6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good

Close and Intense Relationships – How many stories can you think of that are about families? War and Peace is an epic tgat spans a continent. But it’s really about two families. Think very hard about your life. How many people are you really, deeply and truly related to? A dozen? At their most fundamental 99.99% of the stories people love are about relationships between siblings, children and parents, best friends, lovers or lifelong rival. And if they aren’t, they are about relationships that gain equal intensity. In Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, the lead detective and the serial killer he is pursuing barely meet. But they share elements of the same pathological personality, that manifest in different ways. A profound and intense relationship.

High Stakes – is your story about saving the world? Lord of the Rings is. Every life in Middle Earth turns on Frodo’s mission to destroy the One Ring. Epic stories turn either on the fate of the world, or of a city or community of another kind. The heroes actions avert a disaster, or bring a gift, that improves everyone else’s life. And the stakes must be equally high within the context of a smaller story. Jane Austen isn’t talking trivia when she describes Elizabeth Bennets quest for a happy marriage in Pride and Prejudice. Every other moment of her heroines life turns on her marriage, at a time when most women were trapped in loveless unions of economic advantage. What would not have worked is if Jane Austen had based the story around Lizzy’s regular sewing circle evenings, which while fun, had little bearing on her fate. You get the point.

Multiple Points-of-View – we all see the world through our own eyes, but the world is crowded with many points of view. It’s a fundamental aspect of human psychology that our view is fundamentally self centred, and therefore inaccurate. To show us the full picture then, stories need to take us through multiple character’s points of view. Many novels do this literally, such as the hyper-succesful Game of Thrones books by George R R Martin, which dedicate one chapter at a time to each of a half dozen POV characters. Other novels stay in a single POV, through which we encounter numerous other characters who see the events of the story very differently. Either choice is fine. The important issue is that, one way or another, we see the world of the book through more than one limited, subjective set of eyes.

BONUS.

It’s worth noting that these six points can also make a brilliant structure when pitching a story idea. Don’t try describing a convoluted plot in a few sentences. Set-up the concept, introduce the location, pin down the characters and their relationships, then hit your audience with the stakes. You’ll see film trailers do this over and over again, because it works.

Last chance. Take 5.5 hours of your life to follow The Rhetoric of Story. It’s everything I’ve learned about storytelling in a neat little package.

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22 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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