My sister, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, a better known writer than me, told me when I first began my writing journey to: “Be sure to read lots of other science fiction writers!” I promptly and proudly told her that I’d already read a ton of SF/Fantasy novels.
You see, before I became a fiction writer I was one of those readers who trolled libraries and bookstores searching for paranormal books. I didn’t discriminate against sub-genres either. One week I’d have my nose buried in seafaring sequels, another week vampires and yet another, brave new worlds rising from ashes. The only preference I had, was that the novel had to hook me in the first five pages.
This is my core technique and my raison d’etre. I’d pick up a novel, skim the first five pages and then I’d know if I wanted to go forward. I’d toss it back or add to my collection.
Later, when I began to write, I couldn’t remember the names of all the authors I’d read. But plots, themes, techniques; ways of creating tension, conflict, terror…these I remembered. I knew what I liked—what I loved— and I strove to create that on the pages— to hook the reader like I’d been hooked. I tried to craft a story that would reach out and touch the reader, grab him or her and hold on so tight that he or she couldn’t bear to leave my book behind. Surely if it worked on me, it would work on them?
I’d like to think it has.
So to all beginning writers, if I would presume to give you any advice it would be to read. Read before you write and keep on reading. Learn from those giants who journeyed before you, how to slip inside your character’s skin and feel them. Because if you don’t feel them, if you don’t know your characters, if you’re not emotionally invested in them, if you don’t have a stake in their survival or destruction, how can you expect your reader to?
You must always wear two hats: that of reader and writer. You must make time between holding down whatever gig you’re working, between blogging, and reviewing, between all the vagaries of life to slid into another writer’s world. Do it to learn from their brilliant techniques, to sharpen your own, do it for the sheer enjoyment of losing yourself in a book other than yours.
And when you write don’t forget to…hook them in the first five pages.