What Makes a Good Novel?
What exactly makes a good novel, to you, the reader and/or the writer? What reels you in? What piques your curiosity? What makes you continue to read? What exactly do you like or dislike about a story?
Chris Baty, the author of “No Plot? No Problem! A low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days” suggests writing down both the pros and cons of a good story. Why?
Because the things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you’ll likely excel at as a writer. These bits of language, color, and technique, for whatever reason, make sense to your creative brain.
I fought the urge to write “relationship” stories for years. When I was in college, if you didn’t write something profound, something literary, then you were a cookie cutter writer – you weren’t reaching your full potential. On some level, that’s correct; don’t box your plot in, give it a little room to grow, to experiment. After all, the more unusual the plot, the better chances of getting published, for the most part. We all know it’s not as simple as that.
But the point is to write about something you’re passionate about. Any avid reader will tell you that it’s obvious, pretty much from chapter one, if the writer is having fun with the story or not. Do they care about the characters? Do they believe in the story? The answer lies in the prose. I’ve written literary fiction before, and not only was the story terrible, it was boring. I was embarrassed to allow anyone to read it because I knew in my heart, it wasn’t my best and I didn’t really care about it. Trust me, it showed in my writing.
What do I look for in a novel?
A little mystery
Antagonists meets a satisfying ending
Protagonists triumph – but not in a cheesy way
Interesting character careers
Cliffhanger chapter endings
Characters who are at turning points in their lives
What do I dislike in a novel?
New York publishing stories
Talking to dead people
Children as primary characters
Too much thinking/telling, not enough showing
Writers who preach about their beliefs through their characters
Endings that don’t really end
Selfish self-centered characters
The lesson here is this: If you won’t enjoy reading it, you won’t enjoy writing it. Your novel is a spastic, jubilant hoe-down set to your favorite music, a thirty-day visit to a candy store where everything is free and nothing is fattening. When thinking about possible inclusions for your novel, always grab the guilty pleasures over the bran flakes. Write your joy, and good things will follow.
So tell me, what makes a good, or bad, novel to you? And if you feel that you have a good novel idea, learn how to create your own book online, and share your novel with the world.