I used to laugh at writers who complain about poorly written books that become bestsellers. Jealous much? That is until I started reading a lot of debut novels and found myself asking, “How did this get picked up by a publishing house?”, “Was this book even edited?”, and “Is it that easy to get published?” I’m glad that I’m reading these books because they show me what I am desperately trying to avoid. Some may say that I’m simply envious of their success. Nope. I measure success differently than just getting published. I want to do it and do it well.
I quickly discovered that there are two things that determine a good novel. Good writing and good storytelling. These debut novels was always missing one or both of these elements. So sad. Often the book’s premise was so fantastic that I was duped into buying/reading said book. But if one or (heaven forbid) both the writing and storytelling is missing, you have failed your readers.
We are writers and we need to know how to write. A sentence. Without cliche. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist) Sometimes breaking writings rules can be effective, but you must know the rules to begin with. Run-on sentences can be helpful. One word sentences can drive a point home. Good prose should be easy to read, not dumbed-down, but clean. Anything that is not good writing is LAZY writing. Take the time to write worthwhile prose and believable dialogue. These things will enhance your story.
Unnecessary scenes, not raising the stakes, not fulfilling promises are all things that will make your readers yawn. Every book needs scenes or there is no book, but each scene needs to pull double duty. You can’t have a scene that is only dedicated to character development it must also show some foreshadowing or plot development or something. If your scenes only serve one purpose, it makes for sluggish reading. Blah! No one wants to read that. Keep it pertinent if you want to keep it moving. That’s what we call a page-turner.
Raise the stakes, people. There is nothing more frustrating than an author who keeps solving the protagonists problems for them. Someone knows their secret identity…don’t worry…they promised to never tell. They can’t find the one person who is meant to save their life…oh, there they are. People are meant to worry about the protagonist, if we don’t, there’s nothing interesting to follow. Don’t be afraid to make your characters sweat. Your readers will care more about someone in duress than someone who is constantly bailed out of their problems.
Writers make a promise to the readers at the beginning of their book (read Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress), if unfulfilled, will anger your readers. You must offer the right amount of closure in you denouement.
There’s a lot more that goes into good storytelling ( i.e. believable characters, subplots, etc.), and there’s a lot more that goes into good writing. Don’t settle for mediocre work. Strive for perfection. Getting published isn’t easy no matter how many rough drafts make it to bookstore shelves, but even if it was, I have one chance to make a good first impression. That’s one thing I don’t want to screw up.