7 Elements of a Great Novel

Janet Evanovich seriesFrom THRILLERFEST 2014 – (recapped from WD Blog)

Author William Bernhardt (Ben Kincaid series) presented the 7 elements for a novel you can’t put down, regardless of genre –

1. The book is extremely readable. Smooth, powerful, memorable, the writing has been edited and polished to a finely honed edge. Take the time to do this – it shows in the final product.

2. Add intrigue and interest to your story and your main character, by introducing something unique and unfamiliar to the character. Secrets are often the key to doing this well.

3. Conflict is critical to providing readers with a reason to stay with the story – but it has to be the kind of conflict that is hard to talk away. Make sure your readers understand why the conflict – and your character’s reactions to it – matter. It should matter to your readers, too – they have to relate to the character to care about reading on.

SPEED4. Actions have consequences – make them important enough to earn your reader’s interest. If Sandra Bullock had gotten on that bus and made it safely to her destination, who would have cared about SPEED at all? But the fact that an everyday person got on an everyday bus, and ended up spending one day trying to save everyone on that bus, including herself, kept everyone riveted to the story! Throw hard challenges at your hero/heroine – they need them to look good and to keep reader interest.

5. Making the same old story line different is necessary. There is no limit to the ways you can make characters, settings and even genre stories unique. One of the most memorable mysteries I’ve read in a long time involved a protagonist who was a paraplegic as a result of his time spent in the Middle East but that handicap made him more determined than ever to find his father’s killer. I never felt sorry for him for a minute, but I was sure on his side as he hunted down the man who’d done it. I was ready to shoot the villain, myself!

6. Don’t worry about going over the top – that’s what it takes these days to keep readers involved and looking for more of your books. Janet Evanovich is so over the top with her Stephanie Plum characters that some people mock her for it – but she’s laughing all the way to the bank – and I’m number 126 in line for #20 from the county library.

7. Make the reader care about your characters. It could be humor, humiliation, a strength or a weakness that had readers forgetting about bedtime and turning those pages. Remember we all have flaws – make sure you give your characters the flaws that tie them to the readers or showcase them well. Take the time to give your characters good, solid, believable goals, motivations and conflicts and you’ll have characters that your readers are talking about to all of their friends – and that will result in book sales.

Keep reading and writing – those are the two best ways to improve your writing! Nancy Q.


About NL Quatrano

Award-winning author, speaker, editor and ghost writer, Nancy owns a full-time editing, writing and specialty publishing business: On-Target Words/WC Publishing. Volunteer/member of professional writing organizations including Florida Writers Assoc., Sisters in Crime, and AWAI. 2010 Professional Woman of the Year by the NAPW. Linked in Editor Pick May 2013. International Women's Leadership Association nominee for Outstanding Leadership 2014.
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