Tag Archive - characters

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…

Strategies for Novelists Who Are Writing a Series

I’m reposting this article from some years back, as many fiction writers plan a series but often don’t know the best way to lay out plot over multiple installments.

Many authors plan to write a series, but I’ve noticed when critiquing and editing novels that are part of a series, they often fail to keep in mind important elements that may not pertain to a stand-alone novel. Navigating through a series can be a kind of obstacle course, keeping focus through the many story developments to reach the finish line.

I’m not talking about a series of stand-alone novels that just feature the same character(s) but in different situations, such as in a mystery series showcasing a particular detective. In novels like those, just as with many TV series episodes, the plot is set up, developed, and resolved all in one book.

However, even in such series, you’ll often see characters grow and change. There may be long-term overarching storylines involving the characters that play out over many books.

There is no hard-and-fast rule regarding how to craft a series, but there are some things a writer should be careful to do.

Each Book Must Have a Plot That Resolves

Just as with a singular work, a first book in a series needs to present the characters and their goals and needs. The basic novel structure applies—a protagonist going after a goal, with him either reaching or failing to reach that goal at the climax.

When writing a book series, it is important to know that each book must have its own plot, one that is concluded by the end of the book. You can’t assume readers have read your first book. And even if they have, it may have been a year ago, and they aren’t going to remember all the details. Odds are they will end up confused and frustrated if you make that assumption. Continue Reading…

The Nuances of Deep POV – Part 4

Deep POV is truly all about voice. I pointed out in a previous post that there is a difference between the author’s writing style and each character’s voice. Voice isn’t just how a character speaks out loud—nor is it about their “inner voice” as they think specific thoughts. It’s every line of the scene.

I really want to drive this home because too many beginning writers—well, seasoned ones too—write every scene with the same style and vocabulary. In real life, hardly anyone talks like anyone else, and, while I can’t read minds, I’m guessing that no one thinks in the same manner as you—the way you form sentences and paragraphs, move from one thought to another.

There are certainly novels—many in the literary genre—that are written in a stylized narrator voice. We know there is a storyteller, whether we are told who that person is or not. That storytelling voice pervades the entire work, as expected.

Diane Setterfield’s Once upon a River is a magical tale told by such a storyteller. The opening lines set this up:

There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a day’s walk from the source. There were a great many inns along the upper reaches of the Thames at the time of this story and you could get drunk in all of them, but beyond the usual ale and cider each one had some particular pleasure to offer.

But with most commercial fiction, each scene’s “voice” is dictated by the POV character, and so the entire scene, experienced by the character, is conveyed by and through that character. Continue Reading…

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