5 Ways to Spice Up Your Novel

Is your novel lacking some flavor? Is it stale due to lack of engagement? Or worse, does your writing feel two dimensional? One dimensional?

When you’re writing a novel, you’re not putting words to paper. You’re building a world and even a fictional world has to be believable. Here’s 5 writing, revising and editing tips to spice up your novel into a page turner.

Motivate Your Character. You must remember that there is a reason behind every action. You can’t just write your character to follow your whims in what you think will be an interesting story. You created your character which means that as a writer you should know them best. You are their psychotherapist. Their best friend. Understand your character’s mood, feelings, thoughts and behaviors and write accordingly.

ex. The plot for Moby Dick centers on Captain Ahab’s maniacal hunt of the great, white whale. Why? For Revenge? Why? Because the whale took a bite of his leg.

Remember, the current actions of your character(s) is based on the culmination of one or many emotional prompts.

Dilemma Your Character. People read not only to live inside a fantasy but to walk alongside your character. A story where everything comes easily for him/her creates a very dull story. So don’t be afraid to stick it to your character. Or force them into a corner. Introducing two or more internal/external problems, where either option is undesirable, provides personal growth. As well as up the suspense of your plot.

ex. In The Giver, Jonas who had plotted to escape to Elsewhere learns about Gabriel’s “release.” He changes the plan and escapes with Gabriel, without any memories of strength and courage, facing death from cold and starvation trying to find Elsewhere (dilemma). Why? Because he loved Gabriel (motivation).

Ask The Big Question. You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Whether it’s literary or genre fiction, you should not view the plot as contrivances to move the story forward. First step back and think about what you’re trying to say. Then, once you’ve figured that out, pose it as your novel’s big question and use it as the theme for your novel. Explore it and answer it. Last, make a banner of it in huge block letters and hang it from your ceiling, so you don’t forget it. Just in case.

ex. The big question throughout the Harry Potter series had been how Harry would defeat Voldemort. But how do you defeat the greatest dark wizard in history? Does he really have to kill Voldemort  or get killed by him? (dilemma + big question) There’s much more at stake than revenge for the murder of his parents. The fate of the entire wizarding and muggle world rests on the outcome. (motivation)

No Info Dumping Please. When I first started writing, I included a lot of the back story in the beginning of the novel. Like other aspiring authors my story didn’t begin for another few paragraphs and or pages. This is how you’ll lose readers. The back story is important but it’s enough to just pepper it throughout the novel as clues for the readers to piece together. Aside from that, keep it where it belongs. In your outline. You have to hook your readers right in the beginning with just one well written line or paragraph.

ex. “Call me Ishmael.”- Moby Dick

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”-Anna Karenina

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”- A Tale of Two Cities

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

It was a pleasure to burn.”- Fahrenheit 451

 “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet  hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.”- The Hobbit

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own. He stared up in terror at the dark figure looming over him. “What do you want!”- Angels & Demons

Credit abstract art image: GrapicStock.com

Tell it. Then show it. As a writer, you’ve heard the dreaded refrain “show, don’t tell” hundreds of times. I know I did in my creative writing courses in college. I admit that I used to find those three words challenging to understand. We’re told to “show, don’t tell” but there’s no further explanation how, when, where or why. Here are some tips I’ve learned to what it means to “show, don’t tell.” 

First tell it, then show it. To practice the “show, don’t tell” techniques, I suggest you write a short “telling” paragraph. Next, read what you wrote and rewrite it creatively as a scene. Think about how you want to draw your readers in. How you want to make the scene more interesting, exciting, humorous or suspenseful. Use this as a writing practice until you can naturally write scenes that “show, don’t tell.”

ex.1 Harry forced the knife deep into the dry, burnt steak. Finally a small piece fell off. He took a bite and choked. “It’s spicy,” he said. “Can I have some water?”

ex2. Harry looked down at the steak Kim placed in front of him. Why does it look like a burned corpse, thought Harry. He looked up into Kim’s face. Her eyes were as wide as ever. It was as if the moon was staring back at him. She sat there watching him with a nervous smile. Her hands clasped together so hard her fingers became white. No, even whiter than the wheelless, round gurney her steak laid upon.

Harry breathed in deep, exhaled, smiled and said, “Hmmm. Smells good. Looks delicious too.”

His hands trembled. Harry took another deep breath and pronged the charred flesh, sawing through its meat.

His heart pounded as he stared at the tiny flesh that broke off. Let’s get this over with, he thought and shoved it into his mouth.

“Well,” asked Kim, leaning across the table. “How is it?”

Harry chewed as fast as he could. But there was a slow burn spreading inside his mouth. Sweat trickled down his back. Then it poured it down his face. By then his mouth was a raging forest fire.

He jumped up from the table. His chair crashing to the floor as Harry raced to the fridge.

“What is it,” asked Kim, following after him. “What’s wrong?”

“M-m-milk,” stuttered Harry, yanking the gallon off the shelf. And pressed it to his lips.

Next, know when to tell. No one wants to read how many times your character chewed his/her breakfast before they left the house. That is not a scene you want to show. You want to move through that scene to get to the real exciting part or scene of the story. So it’s fine to write “Sarah inhaled her food and dashed out the door.” If you use “show” for every little thing, prepare yourself to write a considerably long novel.

If you’re a debut author, I’d advised against this, as the ideal novel length is between 80,000 to 100,000 words. Only best-selling authors with proven book sale records can get away with writing a novel over 100,000 words.

Then, know where to show. You want to apply “show” during your important scenes. What you’d consider important depends on your narrator, your character(s) and story. Nonetheless, the important scenes are the parts of the story you want your reader to experience. And those scenes are dramatic, emotional and or filled with action.

Last, use metaphors, similes and write in sensory details of smell, taste, sound, sight and touch. Don’t forget thoughts and feelings. Find your balance on when to tell and where to show. Be original and vivid.  And remember that, “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, familiar things new.” -William Makepeace Thackeray.

BONUS- Scrap it. Don’t be afraid to cut what doesn’t work or contribute to your story. Sometimes, throwing scenes/characters away can save a stagnant/static story and turn it dynamic.


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