Last month I shared 11 tips from readers on what they love to see in novels. Here are more tips to help you write compelling fiction.
Research Matters! (More so for historicals)
- Probably the #1 thing for me is accuracy. I just read Eleanor & Park (very popular YA set in the 80s). The author almost lost me as a reader when she had a line that sounded like the father was a Korean War veteran but would have been about 12. I stayed with it and the line was clarified. He was a Vietnam vet stationed in Korea. Seriously, one line nearly ruined a book & the author's reputation in my eyes. An extremely successful author did this by writing an entire novel based on a medical condition, and the details were WRONG! I'm not talking about a medical condition that I'm intimately familiar with, but one I know about through my own manuscript research.
- Accurate research is vital to keeping my attention. :)
- Never change actual history.
- Where do I start???? One thing that isn't probably something a newbie needs to know right away but will when they start entering Genesis or any contest that requires a synopsis. They need to know that a synopsis is not a back-of-the-book blurb. All my years on Genesis and now doing critiques for conference have led me to realize a great many newbies have no idea how to write a synopsis.
- Write what God tells you to write without second guessing how the results will look. You may publish, you may not. Is it an offering to God? That's what matters. :-) He's in charge of the results. Of course, that's for believers. LOL
- How long to really expect the process to take. (I think people might be inclined to give up if they aren't moving as fast as they expect to.)
- Perseverance. Practice. Keep moving forward and not giving up. Being teachable. Most people who are willing to put in the effort will make it to a certain degree, but not if you're arrogant and inflexible. No matter how talented a top athlete is they have to put in time learning and improving. Writing is no different.
- I'm an avid reader. For new writers: Characters must be believable, no matter the genre. Make me want to know them. Help me live inside the characters so I feel what the characters experience.
- The plot and storyline must also be believable and maintain integrity within the story. As a reader I want to trust the author. Otherwise I won't read them again.
- While writing the first draft: Get the story down. Just write it. And know you will rewrite and edit - later. Don't get so hung up perfecting a paragraph or scene that you become discouraged with the process. First get the basic story written.
- Then, when working through it again, pay attention to the details. Do the necessary research. Readers do notice. Keep the main POV clear - don't bounce from head to head. Pay attention to what can jerk a reader out of the story - and don't do it.
- The comment about being teachable and not arrogant or inflexible is spot on. That goes for the entire process, including sales.
- And, for the record, I love reading new authors. Especially when their stories not only are free from "fatal" flaws but leave me sighing, "Wow, I can't believe this is her/his first book."
- Not sure this is an issue for everyone, but I definitely prefer a story that does not rely on graphic violence or sexuality.
What would you add to this list? What makes a book compelling to you?
An award-winning author of more than twenty books, Cara is a lecturer on business and employment law to graduate students at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. Putman also practices law and is a second-generation homeschooling mom. She lives with her husband and four children in Indiana.