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What makes a good novel?

Writers want to learn how to write a good novel but perhaps they should focus on what makes up a good read. It’s a subtle shift in perception–a change in point of view–but one that offers some insight into the various techniques needed to craft an artful work of fiction.

A good read for me is one where the author raises questions and engages me in conversation. This stimulation of a reader’s thoughts is considered by Jane Smiley in 13 Ways to Look at a Novel as she discusses the necessity for technical innovation. Simply put, a novel should cause the reader to take a new look at his own ideas and perceptions.

“Great seminal novelists may or may not be more rawly original than their contemporaries; what they do is manage to wed originality of technique with depth of insight or breadth of knowledge or charm or some other quality that demonstrates the value of that technical innovation and makes it memorable to future novelists.” –Jane Smiley, 13 Ways to Look at a Novel

But where does a novelist go to hone his technique? Essentially within. For Smiley, an author’s technique not only grows out of his temperment, his intentions, and his ideas, but it also grows out of his circumstances.

What does your temperment, your intentions, your ideas, even your circumstances add to the mix when you write?

How does this play out in your novel?



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  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com/noblankpages/ Mark Schannon

    It sounds like you’re very conscious of process when you’re writing…and obviously you’ve been successful. I don’t think of the reader when I’m writing fiction–although I’ve had to as a successful business writer–perhaps I should be doing more of that in fiction as well, but it seems distracting.
    I’m not even writing for myself, consciously, when I write fiction. There’s a story and characters that demand to be heard, and I provide and guide that process.
    But I think you’re point is well taken–if you start out to “write a novel,” it’s likely you’ll get no where at all.
    Good read…good food for thought. Thanks.

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com/noblankpages/ Mark Schannon

    It sounds like you’re very conscious of process when you’re writing…and obviously you’ve been successful. I don’t think of the reader when I’m writing fiction–although I’ve had to as a successful business writer–perhaps I should be doing more of that in fiction as well, but it seems distracting.
    I’m not even writing for myself, consciously, when I write fiction. There’s a story and characters that demand to be heard, and I provide and guide that process.
    But I think you’re point is well taken–if you start out to “write a novel,” it’s likely you’ll get no where at all.
    Good read…good food for thought. Thanks.

  • http://www.thewriterspath.com Vikk

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I am pretty conscious of process but not during the first draft. I do try to look at the writing from the reader’s point of view in later drafts, though. One reason is because it’s so easy to think we have conveyed everything because we, as the writers, “know” the story and make assumptions about what the reader should be experiencing. As writers we’re not always the best judge of whether we’ve laid out our story so that the reader not only catches but embraces our vision.
    I begin with story and end with story but along the way I explore many pathways to ensure the full story is being experienced–and still I’m sure I fail with many. Thank heavens for those few who “get it.” :)
    Again, thanks for spending time here. I’ve enjoyed reading about your journey….

  • http://www.thewriterspath.com Vikk

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I am pretty conscious of process but not during the first draft. I do try to look at the writing from the reader’s point of view in later drafts, though. One reason is because it’s so easy to think we have conveyed everything because we, as the writers, “know” the story and make assumptions about what the reader should be experiencing. As writers we’re not always the best judge of whether we’ve laid out our story so that the reader not only catches but embraces our vision.
    I begin with story and end with story but along the way I explore many pathways to ensure the full story is being experienced–and still I’m sure I fail with many. Thank heavens for those few who “get it.” :)
    Again, thanks for spending time here. I’ve enjoyed reading about your journey….