Novel writing is not for the faint of heart. While you can write a short story in a day or a week or a month, (or in my case, several months) completing that first novel takes patience and endurance. And once you’ve written the first draft of your novel, you must look at it with a cold, hard, eye, and begin all over again. I’m learning this craft as I go, and am always looking for novel writing tips to up my game.
Okay, if you know me, you know that I don’t pull punches. In fact, my writers group has nicknamed me Blunt. I don’t like it when people tell me I look nice when I know it looks as though I just crawled out of a sewer pipe. I hate it when people say that my writing is “Just great!” with that falsetto high pitch we all know means they are trying not to offend. It doesn’t help us improve ourselves when people placate us about how we look, or how we write.
So how do you figure out if your novel sucks and how can you fix it?
Here are a few pointers I’ve picked up the hard, expensive way. Now pay attention, I’m only going to say this once!
- Your novel has 90% narration, 5% flashbacks and 5% dialogue. Okay, let’s be honest, it takes a freaking MASTER to keep the attention of a reader with this kind of breakdown. MASTER, not NEWBIE. And if you’re reading this, even if you’ve got several books out, you’re a NEWBIE, just like me.
Up your dialogue people! Every time you step into narration and flashbacks, you SLOW your reader down. Way down. Might even put the book down. So try, really, really hard to “up” your dialogue. Turn that narration into a CONVERSATION.
- The characters in your novel all get along and float through life. Okay, conflict is #1 in a story. Who the hell cares if their lives are perfect? Mine isn’t, I sure don’t want to read about someone who has a better life than me. Readers want a story to show them just how BAD life can get and how the hero deals with it. Look at every chapter, if there isn’t some sort of conflict, put something new in. Maybe the evil stepmother we all thought was dead comes back to life as a zombie. Or maybe the husband who ran off with the sister was really poisoned and now needs to be rescued! The possibilities are endless regardless of the genre, so make your characters SUFFER!
- Your novel is receiving reviews about TYPOS! Please, please, please get at least one editor to go over your book! If you can’t afford an editor, there are ALWAYS options. Beg another author, do a swap with them and give them an “edit” on their book while they do the same for yours. But dang, there is a reason you can’t get reviews, or that the reviews you do get are 3 stars at best (not including family and friends in this of course because we all make them give us 5 stars ;p).
Typos, dropping plot threads (e.g. A character shows up in chapter 1 but then never again and yet they seemed important, that is a dropped thread), and general issues with your “baby” (that I won’t go into here for sake of space) can be VASTLY improved by having someone in the industry do a pass. Not just your mom or your best friend. Someone who will tell you the truth, even if it makes you CRY!
- Last and final way to improve your novel. Learn your strengths and play to them. I write FAST PACED, high octane books that always center on the power of relationships between loved ones. That is MY strength. I can’t write police procedurals, I’ve tried. I can’t write children’s books, the kids get nightmares. Figure out what your STRONG points are. Maybe you have a knack for building tension in scenes to the point of making people grip their books/Kindles in a white knuckle grasp. Build on that. Write emotional scenes so strong you bring tears to people’s eyes? Go for it! Full force on your strengths will make your novel stand out from the crowd. Don’t try to be something you aren’t.
In conclusion, in this shifting world of self publishing going head to head with the traditional publishers, we HAVE to stand out from the rest. And not because we are the best at sucking.
As a reader, what puts you off while reading a novel? If you’re a writer, what are your strengths? Do you play to them? If you’re an editor, what are the most common problems you come across while working on novels?
After a 2 year period waiting on her agent to actually do something, Ms. Mayer dropped the agent, and self published her first trilogy, A Zombie-ish Apocalypse which includes Sundered, Bound and Dauntless. Her latest book, Dark Waters: Celtic Legacy Book 1 centers on the bonds of sisters while delving into the world of nightmares and magic. For more info on Shannon Mayer and her writing, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @TheShannonMayer