Friday, August 04, 2006

Plotting and Coursing Your Novel with Suzanne Ruthven

Suzanne Ruthven is the editor of the New Writer, a creative writing magazine for writers that claims to provide more publishing opportunities for fiction, poetry and articles than any other creative writing magazine. They also provide an excellent monthly email newsletter, which contains up-to-date information on marketing trends and other stuff of interest to writers, although not necessarily children’s writers. To subscribe to their newsletter and the magazine visit

I found her workshops were relevant to all writers whether they are writing crime, romance, horror, or children’s fiction, like me.


1) Identify the Market Place

The first question we were all asked was who is going to publish our novel. Suzanne stressed how important it was to identify the market place and know who would be publishing our work even before it was finished.

She suggested that we look at who is publishing what. Not only by looking at the publisher of the types of books we like to read that are the same genre as what we write. Suzanne emphasised if the books are already in print they are two or three years out of date from what publishers are looking for now. You need to have your finger on the pulse, look at their catalogues and websites for things that are due to come out. Narrow your market down and log into sites on the Internet.

Suzanne recommends you find out about independent presses, as they are more sympathetic to new writers. She suggested new writers take a look at:
Publish fiction, poetry & non fiction books that are: unique, enjoyable, accessible, thought provoking and make a difference to your life.
Publish women's novels and crime.
Publish imaginative, top-quality crime novels

Please note none of the above publish children's books.

Mainstream publishers suggest you get an agent first and as we all know, agents are becoming increasingly difficult to find. With the big publishers, what is being published is what was accepted eighteen months ago. The independent book publishers get things out a lot faster and so their turnaround is often about six months.

Don’t plough on with a book before you know where you are going to send it. Know where your story fits in the market but be careful about typecasting yourself. If you have a problem defining your book, think is it working for the reader. You have to be able to sell your novel else what is the point of writing it.

2) Think about the opening

Suzanne informed us as an editor, she always reads the synopsis first. If it hasn’t hooked her on the first page then she does not read on and she claims nor does anyone else.

She said, “A publisher will discard you on the strength of your first page. Open with a bang. The first page, or even the first paragraph of your book, is the most important bit. Spend time getting it right. ”

3) Know what period you are writing and let your reader know

“It is important to set the scene in your novel straight away.” Suzanne explained. “The reader needs to know where everything is taking place, even if it is simply giving a date, it can trigger the readers imagination. You’ve got to begin with a bang. Often there is too much scene setting, which lacks impact. Grab their attention and hit them between the eyes.”

4) Emotion and Drama

Suzanne stressed that emotion and drama feature in all books, no matter what the genre.

Emotion develops empathy – it is what you hang the emotional baggage on. The characters develop around the emotion where as, drama is needed to carry the story on. It builds the plot.

Books are plot or people led. In both, there are different types of drama. It is people that explore emotions, such as in romances. Examples of plot led books are thrillers and crime novels. Both have peaks and troughs but drama carries it forward. Overwriting can stop the action and will need lots of strong editing.

“If you cut something out,” Suzanne said, “you can always use it in something else. Do not throw anything away and Do not to be too clever about sub-plots and secondary characters. Everything has to have a purpose.”

5) The Synopsis

A synopsis must include what happens at the end of the novel. It must be a complete summary of the book. It is not a list of characters. It is a brief outline of the story and preferably should be one A4 page, single-spaced.

Don’t worry if the middle of the novel goes off on a tangent but try to go with the ending you originally thought of. This is why it is important for first-time writers to plot.

Suzanne suggested a good exercise is to write a blurb for your novel in 150 words or less. This is the bit that could be used for the back of the book cover that outlines just the story.


Jude said...

This is all really useful- thanks, Anita.

Wilf said...

Thanks for posting this, Anita. Very useful.

Nicky said...

This is great, thanks Anita!

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

I'm really pleased you found it useful and you've taken the time to post a message and let me know. I tell all my frineds tha tI have a blog and none of them ever leave a message. it can be quite disheartening. Sometimes I get the impression that they think they are too good to leave a message - like it is beneath them. So thank you to being so supportive and encouraging me to continue with my blog.