The Crime Writers' Association

The Debuts

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Read by AJ Waines

When I first began writing fiction ten years ago, I hadn’t given it a go since leaving school. I always believed that the skill required in completing a novel was totally beyond someone like me, so I avidly read mysteries and thrillers instead. I never give a second thought to the notion of trying it myself.

The advice I found on writing was usually based on the same kinds of themes: sit in a café with a notebook and observe people, capture a conversation on the bus or the detail of a butterfly or passing cloud formation. The things is, none of that ever appealed to me.

So I dropped the idea. Then, in 2009, I came across a book.

On Writing, a modest volume by Stephen King changed everything. I picked it up because, while I didn’t much like reading supernatural stories, I knew King was a bestselling author with heaps of titles under his belt. If anyone could explain the craft of writing, he’d be the go-to guy to find out.

As soon as I came across the words ‘start with an incident and see where it takes you’, I sat up to take notice. This was more like it. An incident. Action. Something clicked. I knew then I wanted to write about exciting people. The people I didn’t spot on the bus, because they’d be leaping into a speeding taxi. Suddenly everything came alive!

So, I started with an incident and I followed King’s advice to ‘get the story down’. No faffing about with butterflies and cloud formations (you can add those bits later), just get down what happens. The action. The reaction. What happens next. It was the best advice I’d ever come across and it led me to write ten psychological thrillers, one after the other.

Of course, authors do end up, inevitably, writing about themselves, but my characters are far more interesting than I could ever be; more intrepid, funny, smart, quirky. Episodes from my own life do make appearances, too, as do aspects of individuals I’ve come across, but always transformed into scenarios that are more dramatic than real life. I often write about a psychotherapist, not only because it used to be my job, but because during the six months or so I need to write a book, she’s the kind of character I’d like to spend my time with most. As a result, what comes out tends to be ‘what I know’ (how can you write about what you don’t know? That’s always mystified me…)

Ultimately, if you want to write, follow your intuition. Some advice and guidance will leave you cold while other suggestions will resonate. Let those lead you. I wonder if I’d ever have got started myself, if I’d never come across that unassuming book by Stephen King.

AJ Waines’s latest thriller, CUT YOU DEAD is released by Bloodhound Books on 2 April 2020.

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