Five Quick Tips to a Better Novel

Please remember, this is my personal experience that I choose to share to help aspiring authors see what worked for me. Remember, I’m only here to give insight, not tell you what’s right or wrong. 😊

5: ASK YOURSELF: WOULD YOU CALL OR HANG AROUND YOUR CHARACTER?

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Characters can make or break your story, regardless of plot. You’ll need to entice your readers to read from start to finish. Note: You won’t win everyone over. Your book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Unfortunately, some readers won’t know till they open your book, despite being hooked initially by the blurb and/or cover.

Okay.

Number one: YOUR CHARACTER IS EITHER A MAIN, SUPPORTIVE, OR FILLER

Main: The character which the story revolves around.  

Deuteragonist or what I like to simply refer to as Supportive: The ones closest to the main, the sidekicks.

Tertiary or what I like to call fillers: They don’t have much of a role and aren’t seen often.

Lets get this out the way. Every book will have a character who says “hello,” and they’re just there as someone who had to take the job. The server, car salesperson, mail person etc... We're not worried about this person and what they bring to the table accept to do his job and go. We don’t need a full description or any background info. Sounds obvious, but some authors need this to be pointed out. It’s okay. We don’t judge here. Now, if you give a description, make it no more than about two things, and place them strategically so the reader doesn’t feel time is wasted on a sudden detail dump.

Now, to focus on your main characters , or the ones that actually push the story forward, should be more than wallpaper. If they’re bad, make them bad. If they’re worthy of being hated, make them irritating. Don’t straddle—go all in. Listen, my lead character in my latest book is easily hated. This is a huge gamble, because he’s obviously the star of the show and the one readers will have to be in the car with, so to speak, more than anyone else and for the whole ride. He’s what we call a douchebag. And honey, nothing is worse than having a straddling douche bag, because it comes across as apologetic. I don’t like my character’s ways, but he’s my douchbag, and at least I chose a side for him and know what I feel about him. It’s too bad that he’s the protagonist and A-hole, but I can’t apologize for this. This is who he is, and it’s up to me to win him over with the readers. However, you’d prob opt to hang out with him because, you’d want to tell him off, test his arrogance, or simply see what’s so good about his life. Hell, you’d probably wanna sleep with him to see why the women put up with him. That’s at least something I can offer my readers: He can sex your brains out. But what if my reader is a man? Maybe he can relate to my character from wild days of the past or wishes he could be so brazen like my character. Ya never know. Just make your characters more than wallflower. If they’re too boring to write for and about, then they need to be demoted to a filler character or scratched completely. Or! Maybe they’re not right for this part, this book. Maybe that character is best for another book of yours. See, I treat my books like movies. Your story needs to be a clean and cut visual with characters we trust to pull off the story. If they can’t  do that effectively, give them a personality transplant/lift or set them free. 

4: KNOW WHEN TO CHART

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I just saw someone on IG mention that they found themselves outlining so much, that it became more of a hindrance than helpful. That could definitely happen, just like trying to hold all the details you think you’ll remember in your head. Here’s the thing. You’ll need a balance. I find that I’m guilty of trying to hold everything in my head now, whereas before, I charted in my first trilogy. Charting is helpful for character background bits and phenotype descriptions. Lord knows you don’t wanna give a character brown eyes when they were blue before. And what about that character you said was an only child but suddenly has a sister?  🤭 Your readers will remember better than you, because their job is to retain. 

But let’s discuss plot outlining. How do I do it? I write a few main things that need to happen to push my story forward, and to give it that twist. I choose not to jot paragraphs down when it will be written anyway, or thrown off by my characters. I do a gist of it so I know what’s up, but I save the rest for writing when it’s actually happening. Your characters have a way of helping you write that spot you dreaded to pull off with skill, because remember: A good story ties itself up almost seamlessly. With every book, I’ve decided on the plot twist, climax, whatever, then dreaded how to make it happen flawlessly. However, when I got to the part, the characters had a way of showing me how it was gonna be done. Isn’t that amazing? Because I trusted them along the way, they were there for me. Why? Because I was present in the moment, every step of the way. Outlining more than a little bit can work well for others, just not for me. I prefer to let it flow as I carry the gist of the twists and climaxes with me. See, there’s no right or wrong way, just your way. Just be careful not to let outlining rob you of the grace because you become so enthralled with the technical. 

3: BEING TOO VERBOSE

Remember when I said filler characters don’t get a lot of play? Okay, let’s explore how to do this. 

Remember when I said filler characters don’t get a lot of play? Okay, let’s explore how to do this. 

Ex: 1) The server’s brunette hair shook when she said, “No. We don’t serve shrimp here.” 

You want two character descriptions?

AVOID:

The server’s brunette hair shook when she said, “No. We don’t serve shrimp here.” Thinking, she fluttered her long lashes as she pushed the tip of the pen against her chin. She said, “But we do have crab.”

TRY: 

Ex: 2) The server’s brunette hair shook when she said, “No. We don’t serve shrimp here.”  Fluttering her long lashes, she pushed the tip of the pen against her chin. “But we do have crab.”

NOTES:  

—Avoid using the tag ‘said’ twice, as readers can tell that the same person is still speaking. That will instantly make your work more polished and professional. 

—Avoid stating the obvious. No need to say, that the server was thinking of what to recommend. The fact that she fluttered her lashes and pushed a pen against her chin is a general sign of thought. Also, did you notice the bonus of pointing out her long lashes if you were dying to give one extra description? That’s fine, just do it strategically.  

