Welcome to Writing Tips Oasis and our guide on how to write a Women’s Fiction novel.
If you’re an aspiring writer and wonder if the book you’re writing could get the label of Women’s Fiction, whether you aspire to that or not, then you’ve come to the right place, because in this guide, we will try to pinpoint the markings of the genre.
The first step, as usual, is to define Women’s Fiction as a genre. Note: plenty of authors and publishers out there do not consider Women’s Fiction as a specific genre. Some consider it to be a sub-genre of literary fiction, focused solely on women – women as protagonists and women as readers as well – while others scorn the genre and do not consider women’s fiction “worthy” of being a subgenre of literary fiction or connected to literary fiction in any possible way.
For that reason – and because we disagree with the statement that there is nothing literary about Women’s Fiction – we will refer to Women’s Fiction in this guide as a genre of its own, with its own markings, targeted audience, cast of characters, and rules. However, please keep in mind that all of the tips on writing women’s fiction in this guide – as well as our other guides – are up for your interpretation and adaptation. Remember, what works for one writer may not work for you – and vice versa. Your ways of writing a novel, regardless of which genre your novel belongs to, may not work for another writer.
That said, let’s move forward into the realm of Women’s Fiction, where it’s more about character rather than plot – to an extent, and inside stories that have entertained and touched thousands of people around the globe – not just women.
Table of Contents
- Part I: Defining Women’s Fiction
- 1. Who writes Women’s Fiction?
- 2. Key elements of Women’s Fiction
- 3. Themes and prevalent ideas
- 4. Writing a character driven story
- 5. Driving forces in Women’s Fiction
- Part II: Crafting a Women’s Fiction Story
- 1. Creating the protagonist
- 2. Crafting a character driven plot
- 3. Choosing the narrative voice
- 4. Creating a cast of characters
- 5. Incorporating themes
- 6. On preaching and instructions
- Part III: Editing and Publishing a Women’s Fiction Novel
- 1. Editing the narrative voice
- 2. Internal problems and external representations
- 3. Editing the story
- 4. Analyzing the scenes
- 5. Chapters, paragraphs, sentences
- 6. Genres and publishing your novel
Part I: Defining Women’s Fiction
It can actually be pretty difficult to define Women’s Fiction in a few simple words. It’s an all-encompassing genre, an umbrella covering stories that include romance, mystery, and thrillers. Women’s Fiction encompasses stories that have one thing in common: the protagonist is a woman, and the story revolves around her journey. Often, this journey is largely an internal one. Women’s Fiction books focus on the protagonist’s inner journey just like a literary novel does, with the sole difference that the protagonists in women’s fiction are exclusively women.
In addition, Women’s Fiction books also focus on the relationships of the protagonist with those around her: is she a mother, a spouse, a girlfriend – or even a mistress? How does the protagonist deal with these relationships? Does she have a mainstream career or is she a homemaker?
And while most women’s fiction novels are contemporary, this doesn’t mean that you cannot delve into the past and write about women of past times, especially since one of the pioneers of women’s fiction is considered to be Jane Austen and her contemporaries. At the time when Pride and Prejudice was written, for example, it was considered contemporary – in other words, modern for those times. Yet the themes that Austen developed in the novel are still relevant today, even if they are expressed in a different way.
In the end, Women’s Fiction is full of stories about women who embark on an internal journey – maybe accompanied by an external one as well – wherein they change through an experience that has a great impact on them. These stories are relatable, because we all go through things in life that change us and shape us into who we are.
1. Who writes Women’s Fiction?
One of the most common myths about women’s fiction is that only women can write women’s fiction. This is not true. If you’re a man and you feel the need the need to tell the story of a woman on an emotional journey, then please go ahead and write it.
What is really necessary is to write sincerely and truly. You’ve chosen your protagonist, you’ve given her a personality, and put her in a situation that threatens to change some of her primal instincts and principles that she has built her life on. She needs to change in order to achieve personal happiness and peace. There is no room for sexist views in there, nor is there room for preaching and teaching other women a lesson or tell them how to act to achieve something. We will focus on preaching more later in the guide, but for now, it’s enough to understand that anyone can write a women’s fiction book, regardless of their gender, as long as they stay true to the character they’ve chosen to be the protagonist of the story.
