Learn the Basics From a Bestseller: 10 Things Every Writer Should Do in Their Novel

Photo: brendanovak.com

The following is a guest post from bestselling author Brenda Novak. In writing about the keys to penning a hit novel, Novak reveals a valuable point: It often boils down to nailing the core storytelling basics.


10 Keys to Writing a Bestselling Novel:

1. Start your story in the right place—when something exciting happens, when something unusual comes to pass, when a worthy challenge has been presented to your protagonist.

2. Save the backstory for later, and be sneaky about it. Feed it in carefully and sparingly just when the reader needs to know. And use only the most essential details of the past. Don’t have your protagonist staring out the window so that you can tell your readers through internal dialogue everything you need them to know. (This is called an “info dump,” and is to be avoided.)

3. Avoid saying too much or too little. Saying too much bogs down your pace and can come off as pretentious. Saying too little makes it difficult to connect with your characters and can strip your story of its emotional impact.

4. Build conflict. The conflict is the engine that drives your story. If you don’t have much under the hood, you aren’t going anywhere. Layered conflict, or conflict that grows and changes as the story progresses, is even better. It keeps your reader from getting frustrated, bored or weary of the protagonist’s journey.

5. Stay active. Active writing means keeping the reader in the action. It means moving forward in real time. It means using specific details as opposed to clichés and generalizations. It also means using better diction and stronger verbs.

6. Skip the boring stuff. Nobody wants to read it. Use snappy, realistic dialogue that is unique to each character and isn’t bogged down with too many tags or adverbs (“she said sternly …”).

7. Create characters who are interesting and layered—which means they are not perfect. They must also be properly motivated or they will not be believable or sympathetic.

8. Help your reader suspend disbelief by avoiding a plot that is too contrived or coincidental. Put in a strong foundation at the beginning of your book so that whatever turns on it is credible and rings true.

9. Avoid writing that is overly dramatic or self-indulgent. Writing that tries too hard becomes obvious very fast.

10. Trust your reader and use plenty of subtext. By this I mean … be careful not to make everything quite so obvious. According to Alicia Rasley: “Subtext is like a gift to the astute reader—an additional layer of meaning implied by the text but not accessible without a bit of thinking. … Experienced readers aren’t confined to the text—what’s printed on the page—they interact with the text, fully participating with the writer in the making of meaning in the story.” Such reader participation heightens the emotional impact of a story.

New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak is the author of more than 45 books. A three-time Rita nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Daphne, and the Holt Medallion. She is in the middle of a new contemporary romance series set in the heart of Gold Country, and her book When Snow Falls just won RT Book Reviews’ Best Contemporary of 2012. She also runs an annual online auction for diabetes research every May at brendanovak.auctionanything.com (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she has raised over $1.6 million; her ninth auction is going on right NOW.*

*And speaking of that: WD is participating in this year’s auction! We’re offering a chance to win the most inspiring desk accessory we could think of: a pen from one of your favorite authors. For more details or to place a bid, click here.



You’ve Got a Book in You by Elizabeth Sims

Are you writing a book or novel for the first time? Chances are you probably have (or have had) a bout of insecurity, fear of failure, or worry about making it perfect. But you don’t have to let all of those feelings take hold of you and cripple your ability to write. In fact, You’ve Got a Book in You is filled with friendly, funny, telling-it-to-you-straight chapters that teach you how to relinquish your worries and write freely! With this book, you’ll get tips, advice and exercises geared toward helping you gain the skills and best practices needed to finish writing a novel.


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