Writing Popular Fiction – John Grisham’s Suggestions

In June, I read an article on John Grisham’s latest novel Camino Island. In the sidebar were the author’s 8 tips on writing fiction. He says that now, after so many novels, he writes “each day with these habits ingrained.”

  1. WRITE A PAGE EVERY DAY – “Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.”
  2. DON’T WRITE THE FIRST SCENE UNTIL YOU KNOW THE LAST – Grisham acknowledges that this means you need “that dreaded device” called an outline. “Writers wast years pursuing stories that eventually don’t work.”
  3. WRITE YOUR ONE PAGE EACH DAY AT THE SAME PLACE AND TIME – “go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.” I wonder if he takes time off on weekends or vacations?
  4. DON’T WRITE A PROLOGUE – He calls prologues “gimmicks to hook the reader.” Call me guilty. I wrote a prologue for novel #4.
  6. DON’T KEEP A THESAURUS WITHIN REACHING DISTANCE – Oops, guilty again! Concentrate on words you know with some words you should know but not words nobody knows. Grisham maintains that a thesaurus enables writers to use too many words nobody knows.
  7. READ EACH SENTENCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES IN SEARCH OF WORDS TO CUT – He says most writers use too many words.
  8. DON’T INTRODUCE 20 CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST CHAPTER – this merely bombards and confuses readers. “Five names are enough to get started.”

So, there you have it. Simple, straightforward advice.

In case you’re interested, here’s the blurb for Camino Island – A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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4 Responses

  1. Wonderful down to earth tips. However, I do quibble with foregoing a prologue. In reading or writing historical fiction, a prologue doesn’t bother me a bit as long as its easing the reader into the story and not an info dump.

  2. nothing to disagree with (I feel the same about the prologue — short and clear won’t drive off too many) and all very similar to that other great (late) writer of hooks and characters, Elmore Leonard.

  3. I am certain all writers/authors agree with # 1, writing every day. And yet, if I someday to five I skip a day or two. It’s interesting how Grisham places emphasis on writing in a familiar (and preferably a cherished) spot. Makes sense.
    I’m guilty of the thesaurus monster. Oops.
    Thanks for sharing, Mary!

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