Monday, February 25, 2019

4 Things Every Novel Should Strive For by @Janice_Hardy

Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. You have to come up with an idea, create characters, develop a setting or even a world, and then you have to find the right turning points for your plot, mix in a theme, avoid adverbs and told prose. With so many moving parts it can be overwhelming, and easy to get wrapped up in the details and miss the bigger picture.

A novel is just interesting people, solving interesting problems, in interesting ways.

How we choose to do that is up to us, and the details that goes into our novels vary widely. Ten writers can use the same idea and create ten different books, because what they consider “interesting” changes from writer to writer. As liberating as this is, it’s also a little scary. It doesn’t give us any guidelines to work with when we start a new novel.

No matter what genre you write, here are four things you can strive for that will help you craft a novel readers want to read.

1. Have an original premise done well.

If you’re a skilled writer, you can take someone else’s idea and do a solid job of writing it (I’m not saying do this, just saying that skill level is only a small part of what makes a good novel). An original premise is much harder to develop, and can be a challenge when folks like me keep saying, “You need a fresh idea” to sell your novel. But to give your novel the best chance of being seen by readers, you want to offer them something them haven’t see hundreds of times before.

However…originality doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with an idea no one has ever seen before. Fresh doesn’t mean unique. Love triangles have been written countless times, but the right love triangle with the right trio of characters still makes readers eager to read the story.

I know this sounds contradictory, and it’s one of those things that frustrates a lot of writers. The old, “Give me something different, but the same” spiel. Just remember, original means your take on an idea. Maybe your love triangle is about three friends, not lovers, which puts a whole new spin on the premise.

2. Create a compelling protagonist who intrigues readers.

Notice I said “intrigues,” not like. While most protagonists are likable, and readers want to know their story and enjoy spending time with them, there are also protagonists who no one would want to hang out with, but are fascinating to watch (Dexter, anyone?).

A compelling protagonist is special in some way that enhances the story, such as great analytic skills (Sherlock Holmes), a unique viewpoint about a tough situation (Hazel Grace, The Fault in Our Stars), or a can-do attitude (Ramona Quimby). As with Dexter, it can even something as horrifying as being a serial killer or descending into madness. Whatever it is, they have a trait that readers want to see “in action” and look forward to reading about how that trait will help (and hinder) the character throughout the story.

Few readers will read a story about a character they have zero interest in. As long as the protagonist is doing something intriguing or behaving in a way that makes readers want to see more, they’re doing their job as protagonists.

3. Spin an intriguing plot that keeps readers guessing.

Even the most interesting person can get tiresome if all they do is stand there and chatter on, so a solid plot is a must. But plots with one clear solution tend to bore readers, because there’s nothing for them to wonder about or anticipate. The end of the book is a given, and the path the protagonist is going to take to solve the conflict is clear.

However…(you knew there’d be a but, right?) There’s a difference between an ending that readers can see coming, and an ending that readers expect, but don’t know how the story will get there.

Everyone knows the two lovebirds in a romance will fall in love, but it’s how they do it that keep readers interested. What struggles will they have to overcome? How will they win the other’s heart? What wounds will be healed along the way?

A plot might be twisty turny, or it might be a straight line, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be unpredictable. Don’t take the easy path and just write what happens—dig deeper and do the unexpected.

4. Provide an emotionally and/or intellectually satisfying resolution to the novel’s conflict.

For many readers, a novel is only as good as its ending. How the story wraps up is everything, and if it doesn’t follow through on its story promises, or the solution drops in out of the blue, readers will be unhappy.

But luckily, different readers look for different endings. The romance readers want the Happily Ever After, and the emotional payoff of love. The mystery reader enjoys the intellectual thrill of solving the puzzle. Some stories offer a puzzle to be solved and a character arc to be completed, and touches on both the emotional and the intellectual.

However you get there, fulfilling the story promise you made at the start of the book (or in the blurb) will satisfy readers. The greater the satisfaction, the more they are to read your next book, or suggest the current book to friends.

