Tag Archive - 12 key pillars

The Secret to Writing Commercially Successful Novels

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.

Regardless of genre, today’s novels are primarily cinematic, which is a huge shift from the way novels were written back when I started. All you have to do is open a Michener or Steinbeck novel, flip some pages, and no doubt you’ll land on excessive (by today’s standards) narration. The author telling you about a place or characters, albeit in an engaging way (usually).

But what truly stands out is the “telling” of the story. Not “show, don’t tell,” which is what today’s novelists are urged to adopt as their mantra.

While there are exceptions to this (see Diane Setterfield’s novel Once upon a River or Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome for terrific examples of “old-fashioned” storytelling narrative), most successful novels read like movie scenes. The scene is in deep POV of one character, starts in the middle of something significant already underway, gets right into action (which can be dialogue), and builds with rising tension to a high moment at the end. That, in a nutshell, is the typical scene structure.

I teach the “twenty-minute rule” for scenes: not more than twenty minutes should pass for your character from the first line of a scene to the last. Of course, you can have multiple scenes in a chapter, but each scene needs to be a capsule of time; if you need to jump ahead an hour or more, end the scene. Then start your next scene in the new time period, with something already underway. Continue Reading…

Checklists Are Good for Your (Novel-Writing) Health!

Are you a “list” person? I sure am. Even though I have software programs like Sticky Notes to help me make my many (countless) lists, I still find myself scribbling notes to myself: Things to do today (before I breathe) . . .

Those of us who depend on lists as if they’re lifelines to sanity understand the “list mentality.”

Life is busy and distracting, especially in this tech age in which a gazillion things are vying for our attention. It’s hard to keep track of our schedules, kids, keys, glasses—you name it.

In order to write a terrific novel, we have to organize so many things. Novels aren’t just a compilation of characters, plot elements, and themes.

Those are just a few of the many components making up a novel. And, as I mentioned in an earlier blast, novels aren’t a result of throwing a bunch of ingredients in a bowl and stirring.

It’s so important to have a blueprint, some framework to use to direct our efforts in a logical manner. Continue Reading…

Create the Storm, Then Tame It!

Today, I want to talk about brainstorming. I love that word. It succinctly describes what goes on in a writer’s mind when in the throes of creating a novel.

I imagine we all spend large blocks of time stirring up the storm. Thinking up characters and scene ideas and twists and cool ways to bring out the themes we want to explore.

A mind is an amazing thing! But it can be hard to harness that storm of ideas and funnel them into something cohesive. I picture Ol’ Ben out in the storm with his kite, the key dangling from the string, hoping lightning will zap the kite and travel the string to the key.

What then? Did he stick the key in a jar, hoping the electricity would be trapped like a firefly? I can’t remember the story.

Can you really trap electricity in a jar? Maybe if you have a tight lid. And then what can you do with it? Well, a few smarties figured that out, and now I can turn on a switch and voila! Light. I’m grateful for electricity because it powers my computer. Continue Reading…