Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writing a Novel: Nine Steps to Writing a Novel You Can Sell

Nine Steps to Writing a Novel You Can Sell

Guest post by Hillel Black

1) Be a story teller. You would be amazed at the number of writers who do everything but. Often novels come as character portraits or memoirs written as fiction. Absent is any attempt at suspense, any motivation for the reader to turn those pages. As the novel unfolds, the story invariably begins to tread water and then sinks beneath the waves. The reader does not sit on the edge of his or her chair, but instead retreats into a glassy-eyed coma.

2) An oversimplified definition of a good story. Not two cats on a mat meowing at each other or two dogs yawning but a cat and dog growling and spitting and about to launch into heated combat. Conflict, suspense keep the reader reading. Again so often ignored by writers.

3) Premise. You should be able to sum up the story in one sentence. A woman police lieutenant and hostage negotiator must establish contact and overcome a faceless tormentor who is determined to make her a hostage of fear. Nora Roberts, High Noon. An act of violence shatters a small town and the daughter of the judge sitting on the case should be the state's witness but cannot remember what happened-or could she. Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes.

4) Sympathetic character. You want to portray a character the reader roots for.

5) Equally important, it helps if you can devise a character who is villainous, evil, bad, someone the reader hates but cannot get enough of. My favorite was Hannibal Lecter. When he arrived on the page, I was always hooked.

6) A love story always helps. They do not have to go off into the sunset. But it would be nice if they get into the same bed.

7) Surgeons go to medical school, lawyers go to law school. All you need to do is go to Amazon or the bookstore or the library. Read, read, read and think about what you are reading and why the novel works for you.

8) Writing is not something most people can dash off. Morris West, a best-selling novelist, could and did write his novels in his head but most people need paper and pen or a computer. It is an arduous but an enormously satisfying task.

9) Before you begin, write a multi-page outline of the novel. A great example of a superb story teller and novelist who does just that is Ken Follett. Read WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by ALBERT ZUCKERMAN, his esteemed editor and agent. You will learn how Follett does it.

Hillel Black is a free lance editor of over 20 NY Times best sellers. He is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including an Edgar award nominee, and has a wide acquaintance in the agent community. He is also a member of the Consulting Editors Alliance. Visit


  1. Thanks for sharing this mini-guide. I have not delved into fiction yet but this entry is encouraging.

    Prosperously yours,
    Denise Allen, Author

  2. Great write up, thanks.

    Anja Johnson, a wanna-be for now

  3. This is really useful! I just began a blog about my experience writing my first novel. If you get a chance, feel free to check it out!

  4. Thank you for the great guest post - Hillel, fantastic insight and tips. I cannot express how much I agree - the craft of writing is much more than syntactical precision or agreement of person in the subject/verb...

    One of my favorite sources of "how to write well" is the late Roald Dahl. His recollection of how he fell, literally, into writing is astounding. I believe I read it in a collection entitled "Henry Sugar..." I forget the rest of the title, but worth the read.


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