The Heart of Your Novel – Part 2

The Heart Of Your Novel Part 1 covered ways to avoid being overwhelmed by rules and formulas of fiction writing and neglect the heart of the story. Numerous elements were listed that make your novel full and better than if you ignored them. Part 2 will cover the specific building blocks that will help you shape your novel to enhance the story’s heart which connects with the readers and editors.

Shaping Your Novel
Characters’ goals, motivation and conflicts is what shapes your novel rather than a set of rules and formulas. This does not negate your use of techniques and elements that will help you reach the pinnacle of the story’s heart.

Believability: Characters need to be developed in a way that brings them to life. They must be flawed and held back by their lack of confidence, fears, and real life factors we find in our own lives. Dig into your personal background and decide what has made you who you are today. What influenced you? What kind of childhood and upbringing? What successes and failures did you experience? What dream did you have that has been thwarted? What goals do you still pursue that seem out of reach? Use your own background to know what’s important in the lives of your main characters and then use their individual sets of circumstances to create those characters.

Cause and Effect: Every incident in the novel must be caused by something that precedes it. This will create realism and be believable to readers. The incident will then affect the character’s life in one way or another: to inspire, enlighten, discourage, reject, undermine. The incidents are used to create conflict or to move the story forward toward a satisfying conclusion.

Intensify: Conflicts begin and grow, each one causing greater tension. Tension is the engine that creates emotion which is the power within a novel. Conflicts drive the story toward a climax. This anticipation keeps the reader glued to the story. So don’t pose a conflict and then resolve it with a simple solution. As you find a solution for one conflict have another hanging in the background waiting to pounce on the character. This happens throughout the novel until that dire situation that makes the character and the reader think that all is lost. Then find a dynamic way to resolve the conflict.

Momentum: Momentum refers to the pace of the novel, the speed of the action. Good writers know that the story benefits from short scenes that give the reader a breather, a chance to recuperate, but then the story must pick up speed as it drives forward toward the ending. The last act is fast paced yet providing enough explanation and believability to carry the reader to the end. The final paragraphs may be a time of quieter resolve where a feeling that all is well or the inevitable closes out the story.

Scenes and Sequels: You’ll find full posts on this site describing scenes and sequels in detail. It is a time of POV switch or mood switch where characters make new resolves, devise plans of action or face setbacks. It adds variety to the novel, and in a way, prepares the reader for drama in the next scene.

Unexpected: The best novels offer the reader moments of unexpected turns and twists, untypical character actions, and elements of surprise. These must have logic and with an explanation the reader should understand or learn later in the novel. Sometimes looking back, the character and the reader realize this is the only way the scene could conclude.

Genre Expectation: Authors need to keep in mind the readers’ genre expectations and not disappoint them. A romance has a happy ending. If it doesn’t, the book is not a romance (think of Bridges of Madison County). A thriller must be complex with twists and turns, full of the unexpected to the end. Though authors may meet the genre expectation, being creative is still important. Find new ways to thrill readers.

Keep In Step With Story
When the story has the power to break from an outline or detailed synopsis, it opens the door to creative ideas. Though the story is headed for the same conclusion no matter what, the way to get their can change. Veering off track and detours are intriguing. When this is the case though, the author needs to make sure the story is still headed in the right direction and also make sure that the story points promised are met. One technique I use is to write a few chapters, editing as I go, and make a hard copy of the chapters which I study for details. Note plot points promised, situations insinuated, and characters introduced, and then make sure you follow through as the story unfolds. Nothing upsets a reader more than to meet a character, have a situation foreshadowed, or develop a conflict and then never return it again.

At end of my writing day, I write a brief line to indicate where the next scene or plot point is headed, and then the next day, I reread the last few scenes or even chapters I’ve written to make sure that the timeline works, the characters are growing, the promises are fulfilled or will be. Then I begin the new day of writing using the brief line I leave for the next scene. Every so often, I make another hard copy and follow the same procedure as before, catching any flaws or lack of development of character, conflicts or plot lines introduced.

One of my favorite tools is a “text to voice” program that will read my novel to me. I use a program called Natural Reader, I purchased the middle price, which offers two voices, a male and female. The website allows the buyer to test the voices so he or she finds the voice pleasing to the ear and they have a free sample to try for a period of time. That free download is limited though and not as complete as the purchased version. I can slow down the program enough to mark the manuscript with color highlights, select text or add a symbol and then return to it to correct the typo or error, recheck a fact, add more description, develop more emotion, or correct an awkward line. I find this invaluable. Hearing the novel read allows the author to hear the flow and rhythm of the lines and helps the author feel the story as a reader will.

Occasionally I find a scene that needs to be moved. The information would be more dramatic earlier in the story or needs to be held back until the characters are ready to handle the new crisis or information. I can sense this as I read the novel. I always keep a folder called Pieces along with the novel title. I place material that I pull from the novel and save it there to be used later or to find a way to fit it in earlier. Not being tied to a chapter outline or detailed synopsis allows the novelist to be more creative.

Know your beginning, some of the conflicts and the ending, since these give you direction, but don’t begin with so many details that you’re retelling a story that is stuck in your mind. Allow for creativity, open your mind to more dynamic ways to present the plot points, find new ways to show who your character really is, add a subplot connected to the main plot but add something that makes a difference for the main character. Enjoy some of the serendipity of the seat of the pants writer, yet have a destination. This allows detours, exploring the sights and meeting new people along the way. It helps your novel be fresh and unique.

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  1. Jill January 28, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    This is such beneficial information, Gail…thank you! I especially love the Keep in Step with Story section.

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