Writing Advice From Author Joanne Harris

joanne harris

Joanne Harris is the author of everything from gothic novels to cookbooks.

Perhaps best known for her “Chocolat” series, Joanne is also very active on Twitter, where we found this wonderful thread.

Here, she’s gives ten concise pieces of advice on how a writer should approach beginning a story.

Take a look below. What do you think of her hints and tips?

Start at the beginning

We couldn’t agree more!

The first paragraph is definitely one of the most important parts of your story. It needs to immediately capture attention, and make your reader want to keep reading.

Alan from the Fiction team considered this in his recent article on memorable opening lines.

But remember: this doesn’t mean you have to give everything away in your first five sentences.

Build on your plot and characters as you move through the story.

Plot or character?

What will you focus on at the start of your story?

A big plot point (like a murder, as Joanne mentions, or maybe a mysterious conversation, or a family argument)? Or will you focus in on your character first (their circumstances, or their state of mind, for example)?

Focusing on one at the beginning doesn’t mean you should neglect the other, of course.

You can’t have a great story without both great characters and a strong plot.

What type of story are you writing?

There’s a reason our single best piece of advice for our writers is to read the magazine.

That way, you know what our readers expect to see on the page — information that can influence the plot of your story.

Take a look at this extract from our submission guidelines, for example:

Our readers like people — ordinary people, with problems they can sympathise with, and in situations they can relate to.

As Joanne says, real life can be more than dramatic enough at times!

In the right order

Don’t worry if you don’t stick the beginning on the first try.

You can always write other parts of your story first. In fact, this might even help you form the perfect beginning.

It all comes down to the particular writing routine that works for you.

What are you writing about?

When considering what’s most important to your story, you should think about its theme.

For example, a story about lost love could begin with a character reminiscing about a past relationship, or a flashback to the moment that relationship came to an end. 

Keeping your theme in mind means that, whether you choose to focus on character or incident, you’re still on track to tell the right story.

For plenty of writing advice from the team at “The People’s Friend”, click here or follow us on Twitter here.

You can follow Joanne Harris on Twitter here.

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.