Obviously, more goes into writing a strong novel than these four elements, but spending time to make sure these four things are covered will help you avoid a lot of common writing issues, such as, stories readers have seen before, characters who don’t connect with readers, predictable stories that go nowhere, and endings that fall flat and leave readers cold.

What do you strive for when you write a novel? What aspects do you want to see in the novels you read?

If you’d like more on plotting, I recommend my book, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, with over 100 brainstorming exercises and plotting tips designed to help writers develop their novels.

Janice Hardy is an award-winning author and founder of the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. When she's not writing about writing, she writes science fiction and fantasy. Her teen fantasy trilogy, The Healing Wars, includes The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Studying Stories as a Writer

The main fiction shelf in my house. 

Reading as a Writer

Reading helps us take in writing lessons on an unconscious level. When we read books in our genre (or even outside of it), we take in plot arcs, pacing, character development, purposeful dialogue, luscious descriptions, imagery, and metaphors. And, we take it all in without even thinking about it. It’s part of the DNA of the stories and books we read.

Let’s Not Forget Storytelling in All Forms

There are many ways to gain an unconscious knowledge of storytelling, to experience the DNA of stories. Storytelling can come in many, many forms. We have books, movies, short stories, poetry, T.V. or streaming show series, music, dance, art, and oral storytelling. We even have casual story-sharing moments – “Did you hear how I drove my parents to the grocery store and out for coffee in ten inches of snow last week?” (Yes, I really did that.)

How Do We Know a Story is Good

The DNA of story is wound in us and through us, individually and multi-culturally. Everyone loves a good story. And, what makes a story “good?” We know what makes it good intrinsically because we’ve read, viewed, listened, seen, and heard good stories, and sometimes great stories. We’ve also read, viewed, listened, seen, and heard terribly told stories, so we know what those are, too.

Studying the Craft Still Has a Purpose

We still need to study the writing craft or study our storytelling guides with a magnifying lens from time to time. It can truly help to slow down and take a long look at how each component of storytelling works within a story we love.

Last year, I spent several months reviewing every single superhero movies I had seen, but instead of just sitting back and watching them with family (okay, I did that, too), I watched most of them with a notebook and pen in hand and I took notes about scene changes, character development, dialogue, scene settings, mood, imagery, and metaphors.

I’ve been working on a superhero novel for a few years now and I “knew” something was wrong with my novel, but I couldn’t seem to pinpoint it until I watched all those movies, took all those notes, re-read a few dozen superhero novels and comics, read a few craft books, and asked myself questions while reading over my draft(s). I also took a course on Superheroes from edX which helped me understand the genre from a historical, pop culture perspective.

Just a few of the titles. I had to use the library for many of them.

I had the DNA-intrinsic knowledge of storytelling and the superhero genre to guide me, but I needed to study the intricate details of the genre and the craft of writing to see exactly what I was missing.

Tweet-able Take-Aways

As writers, we need to give ourselves time to enjoy stories as an audience and as students of our craft. #amwriting @TheIWSG

We need to read, view, see, hear, and experience stories to truly understand the DNA of story. #amwriting @TheIWSG

We need to study stories to discover the detailed nuances of our craft.                         
#amwriting @TheIWSG

If you are stuck in a story rut, take a moment to enjoy storytelling from the other side. Be an audience. Read. Watch. Listen. Learn. And, Enjoy!

How have you found stories (in all forms) to be inspirational and helpful to your writing?

Monday, February 11, 2019

4 Ways to Boost Your Digital Marketing Strategy

4 Ways to Boost Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Digital marketing is a fairly broad term. There are simply many digital channels for marketers to leverage. This can be overwhelming and potentially complicated. For example, a Facebook advertising agency would have different considerations than someone that specialized in Amazon advertising.

That’s why it helps to keep certain essential tips in mind when planning your strategy. By understanding key points, you’ll better understand how to maximize your return-on-investment.

Focus on SEO

Strong SEO drives potential customers to your site. There’s a reason marketers are constantly reviewing the latest SEO best practices .

