You want to write a novel which sells, and sells.
It’s hard work. You need to be prepared to move out of your comfort zone, and face conflict: the more trouble for your characters, the better.
Your goal is always to make trouble for your characters. The more difficult you can make a character’s life, the more readers enjoy it.
Write a novel: engage readers with conflict (hello, trouble)
Readers read to experience. If you can’t touch their emotions, they’ll stop reading.
Read a few readers’ reviews of bestsellers on Amazon. Bestselling authors get bad reviews too, with comments like:
- “Waste of money. Nothing happened…”
- “Why did this get so many 5 stars? The story dragged on… ”
- “Boring, couldn’t finish…”
In other words, the novels lacked conflict, that is: trouble. In this post, we looked at why Disney uses so many “old” stories, which are in the public domain:
…public domain materials offered two essential elements for bestselling fiction:
- An amazing story, which has stood the test of time;
Classic, well-loved stories deliver trouble. So, when you struggle to make trouble for your characters, you’re in good company. Every author faces that challenge.
Let’s look at some tips which may help.
1. Trouble in every scene: kick your characters, and keep kicking
When I’m writing a novel or short stories, my scenes average around 1500 words. A scene’s structure mirrors a novel: each scene has a set up, rising action, a climax, and then it’s over.
Every scene gives you a fresh opportunity to make life more difficult for your characters. Take that opportunity—remember the witches in Macbeth, and make trouble:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
2. “What’s the worst thing that could happen to my characters?”
The easiest way to include a lot of conflict and trouble is to have each and every character have a conflict with every other character.
Although this sounds difficult, it’s not. Think about the people you love. Your partner, or your child. Do you have conflicts with them? Of course you do.
You want your novel to be one in which something happens, on every page, preferably. Therefore, in addition to the major obstacles to your main character getting what he or she wants, you need constant additional obstacles.
Think about the conflicts that your characters have with each other, and aim to have something bad happen in each and every scene.
3. Take away what your character values most
What does your character value? Perhaps you’re writing a New Adult novel. Your main character is a young woman who’s just left college. She’s managed to get the job of her dreams—that’s what she values most. So take that away.
Or perhaps she doesn’t realize what she values most. She takes an overseas job, and realizes what she values most is the man she left behind.
Always torture your characters. Your readers want an involving story. Deliver it.
4. Ensure that conflict happens because of who your characters are
When new authors first hear about “creating conflict”, they tend to have a lot of conflict happening, but the conflict isn’t directly related to the characters.
For example, perhaps the main character gets involved in a minor fender bender. Or the character does something embarrassing.
We all have stuff going wrong all the time, and these minor contretemps are useless in fiction. Readers read for escape; they don’t want to read about minor nuisances because they experience them daily.
Vital: most of the conflict in your novel must relate directly to the story question, or must happen because of who your main characters are.
5. Resist your own resistance to conflict and trouble
There’s an old saying which goes something like this: if the novel’s characters are having fun, the reader isn’t.
Never make things easy on your characters. Ensure that each and every scene contains conflict. Scenes are “showing”, rather than “telling”, which is narration, so before writing a scene, ask yourself: “what’s the conflict? Who wants what? Who opposes that? How?”
When you write a novel, make TROUBLE
In summary, when you write a novel, deliver lots of trouble. Make your characters fight for what they want.
Your characters are proactive: they know what they want, and they make plans to get what they want. When they fail, they try again, and again. When you’re writing, think trouble, and deliver it.
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.