Seven deadly sins of novel writing

Angela Ackerman (a.k.a. The Bookshelf Muse) has finished her collection of posts about her seven deadly sins of novel writing, and they’re good to read for writers at all stages of a manuscript. On Monday, I’ll be beginning what I think — hope — will be my last revision of my current novel, and as I go through the chapters, I’m going to make sure I haven’t made any of these sins.

Here are her sins:

1. Keeping the stakes too low for the characters. Conflict keeps our worlds going round.

2. Characters that don’t measure up. Characters should be unique, yet natural; likeable, yet flawed; active, yet true to character.

3. A weak voice. To quote Angela, “Voice is the song of the story, the heartbeat of the main character. It is nothing short of magic.”

4. Plot holes. Including, illogical steps, saggy middles and coincidences.

5. Bland writing. Use all five senses and choose words wisely.

6. Drowning the dialog. Too much, too little and “said” vs. anything else.

7. Giving away too much. Showing vs. telling and how much to reveal.

Thanks for these, Angela. A great guide.

Can you think of any more deadly sins of novel writing? What sins have you committed lately?

Read to write

Revision update: I can always tell the parts of my first draft where I was struggling. This morning, I found one of those parts at the beginning of this next chapter I’m working on, and I found a much better way to get into the story.

One of the many — far too many — blogs in my blog reader is Frenetic Reader, and she had a cool post today called I Would Read ___’s Books Just For ___. As she explains, she would read Beth Kephart‘s books just for the writing, Scott Westerfeld‘s books for the plots, Maureen Johnson‘s books for the charters, etc.

I love this. But it also gave me an idea about research for us writers.

If there’s an area we want to work on — plot, characters, word choices — we can read books that excel in those areas. We can learn something new, something good in every book we read. But, like Frenetic Reader points out, writers tend to be strongest in one or two areas, and the rest follows.

If you want to know what books to read for these different areas, read the reviews. Look at what’s on the bestseller lists and honors lists that are in the genre you’re writing and read what reviewers say. If you’re looking for books strong on plot, read the books reviewers say have a strong plot, or Google search review, your genre and plot and see what kind of results you get.

Most of the books in my must-read list I’ve found through reading about them in blogs, but I was only looking for popular books in the genre I write. From now on, I’m going to scour reviews and let them be my guide based on what I’m looking to build on.

It's all about plot

Just a quick post tonight. In my check in, I did the revision for chapter 18 and started chapter 19. Tomorrow’s goal: finish chapter 19.

I’m still hoping to have this revision by the end of the year, but that deadline’s coming up fast, so my goals are going to have to start getting tougher next week.

Also, after I was having all those plot problems in my novel’s middle for the last month, I saw a post on author J.A. Konrath’s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog that reminded me why the work was so important. Konrath lists four points to remember when dealing with plot, and one all encompassing point to remember when we’re telling stories: “Here’s a mess, clean it up.” I’d change that to “Make a mess, clean it up” as the duty for us writers. Check out the post. Good advice for all of us.

Write On!

Day 25 and 26 and Authors Read

Forgot to check in for my unofficial participation in National Novel Writing Month yesterday, so this is a double post.

I wrote both days, but yesterday, after still going back and forth about the plot line of my novel, I decided to try a new tack. I needed something that could better help me see the whole story in one go, so I could better see the ebb and flow of the events and thus how the story played out without all the detail. So, I tried something I read about a while ago in an author’s interview. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the author (thank you, whoever you were), but this is something I know many authors do and I would now recommend — and something I think I will always do.

The author had said she (I do remember it was a she, but again, I’m sure plenty of other authors do this in one form or another) took out a calendar and wrote down which days events in her story happened so she could see the timeline and make sure the days all made sense. Good reason. But for me, I suspected doing a timeline — the really brief kind you see in National Geographic about global warming or something — would help me see the whole story better. So, I opened a new Word document, split the page into two columns and on one side I wrote Day 1, Day 2, etc., and on the other side I wrote the corresponding events. I also drew a seven-day grid on a piece of paper and noted the days that activity happened so I could see at a glace if it made sense that such and such an event happened three days before another related event.

This has been the most useful exercise I have done in a while on this novel. I’ve already come up with fixes to smooth out the story, and the best part is, I can easy move around events to see what works best before I edit the chapters. I haven’t completely finished the exercise yet and plan to tomorrow, then it’s back to revising the plot — but this time, I’ll have a plan.

Got any other plot revision tips?

Write On!

P.S. I heard about a very interesting site the other day and wanted to pass it on: Authors Read, on Blog Talk Radio. It’s basically what the name says, a series of audio files of authors reading their own works. I haven’t had a chance to look around it much, but it seems like a great place to try out new books as a reader and, as an author, to promote your work to the public. Check out the site, and if you like it, support the authors on there by getting the word out.