6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good

High Concept – the whole concept of a high concept has a bad reputation with some writers. But the truth is, if your book doesn’t have a singular focus that is original and engages the reader’s attention, very few people are likely to expend time and effort on reading it. This is clearly true of commercial fiction. Harry Potter is the story of an orphan boy who goes to magic school. Each volume is a new school year. It’s clear, and it frames everything else that happens in the story. But this is also true of literary fiction. Underworld by Don DeLillo is a multilayered tapestry of human life and politics. But stitching it all together is a baseball, hit on a home run on the first day of the Cold War, and the novel follows all the lives the baseball touches, through to the end of the cold war. A high concept and a half!

Larger Than Life Characters – most people, faced with a terrorist takeover of a jet liner, stay in their seat. Your characters are the people who get up and organise to take the plane back. Playwright David Mamet argues (correctly I believe) that the single most fascinating thing in the world is a strong willed human being. Most people aren’t strong willed. They conform to the world, rather than bending the world to their will. Your characters are absolutely not “most people”. When Luke Skywalker hear’s there’s a princess in trouble, he races off to resue her. Again, this is as true in a small and intimate story as it is in an epic. Most people hang around in crappy, abusive relationships for years. Your character is the person who walks out the door, and your story is what happens next.

Use course code STORYTEN and get The Rhetoric of Story for…guess how much?

Inspiring Locations – one of the reasons we pick up a novel is to experience places and experiences unlike our daily life. There’s a reason why James Bond’s adventures don’t take him to Slough or Clacton-on-Sea. Or why Star Wars isn’t set in a galaxy quite close to home. On the immediate level, locations that have natural beauty, or even alienating strangeness, are the ones readers will gravitate towards. A tropical paradise, an urban metropolis, an icy moon orbiting a black hole, or the rolling prairies of Montana. These are places many people might like to experience. In a more granular analysis, inspiring locations tend to attract interesting people. If you want to write a political thriller, it’s not going to work set in a provincial town in Derbyshire. You simply won’t find many political power brokers in Bakewell. On the other hand, it’s exactly the kind of place you might find a retired crime solving lady like Miss Marple. There are no absolutes with location, but you do need a good one!

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23 thoughts on “6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good”

      1. As a naturally unorganized guy, I realized about ten years ago that the panacea to anxiety is preparation. Would have helped if I’d learned that in my twenties….

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  1. OK, one word sums up my response to this post:
    Damn!
    In one page, you did what most craft books wander around and never do achieve.
    Somebody, buy this guy a beer (or coffee or tea or whatever he pleases) wherever he happens to be wandering today

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  2. Love your insights and summarizations.
    As an editor, I must request that you please change “multiple character’s points of view” to “multiple characters,” if at all possible.
    Thanks so much. I am thrilled you are spotlighting Two Crows.

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  3. Hi Damien,

    I read your blog during cross-checking the qualities of my debut novel. I found all the 6 qualities are absolutely matching to my novel. Thanks for your great analysis and I am quiet confident now to release my work.

    Thanks a lot.

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  4. Hey, Damien read my book. I ensure you that it’s worth your time. I’ll email you five pages or more. I’m pretty sure it’s awesome but if it’s not then criticise the hell out of me. I want to improve so criticism would be greatly appreciated.

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  5. Reblogged this on Chimaeral and commented:

    This week’s reblog (the first in quite awhile) comes from Damien Walter, and is some advice on what makes a story attractive to readers – whle this advice probably won’t let you write a best seller, it’s definitely something to keep in mind when you plan your story (and maybe more importantly – pitch and blurb it!)

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  6. “…hang around in a crappy abusive relationship for years” ?

    “Hang around” as though it’s a choice. How about “are trapped”, “imprisoned”–perhaps a truthful description as opposed to painting an abusive relationship as if it’s a corner store and the victim is merely leaning on the brick wall, passing time until one day she/he shrugs and walks off.

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