As you sit down to write a novel, you may become overwhelmed. It’s a lot of work and will take many hours. If this is your first novel, plan to spend hundreds of hours planning, researching, writing, and editing. If you find yourself in doubt as to whether your story is novel worthy, consider the elements of a good book and see if your concept measures up.
A well fleshed-out protagonist
To start, it makes sense to focus in on the hero of your story. After all you’ll be spending a lot of words sharing their journey throughout the book.
Your protagonist should be relatable. That doesn’t mean they need to be likeable (but they often are). To make sure your hero is relatable, you need to do your homework and really get to know the main character inside out. Avoid stereotypes. For instance, not every woman loves to shop, and wealthy people aren’t always snobbish. The list goes on.
It is wise to invest time creating a character profile. Start by jotting down the hero’s name, age, physical traits, occupation, marital status, etc. Then you can think of the creative, outside-the-box questions that will help you gain a better understanding of who this person really is.
I recommend that you ask questions as if you were interviewing a live person. Some example probing questions might be:
- What was your upbringing like?
- What would you like to improve in your life?
- What are your passions?
- What is your five-year career goal?
Don’t limit yourself
Ask any questions and come up with the responses. Of course, you need to take notes. Review them and feel free to modify answers as new ones come in. Make sure the answers are consistent. The process is a bit like molding clay.
Now, it’s important to know that you don’t have to fit in all these details into your novel. Most likely, that would make for a tedious read. Rather, you are simply trying to get to know your protagonist so that you can write about him with reality. For instance, if you know that your main character grew up in the lap of luxury, he would know his way around fine dining. Whereas a man who grew up in the foster system might not know what to do with the two extra forks at a five-star restaurant.
When you do in-depth research on a character, you’ll discover that you can describe the way he dresses, holds himself, talks to others, and many other traits that will help you create a novel worthy story.
A properly motivated main character
We all have reasons for what we do in life. There is often a common motivating force that drives our actions. Now that you understand them better, it’s time to dig a little deeper to see what makes them tick.
With a solid purpose in mind, the reader can track with your protagonist’s journey and hopefully root for them to accomplish their goals.
It’s also worth mentioning that the goals of your protagonist will probably change throughout the story. They might start out with the ambition to become wealthy and own a mansion or two, but by the end of the story, they realize that they need more than possessions in life to be happy. Or perhaps your lead character starts the novel wanting to hold on to a failing marriage, only to realize by the end that the thing she needed to gain was a sense of self-confidence and independence.
Once you know what motivates your character, their scenes in your novel will align more fully and resonate with your reader.
Loads and loads of conflict
The quantity and quality of conflict is key to determining whether your story is novel worthy.
Think back to some of your favorite novels. Did things come easy for the protagonist? No. Never. It’s always an uphill battle. Otherwise, the story would be boring.
Once you’ve identified the hero’s goal, you need to make it hard for them to reach it. And there should be some risk involved. Add in a lot of challenges and gnarly stakes. If your protagonist never has a problem, you don’t really have a story.
Boy meets girl, boy gets girl is super boring and takes less than a page to write. However, boy meets girl, boy is separated from girl through a series of misunderstandings, tragedies, and misfortunes, could be a good story. Boy overcomes hurdles and battles, as well as internal fire-breathing dragons to win back the affections of girl. Great! Or boy meets girl, boy makes a series of mistakes and loses girl, and then boy turns his life around to fix his flaws and wins back the love of his life. That works.
Conflict can come in many forms. It doesn’t mean your book needs hand-to-hand combat scenes or full-blown wars. Look over your life. Have you ever had opposition to your goals? Have you ever stood in your own way? Sometimes a person can be their own worst enemy. These are valid conflicts that we can all relate to.
A good story is filled with conflict, hitting the protagonist with a seemingly never-ending series of one-two punches throughout your novel.
A creative and unique angle
The more I study storytelling the more I realize that many stories follow a familiar path. Although there isn’t a specific “formula” that applies to all novels, you do need to follow a structure that works. If you’re new to writing, check out the concept of the three-act structure. It will help guide you.
One way to tell if your idea is novel worthy is to make sure you have a unique take on the story line you’re tackling. There are many ways to tell a classic tale.
When working with children, I love to help them flex their creative muscles. Sometimes they are really into a book series and want to use those characters and plot ideas to write their own short story. That’s fine if they want to practice their writing chops by mimicking their favorite author. It isn’t plagiarism but it also wouldn’t qualify to be novel worthy. Even fan fiction includes unique stories with twists the reader hasn’t seen.
When you’re plotting out your storyline, you can use some of the tried and true structures but try to infuse it with your own creativity. For instance, how many different “Cinderella” books or movies have you read or scene? How about the classic “Romeo and Juliet” tale? These are pretty easy to identify. We know the story, and often even know the ending, but it’s the unique angle that keeps us engaged throughout.
Go forth and write!
Once you have these elements down, it’s time to consider your outline. Figure out your beginning, middle and end of the novel worthy story and create the individual incidents that will make up your book. Armed with a detailed outline, write your first draft. Don’t pause to reread over and over, but forge ahead and get your first draft completed. Once done, now you can edit your book.
If you need help at any stage of the writing process, please feel free to contact me. I enjoy consulting authors as they write their books, helping them conquer the various challenges they are sure to encounter.