Start off with some weather. Wind, rain, time of day. Street, parked cars. Sky(clouds) Radio shipping forecast for frilly descriptions.
A-Z for streets. Draw a map. Get an atlas.Location, location.
Door, steps, bell. Firm chin, loping walk (see Mills and Boon -very helpful) haircolour, length, style. Shoes, coat.
Said smiled, gazed glared relied suggested wondered.
The morning sun shone bleakly across the lawn.
Asked declared hinted implied
Clothes : cashmere, probably, a paragraph of description.Adjectives pile up. Decide what century it is set in. If going for modern – be timeless, take out any references to current government or pop songs or news headlines or TV programmes or fashion celebs or new cars. Danger area. Take them all out. Put them back in again.Make up fictional equivalents.Go for a walk.
Names -phone directory or voters list. Baby’s names’ lists.Have clearcut differences in vowels and consonants, especially first names. Try different names for each – no Norma/Norman,Don/Donna, Edna/Eddie unless, of course, they’re twins. Make a list of all the names in your book-to-be.Using sole surnames is awkward It’s a convention that should be stopped; we didn’t all go to boarding school.Awkward, as:
‘Worthing came into the room as Peters sat down. “I say, Henry,”he said but Dave was not listening.’ Not four people here, it’s Dave Worthing and Henry Peters, but it takes some unpicking. They even talk to each other in this surname-sort-of-way.
Cars from used car page of freebie papers.
Enter the adverbs. Careful(or carefully?), they are like dolly-mixtures.
Softly freely abstractedly. Then take them out. Then put different ones in.
Action;plot. Verbs collide.
went crossed runs texted quoted walks drives commits promised tries approached bought stands
Is it going to be in the past or present tense or a link from one to another? is it going to be an ‘I’ book or one about ‘them’ – he, she, it,they? Or ‘you?’
Investigate conjunctions and tenses and their names – Perfect passive.Future pluperfect. Imperfect.
Airports. Ferry timetables. Travel guidebooks.
Start plaiting. Get your cast of 20 or so people (never characters – that sounds so false) into three strands and keep them crossing each other’s paths. Do it quickly and randomly enough and like a helter-skelter it will look inspired.
Money. All people usually have limitless money and constantly find ATMs that work. Mugging does not feature often.Plane & train tickets easily got.No queues. Cars usually perfect. Petrol stations always open and pumps full.
No boring people hold up the story for pages and pages with bits about their operations or complicated family problems of people you have never heard of.
By the Middle
– no more physical descriptions
(refer to paras 1-10) unless new people appear late in the story (noticed that this hardly ever happens?)or the original people drastically change appearance or they go off to a new location.
Subplot.And have an entirely different tale struggling along like a caterpillar here.Think of it as an undercoat for the gloss surface.
Speed up. Windscreen-wiper effect. Repeat, go back, recapitulate, complicate and so get an extra 10-20,000 words in here to make up the bulk without needing to advance the story (because you’re stuck.)
Backstory. Everyone should have one. Have people’s schooldays, first jobs, relationships all excavated in either flashback ( a wonderful indulgence) or in their thoughts. If stuck, try their parents or grandparents too.
Or do brisk one-word dialogue all down a few pages. Drop in a few swearwords for flavour. Or do lists of suitcases contents as they pack. Contents of bathroom cabinets or wardrobes or kitchen cupboards. Recipes are helpful and they mess up the kitchen too.
Go back and dollop in some quotes (Warning: make sure they are dead 70 years or you’ll have to pay for use of copyright.)
Add some sex to show your people are actually alive. And give them some food,the odd meal or sandwich.Add more weather, if necessary.
Put in a car-chase, with full motorway description. Don’t let people stop off at a cafe or the pace will be lost.All people have to have strong bladders and bowels (unless necessary for plot.)Also, they have to be usually healthy and immediately OK from a hangover with one cup of coffee. If wounded or injured, say, they’ve been kicked in the ribs,thrown down a flight of concrete stairs, there are no later complications or disabilities. Even bruises disappear in two days.
Finishing up. First two or more people in clinch or church at the end. Others faded, gone, moved, killed or not invited to appear. If you feel guilty about this, do an epilogue and tidy them up neatly.
Grand finale: Check for: averred, the latter, made our way, the former, notwithstanding
and the moderns, just as bad :basically, hopefully, bought into, elephant in the room.
Look out for American creep-ins, remember Spellcheck is American, even if you switch it to UK English.
Now take all pages and a small child or dog and get them to mix all your pages. (Slightly re-adjust, re-order the flow here.)If neither of the above are available, take the ending and put it at the start. This will make your novel different and you will see it with fresh eyes.
Start again. It gets better each time and you will begin to enjoy it.