Is my book ‘too quiet’?

Some of you might be getting feedback that your book is ‘too quiet’. I know I’ve used this term before. So what does it mean and how does it affect you?

What ‘too quiet’ means to me:

  • It can be very well written but it might fall into the ‘forgettable’ category
  • It’s a ‘good’ book, but it’s not ‘great’
  • The plot does not have high enough stakes
  • Agents and editors don’t think it will make a big enough splash in the marketplace in such a competitive environment
  • In a marketplace that is looking for big books with flashy hooks, quiet books won’t stand out on editors’ own lists
  • This can be the case of novels that aren’t bringing anything new to the table in terms of premise, plot, or characters and their relationships
  • ‘Too quiet’ books are often low concept, contemporary or literary novels that aren’t holding the interest of readers, which could be for many reasons

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Writing Real Life Authenticity: Where do you draw the line?

When can you write like ‘real life’ and when do you take the ‘real life’ out of books?

I preach authenticity in writing fiction, but sometimes things that are too ‘real life’ are not right for books. Here’s what I mean:

  • Teen speak. Teens have a specific way of talking and interacting with each other, however this does not always translate smoothly to fiction. Know what authenticity to include: diction, habits, friendships etc. And know what authenticity not to include: pop culture references that will date the novel, slang that won’t translate across all reading audiences etc.
  • POVs. Use alternate POVs to better inform the reader in new perspectives, not repeat the situation from all angles.
  • Coincidence vs. Serendipity. There is a fine line between the two and I’ve touched on it before. Know which happens only in real life, which can be fabricated for fiction and when to avoid the two all together.
  • Timing. Timing in books is nothing like real life. Novels need planned and plotted pace, while life moves at its own speed. Never mix these two up. Real life pacing makes for a disastrous novel (read: boring and forgettable) and you can never expect what happens in books to happen to you!
  • Characters. All characters in a novel have a purpose for being there. If you introduce a character with no idea why or where they are headed that’s a problem. In real life you come across all types of people that come in and out of your life. Not so in fiction. Even if they are minor characters they should be as 3D as if they were real. Even if the character doesn’t advance plot do they reveal something about another character? Use characters with purpose.
  • Setting. Each writer has their own relationship with describing setting. Are you someone that notices the crown moldings on a brownstone? Or are you someone that whizzes through life without reflection on place? Let setting be natural to characters and purposeful. We’ve all had enough pathetic fallacy.
  • High stakes. In fiction the stakes must be high and they must be manufactured. It is not often in real life you are presented with the stakes that characters are in novels. This is a significant difference between novels that understand the borders of authenticity. Will the character lose their job if they go for the new job interview not knowing if they’ll get it? Can the character go on a date with a new guy taking a chance on love when they have an unhealthy, but steady relationship with someone else? What will/can the character lose as the plot moves along? (See this blog post for more.) Continue reading

Write High-Stakes Tension: Are you too close to your characters?

Are you too close to your characters?

You’ve engendered, given traits, and brought your characters to life on the page. It’s not surprising that writers find themselves attached to their characters and are afraid of putting them into complicated situations.

If you’ve created complex and compelling enough characters they will falter and they will hit obstacles. You’re writing a book not a description of the type of friend you’d like.

Think of the most memorable characters in fiction. Jay Gatsby. Elizabeth Bennett. Holden Caulfield. Lisbeth Salander. None of them are perfect. Perfect characters are 2D and forgettable. Continue reading