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The Secret Formula to Writing the Commercially Successful Novel

I’ve been writing novels for more than three decades, and while I have learned a lot about how unpredictable the market is, there are some specific characteristics that have consistently set apart novels that see success. You’d think every informed novel-writer would know what these are.

Here’s the thing:

I critique more than 200 manuscripts a year (95% novels). Even the best ones seem to be missing the key ingredients for a commercial best seller.

Why is that?

Because few writers have learned the specific elements that identify a great novel with great potential. And many of those elements are not what the average fiction writer is taught.

Sure, you need a great plot, an intriguing and fresh premise, terrific characters. And your scenes need to be tight time capsules of “show, don’t tell.”

But a terrific commercially viable novel has so much more. And few books or writing instructors teach what these essential elements are.

Continue Reading…

Using Dialogue in Scenes to Reveal Character

Dialogue is perhaps the best tool in the writer’s toolbox. Through it, writers can reveal things about character and plot, set up and amplify conflict and stakes, create mystery and microtension, and so much more—and this is why it merits a lot of attention.

Yes, dialogue always serves more than one purpose—more than merely conveying information. Fiction writers should want to learn skills and methods to help them pack dialogue with as much punch as possible.

Dialogue is also extremely difficult to do well. It has to be condensed and distilled to be effective. Great dialogue in fiction is hardly realistic or exact; it infers more than it states. In essence, it’s stylized for effect.

That’s why you can’t merely listen to people’s conversations and copy them down verbatim and use them in your scenes. Much of conversation is boring, repetitive, rambling, and full of extraneous words that clutter.

Use Dialogue to Reveal Character

What I want to talk about for a bit is the way dialogue can replace character description and create an impression without the narrative “telling” that is so often maligned (and usually for good reason).

When we both listen and watch someone speak, we pick up a lot of information that is inferred by the listener. With characters, not only can other characters infer and react to what the speaker is saying and what their body language is conveying (those can be and are often two wildly different things), the reader infers as well. Continue Reading…

10 Questions to Help Fiction Writers “Set the Stage”

One of the primary objectives and responsibilities of a fiction writer is to transport readers into the world of their story.

However, it’s easier said than done. You, the writer, must visualize your scene—where your characters are, what the place looks and feels like—with enough detail that you can play out the action in your head.

There are two potential problems here. First: if you don’t spend enough time truly bringing that stage to life, it isn’t going to come across to your readers. But, second, you have to decide how much detail to convey.

No reader wants six pages of furniture description. Yet, without some description, readers aren’t transported. So what’s a writer to do?

Only What She Notices

Here’s the best place to start when considering what to include in your setup of time and place: your POV character’s head.

Because every scene needs to be in POV—meaning shown only through the eyes and thoughts of one character who is “experiencing” and processing the action of the scene—it’s all about what she notices.

When you walk into a room, what do you notice? Continue Reading…

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