When I re-read Treasure Island recently, it struck me what a powerful storyteller was Robert Louis Stevenson. I was so impressed, I kept a running list of the things I was learning about the art of storytelling as I read this masterpiece. Here they are, in the order in which I came upon them:

  1. Make the story seem compellingly real.
  2. Create finely drawn characters, with defining features, voices and behaviours that make them memorable.
  3. Introduce intrigue and danger from the start.
  4. Write short chapters that have the right weight, pace and importance. (I certainly took notice of this one in my new novel.)
  5. Move the action around to different locations.
  6. Confidently describe amazing landscapes that you’ve never actually seen, as if you were standing there.
  7. End chapters on a cliffhanger.
  8. Throw obstacles at characters – as well as lucky strikes, turn-arounds and surprises.
  9. Expound on evil behaviour, and make it look somehow enticing.
  10. Describe a past event that might once again come true.
  11. Keep things hidden until it’s time for the big reveal.
  12. End with a final great quest.

These are most relevant to adventure stories, but I found ways to use them in Remember My Name (a social satire) and, of course, Dark Farm (sci-fi fantasy horror).

Are there other things you’ve learnt from reading Treasure Island? If so, I would love to hear about them.

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