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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > May 2016 > The novelist’s Highway Code

The novelist’s Highway Code

Before you embark on your novel, make sure you know the way. Author and lecturer James McCreet guides you.

Something unexpected happened a few years ago when I first took the job of lecturer on an MA creative writing course. Even before I met my first classes, I was obliged to participate in the end-of-year marking period and to assess a number of completed student novels. These manuscripts, which ranged from 80,000 to 100,000 words, had to be judged on a variety of criteria, the most important of which was: is it publishable?

I was pleased to find that most students had learned well from their seminars and reading. The overall standard of prose was admirably high. Yet not a single one of those novels I marked was publishable. Why not? Because every one of them failed on structure – the most critical arbiter of whether a book is readable to the end. Structure can mean many things: pace, story, consistency, character arcs, thematic development... the list goes on and on. Had these students seen, or even considered, such a list?

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Got a five year plan? You set the targets, we'll help you hit them Everything you need to know before you write your novel New series: Shelf life - Top authors pick their favourite reads Reinventing Shakespeare: Be inspired by the Bard Publishing: Behind the scenes - Follow a book from manuscript to publication Star interview: Reader success - Costa Book of the Year winner Frances Hardinge Writers' News: 20 packed pages of publishing opportunities and £80,608 in writing prizes

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