Gillian Best is an accomplished Canadian author, swimmer and a seaside enthusiast. As a child she once dreamed of becoming a garbage man, or a surfer, though she eventually discovered her talent for creative writing. Like the sea, language has been a vital part of her life.
I spoke to her to find out what makes great writing. What could marketers learn from a master of long-form copy?
In your view, what makes great writing?
‘I think it has to be well paced, I want it to have a plot. I love fast-moving dialogue. I enjoy books more when they are plot-driven. For me, great writing isn’t too descriptive. I do enjoy longer books, and it is fun to write lengthy passages as an author. But the reader wants to know what happens, so it’s important have to have a balance – otherwise you risk slowing things down. There’s an entire chapter in a Steinbeck novel that just deals with a tortoise crossing the road, which is so beautiful. But when I’m writing, I think the colour eyes people have, or what they’re wearing doesn’t really matter. Think of it like a film, all the shots have to be really tight, the viewer’s eye has to be drawn to a specific detail. The reader doesn’t need more than that.’
How important is word choice and punctuation?
‘How something reads, and how it sounds, are completely different things. Punctuation is the rhythm of writing. When you read back what you’ve written, you always hear it more truly. I read my work out loud and see naturally where the pauses are. Then I adjust wording and punctuation accordingly. Word choice and punctuation go together really to create a realistic rhythm.’
How important is the story?
‘If I’m not enjoying writing it, then no-one else is going to have any f*cking fun. For me, the one thing that drives every story is the central motivation of each character. My characters tend to be very focused on a single goal. But you also have to have ups and downs, like we have in music, like there is in our daily lives. Our lives are punctuated by episodes of anticipation or excitement, so that belongs in every story. Writing well is all about having a great story. My favourite adverts are always the ones with the best storylines. The story is the most powerful ingredient. That’s what sticks with you the most.’
You’re currently writing a second novel, what are your aims this time?
I’m really hoping to play with form this time, to switch around the narrators, or play with time. For me, writing is a pleasure, I love it when characters sound like themselves, when a scene appears. Normally I would story-board books, but now I just write.
Gillian Best has won awards for short fiction, took second place in Unbound Press’ Best Novel competition (2011), was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize International Creative Writing Competition (2013), long-listed for the Write Idea short story prize (2014), and shortlisted for Wasafiri’s New Writing Prize (2015). Her most recent book, ‘The Last Wave’ tells a moving story of Martha, a woman driven to swim the English Channel ten times.
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