The last couple of months I’ve been floating around in a euphoric daze after receiving the news that my first novel will be published in late November this year. In actual fact it’s my second novel – my first is completed but needs further revision. It took me over five years to write my first book whereas my second was initially written in a month as a nano and then revised a number of times in around one year. Each book has its own process and way of coming into the world and each book teaches us something new about writing.
My first novel, my labour of love, taught me about writing itself, about words, techniques, themes and to some extent character. My second novel taught me about plot, structure, conflict and creating a character the reader will connect with. This second novel, Blackwattle Lake, seemed to write itself, the story unravelling each time I put pen to paper and the main character coming to life all by herself. Well, almost.
Looking back on the whole process now I can identify the elements that made the novel flow and ultimately led to it being picked up for publication:
- a strong protagonist, not necessarily one hundred percent likeable but with enough redeeeming features to allow the reader to be on her side
- a definite goal – the character needs to have a clear idea on what she wants, even if that’s not what she really needs
- a series of obstacles that are going to stop the protagonist reaching her goals
- following on from this, make things worse – a lot worse – for the character before they get better
- an underlying problem or issue that is stopping the main character from reaching her goal – she may not be aware of this problem but the author needs to be and the reader needs to gradually be made aware of it
- an interesting backstory that is revealed in pieces and may be partly if not fully responsible for preventing the character reaching her goal and/or solving her underlying problems
- internal and external conflict
- a cast of supporting characters who serve some function in relation to the protagonist and aren’t just there for show
- tension on every page (as Donald Maass so wisely advises)
- writing that shows a lot more than it tells
I’m sure there are others but for me these ten elements are the ones that work together to create a strong plot and novel. Over the coming weeks on this blog I’ll be focusing on each of them and exploring how they helped me complete Blackwattle Lake.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think makes a strong novel that readers just can’t put down.
Blackwattle Lake is featured as one of Hachette’s Best of December books: