I'm still re-working through Writing The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. According to Maass, great novels are created with, "Above and beyond the setting, characters and plot, these are probably novels that altered your way of seeing the world." (pg. 39)
So, breaking this down, we have:
1) A setting for our story that is unique in its own way. It needs to be sufficiently different from what the mass majority of readers see every day. I wonder if that's why a lot of authors pick a rural setting? Rural in itself means low population, so therefore few people, when compared with the total population, truly experience rural life in all its glory. It's been a bit overdone though, I suppose. But what about choosing something even more specific than geographic location for the just of your story setting? What if you have intimate knowledge of what life is like as a miner, or you know the ins and outs of being a school custodian? Can you write a story with vivid, interesting details of these not-so-well-known settings? Can these setting provide enough food for conflict? Depending on the characters, they just may if you've got the inside scoop. I know I don't. So I have to dig deeper to discover what I'm intimately familiar with that the mass population is not!
2) As for our story characters, they need to be larger-than-life. Not zany and unbelievable, but who we wish we could be. They need to experience stuff and react to that stuff in ways that make the reader perk their eyebrows and say, "now I can learn a thing or two from this guy", or "Man, I wish I was like him."
3) Plot. Oh, that lovely plot dilemma. Think outside the box for this one. Or go inside the box and start spewing "what ifs" all over the place to get you teetering outside the box. Forget about mundane or the norm of experiences, instead find those really unique scenarios that will wake your reader up and grab his/her attention. Again, not unbelievable experiences, but ones that don't happen every single day. If they do happen every day, make them happen with a whole lot of twists so they come across as unique at least.
4) Message! That's what "novels that altered your way of seeing the world" provides. Make your story have meaning by presenting a message throughout. There's got to be some life lesson in all that showing you're doing. Something that the reader, if not consciously, subconsciously takes away from the story world they've just read. Something that makes them question if their living right, or how they can live better.
One last quote for this post from Donald Mass that struck home with me recently: "These novels change us because their authors are willing to draw upon their deepest selves without flinching. They hold nothing back, making their novels the deepest possible expression of their own experience and beliefs." (pg. 39)
That sounds like a challenge to me. A challenge that takes a whole lot of bravery. What have you incorporated in your novels that reveals something from your deepest self? Is it easy for you to read even after the umpteenth revision?
P.S. I'm so very excited! Yippey! It's finished. Hubby completed it. And now I'm on my way to New York--that is virtually, I'm on my way. Check my newest post out on my weight management blog. Exciting times ahead I say. So very exciting, indeed. Thanks to Carolyne Fyffe for the idea!
Surrendering to Him,