2. Key elements of Women’s Fiction
The first and most important element of Women’s Fiction is the protagonist. Who is she? What’s her background? What kind of an impact has that background had on her? What are her strengths, and what are her flaws? And, most importantly, which aspect of herself does she want to change, and which aspect of herself does she actually need to change?
Here is a quick example: Let’s say that we have a woman named Melinda, who is around thirty years old. Growing up, she had a loving family. Always encouraged to excel, Melinda dreamed of having a career. Then life happened, and Melinda lost her father, mother, baby sister, and her newlywed husband in a freak accident just before she gave birth to her twin daughters. Now, Melinda is desperately trying to provide the same loving environment for her daughters that she had growing up, and provide for them at the same time. When her boss offers her a promotion with a hefty raise, she readily jumps at the chance – the girls need college money after all – but what she did not realize was that the post comes with a lot of strings attached, strings that mean she’d be away from her beloved daughters most of the time.
The example above easily portrays the second element of a Women’s Fiction novel: what is the protagonist’s situation. The protagonist’s situation has to put her in an inner conflict. To refer to our example above, Melinda has to choose between being a good mother (as her own mother was to her), and being the primary breadwinner in the family. Moreover, Melinda’s inner journey is not about choosing to be a mother or a career woman, it’s about finding balance between the two, and the situation she is in – the external plot – reflects her own inner conflict between acting out on her own career ambitions and motherhood aspirations.
The third element is the cast of characters and the relationship the protagonist has with them. In our example, we already have three other characters that are present in the story: the boss, and Melinda’s daughters. How old are they? Is the boss a man or a woman? The twin daughters: how old are they? Are they toddlers that need constant supervision, or are they old enough to handle being on their own? In this instance, toddlers would imply that the accident happened recently, and that Melinda is still dealing with the grief. How does Melinda react to her daughters, especially when they do something that reminds her of her lost husband, parents, or sister? Moreover, what was the relationship between them and Melinda? Does she have any regrets, things that she wished she said but never did?
In the present, are there any other people in Melinda’s life? Is she dating? How does she feel about dating? Does she have friends with happy families of their own (which could serve as a mirror to her own family, or be a reflection of Melinda’s own desires), or single friends who would not dream of having families at that time?
The fourth element is how the situation – the external plot – and the inner conflict in the protagonist affect these relationships. Does Melinda feel the need to distance herself from her happy friends? Does she consider quitting her job and finding one that would allow her more time to be a mother? Or does Melinda adjust to the situation at hand and try to balance things out?
3. Themes and prevalent ideas
The most common themes in Women’s Fiction revolve around the life of the protagonist: who she is, is she happy with her life, and what does she want to change. Throughout the course of the novel, the themes you decide to work in your novel need to come to light. Here, we will talk about the most common themes and how to allow these themes to come into the light as you write your novel.
Career Changes: Career related themes can include breaking through a glass ceiling, juggling work and completing another task (motherhood, caretaking, and more), dealing with an oppressive work environment – usually summed up into a person of authority: a boss, a manager.
Spiritual Growth: This theme is more recent, since it gained traction thanks to Eat, Pray, Love. The theme comes to light when the protagonist focuses on her own spiritual growth: as a person, as a mother, co-worker, and so on. You may take your protagonist on a journey far away from her daily life so that she will gain some perspective on everything she left behind: her previous relationships, her previous life. The journey’s goal is to bring clarity to the protagonist, a means through which she can find herself.
Divorce: Separation, divorce, accompanied by cheating, dead bedrooms, and other marital issues. In this day and age, where a lot of marriages end in divorce, this theme is prevalent in women’s fiction: either the protagonist is going through a separation or a divorce, but this theme is also often shown via other characters close to the protagonist who are going through the same thing.
