5 writing tips from Erin Kelly

Writings tips are always useful. Getting them from a published author and creative writing tutor is bloomin’ invaluable.

Last weekend, I attended a Killer Women workshop led by Erin Kelly. Erin has written a range of suspense books, my favourite being The Poison Tree, and is a course leader on Curtis Brown’s creative writing programme. She certainly knows her stuff.

The workshop was all about writing a killer opening but there were some great general writing tips for making your work sharp and focused.

Here are five writing tips from Erin’s session that you can weave into your work.

1. Assume the reader knows nothing

Don’t assume that because you know something, the reader will. You need to spell it out.

As the author, you are in charge of the world you’re creating and you need to tell your reader all about it. Fair enough, you can allude to things that the reader will know about – cultural references, everyday activities etc – but make sure you give specific details where you need them. Readers bring with them a lot of connotational baggage and will apply their own preconceptions if you aren’t explicit enough about what you want them to think.

2. Sell the book in the opening

This part of the book has to work harder than any other piece of the narrative. You need to hook the reader, set up your main characters, establish place and outline the circumstances of the action. Phew!

There’s a lot to include but polishing your opening chapters could make the difference between a reader walking away after 50 pages or being fully committed to the very end.

My favourite opening lately has been Emma Flint’s Little Deaths. This crime thriller’s first line knocked my socks off and acted like a magnet pulling me in to the rest of the novel. See what I mean…

Little Deaths quote


3. Focus on when normal changes

A day in the life of your character may allow you to practise your descriptive skills but it’s pretty boring for your reader. We can assume most people get up, eat breakfast and get dressed – we don’t need to hear about every instance of it.

Instead of writing about what’s normal for your character, focus on when normal changes. Start the action from the point when their lives are disrupted and the narrative becomes so much more engaging.

4. Ask questions

There are five questions you need to ask when planning your novel:

Who? What? Where? Why? When?

You also need to ask two other important questions when setting up significant action in your narrative. So what? and Then what?

Consider why your reader will care about the action (will it affect the main protagonist they’re now emotional attached to?), and is it enough to engage them to discover what happens next?

5. Show don’t tell

Avoid literal descriptions of things that you could show your reader instead.

For instance, don’t tell your reader it’s the evening. Tell them your protagonist noticed the candlelight flicker against his wife’s face as they ate dinner.

Describing environment, behaviour or actions is much more effective in creating an atmospheric scene – and in elevating your work to literary levels.

So, with these five writing tips you can sharpen your prose and polish your narrative into a story that will keep your reader gripped to the very end.

Off you go. Get writing.


2 thoughts on “5 writing tips from Erin Kelly

  1. […] At the start of the month, I went to a Killer Women event with the lovely Erin Kelly. She provided some really practical tips for keeping the opening of your novel sharp and the rest of the book focused. Check them out here.  […]

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