On the 6th September I attended a Guardian Masterclass titled How to Write a Bestseller. The course consisted of a series of talks by Matt Haig (on Characterisation), Alex Preston (on Creating a Sense of Place and Atmosphere), and Evie Wyld (on Writing Fact and Fiction), followed by a general Q&A led discussion with Sebastian Faulks (which was very exciting as he’s one of my all-time favourite authors). It was a really enjoyable day, and all of the speakers were extremely charismatic and funny. They all had so many insightful things to say and I found it to be really useful, so this is a summary of the notes I took in case it’s of interest to anyone else. I’ve broken it down into the individual talks, but check the tags or links at the bottom of the page to see all four parts.
Evie Wyld – Writing Fact and Fiction
The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to stick rigidly to fact – nobody cares if everything was strictly true or not! Don’t stick to the limitations of fact. Begin with fact, but develop it into fantasy. Use the emotional truth rather than a blow-by-blow account of what happened.
It helps to be removed from places if you want to be able to write about them – need a sense of distance so you can see what’s hidden in places, and what people are hiding.
Writing’s about trying to understand people better. You need to get beyond what you know about people – everyone has lives before we know them!
Research if you’re using historical settings, but don’t let it become unhelpful and detract from the story. You don’t have to be a historian, but you do need to do the real people justice. You don’t need to put your research in the novel, and don’t cram in all the interesting facts you’ve discovered for the sake of it! Think about what the characters would know or be interested in.
You need to find a way into the story, or find a path out of the ‘factual’ side of the story. Collecting images can help with this, but remove the pictures you have of family.
Strip away your imposed pretensions about how and when you should write. Write whenever/wherever/however you can!
See also How to Write a Bestseller: Alex Preston on Creating a Sense of Place and Atmosphere, and How to Write a Bestseller: Matt Haig on Characterisation. Check back tomorrow for the final part.