You know the basics of what makes a good novel, right? You know that first and foremost, a great story entertains the reader, whether said reader be agent, editor, or book-club enthusiast.
Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could take that even further, and pen an unforgettable read?
You’ve heard the advice a million times about keeping your reader turning pages, no?
As if that’s a simple thing 🙂
And of course, as you already know, that involves story and characters, as well as voice and literary devices.
But what, exactly, are those?
Let’s roll up our sleeves and take a closer look at these 4 keys:
These days, plot is king. Exposition and narrative are out. Fast-paced page turners are in.
But before you get that sinking feeling in the pit of your belly (especially if you write Literary Fiction), this isn’t all a bad thing. Because in essence, even though pacing is paramount these days, there still is interweaving of narrative within it.
The point is just not to point it out.
What does that mean, exactly? Just to make sure that the narrative part of your story is smoothly interwoven into your scenes.
Because in essence, scene structure really does have 5 parts. You set the scene. Conflict rises. Conflict comes to a climax. Then you have denouement and resolution.
And funny thing—the last two require exposition and narrative. Because while something is still happening in your story, your main character has to process what happened.
That’s the microcosm of things. The macrocosm is about the arc of the storyline, which of course works for all genres in both fiction and nonfiction.
Yes, lots of skills are involved here. But you’re up to that task, no?
You already know that your characters have to be 3-sided, flesh-and bone, complex folks.
But as with so many things about writing for publication, that’s often easier said than done. Those characters may be oh-so multi-dimensional in your head. Doesn’t much matter though if that doesn’t translate to the page.
An exercise I give my writers all the time is to write a short story about each important character, from childhood or adolescence. Or even young adulthood, if your protagonist is older. Something from the person’s past, a seminal event, which caused him to become the man he is. Changed him in some way. Turned his life in a different direction.
This isn’t really to be included in the book (although parts of it can be), but rather, to help you to get a deeper understanding of him, in order to more fully convey him on the page, in fewer words.
My writers are always amazed at what they find about their characters. It’s truly an eye-opening exercise!
Let’s be honest—this one is difficult to define.
I mean, you know it when you read it. Many authors have such distinctive voices, you can pick them out anywhere.
But how does this come to be?
Unfortunately, there’s no real secret here. No magic wand. No easy way.
The way to hone your voice is, well, to write. A lot. To write, revise, write, revise, and we could keep going here for pages. All the time you’re studying more about characterization and plotting and pacing and, well, the whole schmear. And then writing some more.
This may not happen with your first book. Your voice may not even be honed by your second. In fact, it’s usually the third book where an author’s voice truly starts to shine.
Remember: Even Hemingway lost his first 3 manuscripts. He was devastated at the time, but later said it was the best thing that ever happened to him—because he learned to write and honed his voice on the first 3.
֎ LITERARY DEVICES
Here’s the thing about these: this is about skills (as are all parts above too), and skills can be learned.
Whether you join a critique group, take classes, or work with a great book editor, the manipulation of words on the page is all about the skill to do so.
You know, the when to use active voice instead of passive voice, and vice versa.
How to tighten your pose to make it sing.
Changing sentence structure for effect in different scenes.
And of course, when to tell, and when to show (and yes—even though you hear show-don’t-tell all the time, in many places telling more effectively moves the plot and characters).
Or course, these just point to the tip of the iceberg, as so many literary devices come into play in addition to these.
So, in the end, what makes a good novel?
In a nutshell, it’s one where the author has learned her craft, is able to create a people and place on the page through shining prose, who keeps the story moving at just the right pace.
And in the end, the reader comes away entertained and satisfied as well.
A tall order, no?
But you’re up to it! Go to it, and let me know where your journey takes you.