#MondayBlogs What Makes a Great Novel? #Amreading #Amwriting #Amreviewing

If a formula existed for a great novel, everyone would benefit. Authors would write perfect novels and readers would never be disappointed.

So, what makes a great novel? My answer is connection and intimacy.

Writers need to connect with their readers and readers are on the lookout for authors whose stories invade their hearts and minds (intimacy) and become meaningful (connection).

A reader’s response to a novel is personal, intellectual, intimate and complex.

Novels speak to the readers’ minds, that hidden, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, darkest, sometimes unpredictable, elusive part of our brains that surprises each one of us, more times than we’d care to admit.

Readers want to be immersed in a story, transported and moved. They want to feel what the characters feel, understand their predicaments as if they were working with the author.

Writers want readers to be active participants in the narrative, reliving their character’s experiences and reinterpreting their stories. As Stephen King has said, “All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies…’

Readers enjoy finding themselves in the story, with the characters. That’s the moment all writers and readers crave; the moment the reader becomes actively, emotionally and intellectually involved in the story.

A colloquial expression might be that the novel gets under their skin, but where it really gets is inside their minds; that’s what makes a great novel.

So, how do writers find their way into the minds of people they don’t even know?

The answer is as simple as it is complex: writing about universal themes, feelings and events which are (and have always been) common to all of us.

That’s one of the reasons why Shakespeare will never be outdated.

Image result for shakespeare universal themes

Great novels don’t have to be about extraordinary people or wondrous events. Great novels are about feelings we have all experienced or witnessed, such as love, anger, jealousy, greed, happiness, optimism, depression, and universal events such as falling in love, parenting, sibling rivalry, sickness, death, earning a living, quarrelling, making friends, travelling, etc.

Great novels make readers feel something beyond themselves and the scope of their ordinary lives.

Great novels reach their minds, taking them on an unknown journey of self-discovery. Readers become part of the story, because they are involved with the characters and events, and when they finish reading, they are not the same person they were when they started reading, because they have changed their minds about something, or thought about something that had never occurred to them before, or felt something they hadn’t felt before or for a long time.

The challenge for both readers and writers is that one particular author will rarely be able to reach every reader’s mind, because of course all minds are different and no two readers will react in the same way to a novel, or even to different episodes and characters in a novel.

The good news is, there are so many types and genres of novels to be read and so many ways of reading, paperback, kindle and other e-books, and audio books, that it’s hard not to find something for everyone.

How to find a book that’s perfect for you?

It’s hard to get it wrong if you follow these three steps:

  • Read the blurb (writer and editor’s information and views).
  • Read a few varied reviews (diverse readers’ opinions).
  • Read the look inside pages (read the first chapters and decide whether to continue reading or not).

If you do so, it’s unlikely you’ll choose a book you won’t enjoy.

And when you finish, don’t forget to post a review, because it will help the author and other readers, too.

Are you looking for a great book? Here are some of the great books I’ve recently read:

Us

Us by David Nicholls. Themes: love, marriage, parenting, and contemporary life, from the perspective of a middle-aged Englishman. Poignant and humorous.

Eleanor Oliphant by Gale Honeyman. Themes: abuse, loneliness, serendipity, from the point of view of a young woman. Poignant, humorous, Feel good.

our house

Our House by Louise Candlish. Themes: marriage, infidelity, crime, parenting, told from two points of view, husband and wife of two young children. Family drama.

The Guest Room: A Novel by [Bohjalian, Chris]

The Guest Room Chris Bohjalion. Themes: marriage, infidelity, corruption, sex trafficking, narrated by an American husband and father and a Russian prostitute who is an illegal immigrant in the USA.

Missing You by [Coben, Harlan]

Don’t Let go by Harlan Coben. Themes: love, corruption, crime. A suspenseful thriller. This is his latest novel, but all of them are fabulous. Missing You is one of my favourites.

The Good Girl by Maria Rubrica. Themes, crime, kidnapping, family, love. A dark family drama, told from the point of view of the kidnapped daughter, before and after the event.