After all, there are many websites on the internet. Plenty of them cover similar topics. When someone searches for virtually anything on Google, they want the most relevant sites to appear

Understanding SEO best practices and applying them to your entire digital marketing strategy will help you attract more attention organically.

Use Content Marketing

The average person usually doesn’t hop onto the internet with the intention of making a purchase. Thus, if your online presence is exclusively promotional and “salesy,” you might struggle to reach potential customers.

Content marketing addresses this issue. Quite simply, it involves providing customers with genuinely valuable or entertaining content. This can include articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, and more.

For instance, perhaps you’re designing a content marketing strategy for a realtor. Your target audience is probably interested in learning about the process of finding and buying a new home. Sharing blogs on topics like “10 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Home” will offer them real value.

Content marketing is helpful because it allows you to engage with leads and guide them through a customer journey. It’s also more cost-effective than many other marketing techniques.


Research indicates that approximately half of all leads aren’t ready to make a purchase when they first engage with your brand. However, the fact that they engaged at all means they are probably interested in your products or services to some degree.

With website codes like the Facebook Pixel , you can design an ad campaign for the specific purpose of retargeting potential customers who have already engaged with your brand in the past. This is a simple way to boost sales.


It’s worth noting that effective digital marketing campaigns typically don’t consist of one strategy. You need to use multiple channels to yield the best possible results.

You also need to experiment. By trying new methods and monitoring the performance of your campaigns on a consistent basis, you’ll get a better sense of what does and doesn’t work for your business.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Insecure Writer's Support Day and Updates

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month and encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts today are February 6 posting of the IWSG are Raimey Gallant, Natalie Aguirre, CV Grehan, and Michelle Wallace!

Today’s optional question: Besides writing what other creative outlets do you have?

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The next IWSG anthology, Masquerade: Oddly Suited, (YA romance) will be released on April 30, 2019.

The authors are looking for blog tour hosts. If you can host a day and help spread the word about the anthology, sign up through Google Docs.

You can also pre-order either print or eBook: Barnes & Noble / Amazon / Dancing Lemur Press LLC
Print ISBN 9781939844644 $14.95
EBook ISBN 9781939844651 $4.99

Plus show your support and add Masquerade on Goodreads.

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This month’s WEP Challenge is 28 Days.

This prompt came up as a contest winner generated by the IWSG gang – we chose the winner from a whole bunch of creative ideas! Congratulations to long-time WEP participant, Toinette Thomas.

Incorporate 28 days in your entry. It can be the time limit for a task or a challenge. The quantum of growth, a journey, a change, and/or healing that happens in 28 days. Come in with a werewolf entry. Or don’t. Tell us about some other moon phase-based folklore instead. Fashion an epistolary flash as a series of 28 diary entries or postcards. Mainstream, fantasy, romance, travel – all wide open. A lot of things can happen in 28 days!

Sign up and post your entry on February 20.

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The IWSG Goodreads Book Club is changing things up!

5 Discussion Questions: We will pose 5 questions that you can answer about the book we’ve read as a group. You can answer one question or all five. It’s up to you.

Discussion Day Poll: Every discussion day, there will also be a poll that all members will get invited to answer. This is a great option to participate that is fast and simple.

Quiz: You can also help us create a Goodreads quiz for the book we’ve read.

Giveaways: Every Discussion Day, book club members will get a Goodreads message that will include the chance for members to enter a free Rafflecopter giveaway.

Freebies: When we announce the next reading selection, another Goodreads message will go out that’ll include a downloadable freebie, which could be anything.

Other Polls: We will also invite members to answer writing or reading related polls during our “down” months. One poll will be related to the book in some way.

We read a new book every other month, alternating between craft books and fictional books that demonstrate an aspect of writing. Members vote on our fictional books.

Join Here: IWSG Goodreads Book Club
Our February/March 2019 book is…
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
This book was voted on by our members as a good example of setting.
Discussion Day will be March 20th.

What other creative outlets do you enjoy?