Part 1 of the magic ingredients of a novel looked at things like plot, subplots, themes, conflict, emotion and characterisation – all common elements that are vital to any good story.
This second part will look at six more crucial elements that authors should ensure are present within their novels if they want to impress agents and publishers and get that all-important acceptance – Viewpoint, Motivation, Setting, Background, Tone, Mood & Atmosphere and Foreshadowing.
Viewpoint may not seem significant, but if it’s not consistent and done correctly, then it becomes a major issue. Do you tell the story from a third person’s perspective, or first person?
Third person multiple is the most common, and is probably the best medium to work with, especially for a first time novel. The right viewpoint for the right story means the difference between producing the strongest effect for your writing rather the weakest, because if you choose the wrong viewpoint, and you’re not confident with it, the story will fail.
That happens with first person because writers don’t understand how complicated it can be to master. This is why it’s generally wise for new writers to gain some experience with it before embarking on a full length first person novel. That’s why most stories benefit third person, and can be more effective.
First person is very limited, so it works very well for short stories, and less so for longer stories. Third person is all encompassing and easy to work with. So viewpoint is something the writer needs to carefully consider – and get right.
No character does something without a reason behind it. Everything they do is fuelled by motivation, so it’s fine having a story with great characters, but unless they have a reason to be in the story, what are they doing there?
The protagonist and antagonist will cross paths during the story, and they will need reasons for doing so. The hero will also be motivated by something, and that something will push him to reach his goal. The same goes for the villain – the need for something and the determination to achieve it. Motivation forms an undercurrent to the main plot, which means characters do what they do because they’re motivated by needs, desires and emotions.
They all want something.
Every great story needs a great setting. Sometimes writers forget to inform the reader of the setting or they assume the reader will know or guess, but it’s important from the outset that the reader understands where the story takes place. It may seem a minor thing, but the more information the reader has, the better able they are to immerse themselves with the story.
Tell the reader where the action takes place, and when. They need it in order to imagine themselves within the story.
Every story must have a background. It may not seem essential, but again, the more information you give the reader, the better the story.
It’s not just the story that has a background, but the main characters will also have backgrounds; all of them full to bursting with information to layer the story. Background details help make a story remarkable rather than flat, dull and boring.
Tone, Mood & Atmosphere
This tri-formation of elements happens in and around each other, which is why they are often grouped together. Where one appears, the others usually follow.
The tone of the story adds texture, it tells the reader just what sort of story they can expect, whether that is something romantic, something dark, something funny or something scary, etc. Mood is what the writer brings to the story – a certain attitude that pulls the plot into focus and involves the reader on an emotional level. Mood and atmosphere go hand in hand, because where there is mood, there is also atmosphere. Without these elements, it would be hard to elevate the emotions within the story.
Imagine a horror story without mood, tone or atmosphere. It would be totally ineffective. The same is true for any type of genre, which is why it’s important that writers ensure there’s plenty of all three.
Set the tone, create mood and provide plenty of atmosphere.
This is something that many writers don’t use, not necessarily because they don’t know how to, but because they forget to include it. That’s because it’s seen as a non-essential thing by many, but if the writer wants to impress an agent or publisher, then a little foreshadowing helps.
It’s rather like the brushstrokes to a painting. The more colour there is, the more detail can be seen, and writing is all about giving the reader not just a story, but a multidimensional, 360o , full colour, high definition story that actually feels real. They want to be a part of it.
Foreshadowing is art form. It’s the subtle hints, the cryptic morsels of information, the poetic lure of what is yet to come, all delivered with imagery and they help enhance a story. Common foreshadowers are storms in the distance to show something tumultuous will happen, or cold wintry weather to foreshadow a death or a loss. Colours can be symbolic because they invoke emotional responses. Animals can foreshadow – think of a crow and what that might mean. In fact, anything can help to foreshadow events. It just takes a little thought.
Remember, the more brushstrokes, the better the picture.
Next week: The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 3