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Six Rules for Writing Novels Readers Will Love

Writing novels no one cares to read is pointless. Amazon is littered with poorly written, poorly edited novels that don't sell. Amazon makes money whether they sell a million copies of a good book or only one copy each of a million crappy books, so what do they care about quality?


However, if you're interested in publishing a novel that will sell more than a hundred copies, and you want to be writing novels well into the future, read on. These tips cover the most basic requirements, with links to more novel writing tips at the end.

  1. Create a dilemma for your main character. To be interesting to readers, a character needs to be trying to achieve something. The main pull of the story is about how the character attempts to achieve his or her goal, what gets in the way, and how the character meets each challenge to succeed or fail.

    The Pact, by Jodi Picoult, begins with a shooting. We quickly learn that Chris was found beside the gun that killed his beloved girlfriend, Emily. His prints are on the gun. This is a dilemma, and dilemmas require characters to make difficult choices between undesirable alternatives. In short, put your main character between a rock and a hard place.

  2. Begin as close to the onset of the dilemma as possible and move forward from there. Once you've caught your reader's attention with a good dilemma, the reader wants to learn what happens next. Readers don't need a lot of backstory, and stalling the forward action to provide historical information will only frustrate them. You can provide small portions of backstory as the main story moves forward, but keep moving forward.

  3. Create characters who have something going for them. In life we gravitate toward people who are witty, strong, courageous, confident, charming, fair and kind—people with positive qualities we admire. Readers have the same desire to find these qualities in characters. Most stories benefit from a well rounded villain, but the other characters need to be sympathetic and have qualities that we admire, while also sharing some of our weaknesses.

    To return to The Pact,, the story succeeds so well because the accused loved his girlfriend about as much as anyone could love another. Because he was such a good, loving person, he found himself facing a major dilemma. At heart, he and most of the characters are good people. Some of the choices they make are unwise, but overall they are people we would like to know and befriend. They're all the more genuine for doing or saying what we might, in life, not have the courage to do or say.

  4. Leave clichés for the hacks. If you've heard something before don't write it. Writing novels—interesting ones—requires that we find fresh ways to show familiar situations. Good writing requires a great deal of thought. Replacing a hackneyed expression or cliché with something more original is not easy, but if it were, more people would be making a living writing novels. Writing well requires great intellectual effort and stamina, not only in word choice, but in creating situations that feel new.

  5. Make every scene goal and situation different. If the external action of one scene has characters eating dinner together, or playing volleyball, do not write another scene where they also eat dinner or play volleyball, unless eating or playing volleyball is the point of the story. Even then, you may get away with a few repetitive situations handled in vastly different ways, but the focus should be on what is different, not the same. If you happen to be writing a novel about a road trip, for example, you might need to show the characters in the car more than once, but each situation would be unique. Maybe one car scene has them stop to pick up a hitchhiker and the scene revolves around that, and another scene has them drive off the road in a dust storm. The fact that they are in a car is the same, but the situation is different each time.

  6. Follow the advice of Helen Dunmore: "Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need."
  7. Writing is not so precious that every thought must be saved. Like speech, there is always more where the first came from. Imagine if we needed to record every word spoken. Lost words are often better lost. I know a writer who writes an entire draft of a novel three or four times before she starts polishing it, each time starting over from the beginning without ever looking at the previous draft. Learn the craft of writing. You will begin to understand why some writing "works" and othr writing does not. And whatever you throw away, you will write better in a new

  8. If writing novels is your dream, don't submit work before it's ready. Have your work evaluated by a professional first. The manuscript evaluation will point you to problems you may not otherwise recognize. Professional advice will save time and reduce the learning curve. Editing fiction is a time consuming process, but it is much easier and progresses much more quickly when you know what needs correcting. Be prepared to revise and rewrite several times. Novel writing is a process. It requires several drafts, and several edits.

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