Tragedy: Tragedies ripped from the headlines will always attract agents and editors, that’s for sure. A murder next door, an uncanny accident that has taken away everything the protagonist held dear (as in our example above), or something even stranger: a person has gone missing, and now the protagonist has to deal with the fallout, regardless of whether the missing person is a parent, a loved one, a child, or a husband. A common advice you may come across is to run to an agent or an editor whenever a tragic story from newspaper headlines inspires you. We only wish to add that you take care in your portrayal of said tragedy. Do it justice. Do not use someone else’s tragic reality just to get published – if you’re writing about it, write with sincerity and empathy, otherwise you may find a lot of angry readers among your reviewers.
Parenting: Parenting is one of the hardest tasks we would ever undertake, and it has no relation to gender. Being a father can be just as difficult as being a mother. Your protagonist may have to deal with her troubled teenagers, or she may need to step up and help her significant other find his footing when taking care of children. Like divorce, in this day and age, parenting is a theme that has been a part of Women’s Fiction for some time, and will probably remain that way. Which brings us to the next theme.
Familial Dynamics: Often, it’s not just a mother, a father, and two and a half kids to take care of. Sometimes families expand: grandparents move in because of external reasons, and the household is shaken up – and so is your protagonist. Other times, families dwindle to only two or three members, and those who are left need to pick up the pieces. Maybe the protagonist loses a child, and we get to see how she and her partner deal with it. The most common occurrence, when losing a child, is the end of a marriage, the two people who had decided to make a family together being unable to do so once the child is gone.
These themes are not easy to handle and to write about. Of course, the way you tackle a theme will depend solely on you, however, if you are too light in your interpretation, your fiction may get the label of Chick Lit, rather than Women’s Fiction. There is nothing wrong with writing a Chick Lit novel, of course, because each genre has its own worth, however, when you’re aiming for Women’s Fiction, there needs to be a depth to your themes. It’s fun to watch the protagonist wait in line for that Black Friday sale because she really wants that pair of Jimmy Choo’s, and it’s a great representation of going after want you want because you want it, regardless of what anyone might say or think, but it’s also not Women’s Fiction.
4. Writing a character driven story
In general, across all fiction, we can find two different types of stories: plot-driven and character-driven. Of course, the best stories are always equally balanced, driven by both character and plot. However, even so, one or the other prevails. For example, take an action adventure novel: it will be largely driven by the plot. Imagine a group of kids and a single teenager trapped in a magical world inside a cave. The story is driven by the plot: they need to get out. The story is driven by the characters, but they’re mostly in problem solving mode the whole time.
Now, imagine a different story. A woman is trapped, not inside a cave, but inside her own skin. Here, her cave is represented by her past, her present, and her relationships. She is trapped by her daily routine and a deep-seated need for change, often times subconscious. In these types of stories, the protagonist’s world is shaken up by an event, and maybe this will not change her routine or surroundings, but it will change how she views them. The protagonist is hit by an emotional inner conflict, and she needs to find inner peace again. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need a plot that will hold the novel together. For that reason, there is always an external conflict going, a conflict that represents the protagonist’s inner turmoil.
For example, and this one may even be a bit of a cliché, a woman may need to help her baby sister or her daughter plan her wedding, just as she’s going through a divorce. The wedding serves as the framework for the story, and the external plot revolves around it.
5. Driving forces in Women’s Fiction
As we mentioned already, there are two plots going on in Women’s Fiction: the external and the internal one. Both are driven by the protagonist, and the external conflict is a mirror for the internal one. As such, what exactly are these plots driven by?
The first and foremost, is the protagonist. Who she is as a character? What are her principles and scruples? Second, what is her situation? How does it change? Most importantly, how does she react to this change? Is it a welcome one or does she try to keep doing things the same way as before? Is she traditional in her way of thinking and feeling, or is she more open for the next experience? Third, who is she surrounded with? How many character comprise your primary cast of characters? What are their principles and morals? How do they clash with the heroine’s morals? More importantly, how do their goals crash with the heroine’s goals?
