The Soulful Arc of the Universe

 “….the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand dark midnights. Let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.….the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

MLK

HOW TO WRITE THE PERFECT SYNOPSIS

 

Royal FP(From a Writer’s Work Shop)

Most agents will ask you to send them a submission pack containing three items:

  • A covering letter (see advice here and sample here)
  • A synopsis
  • The first three chapters / 10,000 words of  your novel

Most agents will look at the covering letter first, then turn to the manuscript. If they like the first three chapters, they’ll be thinking, “This book looks really interesting. I’m definitely tempted . . . but is the author going to hold my interest over the full 300 / 400 pages? Is it worth me making that investment of time to read the whole thing?”

That’s where the synopsis comes in. The synopsis is there to answer the question, “What is the story of this book? Is there a clear story arc and will there be a satisfying ending?”

Obviously the actual experience of reading a synopsis is quite underwhelming. Synopses are boring, technical documents which (we hope) would not be true of your novel. But that doesn’t matter. Agents know synopses are dull, so all your synopsis really has to do is:

  • tell the agent in very clear terms what your story is
  • make it clear what your hook / premise / elevator pitch is (more info here)
  • give some kind of feeling for why the story matters & how the jeopardy increases
  • sketch out an ending that feels satisfying

But – and this should be reassuring – agents do know that synopses are hard to write and they care less about the synopsis than any other part of your submission package.That means you probably don’t need to worry excessively about your synopsis – just follow the guidelines below and you’ll do just fine.

How to write a perfect synopsis

A perfect synopsis has the following ingredients:

  • Length: 500-800 words
  • Main purpose: Summarise your plot
  • Secondary purpose: Make it clear what Unique Selling Point your book has
  • Language: Be businesslike: clear, to the point, neutral.
  • Presentation: Be well-presented: no typos or spelling mistakes. Normal font size, normal margins. Line spacing no narrower than 1.5
  • Character names. It helps if you put the names of main characters in bold or CAPS when you first introduce them. That way, if an agent has forgotten who Carlotta is, it’s easy for them to skim back and jog their memory. (Remember that agents are reading a lot of these things, so they have about a million character names in their heads at any one time.)
  • Extra points. It’s certainly not essential, but if you have a really compelling way to ‘sell’ your story in 2-3 lines maximum, then you could insert that little snippet up at the top of your synopsis as a way of reminding agents why they’re interested in this MS in the first place. For example, a certain Ms Rowling might have opened her synopsis with, “Harry Potter, an orphan, thinks he is an ordinary boy when an owl brings him a letter inviting him to attend wizard school.” That’s not strictly speaking synopsis material, but it does instantly emphasise the book’s appeal.
  • And remember: Tell the story: your job is not to sell the book, write dust jacket blurb, or anything else. Just say what happens in the story. That’s all you need to do.

And luckily there are things you don’t need to do:

  • Go into great detail about setting. If you were writing a synopsis for a Jane Austen novel for example, you might simply say “This novel is set in a small village in Regency England.”
  • Go into vast detail about character – a few quick strokes are all that you need. For example you might say: “Bridget Jones – a ditzy, mildly boozy twenty-something – …”
  • Be scrupulous about plot detail. It’s fine to skip over subplots or ignore some of the finer detail of how X accomplishes Y. The truth is, you won’t have time to include those things in a 700 word summary anyway. Agents know that the synopsis is at best an approximation of the story so you don’t need to have a troubled consicence.
  • You also don’t have to give away your very final plot twist – though you should make it clear that there is one. For example, you could write, “When Olivia finally catches up with Jack at the abandoned lighthouse, he tells her the real secret of his disappearance – and their final bloody reckoning ensues.” Mostly though, a synopsis is the ultimate plot spoiler, and your job is just to spill the beans whether you like it or not.

Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

SEVENTH SON by Author A. M. Offenwanger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A. M. Offenwanger has written a magical fantasy that is a delight to read. I know when a book is really good and that is when I can remember with clarity the characters and the story weeks later. This tells me that the characters were memorable, likable, and the story interesting. Offenwanger’s writing is memorable, delightful and magical. The story involves a former Librarian, Cat, who is not happy with her life and decides to do some traveling with the money she has saved. She has been “dumped” by her boyfriend and life seems to be going nowhere for her. A lover of museums, Cat visits a museum of antiquities and admires several beautiful and strange appearing turquoise bowls, that apparently have a magical quality about them. Little did Cat know that these bowls would change her life beyond anything she could imagine.The world building is simple, but effective. I highly recommend Seventh Son, as a delightful summer read. It is uplifting, with a love story that will make your heart melt.

 

Do Black Moments Need to Be Catastrophes in Your Novel?

Can a Story Still Be Compelling with a “Quiet” Black Moment?

Ruined structure in desolate landscape with text: Do Black Moments Need to Be Catastrophes?

