Six Elements You Must Master to Write a Publishable Novel

We like to cater to the desires of all types of writers, from fiction to copywriting. (Check out our posts on fiction writing here.)

So when Larry Brooks, an old friend, an ex pro baseball player and most importantly a bestselling novelist, offered to write a series on fiction writing and getting published, I was quite happy to say yes.

Click here to read Larry’s first post, Five Things You Need to Know to Write a Novel. Or, read on and enjoy the next in the series!

John Lennon asked us to imagine there’s no heaven. Which, if you write novels, is easy to do, because a fair amount of the time you’re writing, it feels like hell down in storyteller land.

Writing novels is one of those avocations that –

• looks easy but isn’t;
• seems like a linear thought process but isn’t;
• should be straight-forward to learn but isn’t;
• ought to be something that can reduced to a formula, or at least a template that tells the writer what to write, where to put it and what needs to happen when it gets there.

Screenwriters have one of those formulas –the classic 3-act paradigm. So why not us novelists? Then again, screenwriters live in their own corner of hell… They have to work with studio executives.

What would heaven look like for struggling novelists?

For starters, there would be an accepted structural format breaks stories into workable segments, each with their own context, mission, milestones, and definable criteria. Yet at the end of the day, that structural format wouldn’t come off as remotely formulaic.

In other words, heaven for struggling novelists would include a generic storytelling road map that always works.

There would be standards and efficient processes rather than the grab-an-idea-and-just-start-writing-to-see-what-happens-next mythology so popular in writing workshops today. Life is too short to write twenty drafts of anything.

There would be methodology that actually resulted in a first draft – yes, I really said that – worthy of submission after a buff and shine. Or at least close.

Heaven, indeed. But impossible, right? Well, hold on to your thesaurus, folks.

All of this and more is possible if you understand and practice the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling.

Let’s say you enjoy golf and one day you decide to take up the game and turn pro. You rent some clubs and head for the course, armed only with the advice and lore of some of the biggest names in the game who tell you to just grab a club and start swinging.

To hell with any real study of the fundamentals of the game and the intricacies of the golf swing. Just swat the damn thing and see what happens next.

When that doesn’t work, you play another round and revise your swing accordingly. Just keep swatting away and revision your swing, and one day you’ll make the tour. Promise.

Preposterous! Yet this is precisely how many writers take up writing a novel, all of whom intend to turn pro, because they intend to publish.

Now imagine that heaven for novelists:

• A developmental model that shows you how to execute all the elements and artful touches that really do get you published.
• A plan that takes guesswork out of the process, leaving you free to create.
• A plan that delivers all the elements that people who write draft after draft after draft are tying to discover from Day One.

Sometimes without even knowing what they’re shooting for.

The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling that define novelist heaven

1. Concept – the central idea or proposition from which you create a landscape upon which to tell the story; weak premise, weak story…

2. Character – checklist-driven criteria for developing backstory, arc, inner conflict and the essence of a hero’s quest…

3. Theme – the elusive meaning of your story and how it affects readers on multiple levels; in other words, why they’ll care…

4. Story architecture – a four-part story structure riddled with segments missions, milestones and standards that keep the story growing and moving…

5. Scene execution – if you can’t boil water you can’t cook up a buffet; this is the crafting of efficient, tense, visceral scenes and narrative…

6. Writing voice – the assemblage of words you summon as foot soldiers with the mission of carrying your structural strategy to victory.

If you blow any one of these, your novel probably won’t sell. And unless you understand them as separate and necessary core competencies, chances are you short-change one or more.

You must master all just to get in the game.

That’s the first step in the writer’s stairway to heaven. Then, you should knock at least two of the core competencies out of the park if you really want to sell what you write.

Drafting can and often is an effective way to develop your story one element at a time. It takes longer than outlining from checklist-driven criteria and standards, and writing your heart out once the story is solid.

But the question really isn’t whether you outline or not. To each their own. The issue is whether your story development is driven by criteria and standards or just what feels good at the time.

Ironic, because it’s the former that delivers heaven for novelists. The feel-good, swat away at it approach? Not so much.

Larry Brooks offers spring training for writers young and old. Contact him for fiction coaching services or an evaluation of your manuscript – and get published faster. Or, click here visit Larry’s blog.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Thanks for the tips

  2. Larry’s website has tons of great information for struggling novelists. He really knows what he’s talking about!

  3. You DO realize, of course, that most of today’s bestsellers have fewer than three of your criteria for success?


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