Next, what are the relationships that the protagonist has with the primary cast of characters? How are these relationships challenged? Going back to the themes we mentioned, once you choose which themes you will tackle in your novel, it’s time to represent them through the heroine’s values, and then attack those values through choices that you will present before the protagonist. Friendship, romance, what do these things mean for the protagonist and the people in her life? How big of a role does romance play in the heroine’s life? Of course, focusing much of the story on romance may catapult your novel into the romance genre. However, the main difference between women’s fiction and romance is that in women’s fiction, a happy ending with the love interest is not guaranteed. In a women’s fiction novel, the goal of the protagonist is to find happiness and inner peace, with or without a partner. That’s what motivates her to continue on the inner journey and complete her arc as a character.
Part II: Crafting a Women’s Fiction Story
Crafting a fiction story is never easy. Different genres have different demands. For example, writing a good science fiction or fantasy story requires extensive worldbuilding, often an action packed plot, and layered characters that will drive the story.
When it comes to Women’s Fiction, depending on where you set it, you will face different demands. You can set your novel in the past, for example, and that will require extensive research, and the era you will portray carries several themes by default, and since this is women’s fiction, many of them will revolve around the societal position of women at that particular time. In addition, your story may find a better place in historical fiction.
If your setting is contemporary, as it is in most cases, then you already have the world – all you need to do is look outside your window. And once you create your protagonist, of which we’ll talk extensively in this section, you can move forward to creating the story around her.
1. Creating the protagonist
In a character-driven novel, everything – and absolutely everything – depends on a well-developed protagonist. There are a few ways where you can go wrong.
First, creating a Mary Sue protagonist. She has been abandoned by her husband, has to raise a small child, yet everywhere she goes, men fall at her feet, ready to beg for her hand, she faces zero to no conflict at work because she’s quite beautiful, even though she feels ugly when she looks in the mirror. It goes without saying that this perfect, ideal character will be difficult to relate to, and the audience may not be that invested in her story. And since this is Women’s Fiction, and there has to be some depth and maybe even tragedy, why not leave her almost alone in the world, without parents or friends to help her along?
The second error refers to the other extreme. An over confident protagonist who can do no wrong, arrogant to the point of being insulting, without a shred of self-awareness, empathy, conscience, and other negative qualities can also make the protagonist difficult to relate to. More importantly, readers will not be invested in the story of a character with whom not only they cannot relate to – but actively dislike or even hate.
What is needed is a balance between flaws and strengths, things that come easy to the protagonist and things that she needs to work to overcome. This doesn’t mean creating a protagonist according to a certain set of rules dictated by your intended audience (who, most often, like to read about good women in unfortunate situations finding their own footing back again), but creating a nuanced protagonist with a lot of layers, some of those layers may even contradict themselves, because contradictions are pretty normal for everyone, in and out of fiction.
So, how is this achieved?
First, you need to know your protagonist. Who she is, what she does, and what are her values and principles. Her past, as well as her present situation, as we talked about before. Add in her strengths and her flaws. And then, as you’re writing your novel, get to know your protagonist even better. Some of this will probably be pre-planned, but a lot of your protagonist’s aspects will show organically in the course of the novel. And finally, keep in mind, throughout your novel, what is your protagonist’s goal – and what she wants and what she actually needs. Which of her aspects will change – need to change – in the course of your novel? Where will she be, psychologically speaking, at the end of the novel? What will she have learned?
Once you know all of these things, ask yourself, how will the protagonist achieve these things – how will this change occur, and then you can start crafting the plot.
2. Crafting a character driven plot
We talked about the difference between plot-driven and character-driven stories, and how Women’s Fiction novels fall into the latter category. Now, let’s take a look at how, exactly, you can craft a plot that’s driven by character, rather than action.