—Avoid swerving and get right to the point. State what she did instead of putting in fillers of ‘as she.’ Be direct. Your readers will thank you. We, as writers are all guilty of violating what we preach, but the violation should be modest. No one is perfect. 

 2: SAY IT BETTER

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Did you know that it is common for writers to spend countless minutes on a sentence? Isn’t that insane? To others, yes, to us, no! Writers who care about their craft truly want to make an impact on the way something is expressed. Sure, we can be trite with our expression, but writing is artistic, and the sooner you embrace that we paint pictures with words and not with brushes, you’ll change your perspective. 

Think of it this way. You have a painter trying to show you that a man is heartbroken. His woman left him. He doesn’t choose to spell it out by putting the woman in the painting, but instead, he’ll put puzzle pieces in the painting for you to connect the dots. He’ll put him in a dark room, slouch his posture, have empty shot glasses, rub his chest, frown, clutch a feminine item that once belonged to his ex-lover, etc... you’ll be convinced that it’s heartbreak, not job loss. 

But when we write, we need to paint a scene. Some things are great when it’s basic, but some things need to be elevated. Impactful moments call for impactful writing.  

Example: 

After Heidi’s boss request that she stay late, she returns to her office, slams the door, and plops in the chair.  

Boom. Why does this work? It’s not major to the plot. It’s a moment. We get the point. You gather that she’s frustrated by the door slamming and chair plopping. The reader can figure out that Heidi’s pissed. No one will care about this scene after a few paragraphs unless it’s paramount. 

But when does saying it better count?

Example: 

A devastated man has lost his woman. PIVOTAL!

You won’t care too much if I say it like this: 

Coming home from work, he walked through the apartment, looking into each room, only to find that the unexpected had occurred. Chantel took everything from the apartment. Wiped it clean of anything that would remind Jasper of her. He decided to call his friends for comfort.  

So many missed opportunities here!

Just something to consider . . . 

Feeling like two anchors were tied to his ankles, Jasper’s feet barely crossed the threshold of his apartment. After he hung up his coat, he twisted from side to side to release the tension in his torso, as he anticipated Chantal’s floral scent. Though an embrace from her would be the massage he needed to rejuvenate him from a day’s work, Jasper immediately sensed that something was off. By now, the rhythm of Chantal’s clacking shoes would’ve greeted him. The aroma carrying her spices from a pot simmering in the distance should’ve been hitting his nose like a heavyweight boxer in the ring. The silence spoke volumes when usually her choice of music did. Paralyzed by the silence and neutral-smelling air, his suspension raised with his brow. 

Jasper’s instinct told him that something was off. Chantal would’ve called to tell him that dinner would be late. Besides, where was the note? The note that would put all his suspicions to rest. Jasper eased down the dark hallway, with one slow foot hitting the wooden floor at a time. Anticipation made him want to run to each door, but dread kept him creeping. Starting with the first door to his left, he placed one large hand against the wood and swung it open, slowly, hoping to see Chantal in a peaceful slumber. Yes! Maybe she’d fallen asleep. Instead, his eyes scanned a dark room housing a made-up bed with her sewing machine missing from the corner wall. A tight knot bubbled in Jasper’s  throat. Did she take it for a repair? Possibly. A ray of hope shot through his system like a puck during a game of high-striker. Their bedroom at the end of the hallway would negate his doubts. Of course Chantal’s belongings would be there. The sewing machine had probably been acting up. Besides, Jasper hadn’t seen Chantal sew in weeks, and he probably fell asleep or tuned her out when she tried to explain that. Relaxing by steadying his rapid breathing, Jasper removed his hand from the door and carried on down the hall. Taking easy strides toward the closed door, Jasper’s heart hit his chest so hard, he thought it’d bruise. It was the moment of truth, and all fears would be put to rest or confirmed. Stretching out a shaky hand, Jasper palmed the door and pushed it gently until it couldn’t swing back anymore. Alarmed, Jasper felt his legs wobble beneath him, becoming as sturdy as spaghetti noodles. His mouth went dry, as all the moisture his body had to spare migrated to his eyes. Hazy eyed, he managed to see a note propped against the base of her lamp. 

********************* 

So, you see that I’m gonna end it here. As a writer, I can go on and on. But, do you see my point? I really hope this helps if you struggle with balancing the give and take of details.  

1: RECOGNIZE YOUR FLAWS

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Whether it’s along the way or after you publish a book, don’t be afraid but empowered, to call yourself out on your weaknesses. I’ve published an ebook only to update it repeatedly while it’s on the market. Stroked Eagle was under a deadline and that harmed me. I’d decided to do the pre-order thing. Not a good idea! Life happens, but yet I still had to have something for the readers by said date! That’s a horrible feeling to be under the gun like that. Those little mistakes that are easy to overlook were plenty more than what’s acceptable to be. Basically, what I’m trying to say here, is don’t be afraid to offer your best, your perfection, for your readers. This was an example of me checking myself and not letting anything slide.

Back to weaknesses. So, every writer has a weakness. Know it and do something about it. Don’t keep carrying on the same mistake book after book. Readers who follow you will appreciate your progression as an artist. Imagine your favorite singer releasing the same quality album over and over, performing the same way over and over. So what can you do?

If you can’t identify your own area of struggle, look around for insight. Could it be your review(s) from constructive criticism? Could you ask someone to point it out? Does your editor tend to correct you more than a few times regarding the same issue to the point where you see a pattern? Be strong and honest with yourself. It can only make it only yourself, but your book better. Ultimately, you can google for answers to your sore spots, YouTube it, or simply, ask another writer. However, we all know, bookworms make the best writers. So, keep reading! 

 

Happy writing, guys! ✌🏽