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, worked with beat sheets, or studied story structure, you’re probably familiar with the idea of a Black Moment turning point around the 75-80% mark of our story. If not, Black Moment is an event in our story that steals the protagonist’s hope for a solution by Jamie Gold at:  https://jamigold.com/blog/

A story’s Black Moment (also called the Second (or Third) Plot Point, Crisis, or “All Is Lost” point, depending on the story structure system) is usually one of the most emotional sections of a story, as our heroes despair and give up. We can probably all think of several examples of Black Moments in books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen.

Is our story doomed if it doesn’t have a big Black Moment?CLICK TO TWEETHowever, not all Black Moments fit into a single style. Many Black Moments that stick with us are “loud,” and that can make writers with “quiet” Black Moments in their stories despair.

Are they doing something wrong? Should they completely change their plot to create a more catastrophic crisis point?

Let’s take a closer look at this turning point and at how we can make either style of Black Moment work for our readers

What Are Black Moment Events?

As I shared in my guest post about translating story beats to any genre, in a romance, the Black Moment is often the “boy loses girl” plot point. They lose trust in each other and/or the potential of the relationship and break up, have a big fight, expose lies, etc.

In my Mythos Legacy novels, the Black Moments are fairly “loud,” as they include betrayals, abandonments, kidnappings, soul-crushing shame, etc. It seems like the couple can’t reach their Happily Ever After.

In other genres, an event similarly makes the protagonist give up or fear they can’t win:

  • Mysteries: the protagonist is kicked off the case, the next victim in the murderer’s sights is friend/family, etc.
  • Thrillers: the protagonist loses the trail, the villain has acquired all the weapon’s pieces, etc.

Style #1: “Loud” Black Moments

As in the examples above, the Black Moments that stick with us tend to be catastrophic. Maybe the antagonist is bigger, stronger, or more pervasive than the protagonist thought. Maybe the protagonist has been betrayed. Or maybe they just lost their mentor.

We might even say the protagonist symbolically “dies,” as they’re stripped of their hopes, goals, or plans. The characters will seem further from their destination (goals) than ever, and in many cases, readers shouldn’t see a solution either.

Style #2: “Quiet” Black Moments

Yet not every type of story includes a catastrophe. For example, some stories are more about a character’s emotional journey than critical plot events. Stories in the romance genre might not include a break-up scene or other type of major loss.

No matter the genre, protagonists doubt their ability to succeed, but escape any devastating obstacles. They simply lose hope in potential—potential of a relationship, success, teaching humanity to be better, etc.

In fact, these Black Moments can be so “quiet” that they’re hard to identify. As readers, we might not notice. As writers, however, we might be concerned that our story is “broken.”

Making Our Black Moment Work for Our Story

Guideline #1: Tell the Story We Want to Tell

The worst thing we can do is try to force the wrong style of Black Moment into our story. If a horrible catastrophe doesn’t fit our story, we shouldn’t try to shoehorn one in just because that’s what we’ve heard about Black Moments.

Just as every story has different tones or moods, our story has a unique style that includes the type of conflicts, obstacles, and stakes our characters face. Some stories’ styles go big, with life-and-death stakes and “loud” Black Moments, and some stories don’t.

Bigger doesn’t equal better. The two styles are simply different.

Guideline #2: Fulfill the Story Purpose of the Black Moment

A Black Moment triggers the protagonist to lose hope, but what that looks like can be very different depending on the style of our turning point. Essentially, we need an event that forces the protagonist to leave some aspect of their old life behind, kicking off the change necessary for the story ending.

Story Purpose for “Loud” Black Moments

  • In plot-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist’s plans for success literally impossible, and they reach a dead end.
  • In character-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment emotionally breaks the protagonist, and whatever progress they’ve made along their internal arc now seems like a mistake.

Whatever happens (and however those two types of focuses are combined), the protagonist is so devastated that they give up despite the consequences. Those stakes that have been carrying them through the rest of the story aren’t enough to force them through this defeat. They give up.

Understandably, these “loud” Black Moments typically require pages or even a whole scene or two to explore, as the catastrophe (a break up, betrayal, death, monster escapes capture, etc.) occurs on the page. The fallout from that event can take even more pages or scenes, as the protagonist deals with the depression, loss of hope, plot consequences of giving up, etc. that results.

Story Purpose for “Quiet” Black Moments

  • In plot-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist struggle with a sense of defeat, and they’re unable to see how to reach their goals.
  • In character-focused stories, the event of the Black Moment makes the protagonist worry that they’re not up to the task, and they feel like their efforts have been a waste of time.

Whatever happens, the protagonist doubts their ability to succeed and at least fleetingly thinks that they should just give up because it’s hopeless. The plans they have for how to move forward are obviously not going to work, and now they feel incapable of figuring out a Plan B.

Not surprisingly, these “quiet” Black Moments require far fewer pages to explore. The trigger for their doubt might be only a paragraph or a page or two, and the fallout from that trigger—as they struggle with feeling like a failure—might be only a few paragraphs or pages before they rally and vow to change their approach and redouble their efforts.

