Tips from the Masters

Here at the Young Walter Scott Prize we are dedicated to getting you writing!  As well as our programme of Imagining History workshops which provides hands-on, practical guidance, we have used our connections and called on the great and good of the literary world to give you their tips for writing and research.

Our Writers’ Tips videos feature two award-winning authors: bestselling crime writer Val McDermid, and former Walter Scott Prize winner Tan Twan Eng. Talking to us from the ‘Smoking Room’ at Bowhill, home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, when they visited for the Borders Book Festival, Val and Twan give us the benefit of their great experience in these videos:

You can find more advice from acclaimed authors of historical fiction and previous Walter Scott Prize winners, filmed specially for the YWSP, including David Almond, the late Helen Dunmore, and Hermione Eyre,  on our YouTube Channel here.

Writing tips from the Young Walter Scott Prize

The directors of the Young Walter Scott prize share some advice on getting started

The best way to start isn’t necessarily at the beginning. 

  • Picture a scene you’d like to happen at some point – any point – in your story and write about it.
  • Have a conversation with one of your characters – ask him or her all the questions to which you need to know the answers. What’s their favourite colour? Their favourite food? Least favourite smell? Their greatest fear? Their favourite place? Their politics? You won’t necessarily use all that information in your story, but that character will be so much easier to write, and will sound so much more convincing because you know him or her so well.
  • Start with a mind-map of your story if you don’t want to write out a plan in detail. Make it as complicated as you like!
  • Doodle – who knows what ideas you’ll come up with?
  • What do you want your readers to feel when the story ends? Write the final paragraph.