The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

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I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.

3.06.2008

What Makes a Good Novel?

photo by a trying youth

Back in November, I lost my mind and decided to participate in NaBloPoMo and NaNoWriMo. Now, NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, wasn't too bad. I went a little batty trying to come up with a new blog post every day, but I did it.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, was a different story. The goal was to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, with quantity trumping quality. I made it to 4,626 words. Which is exactly 4,626 more than I'd written before NaNoWriMo, so I'm considering it a success.

Some interesting characters sprouted up in those nine pages, and I may go back and see what they're up to. There's Anna, an American living in London. And Ian, a Scottish guy who sells puppets in Covent Garden. I know, the puppet thing is weird. I have no idea where it came from.

To gear up for NaNoWriMo, I bought No Plot? No Problem!, written by the event's founder, Chris Baty. He suggests creating two lists to help figure out a vague plot direction. The first list is what makes a good novel, and the second is what makes a boring or depressing novel. Of course, these are completely personal and need not be based on anything more than an inkling, a whim, or a fancy.

Like the puppets, I was surprised at what appeared on my lists.

What Makes a Good Novel

  • Strong plot (a page turner)
  • Interesting characters
  • Relationships
  • Satisfying, happy endings
  • The feeling that I could live in the novel’s world (and do live there while I’m reading it)
  • English setting
  • Good (but not extensive) descriptions
  • The passage of seasons
  • Believable dialogue
  • Intellectual pursuits
  • Intersections of multiple story lines
  • A sense of mystery and intrigue
  • Romance and true love
  • Unexpected connections
  • Drama
  • Comedy

What Makes a Boring or Depressing Novel


  • Long-winded passages of description of scenery and setting, especially if it involves directional attributes like north, south, east, or west
  • Too much death
  • Industrial topics
  • Obviousness
  • Adventure stories of man vs. nature
  • Anything set in a jungle
  • Plots with such a wide scope and so many characters that I need a legend to keep it all straight
  • Heavy historical perspective
  • Most detective mysteries
  • Ghosts, demons, and monsters
  • Violence
  • Bad character names
  • Ugliness
Reading over these lists again, I can see there are no hard and fast rules for my preferences. I've enjoyed a few historical and adventure stories in my time. And sometimes a happy, satisfying ending feels too cliché.

What would be on your lists? Where would you put the puppets?

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add to kirtsy | 1:23 AM

5 Comments:

Blogger bella said...

Hm, what a fun question. :)
On my list for where those puppets would show up?
The south
Tangled family dramas
characters who have an interior life
I do enjoy knowing what they are wearing. :)
definitely like you the passing of seasons.
A story I feel compelled to keep reading, even if it keeps me up late at night.

3/07/2008 8:28 AM  
Blogger Jennifer/The Word Cellar said...

Bella: It think the last one on your list is the best sign of a good novel.

3/08/2008 12:44 AM  
Anonymous Jess said...

Look at me being all serious and responding to your question!
I have to get emotionally involved with the characters. If they're not developed to the point where I feel like they're real, I don't really care what happens to them and I lose interest in the book. When they're great characters, you can take them out of "reality" and it's still believable. I had no problem believing that Meg Murray and Charles Wallace actually went to Camazotz.

3/11/2008 5:02 PM  
Blogger MamaShift said...

I was on the plane to NYC and I had just finished Andrei Makine's Music of a Life (I was reading the original in French, so I can't vouch for the translation). And I jotted down a note about what makes the perfect novel. I think I accidentally threw out that piece of paper, but it went something like, "When all I want to do is re-visit that character again and again, to know him/her more deeply." Argh! I wrote something much more poetical, but you get the drift.

3/13/2008 9:06 AM  
Blogger Jennifer/The Word Cellar said...

Jess: Thanks for delurking! Good point about great characters being believable. I love Meg and Charles Wallace.

MamaShift: Looks like we're hitting on a theme of good characters. Proving once again that the human connection is what we all seek.

3/13/2008 11:22 AM  

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