Crafting a plot, in essence, is planning the course of your novel, determining and outlining most of the events and the most dramatic scenes that need to happen in the novel. Some writers make this outline and follow it vigorously as they write the novel. Others decide to keep the outline as a narrative guide for the story, but branch out when they feel the need to follow that tangent. Sometimes, that tangent can change the whole story, other times, you may be able to incorporate that tangent into the overall story.
When it comes to plot, especially action-based plot, there is an external problem – or a threat – that the protagonist has to solve. A city is being invaded, or a murder has happened and the protagonist needs to solve it.
When it comes to character based plot, the most important part of the journey is inside the protagonist. For that reason, the external problem that the protagonist needs to solve is not a bomb that she needs to disarm, but what that problem causes inside her.
To keep in line with our previous example, let’s go back to Melinda. She is a single mother who has lost most of her family members. Alone in the world, she must provide for her children. A promotion seems like the ideal chance to do it. She is reluctant, because that means spending less time with her children, but she accepts the challenge. At first, it seems like she made the right choice: the pay is bigger, even if the days are longer. Even if she sometimes has to take the whole weekend to go on a business trip. Her happily married – but childless – friends are there to help take care of the kids. However, her absence begins to have an effect. Her child may throw a tantrum and want for his favorite Aunt Betty. Doubts start creeping inside Melinda, and the work is not going so great either. Her confidence takes a hit – is she being a bad mother? Was she fooling herself for choosing to pursue a career?
Depending on Melinda, we can construct the plot around her, until Melinda comes to a point where she makes the right decision: and this decision doesn’t necessarily mean that she would quit her job. Since most of the focus is on her character, it’s not important if she remains on the job or not, what matters is her own perspective of her job, her life as a career woman, her life as a mother – and deal with her own grief of losing her family. Her priorities will have shifted, and in the end, the protagonist has to receive what she really needs in order to make the right choice at the turn of the story.
Plot can be easily defined by its five parts: exposition, where at the end, you introduce the inciting incident that will spark the change within the protagonist; rising action: where the protagonist has made a choice to deal with a present problem or situation (accepting the promotion); the climax: where things are at their best; then you have falling action (where the protagonist faces the consequences of the first decision), which leads to the resolution moment – where the protagonist makes the right decision based on how she changed during the course of the story, followed by the resolution itself – or the conclusion of the novel.
What you need to remember is that all of the above will happen inside the protagonist. Your job, as the writer, is to bring these out via an external conflict that represents the inner one – by putting the protagonist in situations where she has to adjust, adapt, and accept many parts about herself and her life in order to achieve her goal.
3. Choosing the narrative voice
One of the most important factors in any novel is the narrative voice – or the narrator. There are three ways you can go: an omnipresent point of view, first person, or third person limited.
An omnipresent point of view is inadvisable to use in Women’s Fiction, unless you’re focusing on multiple characters at the same time. Not to mention, omnipresent point of view can be jarring to read, since you’re jumping from one character’s thoughts and perceptions to another one. In addition, Women’s Fiction often demands focus on the protagonist, and an omnipresent point of view will take that focus away from her.
First person point of view is interesting, because it puts the readers directly into the protagonist’s head. And here, it’s very important to remember that you need to write it in the protagonist’s voice – make it seem as if they’re speaking to the reader. So if you want to add flowery descriptions of scenes and buildings and people, make sure that your protagonist sounds like that in dialogue as well.
Third person limited point of view offers the best of both worlds. Though you’re still focused on the protagonist, there is still the separate voice of the narrator. This allows for use of the unreliable narrator to keep secrets from the readers until the right moment. In addition, here, the voice of the protagonist comes out the most through dialogue, and while everything needs to be her observation, you have more freedom when it comes to writing style.
4. Creating a cast of characters
We can divide the cast of characters into two groups: primary and secondary. The primary group of characters are the other people in the protagonist’s life: family members, friends, coworkers, bosses, and other people who will have a role in the story and an impact on the protagonist: like a love interest or a close friend. You need to know the primary cast just as well as you know the protagonist. These characters need to be fleshed out, they need to be as realistic as possible, and most importantly, they need a character’s arc of their own. Something within them also needs to change along the course of the story – maybe not on a scale as the protagonist, but still a change, preferably impacted, or caused, by the protagonist or her actions. These characters need to have their own voices, and unique relationships with the protagonist. These relationships help move the character-driven plot forward, because these character will also have an impact on the protagonist herself, and her journey throughout the book is an internal one.
