9 Tips for Creating a Compelling Novel

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Recently writer friend, Julie Musil read my latest book Unending Devotion, and then she did a blog post listing the writing lessons she learned from the book. Since I absolutely LOVED her tips, I asked her for permission to reprint them here on my blog. For the original post please go here. And make sure you follow Julie. She's got more terrific advice!

Here are the nine lessons Julie learned from Unending Devotion along with a few of my additional thoughts to go along with each lesson:

1. Open with character-revealing action: Lily, the main character, is devoted to rescuing young girls from a life of prostitution. But we aren't told this. We're shown through the opening scene, where Lily orchestrates an escape.

~My thoughts: Right away we want to give our readers a sense of WHO are characters are and how they're uniquely them, their passions, their mission, or whatever sets them apart from everyone else.

2. Unanswered questions, stat: On page two we already have unanswered questions. Why is Lily's sister suffering? And where is she? Why are the sisters separated?

~My thoughts: We want to immediately stir the curiosity of our readers and one way to do that is to throw our characters into the middle of the conflict. Then over the course of the story, we can slowly reveal to the reader how our characters got to that point, letting them piece the story together until finally it all falls into place.

3. Introduce the love interest early: We meet Connell McCormick on page 15. Sparks fly right away, and we know we're in for a great love story.

~My thoughts: In a romance, readers want to be introduced to both the hero and heroine very early usually in some kind of fun, tense, clever, or interesting way.

4. Give the MC more than one enemy: Lily not only fights an evil bully in a small town, she also fights the woman who runs the brothel. Lily makes enemies of both characters, and they later work together to hurt her.

~My thoughts: Ideally our characters should be fighting an antagonist on a physical level (perhaps even more than one), but also be fighting their own inner issues as well. The more threats we create, the more tension we cause.

5. Explain why the MC can't run to the police to solve her story problem: Lily soon learns that the logging town of Harrison is lawless because the villain has paid off the sheriff. This explains why she doesn't arrive on the sheriff's doorstep and ask for help.

~My thoughts: In other words, make sure we sustain the conflict in a believable way. We don't want our readers growing frustrated because the solution is in plain sight, but our characters are too stupid to see it.

6. In a romance, tether the couple together to create a bond: Lily and Connell are caught in a snowstorm, and forced to survive the elements together. A great opportunity to fall in love, yes? Or kill each other, depending on the story.

~My thoughts: Our characters need the chance to get to know each other and become friends. Then the developing love relationship will have more of an impact. We need to look for ways get the couples stuck together in situations where we can facilitate this growing friendship.

7. Think of the worst thing that can happen to the MC, then make it happen: Connell loves Lily, and the town bully knows this. When he wants to exact revenge on Connell, he knows capturing Lily gets to the heart of the matter.

~My thoughts: I love dumping the heroine into what seems to be an impossible mess. The fun part is figuring out how to get her out of the terrible predicament in a believable, non-contrived way.

8. Give the MC a physical and moral battle: Lily's main objective, or her surface story problem, is to find her sister. But there's also a larger moral objective--to rescue young girls from lives of prostitution, and erase evil from a lawless town. These multiple goals kept the pacing tight.

~My thoughts: Our stories can have multiple levels that are intertwined. In fact, the more we can layer the conflict so that they're inter-related, the more complex the story becomes.

9. Use a symbol to reflect a character's journey: In this case, a quilt. Lily reflects on all the mis-shaped pieces, and the seemingly ugly patterns. But those pieces, just like the imperfect pieces of our lives, come together to make something beautiful.

~My thoughts: I personally love trying to weave in various levels of symbolism. I think it goes back to the principle of making good use of every aspect of what we include in the story, from the objects our characters have to the settings we describe. We should strive to be strategic in how we weave in details.

What do you think? Do any of these tips resonate with you and your WIP? If you have any related tips, we'd love to hear them! Please share!

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