Guideline #3: Fulfill the Reader Purpose of the Black Moment

The turning points in our stories aren’t just there for storytelling purposes, kicking off the next section of the story. Story structure has a reader purpose as well.

The reader purpose of the Black Moment is to make readers more emotionally invested in the story.

  • For “loud” Black Moments, the outcome of the story should be in doubt, as it looks like we’ve written ourselves into a corner. Readers want the emotional twist as their hopes are dashed (to be later reignited).
  • For “quiet” Black Moments, readers must believe that the protagonist feels the outcome of the story is in doubt. Readers might know that things aren’t as bad as the characters think (maybe there’s just a miscommunication, etc.), but they empathize with the protagonist’s worries that they’re not up to the task.

For example, in a romance without a catastrophic “boy loses girl” scene, the Black Moment may simply be another step of the couple’s romantic journey into a relationship. In those types of stories, readers might never question whether a couple will make it due to a catastrophe, but one or both partners will struggle with the idea of couple-dom.

Guideline #4: Take a Lesson from “Quiet” Stakes

Stakes are the consequences of failure, and Black Moments show our characters’ biggest failure. So learning how to strengthen “quiet” stakes might help us strengthen our “quiet” Black Moment as well.

Here are 7 ways to make even “quiet” Black Moments work for our story…CLICK TO TWEETBig stakes—even “blow up the Earth” big—are meaningless to readers unless they’re given a reason to care. We could read about the entire Milky Way galaxy succumbing to a black hole in a story and not feel a thing.

In other words, stakes aren’t about the size of the destruction. Similarly, Black Moments aren’t about the size of the catastrophe.

Instead, the more readers care, the more they’ll want to witness the protagonist’s reactions to the Black Moment and see how they rally after their despair. To make readers care, the Black Moment must matter personally to our protagonist, and we need to show the emotional fallout of their loss of hope.

Guideline #5: Show the Protagonist’s Vulnerability

With either style of Black Moment, the protagonist’s wounds, flaws, and false beliefs should be fully on the page, contributing to their self-image of failure.

In a romance, a character might:

  • debate whether the relationship is worth it,
  • struggle with opening themselves up to be vulnerable (knowing the relationship would be at a dead end if they don’t),
  • fear that nothing will come from their efforts,
  • believe whatever they do is never enough, etc.

We just need to give a sense of a dead end for at least a few paragraphs to build enough bare bones of a Black Moment to fulfill the function.

Guideline #6: Show the Effects of the Black Moment

No matter the style of our Black Moment, our story needs the context for the effectof the trigger on the page so readers know how to feel. If our characters don’t seem to care or react to a Black Moment, the required turning point does not exist, no matter how “loud.”

What makes any Black Moment work—but is especially important to emphasize and bring out of the subtext in a “quiet” one—is for the protagonist to believe they’ve failed or can’t measure up. It’s not about convincing readers that our protagonist has failed in any way, but about our protagonist thinking they’ve failed. Readers will go along with their feelings.

Guideline #7: Ensure a Point of No Return

The Black Moment is one of the four major turning points of our story. As a major turning point, the trigger must create a point of no return.

  • In plot-focused stories, the old plans to deal with the story problem will neverwork, and the characters have to change their approach.
  • In character-focused stories, the protagonist has to face all their worries, fears, false beliefs, etc. driving their sense of failure, and they’ll never again be able to pretend those thoughts and feelings don’t exist.

To read more of Jamie Gold’s post go to: https://jamigold.com/blog/

Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

Blog Tour for Charles F. French and His New Release, Gallows Hill, A Review

Gallows Hill, by author, Charles F. French, is the second book in his series, The Investigative Paranormal Society.  Within this taunt, terrifying, page-turner, we find Roosevelt, Jeremy, Helen, and Sam continuing to pursue ghostly evil and new revelations about a heart-breaking past event, that complicates an already murderous ghost assignment that the IPS needs to vanquish before more innocent lives are lost.

Adding to the taunt, terrifying ghost encounter, is a back-story vendetta out to destroy Sam, a retired police detective, and anyone else in proximity to Sam.  Beyond the uniquely horrific ghost mystery, is a heart-breaking love story, as well as a long-lost love rediscovered, that adds to the emotional complexity that drives this story forward.

The character development within this ghostly horror novel is superb and adds to a narrative that is taunt with tension and suspense. The dialogue is not shy and gives a realistic representation of language, idioms, and images within the back-story to the present day, that reflects the different characters’ prerogatives and state of mind. The physical environment presented in this horror novel, is tangible, adding to the realism, terror, and fear in Gallows Hill.

Anyone who loves, not only a terrific horror story, but also one that is expertly written with a strong human story, heartbreak, and a love story, wrapped up in terror and courage to face what could be a death sentence, this story is for you. Don’t miss out on reading Gallows Hill, you won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend this intriguing horror novel. I give it 5 stars!

*****5 stars*****