Mashable is a global, multi-platform online media and entertainment “magazine” with tech, digital culture and entertainment content. If you have unlimited time to browse its ginormous daily content, you’ll find articles on everything from new gadgets to Hollywood scandals to human interest articles – like a story and video about the cool 92-year-old woman who wrote a song for Willie Nelson’s upcoming album. But I digress.
Mashable interviews experts in lots of fields for its articles. When they wanted to write an advice piece about How to Write a Great Novel, they went to editor Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic and the continuity editor for the last two Harry Potter books. Klein offered six tips that are dead-on for any fiction writer in any genre. But I’m only going to talk about one of them. I’m not going to steal the whole article; you can read it HERE.
All six of Klein’s points are great, but her last one really resonated with me.
“Aim for Pleasure” – Cheryl Klein
It’s true you need passion for your writing. You have to be able to love the heroes you create and hate your villains, as well as cry and laugh with those characters while they deal with the events in your story. In other words, if the novel you’re writing doesn’t hook you and keep you enthralled, page after page, you probably aren’t going to give it your best. So yes, write for your pleasure.
But only the first draft.
Because the Most Important Person to Please Is Not Yourself
After you’ve written a draft of the story that makes your heart soar and your pulse pound, you’re ready to edit. Klein’s sixth point is to focus that edit on the reader – “paying particular attention to the element you like least.” (If you hate grammar and syntax, make a special attempt to concentrate on those. They make it easy for your reader to follow the story without distraction.)
Klein’s actual advice here is pretty general: to balance all the elements of storytelling into a whole that serves your purpose (including how you want your readers to feel while they’re reading it) and make certain your reader has all the information they need to react the way you want to your plot twists and character insights.
What does that mean in practical terms? Here are some questions to ask.
- How quickly does the reader discover your hero’s driving need? How quickly is the central conflict introduced? (Readers like to get into the story as fast as possible.)
- Do you have enough details for the reader to visualize each setting? (Readers like to immerse themselves in the story world.)
- When events happen to them, are characters’ emotional responses clearly revealed? (Readers enjoy identifying with and experiencing the emotions of your characters.)
- Have you laid adequate groundwork for your plot twists? (Readers love that aha moment when everything that has led up to a twist is suddenly clear.)
- Is each conflict and obstacle big enough to create real must-turn-the-page suspense? (Readers get bored with conflicts that are easily resolved or have no serious penalty for failure.)
- Is there at least one big moment in the story when the reader is convinced things can’t possibly turn out well? (Even though readers all know your book will have an HEA ending, they relish that delicious fear that maybe this time it won’t. They want that final victory to be such a big relief they can experience a major, memorable moment of catharsis.)
Cheryl B. Klein is the author of The ‘Magic Words:’ Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults. Visit her at www.cherylklein.com and her podcast, www.narrativebreakdown.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @chavelaque.
Donna Maloy is a published author of fiction and plays for adults, teens, tweens and young adults. Her first book for middle grade, Celia and the Wolf, won the Lyra Award for best juvenile fiction in 2014. Her current work-in-progress was nominated last week for the Joan Lowery Nixon award from the Houston chapter of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). She has been teaching writing at the college and community level for more than ten years. Visit her at www.donnamaloy.com .