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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.

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The 6 Necessary Elements in Your Novel’s Opening Chapters

Writing a novel is a massive undertaking. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written one or thirty.

And even after studying countless how-to books on fiction writing and taking workshops and listening to podcasts, many aspiring writers still flounder.

Why is that? Because there is so much to learn, and if you undertake this mission to learn without focusing first on the most important elements of a story, you can waste a lot of time.

Yes, it’s important to learn how to craft great characters. And write distilled, effective dialogue. And have a riveting plot. But that’s not enough.

I do more than 200 manuscript critiques a year, some by beginning writers and others by seasoned authors. Regardless, I can tell you this as fact:

Very few of these manuscripts hold up structurally. Continue Reading…

12 Questions to Ask Your Character to Bring Setting to Life

Too often, writers ignore setting. Look—we live in the physical world. We respond to and interact with every single setting we are in.

External elements affect us, our mood, our health, our perspective. Weather, quality of light, feel of the air, smells … all factors that contribute.

Fiction writers are all about manipulating readers. We want our readers to feel certain things, come to specific conclusions. We should know what our objectives are for every scene. So taking time to decide on setting is important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

When choosing settings for your scenes, you want to think about the kinds of places that will allow the emotions, needs, dreams, and fears of your characters to come out. Certain places will trigger these things to come to the surface and will stir memories.

Your character has a past, and even if she never visits any of the places in her past in your novel, other places can draw out feelings and memories. This happens to us all the time.

Of course, if you are putting your characters in places they’ve been before, or they are living in the same town their whole life, those memories and feelings are closer to the surface. The point it, you want to use your setting to help bring out your themes, drive your plot, and reveal character. You don’t have to do this, but by ignoring setting you are missing out on a great tool in your writer’s toolbox that you can use in a powerful way.

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