The secondary cast of characters are the characters the protagonist will meet in passing: an elderly at a hospital, a grocery clerk she sometimes talks to, her neighbors, who may ignore her, gossip about her, or help her when she needs help. It’s a tough job to bring these characters to life because they get so little “page time” in the novel. However, you can flesh these out by giving them a unique way of dressing, moving, talking. A receptionist at a hotel can be a nice, but forgettable, or she can be intimidating, sloe-eyed, and quite sarcastic in her remarks.
But, regardless of which group the characters belong in, they need to have a purpose in the story. If the heroine gets a love interest: ask yourself, is that person really necessary? Which aspects of the heroine does this person bring out, and what kind of an impact does the heroine have on that person in turn? How does this person help move the story forward? If you don’t have an answer to that question, then either find a specific role for the character, or try to axe them and see if the story undergoes a lot of changes. If not, then that character wasn’t really necessary after all.
5. Incorporating themes
One of the biggest challenges that a writer has to face when writing a novel (of any genre) is how to incorporate the prevailing themes. You may have these at the beginning, plan your story around them. For example, if you choose to tackle dealing with grief in your novel, then you need to decide what happened to the protagonist: if she lost a friend, or a family member, her husband, boyfriend, or her decade-old pet that she’d had since high school.
Or, you can create the character first, and her situation and journey organically point to a contemporary theme. In this case, it’s very important to remember what you’re trying to say about a certain theme, and whether that’s a realistic view on it or not. For example, loss and grief are delicate themes, and you do not want to make it seem as if a woman can get over the grief of losing her husband by just finding another man.
Another thing that may prove challenging is to limit yourself to only a few different themes. Oh, you can choose a single theme and have many characters represent different aspects and situations within it (for example, a woman who is struggling to conceive a child may have a friend who has three loud troublemakers that have given her premature grey hairs, and there may be a third friend in the group who has sworn to never have children at all). This way of tackling all aspects of a theme is a good way to incorporate a certain theme.
However, stay away from trying to incorporate all the ideas you have in mind in one novel via showcasing and representing many different themes. Having too many themes means you wouldn’t really be able to give your main themes the proper focus they need to really shine and come to light.
6. On preaching and instructions
Every writer has his or her own opinions about anything and everything. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, you’re going in a wrong direction when you try to adapt your story – the protagonist, the theme, the plot, everything – so that it will fit your opinion.
The idea is to tell a story, to impact the readers, and to make them think. For example, showing a theme in many different situations will make the reader stop and think and come up with their own conclusions about it. This cannot happen if you’re trying to force your own interpretation – your own opinion – of a theme into the novel.
It’s not your job to give other women instructions on how to live their lives. When you’re including romance, you do not want to imply that the heroine only got the man in the end because she fixed herself and her own problems. In real life, solving your inner problems, chasing some of those demons away rewards you with peace, with enlightenment, and even happiness. But that does not necessarily mean that you will find your soulmate as a reward. That’s why some – if not most – romance stories within women’s fiction are either on the periphery, or end without a happy ending – but with a sense of peace, acceptance and a betterment for the protagonist. The protagonist, regardless of how the novel, or the romance, ends, is happy where she is and she is happy inside her skin. This happiness needs to be an organic result of her journey – not because she did everything that you would do in every situation. In that case, you’re not writing fiction, you’re writing a novel that might as well be a memoir or an autobiography disguised as a novel.
So, forget about your beliefs. Instead, look at the themes you’re incorporating and try to show as many different aspects of it as you can through the protagonist and the characters that are closest to her.