The Sister: A psychological thriller with a brilliant twist you won't see coming by [Jensen, Louise]

The Sister, by Louise Jensen is a suspenseful psychological thriller I enjoyed, but all her novels are great reads.

It Ends with Us: A Novel by [Hoover, Colleen]

It Ends With Us, by Colleen Hoover is a heartbreaking family drama about abusive relationships told in the first person by a young woman living in Boston.

The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorback is a unique and moving novel about survival, loneliness and serendipity, told from the point of view of a lawyer who attempts to help a homeless young woman on a freezing night.

Check out all my reviews on Amazon

But don’t take my word for it, what’s meaningful for me may be boring for you.

Follow the three steps (blurb, reviews, look inside) and find those great books you’re longing to read!

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What do you think makes a great book?

Would you like to tell me about a great book you’ve recently read?

#FridayFictioneers ‘Overlook Hotel’ #FlashFiction

Time again for a new episode of Friday Fictioneers featuring our indomitable heroine, Alice Pendragon, her best friend, Billy, and her parents Kevin and Marsha. This story takes us back to Alice’s early teen years, before her father disappeared.

Thank you Rochelle at Rochelle Wisoff-Fields-Addicted to Purple for this week’s prompt for hosting this fabulous weekly flash fiction challenge. Thank you © Dale Rogerson for this week’s snowy photo prompt.

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson.

Overlook Hotel

Marsha turned from the jammed door. ‘We’re snowed in.’

Billy’s lips curled and Alice grabbed his hand. ‘Let’s turn the lights out, sit around the fireplace and tell ghost stories.’

Kevin shook his head and Marsha aimed the remote control. ‘What about a movie while I prepare dinner?’

Alice tugged her arm. ‘Stay mum. Tell us one of granny’s stories.’

‘I’m starving, darling.’ said Kevin.

‘Let’s have campfire baked potatoes and pretend we’re trapped in…’

‘Let me guess,’ sighed Kevin. ‘Castle Dracula?’

‘I was thinking of Overlook Hotel, actually, daddy.’

Marsha gasped. Kevin stared back blankly and Alice hoped he wouldn’t Google it, or she’d be grounded again.

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Creative and cheeky Alice, always a step ahead of Kevin!

The picture prompt reminded me of Steven King’s, The Shining, a fabulous book and movie, which fortunately for Alice, Kevin hasn’t read or seen!

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All my ‘Alice’ flash fiction stories, written for the Friday Fictioneers Challenge, can be read as standalones, but if you’d like to read previous stories of Alice’s adventures, here they are!

#IWSG Plotting & Pantsing #amwriting

This post is written in response to the insecure writers support group’s monthly prompt.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

 

January 4 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I’ve been thinking hard about this question all day, and I can’t think of an answer. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a writing rule which has influenced me so strongly and negatively that I wish I’d never heard it.

I’m not aware of following rules when I write. I do listen to other author’s advice and opinions, and I’ve read many books on writing, but I’m aware I have to adapt this information to my own way of writing, my story and my characters. I’ve always trusted myself to write on my own gut feeling. I write because I have great fun recreating imaginary worlds, characters and stories. I’m mainly concerned with pleasing myself, although I also worry about not boring or annoying potential readers. What’s the point of that?

The single most useless piece of advice was probably don’t plot, just write and go with the flow. I’m not sure exactly who said it first, but I’ve heard it a lot. It might work for some people, although I doubt it, but if I did that I’d end up with a disjointed mess, not a publishable novel. Writing, plotting, planning, editing, re-writing, re-editing, re-plotting are a constant cycle in my writing process.

Some people attribute this idea of not plotting to Stephen King, but he never actually said he didn’t plot, he said he didn’t use ‘written outlines’. He said he starts writing and lets the ‘patterns’ develop later.

