If you’re speaking of fiction, then the answer, if not the skill, is easy. It’s writing compelling fiction. That’s fiction that readers want to read, and who’ll compliment the writer or novel with “I couldn’t put it down.” That’s compelling, and in my estimation, the finest compliment I, or any writer, can get.
So, what makes a novel compelling? Why can’t a reader easily lay it aside, and turn off the bedside light? It’s craft, and craft can be learned. Much of it is simple construction. By that I mean chapter length, scene construction, characterization, and story interest. The first three are fairly simple; the last depends upon the writer’s experience and skill. And I don’t necessarily mean experience in regards to writing, but rather experience in regard to living.
Luckily, some of us are born old souls, and we observe more than others, we absorb more than others. I was not that writer until I had accumulated a few years. Some are able to acquire the knowledge for story interest early on in life. When I was 25 I began an adventure novel, a thriller, and after five chapters or so realized I didn’t know enough, and was too busy raising and providing for a family to take the time to try and “book learn” what I didn’t know. So I waited until I was sans half my children and had some time on my hands. Then I wrote a 130,000 word historical. I can’t tell you how to make your novel interesting, but I think lots and lots of reading can do so. You can’t, as a for instance, write about a forensics expert unless you either are one, have observed the process, or have read lots about them–usually non-fiction.
However, pacing, characterization, and the rest of the technical side of constructing a novel can be learned. I use about ten manuscript pages for chapter length. Why? It’s easy to get through about seven printed pages without being interrupted. It’s a short attention span world these days. That’s the good side; the bad is you still want to keep them reading, even if you’ve given them a chance (a chapter end) to lay your book aside. And how do you do that? You break a chapter in the middle of a scene, the conflict unresolved, or you end the chapter with a question the reader wants resolved. You don’t end with “I fluffed up my pillow and reached up and switched off the light.” You end with the next sentence. “Almost as soon as I closed my eyes, I heard the scraping of my casement window being forced open.”
And rule one, two, and three:
1) There’s conflict in every scene, or it’s a transition and shouldn’t be longer than a paragraph.
2) Enter the scene late and leave early. No one cares about ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’
3) Deeper and deeper trouble.
Those are the basic rules of a compelling novel.
L. J. Martin is the author of 20 novels and several non-fiction books (Bantam, Avon, Pinnacle) and articles, and writes a widely read conservative political blog http://fromthepeapatch.com. He’s also an optioned screenwriter. He’s written mysteries, thrillers, westerns, and co-written one romance with his wife, NYT best-selling romantic suspense author Kat Martin. The Martins live in Montana and California. A number of his articles (excerpted from his book WRITE COMPELLING FICTION can be found on www.ezine.com and several videos on GETTING PUBLISHED can be found on youtube.com (search ljmartinwolfpack). Learn more about the Martins at www.ljmartin.com, www.katbooks.com, www.wolfpackranch.com, as well as facebook and other social sites.
See the trailer for L.J. Martin’s Nemesis . . .
Larry is giving away a copy of his western, Nemesis, and two copies of his thriller, Last Stand. Leave a comment and you’ll be in the drawings. He’ll also send a pdf copy via email of KILLING CANCER to anyone who requests one.