Sally Green's top tips for debut authors

Sally Green's debut YA novel Half Bad has sold in 45 countries, and film rights have already been snapped up.

Here, Sally offers her advice on getting started and top tips for writing.

She says: "The great thing about writing is it's fun and it's never too late to start. I began writing only four years ago, when I was 48 years old. I have learnt a lot in a short space of time, but I am serious about it and when I was writing Half Bad I was living and breathing it 24/7."

Ten tips for debut novelists

  1. half_badRead as a writer. This means reading a lot and widely. I write for young adults but I was inspired by adult, literary fiction and issues in the news. As you read, try to analyse what you think works in a piece of writing - how has the writer done it? Similarly, if something doesn't work, where has the writer gone wrong? 
  2. Get a writing buddy. If you can find a fellow writer or writers to share ideas, enthusiasm and feedback with then do, as you will all benefit. But don't work with people who suck the time and energy out of you.
  3. Watch films and TV. Good films and TV have great scripts and dialogue - they are written by writers! Get hold of scripts (the BBC has some online), and see how crisp the dialogue is and how it conveys information about the character and his or her relationship with others, as well as moving the plot along.
  4. Write! Write every day. Learn from other media - poetry shows how one word can make a mood, writing scripts will help with dialogue and character development, non-fiction improves clarity and succinctness (how am I doing here?) Make notes, keep a diary, blog, write letters...
  5. Stare out of windows. When I was writing Half Bad I'd spend days staring out of the window imagining a scene, and would write it down only when I had it worked out and I knew the dialogue and every movement. But the key is imagine it. If it's that clear to you then it will have more chance of being real on the page.
  6. Know your characters. My stories are character driven and the story and plot develops from them. Not everyone works like this but however you do it, you are going to have to know your characters very well. Write their details down. 
  7. Point of view. Who is telling this story? It's useful to experiment writing your story from different people's point of view. Be the husband breaking up with his wife, then write as the wife, the lover, his mum, her neighbour, the postman. You may find that you can tell the story best from the postman's point of view.
  8. Descriptions and trusting your reader. When describing people, less is more, in fact none at all is best (in my opinion). Hemingway, my favourite short story writer, was renowned for not describing characters and yet their appearances are clear in my head. Hemingway trusted that I'd know what his character looked like from the way they acted - and I do. 
  9. Start late, leave early and trust your reader. When I was writing Half Bad I struggled sometimes with violent scenes, but then I realised that I didn't need to describe everything, I needed to stop the scene and leave the reader to imagine what I wasn't telling them. Similarly, you don't have to start a scene with the man deciding to tell his wife he's having an affair; it might work better by starting in the middle of the argument. Let the reader have fun working out what is happening.
  10. And finally. Edit your story ruthlessly. Cut every word that doesn't add anything. Cut every word that says more about you than about the story. Cut. Cut. Cut. You can add stuff too if you are sure that each word you add is vital. Print your story out, read it aloud and edit it again. If you have time, put it in a drawer and don't look at it for a few weeks, then go through it again.


sally_greenMore about Sally Green

Sally Green lives in north-west England. She has had various jobs and even a profession, but in 2010 discovered a love of writing and now just can't stop. She used to keep chickens, makes decent jam, doesn't mind ironing, loves to walk in Wales even when it's raining, and will probably never jog again. She really ought to drink less coffee. Half Bad is her first novel.



Last updated: about 3 years ago