The Ridiculously Surefire Way to Write the Perfect Novel

The Ridiculously Surefire Way to Write the Perfect Novel

Is there such a thing as the perfect novel? And, if so, how does one go about writing it?

I think most of us would agree that that the answer to the first question is an indisputable no. Perfection in art is unequivocally subjective. What one reader hails as perfection, another will throw across the room in disgust. As readers, our preferred reading experiences span the gamut from cuddly, reaffirming romances to gritty, life-challenging noir. And that’s awesome. A world without variety would leave us authors with very little of interest to write about.

But, inherent in this subjectivity, we also find the answer to our second question. Because the perfect novel will never exist, authors have lots of room in which to play around and find their niches. Therefore, the question isn’t so much “how to write the perfect novel” as it is “how to write your perfect novel.”

How Can You Write Your Perfect Novel?

A line of encouragement from literary agent Scott Edelstein has informed my writing for years. In 100 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, he writes,

If you’re ever at a loss as to what to write about, ask yourself to imagine the one story, essay, poem, or book that you’d most like to read. Then write it.

Too often, we allow ourselves to be inhibited by the expectations (real or imagined) of other people. What if the literati look down their noses because you write romance? What if the neighbors are scandalized because you write horror? What if secular readers scoff at your Christian elements? Such fretting can not only spiral into procrastination, it can also prevent you from writing your stories.

I have to write the stories God has given me. I understand and respect the great responsibility I have as an entertainer, but I also have to keep reminding myself I can’t please everyone. As historian Studs Terkel put it:

Just about every book contains something that someone objects to.

Ultimately, all authors have to write primarily for themselves. If we can please just that one person, chances are we’ll be able to please a few others (maybe a whole lot of others) along the way.

Discovering What You’re Supposed to Write

So what is your perfect novel? Nobody can say except you.

Examine your favorite novels and movies for elements that particularly grabbed you. Battle scenes? Romance? Humorous dialogue? Plot twists? Sad endings? Happy endings? Chances are the story elements that are important to you are already showing up in your work. But if you can single them out on purpose and identify them, you can strengthen them and make them more intrinsic to your stories.

What about story devices toward which you’re ambivalent? Maybe you stuck that romantic subplot into your fantasy story just because you felt readers would expect it. But you’re not trying to write what readers expect, remember? Expected, often, is bad. So break the mold, go with your gut, follow your own inclinations. Don’t conform to standards simply for conformity’s sake. You’re not trying to be the next Dean Koontz; you trying to be the one and only you.

It can be plenty difficult to drown out the voices–both the critics’ and the fans’. With every person who reads my work and comments on it, I am forced to fight to keep their opinions from encroaching onto my own vision for my stories. Not, of course, that I don’t consider and deeply appreciate the guidance and thoughts of others (see “Putting Your Ego in Your Back Pocket”). But, ultimately, I have to make my own choices for my work, uninfluenced by others. I can’t sit hunched over my keyboard every day, poking out a word or two, wondering if my readers will applaud or jeer.

Bestselling novelist Sloan Wilson said it perhaps as well as anyone:

A writer cannot choose his audience; he can only be himself and let his audience choose him.

Don’t worry about what the world considers the perfect novel. Write your perfect novel, and let the world come to you.

Tell me your opinion: What is your definition of the perfect novel?

The Ridiculously Surefire Way to Write the Perfect Novel

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Lorna G. Poston says

    No one commented on this? 🙁

    I once heard a comment on this topic. The person (can’t recall the name) said, “Pretend doctors have given you six months to live and you have time to write one novel. One. What will you say? Now, go to your computer and say it.”

  2. I like that. Piles on the pressure a little more than does Scott Edelstein’s suggestion.

  3. I liked the Wilson quote, “A writer cannot choose his audience; he can only be himself and let his audience choose him.”

    I do my best when I close my eyes to what others think and write what I would enjoy reading. An audience always comes.

  4. To create any deep emotion in others, we first have to create it in ourselves. And the only way to do that is to be honest in what we write. If we are honestly writing a story that means something to us, most likely, it’ll end up meaning something to someone else as well.

  5. The Edelstein quote describes my present project. I uncovered a never before expanded upon historical anomaly in researching another story. You quoted in one of your videos (watched ’em all yesterday) that there is nothing new under the sun. But, what if, at least in the literary sense, there was? If you felt it was an important event how would you treat it? Would you stay in the period, ala Jean M. Auel, or have modern spies/ detectives/ archaeologists reveal the legacy? What are the literary dangers of jumping back and forth in time?
    Thank you KM for all you are doing!

  6. Jumping back and forth between time periods presents unique challenges. I did something similar in my historical western A Man Called Outlaw (although my time gap was only thirty years), and I can tell you that the most difficult part is creating *two* stories that are equally interesting readers. Also, you have to create a way to seamlessly indicate when you’re switching back and forth – or else risk confusing readers.

