. The smallest county, Rutland, was missing. Apart from that our jigsaw was perfect, unless you were interested in that teeny-tiny- well, spot!