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How to write a page-turning novel
This course will teach you how to write your first novel.
It is built on tried-and-trusted storytelling techniques.
Perfected by many centuries of storytelling. Stuff that works.
In a sense, it is unashamedly old-fashioned.
It probably won’t teach you to write a literary novel.
But if you want to write the sort of novel that 99% of readers love, read on.
The box you keep your dreams in.
You’ve probably got one of these pink boxes on the right.
It’s where you keep the memory of your first kiss.
Some people keep junk in theirs.
But others have dreams, big ones.
They want to climb Kilimanjaro.
They want to sledge with dogs across Lapland and see the Northern Lights.
You want to write a novel.
So what is the problem?
You know what it is.
You either never start, or you start and get stuck.
And you say, ‘Oh God! I’m such a loser! What on earth made me think I was good enough to write a novel!
And you abandon the task, your heart crushed by doubt.
How do I know this?
Because every writer who ever got published initially felt like this.
I know I did.
It’s a rite of passage.
Caution: you could turn into a cat.
I purred like a cat when I saw my first novel in the bookshop window.
You will too.
That’s how good it feels.
There is no cure.
So why do writers give up?
There are two reasons. Both easy to remedy.
Firstly, you lacked a method. You just started writing and hoped you would get by on a wing and a prayer.
It’s a bit like trying to assemble a flatpack wardrobe without the instruction leaflet.
Hardly surprisingly, you crashed.
And then you were overcome by doubt.
So we begin the course in a form of Mental Boot Camp.
Here we equip you with the necessary understanding, insight and techniques for vanquishing the Monster.
And then, we will look at the method.
A blueprint you can follow, simple actionable steps that make getting stuck much harder.
My method is derived from spending ten years teaching Oxford University’s online ‘Writing Fiction’ course.
(A course which I also wrote for them.)
At its heart is a simple insight with profound implications.
Once you understand it, you know intuitively at every stage what it is you are supposed to be doing.
The Good News
The real reason you gave up has nothing to do with talent.
Take a look at the video on the right and I will give you a simple experiment that will prove it.
Be more enchanting than a witch
The insight is this:
A novel is a guided dream.
We have to make the dream so enjoyable that the reader cannot bear to leave.
We make the reader a captive more surely than those children in fairytales taken captive by witches.
We do this using easy-to-follow techniques for making the story thrilling and gripping.
In essence we aim to achieve what we might call the page-turning paradox.
The Page-turning paradox
Which means we create a dream so good that the reader can’t put the book down and races to the end whilst at the same loving it so much she doesn’t want it to end.
What you will learn
All fiction is a form of enchantment so we must learn to cast a spell upon the reader.
- How to put a spell on readers using only words
- Why only a specific type of words can be used to hypnotise the reader.
- How the construction of scenes is vital to maintaining the trance.
Once you have beguiled your readers into a trance, your task is to keep them there happily turning pages.
- The storytelling insight shared by Scheherazade and Alfred Hitchcock.
- How to combine causality, conflict and curiosity to keep the reader gripped in storytelling glue.
- What causality is and how to generate it.
We know it’s all about character. But why? Because, as a reader, you become one of the characters and live their life for a while.
- How to use a psychological flaw to make your hero fascinating (even if he is a jerk).
- The vital importance of ‘growth’ and a trick that works like clockwork to achieve it.
- How to add psychological depth to your villain using a trick stolen from the Batman movies
- The perfect blueprint for ‘growth’ found in the movie Tootsie.
Remember the flatpack wardrobe? Think of plot as the instruction leaflet. This is your map. Use it wisely and you will never have to wonder, ‘What do I do now?’
- The vital difference between plot and story.
- To understand the eternal debate between plotters and ‘pantsers’.
- The secret story structure shared by James Bond and the ancient Greek hero Perseus
- The work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and why Star Wars stole it.
To create a page-turner it’s not enough to be entertaining, you need to thrill.
- How to provide readers with the drug they crave: emotion
- How to put readers on the rack and torment them. (Don’t worry, they like it.)
- Why it’s good to make the innocent suffer and why there are so many wicked stepmothers in fairytales.
- How to make people cry and why you should.
- The secret of page-turning inspired by a flatulent donkey.
Your opening pages are the most important of all. You need to grab the reader or agent in seconds.
- How to grab the reader using a trick developed by US vacuum cleaner salesmen in the 1950s
- The five key points you MUST cover in the first 1,000 words.
- Four rookie errors that will ensure your manuscript gets rejected unread.
- Five actionable techniques to help you avoid the most unforgivable sin of all: ‘Writing that sounds like writing.’
Probably the most indispensable skill of all: how not to give up.
- The great secret of writing found in George Orwell’s wastepaper bin.
- How to make your plots bullet proof using Chekhov’s Gun
- The ultimate doubt-busting technique revealed by an X-ray of Rembrandt’s canvases.
- The technique used by Faulkner, Steinbeck, Graham Greene and all the greats for defeating the greatest foe of all. Procrastination.
You won’t get far without out them, but what happens when they don’t come?
- Why inspiration is for amateurs and what the pros do.
- How to unleash the miracle of serendipitous discovery.
- Two simple but powerful techniques that forces your brain to generate ideas
Most importantly…a method
You might think art cannot be reduced to a formula, but fortunately, no one told the old storytellers this. Down the years, countless generations of storytellers have distilled through their works a structure that informs the vast majority of stories.
Did you know the James Bond story, Dr No, and the legend of Perseus and the Medusa share the same basic structure? Once you understand this structure, you have an intuitive understanding of what you should be doing at each stage of your novel and thus do not get lost.
Boiled down to its essence, it goes like this: a hero starts in the ordinary world and sets off on a quest for something.
