Stories are the backbone of what makes us human. So it’s as natural as the sun coming up that we tell them, write them, listen and read them. Hemingway said he’d let go of many things through writing, and readers worldwide have learned great truths through the literature of our history.
But if you go at writing a novel from that standpoint, it’ll get so bogged down in “seriousness” that everyone (agents, editors, readers) will quit it faster than you can say Pulitzer Prize.
Because in essence, novels are meant to entertain.
Haven’t you ever picked up that new, “big,” important novel and after a chapter gone, “Blech!” And for a variety of reasons. Because if a novel doesn’t grab you up and transport you to a different world (even if that’s within the main character’s mind), your loyalty to it will disintegrate like a Hollywood marriage.
To entertain is something of a nebulous term itself, as we all have different tastes. Which is one reason we have so many different genres and subgenres of fiction. While you may not be caught dead reading a category Romance, Chick Lit might tweak your fancy all day long. You might hate Westerns, but love literature set in the West.
Case in point: my author, Randy Denmon, just won the prestigious Spur Award for his novel, Lords of an Empty Land. http://www.amazon.com/Lords-Empty-Land-Randy-Denmon/dp/0786035366/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458143785&sr=8-1&keywords=Lords+of+an+empty+land It’ a post-Civil War novel set in Louisiana, about a history I never knew. While the Spur is awarded by Western Writers of America, the book simply transcends the genre.
Although not apparent on the surface (or in the bookstore), publishing operates through very rigid lines.
The point being, the novels you love to read, and more importantly for our purposes to write, might have meant a host of things to you, but first and foremost, they entertained you—if only in your own head.
So, how do we do that?
What you, as a writer, know is that you must have the elements of great fiction to begin with. That takes time, study, guidance, and lots of writing. The tools of great writing—whether fiction or non—can be learned. And, they simply must be.
Characterization, plotting, organization and structure, voice, tone, etc.—all of these must be there in order for a novel to fly. And the devil truly is, as they say, in the details.
Because it’s by mastering these elements (so deceptively simple, no?) that we bring the magic forth from great fiction.
I could write a book on each of these topics, so we’ll save them for subsequent months. But you have to learn those skills first, before your okay or even good novel will be great.
The elements of great fiction provide the foundation upon which you stand to launch that fabulous story into the heavens of bestseller-dom.
From there, the intangibles come in.
* Did I have fun writing this passage/chapter/book?
* Do I care about my characters? (So often cardboard characters are mouthpieces for one belief system or another, and the author quite obviously didn’t like them to begin with. If you, as the author, don’t like your folks, how can we, as your readers?)
* Am I bored when going through revisions? (Be prepared to read your own book a thousand times, as you rewrite/revise/polish. If doing so bores you, just think how jaded agents and editors will react.)
* Does the middle drag? I.e., is your book the victim of ‘sagging middles’? http://www.maloneeditorial.com/structure-and-the-novel-those-dreaded-sagging-middles/
* When you read it aloud, is the prose ratchety, awkward, stumbling? Or does it sing with poetry if Literary, or move at a crisp pace if genre?
* Is the book all of one piece?
The key is to keep these questions in the front of your mind (taped to your monitor will help). Revisit them regularly.
Most importantly, with all of these tools solidly in your arsenal, then let your creativity run. Give that horse its head, hold on, and enjoy the visceral thrill of the ride.
That’s what makes for great fiction.