  7. I believe your MC in Behold the Dawn was based on a real life person that you researched? When your publisher calls and tells you that readers are begging for more (soon I hope!) and says “what if” the original Marcus had trained a village of peasants to protect themselves and that cabal of descendants still exists today righting wrongs. “Well,” says you, “there were unaccountable journeys and missing years in his biography.” “Right,” says she, “give us plenty of horses, swords, and gallantry from those travels; but, have it told by a modern avenger who is passing this legacy on to his son.”
    Now what? 🙂

  8. Actually, “inspired by” would be more accurate than “based upon.” Aside from the basic idea of a character who fought in the tourneys and went to the Crusades, Annan doesn’t have much in common with the real-life William Marshall. (Glad you enjoyed the book, BTW!)

    Historical authors have both the responsibility to adhere to facts and the freedom to fill in the blanks with their imaginations. In a story such as one you’ve outlined, you would seem to be left with a lot of creative freedom to fill in those blanks, since the missing years don’t anchor you to a set of facts.

  9. Sorry, bad choice of words on my part. No harm intended! And thank you KM for your time and insight!

  10. You’re welcome! Always glad to help.

  11. I think that while pondering the thought of writing, I have worried about being perfect. I can see there is much to learn and I have enjoyed your advise page after page! http://www.sandysanderellasmusings.com Sandy

  12. Perfection is a crippler. Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” The best we can do is write our hearts out and try to improve with every new story.

  13. K.M., good article (I wrote god twice wonder why). “You can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.” Who was it that sang that song? Anyway, part of the reason for my current WIP is that I don’t see a lot of non-romantic women’s fiction. I’m finding that Kate’s Song is as much about friendships as it is about the rescue. Sure, some people will want Miss X (damsel in distress)to marry Mr. Y. (prince doing the rescuing) But, you know, it aint’ gonna happen this time. So there. LOL

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The great thing about pleasing ourselves is that (surprise!) there are actually thousands of people out there who like exactly what we like. Much better to appeal to a small but passionate niche audience than try to appeal to everyone with a shotgun approach.

  14. Love this.

  15. Excellent post. People who write to suit a market and missing out on the real joy of writing the story that is truly their story. I posted something similar a while back http://nealabbott.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/the-one-story-you-should-be-writing-now/

  16. Awesome 😀 I am feeling so down with my writing, with no desire to hit the keyboard at all, but I hope taking this in consideration will make my imagination pop 😀
    Thank you for always publishing so good advices in your blog!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I often find it useful to pretend that whatever I’m writing will never be published. I’m writing just for *me*, which gives me the freedom to throw off the expectations and pressures (real or imaginary) of others.

  17. SO TRUE!

  18. Loved this! It was so what I needed to hear, because these thoughts are something I’ve been struggling with for some time now. That is, what I really want to write vs what I feel I should want to write (but don’t). And somewhere among them is that little fear that my future as a published writer depends on what I choose, when it really shouldn’t. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      We’d all like to be able to make a living off our writing. But look at this way: Would you rather preserve your love for the art form and possibly *not* make a living doing it? Or would you rather make a living but possibly lose your love for it? Your answer should inform your writing every single day.

  19. Steve Mathisen says

    It is my understanding that C.S. Lewis, one of my literary heroes, was to have said that he wanted to write the sort of books that he himself would want to read. If we write so as to accomplish that, the resulting book would come awfully close to being the perfect work of any sort.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a brilliant approach. We can’t go wrong with it – even if we end up being the only people who read it.

  20. A writer cannot choose his audience; he can only be himself and let his audience choose him.

    Soon true. Really awesome post.

    • We’re much happier writers when we let our audiences find us. That way, we’re writing for the people we’re meant to be writing for – and not trying to force ourselves into someone else’s box.

      • Just like any other social cause. Our book should also hang out with our kind of peoples

      • I know I’m late to the party but when I read your comment about letting your audience find you, it rang true for me.

        Recently, I wrote a mid-grade which I self-published, mainly for myself and a few family members.

        Unexpectedly, I found myself pushing my book on people, which has never been my type of personality.

        I decided to quit reading anything about marketing, and all the things an unknown writer “must” do, to increase their chance of success so that I can enjoy my book for what it is – a book for my family and friends.

        Surprisingly, a small audience is making their way to me, which is exactly as it should be.

        I probably won’t win any awards or top the charts, none of which were my goal in the first place. I must confess, it does feel awesome when the occasional unknown person buys my book, for it is then I know I’ve won awards and topped the charts.

        Thank you for verifying my thoughts that sometimes it is best to let the audience make their way to you.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I believe it’s tremendously important for each us to know *why* we’re writing and what our specific definition of success is. Then we can focus on achieving those goals without being pressured into feeling like we have to want more or less.

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