Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to make a good novel great

So, you've written a novel.
You've past the thirty page block.
You've got the finished product in front of you, waiting to reach hights only heard of when prefixed by the adjective "Wuthering". And yet, your story takes you nowhere.

Why is the story only a good story?

The following are questions I tend to ask myself when finishing a novel, and note that I go through my stories almost endlessly before being satisfied.

Are the characters three dimensional?
I have written several entries on how to build a character, and my main focus there is the importance of making your character as human as possible.
I tend to make the heroes very noble and the bad guys very evil, and in the literary world that is no good. We want a hero that is a hero in spite of his dramatic flaw. We want a bad guy who easily could switch places with the hero. We want true human emotions coming off the pages, and to do this you might want to go a bit of soul searching.

The story has to have highs and lows. When the readers think they can relax, you have to shoot the story in a new and unexpected direction. This means that you might want to challenge your own comfort zone. Here I think looking for inspiration in good films and good books is allowed and also pertinent to get your story to where it needs to go. Having finished a story one can be blinded by ones own superiority, really, so take a good hard look at your story. You can always make it better. An unexpected twist here, a turn of fate there, the antagonist making a choice no one understands, the protagonist making a choice only the bad guy would make... And should your novel now be a realistic piece of art, then know that twists and turns in life never equals our expectations. This must also be the case in your stories.

You have to have some descriptive scenes. I'm all for a dialogue based story, as my favorite is (big bomb) Shakespeare. But even he has included small descriptive paragraphs now and then. Write visually. Only then can the reader make his or her own images. And on this point it's important not to overdo it. The art of suggestion is worth learning. Taking three or four pages describing one room is too much, unless you write in a minimalistic modernistic way...then anything goes, I guess.
Some descriptions and some dialogue will balance the story.

Know that in a dialogue you have to convey two or more people. And being only one writer this isn't always easy. You have to anticipate what any character would reply to any enquiry or question... I'm comparing the process of being allowed to split my personality, all in the name of my story. Two opposites can't both reply according to each other. And in terms of shooting the story in a different direction, this is a way to do it, through unexpected dialogue.

In terms of love... Yes, we need a bit of love. I think, as I mentioned earlier, the art of suggestion is the best way to go. By all means, if the story has to have a rather graphic image of love between two (or what ever...) people, the go nuts. But take the time to think about this. If you have a suggestive novel, and then suddenly get passages where nothing is left to anyones imagination, you'll get an unnatural turn of events, and not a good one. I think this will boil down to consistency. Yes, it's quite alluring to include a steaming hot sex-scene...but then the rest of your story has to be just as graphic. Further, and this is on a personal level, being able to arouse and suggest using few words is a challenge worth perfecting.
But, having said that, you could create a rather big change in a story if it suddenly becomes graphic...
Take the time to mull things over, as these things matter.

Know your characters...
I've repeated this to the point of the extreme, I think. But that doesn't make it less important.
Who are your characters?
Where do they come from?
What drives them?
What makes them smile?
What makes them cry...?
Are they healthy?
Are they slobs?
Are they kind?
Are they trustworthy?
How does your character react when laughed at?
When facing dangers?
When listening to moving music?
All the questions you can possibly think of are valid. The more questions you ask, the better you will know your character, and the better you know your character, the better this will shine through on the pages.

Don't be afraid to make changes and chuck away the material that doesn't work.
You have to learn how to get rid of things.
When I re-write my stories I never look back. If the changes I made were wrong, then I know I'll end up at a better place with my story, even if I forgot what I did before. I believe with all my heart that I have the ability to out-do myself every time I re-write a story.
Meaning, don't get too fond of your story...When getting in touch with a publisher you might be asked to change things, so get started rehearsing the changing part.
BUT, and this is a big but, do not change things you need to keep your story the way you want it to be. I've heard someone wanted Rowling to cut Kreacher from the story in Order of The Phoenix, but she battled on his behalf... He becomes important later. So again, this has to do with knowing your characters... where are they going, and why are they doing the things they do...

May Caliope bless your writing...


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