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Six editing exercises for the opening of your novel by Sarah Savitt- Virago / The Pool New Crime Writer Prize


As well as being Deputy Publisher at Virago and a judge for the Virago / The Pool New Crime Writer Prize, Sarah Savitt has also taught creative writing for Arvon, Faber Academy and Guardian Masterclasses. Sarah’s editing exercises will help you refine the opening of your novel ahead of submitting it.  


Take a break

Often the perfect opening line or paragraphs for your novel are simply later in the book. Put the novel in a drawer for at least a few days, read with an open mind and a red pen, and mark with an asterisk when the novel really gets going, when it really starts to have a grip on you. Might this be your opening? Do you really need what comes before? Don’t be afraid to be bold and begin with your most interesting scene.


Get plotting

Answer these two questions in a sentence. What is my novel about (in terms of the plot)? What is my novel about (in terms of theme)? Now go back and read your opening with your two answers in mind. Do your first pages contain the seeds of your plot and theme?


Get to know your characters

Write a list of your main characters and a sentence about what each of them most desperately wants. Do you start the book with at least one of the key characters and is it clear what she or he wants? If not, is there a good reason why not?


Find the hook

Is there a short scene from the main turning point in the middle of your book or from the climax near the end of the novel that could work as a prologue?


Think like the reader

What questions would a reader have at the end of the first page? At the end of the first chapter?


Take a different look

Take an hour and –with a sense of fun and freedom – write three wildly different first pages for your novel (from a different point of view, or in a different tense, or from ten years in the future?).


With the Virago/The Pool New Crime Writer Award, we want to discover an exciting new female writer for the Virago list who is writing a suspenseful, intelligent, original crime or thriller novel. Find out more, and how to enter here.