I love Yahoo Answers, in particular, the ‘Books and Authors’ section. It’s a great way to avoid writing while justifying playing on the internet. Seriously though, I learn a lot by answering other’s questions on writing. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. If I’m going to answer someone I have to be sure I know what I’m talking about so that I don’t give out false help.
Which brings me to the question I ran across today. ‘How do I write a great novel?’
My question is, ‘how do I answer that?’
First, what defines a ‘great’ novel? What publisher picks it up? How big the advance is? How many people read it? If it’s still on bookshelves forty years from now? How much sex is in the pages? How lurid the cover is?
Or, how easily the story world transports you away from your daily grind, how the dialog makes you laugh or cry, how loudly you cheer for the protagonist, how strongly you desire a just reward for the antagonist…
Probably, for those of us who are readers, and those of us who aspire to improve our craft, it’s the second set of questions. But when I was on the Answers forum, here are the two answers the person received. ‘Read a lot’ and, believe it or not, ‘Put in lots of description, paragraphs of it, with no dialog’. Personally, I think the second was a person simply being rude, or thinking they were being funny. That irritates me because no matter how we might judge the intelligence level of a person asking a question, they still deserve dignity and respect. But anyway, telling the person to read a lot is good advice as we all know. Yet so much more is needed.
So for me, I paraphrase this question to be, ‘How can I make my story better?’
I would answer myself, read a lot.
And then I’d start down the list of self-editing tools, like reading out loud, asking trusted friends for feedback, revising, cutting, and so forth. All the things that anyone who has been working at this for any length of time most likely knows.
I have to admit though, in the end, I still cannot take a finished piece and judge it to be a ‘great’ novel. I might be happy with it, faults and all, but that’s about it. I guess that means there’s no way for me to answer the question. I’d love to hear what others judge as great, and how others judge their finished work. Are you ever happy enough with your finished piece to put it down on the table and say, ‘wow, that was a great story’?