Writing your first novel is unlike anything in the world… it’s something that nobody else could have created like you did. It’s exciting, stimulating and you are on top of the world…
But now you have to get people to read your book. Many publishers have pointed out the biggest mistakes that aspiring author’s make, and I would like to share them with you.
The Stepford Start
Have you ever read one of those books that started out with the perfect person in the perfect place? The town is perfect, the citizens are perfect, there is no crime and there are no mosquitoes. These writers believe that telling a story about great people doing great things will make readers care about the problems they get into.
What these writers don’t understand is that readers usually like trouble, and they will engage better with a plot that gives them threats or challenges. When a reader is slammed into an early plot, they usually find the book more compelling. It’s kind of like seeing something that is so incredible, you just can’t turn away.
Here is an example: “Henry Johnson lived in the Oceanside town of Chester. He worked at the local grocery store, and will soon be married to his childhood sweetheart, Josey. Henry longs to be a police officer and fight crime…” Wow. I almost fell asleep writing that line. It would make a nice bedtime story, but people today want meat before the cake.
Let’s try it in a more exciting way: “Hank Johnson tore through the streets of Chester looking for Josie. The manager at the A&P told him that he could tell there was something wrong with her when she started shooting up the store. Hank knew that is he didn’t find
Josie soon, she could end up slaughtered like the rest of her family…” Yes, I realize that was very cheesy, but at least you stayed awake.
Writing is an art, and you need to find the balance between Pleasantville and Armageddon. If you can learn to live in between those two places, you will grow tremendously as a writer.
A Bulletproof World
The most compelling novels are the ones that keep you going until the end. There is death looming, and it keeps you wanting the next page. What? Even in a romantic fantasy? Yes, even in a romantic fantasy. Let me explain how it works.
No matter what kind of book you are writing, the reader needs to have something they can look forward to. There has to be a risk involved… something bad that could happen if the story line goes sideways. Maybe a death, or maybe a character losing the one thing they strive to keep. There has to be the risk of something, or you could very well lose your audience.
Here is an example: “Amanda graded the papers that night before bed. She wanted to do her best so she would be looked at favorably when it was time for her promotion. Amanda needed everything to be done by the time she went on vacation next month.” Wow. It kind of sounds like a Barbie blog.
Now, let’s add some doom… “Amanda went through the papers quickly, and tried to it right this time. She knew that if her boss found out about her past, all bets would be off. A school teacher prostitute… he can never know… nobody can ever know…” Yes, once again cheesy, but it draws a picture.
A Puffy Dialog
When a dialog is too puffy, it can kill your manuscript. A good dialog can turn your manuscript into a work of genius. There are lots of in-betweens, but you have to understand where they are. Once you learn the balance, you will become a better writer.
A good dialog is compressed, has conflict and changes from character to character. A puffy dialog is marshmallowy, overly sweet and blends everyone together. With a dialog that is too soft and sweet, you can easily lose everything you worked for. The good news is that a puffy dialog can be fixed.
You need to develop each of your characters individually. You need to define their personalities, their traits and their weaknesses. Spend
time with each of them and get to know them. It sounds silly, but once you give them their identities, you will look at each of them differently. Afterwards, when you are writing, you will have a clearer and different thought train of thought to write by, which will de-fluff your manuscript.
You Are Predictable
Do you remember that last time you read a really good novel, one that kept you on the edge of your seat? That is the feeling that readers want, no matter what kind of story you write. If your readers see what’s coming, they will lose interest and find a better book.
The way to solve this problem is to put something unexpected in every scene. Look at it from three different perspectives: action, description and dialog.
Action: Imagine the scene in your head. Think… what if this character did this? What kind of crazy things might happen? Now, bring those thoughts back to reality and see if they fit. You will be surprised at the new ideas you will have.
Description: Try to imagine tributes that are unique to that particular character. Forget about the normal personality and see if you can make it stand out more.
Dialog: Don’t stay in the box so much… let your characters have their way with the dialog. Remember, normal doesn’t sell books. Your audience can get normal anywhere. Try to lighten the dialog a bit…
“Hello again, Mrs. Jones. How are you today?” “Mr. Harling, will you ever brush your teeth? It’s a wonder I ever come in here at all…” Unhygienic man… rude women… makes for a spicier read. Just a thought.
The Ship Sinking
Writing a book is like sailing on a voyage. First, the weather is beautiful and the world is at your feet. Then, the winds pick up a bit, but you are still at the helm, and you are in charge! A bit later, you lose your wind, and you start taking on water. Finally, you are typing out SOS on you telegraph, and there is ice on your deck.
The best way to stay in control of you book is to stay passionate, and the best way to do that is to stay into your characters. Go back and get into their lives… perhaps an event that changed their world as a child. You can do this with all of your character, the more the better. Once you start doing this, you will regain your passion for your journey, and sail on again.
These are just a few tips to help you along with your writing. If you have any pointers, or would just like to let me know how you liked the article, write to me below. As always, I will see you between the pages…