How to Build a Great Book

honing the craft plotting revising revision tips and tricks Oct 15, 2021

Post written by Katie Wall.

To write a compelling novel, it's important to develop your story from the ground up, and have each aspect build on the one(s) before. But what aspects are part of this process and how do they build on each other?

I like to envision a book like a pyramid. Using visuals helps me make concepts like this more concrete.

The bottom of the pyramid is your writing why. This "why" is the reason you write! Knowing your true motivation will help keep you from getting stuck or discouraged when things are tough.

The next layer is the heart of your story. This is the message or theme (also known as the story guiding principle) that you want your readers to wrestle with through experiencing your novel. If you aren't clear about the core message you're trying to communicate, chances are your readers won't come away with one! It's also likely that they will pick up on the underlying confusion, which will make the story harder to connect to... and thus less compelling.

The third layer up is character motivations. Understanding your characters' motivations will bring them to life and make their choices and growth feel both organic and compelling. If you've ever read a book and been utterly shocked that a protagonist did a certain thing, then their motivations probably weren't communicated well. On the other hand, the books you love probably have protagonists who clearly want something and whose motivation is clearly conveyed through the story.

The next level is the plot. Now, you might be confused about why this didn't come earlier in the pyramid. However, plot events are important in that they are the mechanism for the character's change. Plot events should mutually support both the heart of the story and your characters' arcs and motivations. This ensures that the action level and the emotional level work together.

Keeping the reader's experience of the story in mind will help you to write in scene (show, not tell) and make decisions about when/how to reveal information. While this is important to keep in mind while planning and drafting, it's even more important to keep the reader's experience at the forefront as you revise. You should ask yourself: Will the reader understand what I'm trying to say through this? Is time and movement clear? Emotions conveyed? Does this scene or that dialogue support the overall story I'm trying to tell?

To sum up, a great book contains the following elements, and each element builds on the one(s) before:

  • Your writing why
  • The heart of your story
  • Character motivations
  • Plot events
  • Reader's experience

If you're finding yourself struggling with any of these elements, it's time to book a free consultation with me! I offer a variety of packages that can assist you, depending on your needs. I can't wait to get to know you and your story!

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