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Essential Ingredients for a Great Book

Posted by @Publishing_talk on March 4, 2014 at 9:00 AM

What makes a great book? Interesting characters, sound narrative and fresh ideas all help. Sounds simple, right? ...Wrong. It's actually where many people come unstuck.


Common mistakes include drifting narrative, poorly developed characters and unoriginal ideas. Humour me, let's go back to basics here while I dig out the dictionary definition of what a story actually is: 'An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.'


Does your story entertain? Amuse? Inspire? If the story hasn't been properly thought through, what you're left with is essentially a meal without proper seasoning (I like food, hence the analogy). Some people make their stories up as they go along, writing whatever comes to them. This approach may work for some experienced writers but for most, it's a meandering recipe for disaster.


Neil Gaiman, acclaimed English author (notable works include: The Sandman, Stardust, American Gods), says:


'The Ideas aren't the hard bit. They're a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you're trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.'



There are countless different stories and possible scenarios. But there are very few plots. Plots are constantly recycled into different stories. You probably know them already: love conquers all, humans battling nature, humans battling humans, do good and be rewarded, do wrong and get punished.


Every story will invariably use a standard plot. The plot doesn't tell what happens in the story or where or when it takes place. The story on the other hand includes such detail. Here's the secret to getting it right.


First, plan your story ingredients by mixing it around the plot. Typically the plot includes these five elements:  

1. Central Problem or Conflict:  Usually near the beginning of the story.


2. Rising Action:  Includes the events or consequences caused by the conflict.


3. Climax:  The rising action results in a turning point. Often this section is very dramatic.


4. Denouement:  Various issues disclosed at the beginning and played out in the rising action and climax are settled or explained.


5. Resolution:  The final result of everything that came before.


Now for the recipe--what happens, when it happens, where it happens, and who the characters are.

1. Do your research on the story and plan it well. Don't rush this. Some people even plan their chapters.


2. Plan your cast. How do they look? Act? Think? Feel? Speak? Dress? Are they a main character or supporting? Too many characters will distract from the characters readers really want to know all about, leaving readers confused, even frustrated.


Get these things right and you'll have the edge over the many writers out there who don't bother to plan properly. A wise person once said:  'If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.'


Please leave any questions or feedback in the comments.


May you put your best foot forward,





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Categories: Writing Tips

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