Taking Your Novel from Good to Great
Hey Gang! Happy Friday. For those who happen to read my blog, you know that most Wednesdays come with what I call The Mash-Up of Awesomeness. This is a list of links and articles I’ve found noteworthy enough to bring to your attention. On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Penguin USA has officially launched a service to help writers self-publish their own books, called Book Country. I’ve actually known about Book Country since early this past spring and was privy to the beta version of the site. I must admit is was super cool blessing to get this sneak preview into the future of publishing. But what was even cooler? I got a chance to meet and hang out with Danielle Poiesz, the Book Country Editorial Coordinator.
I asked Danielle to come offer a guest post to show you guys how to bring your Novel A-Game, no matter what avenue of publishing you decide is the best fit. And guess what? She agreed! I never even had to publish those pictures of her dressed as a Klingon at a Trekkie Convention….oops. Inside words stay inside. I always forget that.
Take it away, Danielle!
Writing a novel isn’t an easy feat. Writing a good novel is even harder. And even after you’ve conquered that tricky task, you still have a complex, exhaustive, and strenuous revision process to go through in order to make that good novel great.
But how do you know what needs fixing, which parts aren’t “great” just yet? How can you pinpoint your weaknesses so you can work to strengthen them?
Well, the first thing you need to do is get off the horse. View the world of your book from the ground, as your reader would, instead of from your author’s perch. When you’re kicking around on land, getting your feet dirty and smelling the trees around you, you can then objectively start looking at the big picture. (Always look at the whole before you get distracted by the details!) Focus on what your reader knows–what’s actually on the page–and not on what you know as the creator of the world, story, and characters.
The way I always approach an edit–whether of my own work or someone else’s–is by focusing on eight main criteria: point of view, voice, character development, plot, dialogue, pacing, setting, and continuity. At Book Country, we use these eight editorial elements as guideposts for peer review–they are the most important “big picture” parts of your story! Each one can make or break you and your book, so you want as much feedback as you can get in these areas.
But being able to recognize these parts of your own writing, which parts are strong and which need work, is just as significant as getting the constructive thoughts and opinions of fellow readers and writers.
Let’s take a look at what exactly each criteria means and how to start thinking about them:
- Point of View: POV isn’t an easy element to conquer, but when your story is told through the right eyes, it makes all the difference. Ask yourself: Does this POV work for the story? Which character’s perspective is most interesting and/or useful to the reader? Is the POV consistent? Are intentional POV shifts clear and transitioned smoothly?
- Voice: A strong, engaging, and fresh voice is key to capturing a reader’s attention. Ask yourself: Is the overall voice compelling? Is it unique? Does it fit with the genre in which I’m writing? Does each character have his/her own individual voice?
- Character Development: Not only do characters need to be relatable, but they also have to grow and learn over time, just like real people. Ask yourself: Are your characters engaging and believable? Do they have clear strengths and weaknesses? Do they grow over the course of the narrative (aka do they have individual character arcs)?
- Plot: Without an intriguing plot, there can’t be a story. Ask yourself: Is this book’s plot believable? Is it confusing? Is it entertaining? Is the conflict strong enough to maintain the story? Does each plot point move the story forward?
- Dialogue: Dialogue doesn’t have to be perfect; it has to be real. Ask yourself: Does the dialogue sound genuine? Does it sound natural for the time period, location, and culture? Is it consistent for each character and is his or her dialogue distinct? If you use slang/accents, does it distract from the story?
- Pacing: A story must always move forward with a speed and rhythm that feels natural and unrushed. Ask yourself: Is the progression of this book’s narrative compelling? Is it keeping my interest? Does the pacing fit with the genre (i.e. if it’s supposed to be suspenseful, does it move quickly? Does it supply that feeling of suspense in the cadence of the writing)? Is the pacing smooth and consistent?
- Setting: In most fiction, setting should take on qualities of a character—be believable, detailed, well-drawn, and powerful. Ask yourself: Is the setting clear? Will the reader understand where he/she is? Is the place, culture, and/or time convincing? Are the details making the story come alive?
- Continuity: Even with multiple plotlines, a story needs to flow, make sense, and follow a full narrative arc. Ask yourself: Are there loose ends or inconsistencies in the story? Are all elements of the story consistent throughout? Is the story linear? If it’s intentional non-linear, will it make sense to the reader? Is the time-line clear?
Asking yourself these questions and other related questions that are relevant for your story can help you get a handle on which areas need some T-L-C.
(What do I mean by “other related questions”? For example, if you’re writing a fantasy novel, you’ll want to focus on setting in terms of world-building: Have you explained the rules of the world? Does it make sense of the reader? Will they believe it?)
Once you’ve rolled the answers around in your head, you can really get down to the nitty-gritty and revise with specific concerns in mind.
If you can, it’s also a good idea to consider these criteria while writing your draft in the first place. You can minimize the heft of the revision process by making sure you’re on target as you go. Many writers, however, have a difficult time with this–or are just “pantsers” by nature and don’t know the answer yet!–and prefer to let the first draft just flow from their fingertips and go back to it later. That works too–then you can just use these criteria as your first-round revision tools.
Take the path that suits you best, but never forget these eight building blocks. They’re simple, but they have the power to take your book from good to great…if you let them.
Bio: Danielle Poiesz is the Editorial Coordinator at BookCountry.com, an online community for genre-fiction writers and readers. She’s also an avid reader, dabbles in writing, freelance edits, and runs a book blog, Reading Between the Lines. As a firm believer in helping writers grow and aiding readers in find books they love, Danielle’s always ready to encourage authors to create work that is eye-opening, meaningful, and of course, entertaining. You can also find her on Twitter: @daniellepoiesz.
Thank you, Danielle! And guys, please take some time over the holidays to check out Book Country. There are some tremendous resources available to all kinds of writers, and you might even be lucky enough to hang out with Danielle.
So come on, guys! Show Danielle some WANA Luv. Ask her questions about writing, about Book Country. Heck ask her if Warp 10 is faster than the speed of light. Captain Kirk or Captain Picard? ….or ask about publishing stuff.
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of November, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of November I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!