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What’s it all about?

Get to the heart of good writing and uncover the essence of your novel with advice from Gary Dalkin

What’s it all about? Not the meaning of life, but your novel (which of course might just be about the meaning of life). It sounds like a big question. Subtext, theme, the heroine’s journey. Or is it just about 542 pages? Or perhaps it’s 30,000 words too long and something has to go and you don’t know where to begin?

Wondering what your novel is really about can sound pompous, pretentious. Especially if it is a book designed purely as an entertainment with no thought to being a literary award winner. But the question of ‘about’, of theme or subtext in any fiction, is not necessarily a matter of profundity. Rather, it is about discovering the essence of the book so that everything can be focused to bring out that essence to full advantage. And that applies whether that means making a cosy romantic comedy as funny and heartwarming as possible, or ensuring a subtle exploration of a soul in torment gets unerringly to the heart of the matter.

Whether the lightest read or the most demanding experimental novel, all stories are about ‘something’. Stopping to think about what that something is (and it may be more than one something) enables us to bring it out, and at the same time helps you, the writer, decide just what should be included in your novel, and what is unnecessary. What might even be hindering the book, dragging it down, killing the pace, distracting from what you are really trying to say, do or achieve. What should be cut.

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About Writing Magazine

Earn from your writing and get published: Cash prize competitions, calls for submissions and writing opportunities in 20 pages of Writers' News Discover your inner writer Cut to the heart of your novel – without losing the plot Social skills: Learn to use your online time to the max 10 top tips to get your book published and keep it selling Reader successes: Readers share their success stories Meet our publishing deal competition winner Star interview: Prize-winning poet and author Kei Miller on writing without boundaries

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