In pursuit of this Grail/elixir/ Secret Formula/Stolen Jewels, or whatever, he encounters opposition in escalating severity, finds himself burnished in the crucible of adversity, and as a consequence undergoes a spiritual death.
He then rises from the ashes of his former self, seizes the Elixir and returns home. In the course of this story, he achieves what we call ‘growth’.
That’s the map. Informing the journey is the insight that fiction is a guided dream in which the reader participates – usually as one of the characters and lives a different life for a while.
Hopefully, the reader will put the book down with the satisfying intuition that all the sound and fury signified something because we also teach you a way to imbue the tale with meaning. That might sound like a tall order, but the Course provides a method that utilises the psychological journey made by the hero in such a way that meaning emerges almost unbidden.
All you have to do is follow the various steps outlined and find the necessary iron in the soul to keep turning up at the keyboard until the job is done. (This is the hard part; the rest is following instructions.)
Seriously, you can do this.
How to make an agent fall in love with you
Look at you both, you and the agent, lying in the surf somewhere in the South Pacific.
The surf roars and thunders in your ears, louder even than the pounding of your hearts.
She cries and doesn’t know why and beats your chest helplessly with her tiny fists.
How did it get to this?
Because you made sure before submitting your manuscript that
you absorbed the lessons contained in Lesson 12: Hook Them!
Occasionally asked questions
What if I am unhappy with the course?
No problem. If for any reason you are dissatisfied in the first 30 days, just send me your brain and I’ll have the course removed, and refund your money.
Ah just kidding. If you are not happy for any reason let me know within 30 days and I’ll refund the money. No questions asked. But if I find out that a year later you published a novel I will come looking for you.
How long do I have access to the course?
A lifetime. After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like – across all your devices.
Is there a ‘live’ component to the course?
No it consists entirely of video lectures. You can ask me anything you like by email, though, as often as you like. I actually look forward to hearing from students.
How does this relate to the Oxford University Course?
I was invited in 2009 by Professor Sandie Byrne to write the ‘Writing Fiction’ course for the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, and taught it for the next nine years. This course is a distillation of my experience teaching hundreds of students on that course, together with 18 years as a full-time novelist. The Oxford course is more generally about writing fiction whereas this course is specifically designed to teach aspiring novelists to write their first novel.
Malcolm Pryce is an inspiration, both as a writer and a tutor. His understanding of storytelling is unparalleled and he has the ability to break down the elements of his craft and to convey them with wit and humour
This course brilliantly demythologises the craft of novel writing. It starts by tackling head-on the doubts and insecurities that bedevil us all, and then gives simple actionable ways to deal with them. I found this part tremendously empowering – it gave me the belief that I genuinely could do it.
The course has exceeded my high expectations. It is filled with insight and humour but best of all you finish what you started because you feel, you know, that you really could do it if you are willing to put in the effort.
I have always wanted to write a novel but have never been sure how to start, and more importantly, keep going. Taking Malcolm’s course is a great way to learn writing techniques and provides achievable steps to map out your novel. All of the lessons are informative and full of the King of Welsh Noir’s humour, which makes them entertaining and memorable. I really enjoyed the course and am no longer daunted by that white page!
The course was an inspiring, motivating, fun and enlightening experience. I learnt so much. The only reason why you wont be able to write a book after this course is because you don’t have enough ‘bum-glue’, all the other tools are in place!
It’s amazing what the imagination can come up when Malcolm Pryce is your tutor.
His writing advice is encouraging, reassuring, heartening and liberating.
I’ve been failing to write a novel for the past thirty years. At last, thanks to this course, I’m doing it, and spending some happy hours inside my own fictive dream.
A few words about me
A few years ago now, the Sunday Telegraph was kind enough to call me the ‘The King of Welsh Noir.’ Well, when they make you a King, there is an obligation on you to beget an heir or perform great public works. I opted for the latter, and the result was this course.
I have published eight novels. The draft of my first, Aberystwyth Mon Amour, was completed while travelling on a refrigerated banana boat, the M/V Coppename, bound for Surinam in South America. The next four were written whilst living in Bangkok. In my time, I have been a hotel washer-up, a BMW assembly-line worker, a deckhand on a yacht sailing through Polynesia, an advertising copywriter and the world’s worst aluminium salesman.
Both copywriting and being the world’s worst aluminium salesman provided excellent training for writing because you spend your days trying to talk to people who don’t like you and wish you would go away.
More stuff about me and my books can be found elsewhere on this site.
Pryce’s fictional Aberystwyth is a sustained masterpiece of dark imagination
One of the most inventively comic crime novels of recent years
Sheer delight…already one of my favourite books of the year
Wildly funny, admirably eccentric and warm and humane…Sumptuously detailed
Pryce really is in a league of his own
A uniquely surreal spin on the hoary conventions of noir writing…impossibly weird and, in parts, beautifully lyrical.
Who is this course not for?
I won’t kid you.
It’s hard work writing a novel.
Damned hard work.
So you have to want it pretty badly.
And you need a certain amount of iron in the soul.
The sort that makes you turn up at your desk when you would really rather not.
But I suspect if you’ve read this far, you already know this and have what it takes.
So go for it! Enrol in the course, and I’ll see you one day in the Writer’s Bar in Heaven!
I’ve left the best thing to last
There’s something else, too.
Remember when you told your friends you were thinking of writing a novel?
They gave you a look, didn’t they?
Sort of condescending, pitying, and—let’s be honest—desperately hoping you would fail.
You know how you will you feel if you prove them wrong?
The Eskimos have a word for it.
I know I was writing stories when I was five. I don’t know what I did before that. Just loafed I suppose.
P. G. Wodehouse