Are you a writer, just finishing up your first novel? Then I have some advice for you – which you will most likely be completely oblivious to. Not your fault, just warning you. There are lots of things that will go over your head since you are a beginner, but in the first part of this blog series I would like to point out one of the less obvious things that you will miss.
First, let me introduce myself regarding this topic. I have been a writer for 11 years, I have 3 published books and one translation to Chinese. I have become extremely analytic when reading the works of other authors, so I started to professionally proofread for debuting fantasy authors. And oh yeah, I’m Dutch. So beware, I’ll probably not participate in sugar-coating, but that’s only because I am passionate about helping you improve your writing.
Solid, but bare
So what I notice in most debuting novels is, when it’s a good book, a solid framework and I can’t fault it without being nit-picky, but the story is extremely basic and “bare”. Note: this is mostly the case with fantasy, it may or may not apply to other genres. What do I mean with this? Well, let’s take a look at what makes a good fantasy novel. Generally readers want to delve into a new fantasy world with all the basics (magic system, political system, important historical moments etc.). In other words: readers want to explore.
Give readers more of what they like
If the basis of your novel is good, you must expand it. If I like a story, I want to know all about it. I do not only mean the story, but also the characters. You might have read somewhere that you need to write individual characters, not all copies of you. I’d like to take it one step further. Most debuting authors write only a few characters. Maybe just 2 or 3 that play a big role in the book. If I can’t “choose my favorite” character from a wider range of choice, I’ll probably dislike all of them (shocker: most people don’t like the main character of a book). So expand your set of important characters to at least 7, give them a background, a reason for doing what they do and how, give them a goal and individual mannerisms.
Decent plot calls for more depth
When it comes to the story, most of the time the basic plot is decent. If your fantasy novel is less than 70.000 words you should really have another look at whether or not you have missed an opportunity for the reader to delve into your world. You can ask yourself questions like: was the magic system explained properly? Does my main character just accept everything as it is presented to him/her, or is there some room for getting used to a new environment or any other big change triggering the story?
The writer’s voice should disappear
One last thing I would like to mention here is: do take a look at your characters. Do they all say “ok” in the dialogue? Then I can hear you, the writer. If everyone has the same mannerisms or way of speech, you have not thought enough yet about the individuality of your characters. It is okay to use “ok” for a teenage boy, but it affects the status of a teacher or policeman. Do they all shrug, or smile? Take a look around you: does everyone always do the same thing? You know the answer, but it’s difficult to take it into account when writing. Then reread your manuscript with this in mind. Search for things your characters do the same and ask yourself: does this really suit this character? And most importantly: don’t rush to publication. You can only debut once.
Let me help you!
If you’re afraid you can’t do this yourself, I only ask €150 for a professional proofread. Really, this is insane if you would translate it to an hourly rate. The feedback will also help you to avoid mistakes when writing future books, so do it once and you’ll forever reap the benefits. Do send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org when you have any questions or would like to take up on this offer. Disclaimer: this is not the same as making it ready for publication! You still need an editor to look at your novel on a grammar level, a formatter and a book cover artist.