It seems as if every successful author has written a book about how to write novels. One author I read about compared writing novels to performing in a circus, with juggling and balancing acts that will entertain to keep your audience mesmerized. It’s a unique comparison to the many other authors who have compared it to either building a house or baking a cake.
The bottom line is the circus needs the right acts and entertainers to be a hit with its audience. The house needs an established blueprint to be functional and withstand time. And the cake needs a proven recipe to be delicious. They are formulas to success. They are also formulas to repetitiveness. It’s up to us as authors to change these formulas to keep them new and fresh … and hopefully, successful.
Every successful novel begins with a proven formula of plot and characters. They are nothing without each other. Each must entertain us. Plots tell a story, building layers with interesting hooks and twists (subplots). Characters move the story along, often by creating tension—people who oppose each other, and then releasing the tension.
The main character shows us outward action toward an interesting goal and inward action, usually toward some sort of growth and maturity. However, some stories have characters who recede and fall from grace by giving in to life’s pressures. Authors classify the former character as the tool of an affective plot and the latter as one of a disillusionment plot.
Some authors write outlines of their stories before they begin writing their novels. Outlines “tell” the author what happens in the story. Based on that outline, the author writes a story that “shows” the reader what happens.
Almost all novels have four acts. Act One begins with rising action based on Aristotle’s Incline and ends in Act Four with falling action and a resolution. The novel’s climax usually happens at the end of Act Three.
A series is a set of books with each book representing a self-contained story. Each book ends. There is no over-arching story among a series of books.
A serial is a story told in several installments with a cliffhanger at the end of each installment until the books reach an ending. The storyline during a serial connects at the start of the next installment and continues to weave through more installments until reaching an end of the books.
Authors must know the difference between a series and a serial so as not to confuse their readers.
Every writer should read The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.
Finally, time is the most important tool for an author. Some people may argue that inspiration is. Others may say persistence is. But without setting aside time to do it, no novel is ever written.