Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What makes a good novel? 

Over on The Writer's Guide to E-Publishing there is a very interesting post by A. R. Silverberry about what makes a good novel? You can read many, many books and some ring a loud bell and others quietly fall from memory. Why is this? It is because some novels are really good and others are simply dim? But A. R. Silverberry hits the nail on the head, it is all about emotions and how they involve the reader. Without an emotional connection with the reader the book will fail. When you involve the reader to identify with emotions of the characters in the book you are on to a hit. So what more can I write but copy and paste the crux of his argument...

What do readers want?

The simple answer?

A darn good story.

We want to be entertained, to be swept away in a story’s world. But what makes that happen? I suggest that it’s the feelings generated in the reader. Why? Emotions in stories let us transcend our mundane lives. We can feel courage, heroism, love, hate, triumph. These are not only fulfilled dramatically for the character, but for us as readers.

A story sets up an expectation in the reader that certain core human feelings will be fulfilled. The greatest stories do this; at their core is an emotion that in reality IS the story. In “Tale of Two Cities,” Sydney Carton’s wasted life is redeemed through sacrifice. In “The Karate Kid,” a boy gains respect by facing his enemies. In “The Hunt for Red October,” a man battles tyranny to gain freedom. My novel, Wyndano’s Cloak, is a girl’s quest for empowerment over hate and cruelty.

There isn’t a correct order for crafting your work. The following should be thought of not as rigid, sequential steps, but elements that should be developed and worked together harmoniously:

1. Determine the central emotion of each character.

2. Determine what character traits give rise to this emotion.

3. Determine the dominant emotion you want the reader to feel toward each character.

4. Create situations that bring out the character’s traits and corresponding emotions.

5. What is the final emotion you want the reader to feel? Ultimately, it should be satisfaction, which will arise when everything that was laid out in the story inevitably comes to fruition.

If possible, set out what the key emotions are as early as possible. The reader will only be hooked when they sense the emotional content of the story.

So what do readers want?

Yes, a great story, a sizzling plot, memorable characters, a compelling theme. All of these are necessary. But ultimately, none of that will amount to a hill of beans if it doesn’t evoke emotions. Readers want to feel. As Louis L’Amour said, “A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first.” And that something better be emotions.
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