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Terry Hayes: Top Writing Tips

We all know Terry Hayes as the author behind one of the year’s biggest debuts, I Am Pilgrim. However, before becoming a novelist Terry was a Hollywood screenwriter, so he has always been a storyteller.

We caught up with him to get some top writing tips for aspiring novelists. Here’s a man who really tells it like it is…

When writing, have you ever struggled with the middle of a story?

No, I’ve struggled with every section. If I’d only struggled with the middle, that would be fine! Whenever you’re struggling – with the beginning, middle or end – it’s because you don’t have fundamental conflict, and you haven’t set up the characters correctly so they are involved in a real battle. In movies, if a scene doesn’t work it’s not because there’s anything wrong with that particular scene – it’s because there’s something wrong with the earlier scenes. Whenever anything goes pear-shaped or doesn’t appear to have any pace or interest to it, it’s generally because the characters are in agreement over something rather than in dispute. That’s certainly how drama works and that’s generally what we try to do in books – we tend to try and make things dramatic, and that comes from people being in conflict.

Struggling happens all the time. You have to stop and say to yourself ‘these people are just agreeing with each other’ and it’s just becoming information. You can write as fancy as you like, spend years trying to improve the prose, but it will never really work because they are just sharing a joint view.

To give you a brief example, there is nothing worse, nothing more boring than watching people in love. You take people in love separated by war or conflict or family, like Romeo and Juliet, and watch them trying to get together – that’s interesting. That’s because there’s conflict between the lovers, the lovers and their families, conflict on every level. When it goes pear-shaped it’s not something to worry about – it’s something to be grateful for, because you’re seeing the symptoms of something being very wrong.

Do you have any top tips that you would pass on to those wanting to write novels?

Don’t smoke. Give up smoking. If you’re sitting there and you’re writing – and this is from an ex-smoker – there is nothing so attractive as ‘I’ll just pause for a cigarette’, and before you know it you’re smoking sixty a day. Get a bike, do some form of exercise. It is the world’s most sedentary job, and you know, I don’t mind suffering for my art but I’m damned if I ever end up dying for it!


This is an exclusive extract from content featured on upcoming courses from The Writers’ Academy.

The Writers’ Academy offers creative writing courses from the world’s largest publisher, Penguin Random House.

1 Comment

    Wrote a review here yesterday about this Crackling good book and what a great read it was, then remeberd the possibility that it may be made into a film, really hope it is it would be fantastic to watch the story unfold on screen, and just a thought from a film buff, I think Liam Nesson would be ace as pilgrim!.

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