If you’re a new author, there’s a lot to learn about writing fiction—and you never stop learning.
Something to keep in mind. When you write fiction, you’re writing a story. Here’s a brilliant explanation of “story” from Lisa Cron’s excellent book, Wired For Story:
A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result… “What happens” is the plot. “Someone” is the protagonist. The “goal” is what’s known as the story question.
New author? Your simple storytelling strategy to write a selling novel
Here’s the strategy. Your novel must have a point. All the screaming excitement of your novel can’t and won’t make up for it if there’s no point to the whole thing.
The point of a novel is often referred to as the “story question”, or “dramatic question.” Although the story question might not be stated overtly, it must exist for your novel to be satisfying to readers. In many genres, the genre itself offers insight to the story question:
- In mysteries — will the sleuth find the killer?
- In romances — will the boy get the girl?
- In thrillers — will the hero save the world?
Avoid the “nothing’s happening” trap
Oddly enough, when a novelist writes a novel which has no point, it’s usually sadly obvious right from the first page. (But not to the author…) I call these novel openings “much ado about nothing.”
One of my students asked for help because he’d spent a lot of money advertising his novel, but sales were slow.
His novel started with his hero in bed, waking up. OK — a fine opening, as long as the room explodes, or there’s a dead body beside him. There wasn’t an explosion, or a dead body. Nothing, except a whole lot of excitement about… waking up in the morning.
Readers are smart. When they buy a novel, they want a story that’s a real story. In other words, they want novels which have a point. When a novelist generates false excitement about waking up in the morning, readers are turned off. No matter how gorgeous your book’s cover, nothing makes up for nothing happening in your novel.
4 vital tips you need to write a selling novel, starting today
Let’s look at some tips to help you to write a selling novel.
1. What’s your point? Who wants what? Why can’t he get it?
Your novel must have a story question, and your story question must be concrete — something you can kick. 🙂 It shouldn’t be: “love conquers all” or similar. That can be your theme, if you want one.
The easiest way to decide on a story question (even for pantsers) is: who wants what, and why can’t he get it? Think about your favorite novels. You can identify the story question easily. In Pride & Prejudice, for example, it’s who gets the “young man of large fortune from the north of England.”
You’ll usually find the story question in the blurb (book description) — here’s the story question from the blurb of the bestselling novel, The Night Manager:
At the start of it all, Jonathan Pine is merely the night manager at a luxury hotel. But when a single attempt to pass on information … backfires terribly, and people close to Pine begin to die, he commits himself to a battle against powerful forces he cannot begin to imagine.
2. Write in scenes to maintain suspense
Scenes are the building blocks of your fiction. In the 21st century, every reader understands drama. TV and movie stories are delivered in scenes. If you want lots of readers, you need to learn to deliver your stories in scenes too.
Readers are impatient. They just want the story. Deliver. Show, rather than tell. “Showing” means writing in scenes.
Devote time to learning how to write scenes. Include these elements in your scenes to maintain suspense:
- Character development;
- Sensory details — sight, sound, and more;
- Plotting — movement on the story question.
3. STOP IT! Stop with the backstory junk already — readers don’t care about the past
Backstory (that is, the history of your characters, before the story starts) contains pitfalls. Readers just want to get on with the story.
Backstory stops your story dead. Readers DO NOT CARE about what happened before the story starts. Occasionally backstory is necessary, because it makes character motivations clearer, and reveals something that readers must know. At those times, drop in your backstory in a sentence or two… please.
Important… Don’t worry about including backstory in your first draft. Just write. You can delete all the backstory in your first “slash and burn” edit.
After you’ve done that, you can return your backstory into your novel a sentence or two at a time, but only if you must add it for the story to make sense.
4. Beware of “good writing”
Be wary of anything you think is “good writing.” New novelists tend to fall in love with words, and that leads to horrors like writing about their characters waking up in the morning. There’s nothing interestingly new or unusual about that. (Meanings of “novel” include interesting and new.)
Keep your wits about you. When you’ve written a scene, or are about to write a scene, ask yourself whether your idea for the scene makes sense, bearing in mind your characters’ motivations and abilities. Logic counts.
If you’re a new author, your novel’s story question (the point) conquers all. If you’re currently writing a novel, write your story’s question in a sentence and do it now.
What if you could leave boring fiction forever behind you, so that the story in your head becomes the story on the page?
You CAN, when you discover the magic of story, plotting, and scenes. It's a process: an easy process.More info →
If you think you can't outline, you're wrong. You can create wonderful outlines which work for you: write more, and publish more.
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When you improve a book's blurb, you can rescue books which aren't selling, and have confidence that new books will have the best chance to find their audience.More info →
Your books aren't selling. You've done everything right, but you may have missed an essential element of bestselling fiction...
That element is suspense.More info →
Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.