Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Novels are Way More than Just Writing a Story

by Cindy Sproles @CindyDevoted

I’ve been writing seriously for the better part of fifteen years, and I still love to sit at the feet of those who are successful and pick their brains. They offer valuable guidance. When a new writer hands me a manuscript it’s easy to see their passion for the story. The concept is good, and they have an idea where the story should go, but as I begin to read, things start to fall apart.

It’s because there is more to writing a novel than just having a story idea. There are mechanics. Important mechanics and it’s very difficult to gently begin pointing out why this story isn’t ready for publication. After all, there’s a protagonist, love, there’s a hint of conflict, and a good ending. Why doesn’t it work?

Learning the basics is vital and listening to those who offer guidance is important as well. 

Beginning Basics to Get Your Novel on the Right Track

1. An inciting incident: This incident is not the hook that draws your reader into the story rather it’s the moment when the reader is yanked into the action of the story. If done well, the author will leave the reader with questions that propel them into the next page. It’s a great place to show readers how your protagonist will deal with hardship, define their goals, perhaps their strengths or values. The inciting incidents pushes your character through a door and closes it so they cannot go back. It literally “moves your story ahead.”

2. A goal or desire: Your protagonist must have a desire or goal, a reason to move ahead and readers need to see this in the opening chapter. None of us start the day without something that must be done – laundry, earning a paycheck. Perhaps your character’s motivation is to achieve and retain a place to live that will allow them to raise a child. Whatever you choose, your reader must see this goal or motivation.

3. A strong hook: I’ve seen books start out with beautifully written description and a normal day in the life of. . . However, all the well written words in the world will not hold a reader’s attention unless you provide them with a hook that makes them want to read on. A hook doesn’t always have to be major conflict, but that’s good if you choose to go that route. A hook needs to jolt the reader and force them to ask this question: “What on earth is going on here?” If you can force the reader to ask this question, you have successfully written a solid hook. You can’t always get the hook in the first line of your chapter and having it there is certainly not the only way to write your hook, but it needs to be in that first page, and for me, the closer to the top, the better. Only you can define your hook, but readers give authors about 3 pages and if you are not successful in grabbing them, they close the book.

4. Conflict:Without conflict a story is flat. I’m not sure what it says about us as readers, but we love to see the behind the scenes agony and struggle for the protagonist. The more angst you dump on your character, the harder they work to achieve their goal, and the richer the read becomes. Conflict moves the story ahead.

5. Avoid information dump: A wonderful author once critiqued the first few pages of a novel for me. His first response was, “Just start the story here!” HERE was two pages into the first chapter. He was right. The entire first two pages were nothing more than information I felt like the reader needed. When we meet someone new, they rarely pull us to the side and fill us in on the last four days prior to our meeting. Instead, we learn about our new friends, in small bites. The same is true in your novel. Just start the story where it begins and allow the reader the joy of discovering those things about the characters on their own—it small bites. That’s part of the fun of reading.

These are just a few things to help you develop your novel. Remember, the story is vitally important, but without the basics, the story falls flat. Reread, rework, rewrite. This is, after all, what we do to learn the craft.

Novels are Way More than Just #Writing a Story - @CindyDevoted on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

5 Basics that will help get your novel back on track - @CindyDevoted on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Cindy Sproles is an award-winning author and popular speaker. She is the cofounder of Christian Devotions ministries and managing editor of Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Cindy is the executive editor of www.christiandevotions.us and 
www.inspireafire.comShe teaches at writers conferences nationwide and directs The Asheville Christian Writers Conference - Writers Boot Camp. 

She is the author of two devotionals, He Said, She Said - Learning to Live a Life of Passion and New Sheets - Thirty Days to Refine You into the Woman You Can Be. Cindy's debut novel, Mercy's Rain, is available at major retailers. Visit Cindy at www.cindysproles.com and book her for your next conference or ladies retreat. Also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. What a great reference guide, Cindy! This one is a keeper! Thanks.

  2. Great points Cindy. This makes me think of coming home and telling Vickie about my day. If she rolls her eyes, that means I need to get to the point. If she looks at me in stunned silence, I need to give her more details about the characters or what was going on, the context.
    Sometimes we know the story and are so excited about it, we forget to give the readers the details.
    Thanks, Cindy.

  3. We never learn it all, and should be on the lookout for anyone of these things in our writing.

  4. You're right, Donevy. Writing is a life-long learning effort. We work together to learn how to do it better. That is why writing is different, others aren't the competition.

  5. Cindy, What great advice! I like your word pictures. Although the novel isn't my genre right now, I need to save this post to refer to in the future.

  6. Tim, 'so great a cloud of witnesses', encouraging each other on. ;)