When I was writing my first novel, Noah Can’t Even, and spending time and money trying to get it ready to submit to agents, I often wondered if I’d ever really make any money back doing this. Sure, having a book published would be a dream come true, and cause for celebration just in itself – but could I really earn a living from it? The reality is that author income seems to be declining year on year, and (except in the smallest handful of cases) advances are never enough to live on, so it’s important to look at creative ways you can make your writing pay.
Today’s post was inspired by a workshop I’ve run in schools that links traditional tale plotting to story writing. A common problem in books is a meandering middle. The character has been sent on their adventure to solve their story problem and their problem worsens before it gets better so the tension needs to rise in increments before the climax. I often know the opening and climax to my stories but the rest I discover on the way, and that can lead to a saggy middle where the story meanders off track. And I don’t want my stories to turn out like my cakes.
My editor taught me something very simple, but a revelation:
Most of what happens in the book should be driven by the main characters decisions.
After this week’s fantastic craft chat, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about inciting incidents in my favourite books. It’s usually ‘the’ moment — the one that hooks me into the story, and makes it impossible to stop reading.
Which is no mean feat, because it has a lot to compete with — beginnings of novels have to work so hard.
You’ve set up your book. You have a killer first line. A character with a stonkingly clear desire and a terrible fatal flaw. Your reader is IN. Now you hit them with the conflict — the inciting incident. Your novel’s first big turning point.
Simon is the author of YA novels Noah Can’t Even and Noah Could Never, both published by Scholastic, and optioned for TV by Urban Myth Films. He is represented by Skylark Literary.
Lindsay is the author of The Secret Deep (Chicken House) and is represented by Laura Williams.
Julie Marney Leigh writes contemporary novels for teens about fun, friendship and feminism. She grew up in Lancashire, and now lives in Scotland where she gained a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, and fell in love with the city.