“I start a book knowing just two things: the basic situation and that the story will create its own patterns naturally and organically if I follow it fairly…and by fairly I mean never forcing characters to do things they wouldn’t do in real life…For me, the first draft is all about story. I trust that some other part of me—an undermind—will create certain patterns.”

On the other hand, other authors, such as J. K. Rowling or Ken Follett , don’t start writing their novels until they’ve worked out a detailed plot outline.

It seems that both approaches work, as they’re used by successful authors who write excellent novels.

This is how I’ve done it in my first five novels (three published and two in process).

My first phase approaches King’s advice (pantsing).

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1- I start with some characters, usually one or two at first, and an idea or situation, which I explore.

In order to explore, I start writing my story, not knowing where it will go yet.

I don’t start serious planning until the idea itself has developed into a complete story with more characters, scenes, places, etc and I’ve convinced myself I’m interested in pursuing the idea and telling the whole story.

This is a crazily creative period which usually takes about one month to write 20,000-30,000 words.

2- At this point, I start outlining my plot. I divide it into the basic three-part dramatic arc; exposition, climax and denouement, which are subdivided into about 30 chapters and 40-50 scenes.

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Perhaps Follett’s approach relies too heavily on outline, but I can see that it helps, especially if your novel is a complex web of characters and events spanning various decades.

More about my writing process here.

Although plotting versus pantsing is an interesting debate, I wouldn’t say it’s very helpful for authors, except that it helps us reflect upon our writing process. We each have to find out what works best for us and our type of novel.

However, if you’re very intersted in this debate, this article is enlightening and Ken Follett’s Mastercalss on his blog is priceless advice on outlining.

More about Insecure Writers Group Here

Happy New Year to all fellow Insecure Writers!

 

 

How to find time to write a novel, with help from Stephen King

I prefer reading to writing.

That’s only natural. It’s easier and more enjoyable to read. Someone else has done all the hard work and you just lap it up and enjoy.

No wonder my favourite moment of the day is curling up on my armchair with my kindle, preferably by the fireplace, with a cup of tea or hot chocolate 🙂

 

Fireplace

I work full time. I’m a wife, mother and grandmother, and I’ve managed to read over ten books in January. Nevertheless, as much as I love it, I have to stop reading so much because my time is limited, and I need find time to write, too.

Following Stephen King’s advice;
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

In his marvelous book, On Writing, (you can read some of the main points he makes in this article), King recommends writing a minimum of a thousand words, six days a week.

That’s between two and four hours a day, depending on how much you can write in an hour, which for me at least, depends on how much has been planned, handwritten, and thought out, before I start hitting the keyboard.

This cannot be done without setting specific goals, which King strongly recommends. (For more invaluable quotes taken on the craft of writing, check out Goodreads).

In any case, I’m going to strictly limit the amount of time I spend reading to no more than two hours a day, preferably just before bedtime, when my energy levels are lowest and I can indulge in a relatively passive activity.

I also need to log onto Facebook and Twitter, and write blog posts and read other blogs, because I enjoy it, and because it has become part of my writer’s life.

Again, I need to limit social media time to Twitter and Facebook thirty minutes twice a day, and reading and interacting with other blogs and bloggers, an hour a day.

That means I’ll spend the rest of my free time, which should be at least another three hours a day, finishing my second novel, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall.

I’ll have to sort out how I find the time to write my blog posts, too! Weekends perhaps?

In any case, I promise myself not to cut down on my writing time. I’ll have to sacrifice reading, social media, and other leisure time activities. Never writing.

King considers that the first draft should not take longer than three months.

I absolutely agree, even though I haven’t managed to get very far in the last six months! Oh yes, it’s all planned, and parts are written, but I need to get it together with lots of hard work.

Finally, I’ll take his last bit of advice: The only way to write is by writing one word at a time.

So be it! I’ll write one word at a time nonstop for two months until it’s finished. I’m giving myself two months instead of three because I’ve already had six months of planning, scribbling, and procrastinating!

My deadline is 29th March.

Wish me luck!

How do you find time to write?