Tips for writing fiction from a master thriller writer

In his 2017 book Camino Island by John Grisham – an undisputed master of crime and legal thrillers – the bookshop-owner Bruce Cable gave the following tips for writing fiction. The character said that he had read over 4000 books and here are Bruce’s pearls of wisdom for successful writing.

Tip 1: Avoid prologues where possible

Bruce hates these, especially where they leave the reader hanging in suspense until well into the book. The reader has probably forgotten the prologue when the relevant action finally occurs.

Tip 2: Avoid overuse of new characters

Don’t introduce twenty new characters in the first chapter. Five is enough at this stage so as not to confuse the reader.

Tip 3: Long words

Use words of three of fewer syllables. Using long or obscure words is just showing off. [Me: Too right. I have read books full of flowery language that leave me frustrated and reaching for a dictionary!]

Tip 4: Use quotation marks around dialogue

To do otherwise is confusing.

Tip 5: Be concise

Cut out unnecessary sentences and scenes. [Me: A longer book is not necessarily a better book and can lead to reader fatigue. Use the American KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid or variations on this.]

If you want to read the full text, then go to p. 238 of Camino Island. [Please note the free publicity Mr Grisham!]

Summary

John Grisham is a very successful writer, with many books to his name, some having been adapted for movies. To ignore Bruce’s rules would be short-sighted.