Sunday, 3 April 2016

What Makes a Really Great Novel?

I've thought about this a long time. Like, maybe forty years or more. I've read what others think, and mostly they offer good advice. But boiling it all down, the following is my summary, follow the advice carefully and I think you'll write a great book.

1. Have a strong voice

I've read where writers are advised to use an active voice, not a passive one. That's fine but I think you just need to be strong. Sure. To the point. Whether you use long sentences that drag on and on and on. Or short ones. Your voice must be strong.

2. Make it a good story

If you sit around the dinner table and people love the story you're telling, then most likely it would make a good book. Structure the story, plan it, plan the characters, the story arc, protagonist, antagonist, but first make that story a good one that will resonate with a wide cross section.

3. Tell the story well

Get the story out, tell it, make the characters come alive through dialogue. Work on the telling of the story. I liked John Braine's advice (Room at the Top ) to finish each chapter on a cliffhanger. I think what he's saying is to tell the story well. Syntax, get that right, avoid sounding like Yoder. Convey images, and sounds.

Then lastly - and this is where your book becomes great - to get to greatness you have to have at least two of the above in place before you achieve number four. Failure to do that means your story is only adequate or good, not great....drum roll please.....

4. Make the story sing

An obvious example is The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. The song you hear when reading truly great work is a rare thing indeed. 

Now obviously, your book has to sell. If it doesn't, no matter how good the novel is, no-one will read it and no lives will have been touched by your work. So everything above is conditional upon survival, but it doesn't have to be a best seller. The book's status can grow over time. If you do all four things right, then most certainly it will.

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