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Important Technical Advice

Please bear in mind the following important technical advice:

Novels are usually either written in the first person voice (i.e. ‘I did such and such...’) or in the third person voice (i.e. ‘he/she did such and such’). Alternatively, you might decide to write some, or all, of your novel in the present tense: it’s up to you.

Novels are occasionally written in the second person voice (i.e. ‘You did such and such...’) but this tends not to work, and publishers, if they are interested in the book, will probably ask for it to be rewritten in the first person. If you are convinced, though, that the second person is right for your novel, please let us know this in the submission email.

OK, so basically you need to choose between the first person voice or the third person voice. Don’t use both voices in your novel. Yes, I know Charles Dickens did that in Bleak House, but he was a highly successful writer by that point and it may be significant that he didn’t repeat the experiment.

If you want to use two or more first person voices in your novel, don’t let me stop you, but it can be very hard to pull off technically. At the very least, all the first-person narrators need to be very different if the multi first-person narrator approach is going to work.

My advice is this: write your novel in the first-person if you can . For a would-be fiction writer starting out, the first person is much easier to handle than the third person. BUT you can only write your book in the first person if your narrator is in every scene or can find out about what happened in crucial scenes where he/she was not present.

If you want to write your novel in the third person, scenes need to be written from the viewpoint of a viewpoint character.

You may decide to use just one viewpoint character, or several, but generally each chapter must use the same viewpoint character all the way through, apart from occasional times when the viewpoint changes briefly. What you mustn’t do is continually switch viewpoints. Sometimes you can present a scene from two viewpoints but then each viewpoint section should be reasonably long, at least a page per viewpoint. Only try this though if you really know what you are doing. Also, don’t refer a thought or felt viewpoint to ‘they’.

How can a number of people in your story all be thinking or feeling the same thing? So don’t write, for example: They all thought what a wonderful day it was. No, they didn’t, unless they are all cyborgs programmed to think the same thing. Stick to the viewpoint of your main individual viewpoint character.

But of course you can write e.g. The synchronised swimmers all worked together brilliantly. Above all, in a third-person novel don’t intrude into your story yourself. The reader doesn’t want your comments on the action, they want to see things through your viewpoint character. For example, don’t write: It was a beautiful day in August, and John and Mary felt really happy to be together in London after having not seen each other for several weeks. The separation had seemed like a century to them.

That’s not how to write good fiction. We don’t want you in the story, we want your characters in it. Also, try to avoid abstract words like ‘beautiful’, which are largely meaningless ‘tell’ words. Instead, give some sense data, which make the beauty of the day come alive, and let’s see the whole experience from John’s point of view. Also, give us a better sense of place; after all, London is a big city.

The sun was so blinding that August afternoon on Hampstead Heath, John could barely look up at the sky. But he didn’t especially want to. Being next to Mary, seeing the profile of her face that he’d thought of for weeks, and smelling the scent of roses all about her from the perfume she always wore and which he completely associated with her, made him lean in and breathe deeply, absorbing everything about her. He nuzzled her neck, smiled, then kissed that delightful hollow made especially for only his lips.

You will find more about viewpoint, and about the vital difference between ‘show’ and ‘tell’, in this document
Writing Fiction.click here to download

I also recommend two books: Writing a Novel by Nigel Watts (in the Teach Yourself series) and
How Not to Write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. Both these books give you lots of great advice.

Some tips about paragraphs, spelling and punctuation
Please don’t make your paragraphs too long! It’s impossible to give a reliable fixed rule here, but I don’t recommend making a paragraph longer than about three sentences unless you really have a good reason for doing so. Use paragraph breaks for emphasis and dramatic effect.

Also, please indent your paragraphs except at the start of a chapter or after a break in a chapter and don’t leave a spare line between paragraphs unless you are deliberately engineering a break of momentum in the chapter. Please also get your spelling and punctuation right. We’re a literary agency, not a spelling and punctuation consultancy! If you don’t know how to punctuate, please learn how to before you submit your material to us.

2 tips based on some mistakes the agency has often seen in submissions:

  1. ‘It’s’ is short for’ it is’; ‘its’ is the possessive of ‘it’.
  2. Always put a comma in dialogue before a salutation. e.g. Write: ‘Are you coming to the party, John?’ NOT ‘Are you coming to the party John?’