Part III: Editing and Publishing a Women’s Fiction Novel
Once you’re done writing the novel, you will only have a first draft. A first draft is almost never ready for any kind of publication – or submission to agents and editors. However, at this point, you know what the story is about, so you can start sending query letters to agents – who accept Woman’s Fiction and represent other Women’s Fiction authors. So, do your research, and prepare a good query letter.
In the meantime, start editing your novel – by yourself, or maybe even hire a beta reader or a professional editor. There are benefits to getting another pair of eyes – and another mind too – to focus on your story and decide what works in it and what doesn’t. However, when it comes to the story, the narrative voice, and the themes – it’s better to take a deep look at your first draft on your own.
It’s advisable to take some time away from the story – a week, a month, however long you need – in order to be able to view and experience the story with fresh eyes and a clear mind. Because chances are, the story will need a lot of changes, and you may be unable to make these changes because the original first draft is freshly etched into your mind.
Let’s take a broad look at the editing process – and the publishing process in general.
1. Editing the narrative voice
You will go through many edits with your novel, and each edit will focus on different things. However, the most important one is for the narrative voice, especially if you’re writing in first person point of view, or third person limited where you’ve tried to adapt your writing style to the character – as if the protagonist is basically talking about herself and her story in third person.
In this case, you need to make sure that the narrative matches the protagonist – each sentence, each word, each description. If the character is impatient and hyperactive by nature, would she really “spend” a whole page describing a building or a meal? Or would she share the things that grabbed her attention and move on?
Would the character really use a specific word, or would she say it differently?
In addition, you need to ensure that each character speaks with a unique voice in dialogue. Would a child use a complicated word that they may not know for their age? If yes, then the adults surely must comment on it, or maybe they will find it natural because they know that the child is precocious and too smart for their own good. Would a person who spends her days waitressing tables have the vocabulary and manners of an academic person? If yes, then you need to explain it in the novel, or give a reason to it.
Ensuring the purity of the voice of both the protagonist and the characters means that your novel will be rich, vibrant, and alive. The readers will feel like they know these people, had met them on the street and had a chat with them, and this in turn ensures that the readers will be invested in the fate of the characters and want to know what happens to them.
Anything that will threaten that immersion – like the voice of the author prevailing, coming out of almost all of the characters, who all sound the same, and in the protagonist’s voice too – will ensure that your readers may not come back for a repeat experience when you write your next novel, and they may not even finish reading this one.
2. Internal problems and external representations
Before editing the story – or editing your novel while focusing only on the story and plot – you need to ask yourself if the balance between the protagonist’s internal problems are well represented on the exterior. For example, a woman, a sous-chef, who is afraid of having children, may need to take care of the restaurant when the head chef doesn’t show. It’s a good representation of someone afraid to be in charge and responsible for children, because now she has to take care of a whole restaurant.
On the other hand, if that same character was faced with a whole day babysitting her best friend’s triplets, it may offer a better representation of the internal problem, and it will force the protagonist to take charge and take care of three babies in the course of a day, causing the beginning of an emotional journey for her where she has to decide what she really wants – and whether she chooses to have kids or not – and be at peace with her decision.
So analyze your novel with a critical eye, and ask yourself if all of the external events that happen in the novel are a good representation of the protagonist’s inner problems. Going back to the same example, maybe the sous-chef has been stuck in that position for a few years, always picking up after the head chef and fixing his mistakes. Maybe she is considering striking out on her own, and being in charge of the restaurant when the head-chef doesn’t show up for the shift is the push she needs to look deep into herself and discover what was the real reason that was holding her back, because clearly, she could handle that situation and being in charge.
3. Editing the story
After analyzing your story from the aspect of internal issues and external representations, it’s time to determine if the changes – if you had any in mind – will change the heart of the story. If yes, then you need to determine if the changes make for a better story, a better representation of the theme you had in mind, and if you have managed to explore everything you initially wanted to explore with the central, core themes.
If you didn’t make any changes in the previous step, now is the time to take a good look at the plots: the internal one and the external one, and ensure that all of the events that these plots string together make sense – from the perspective of cause and effect. Remember, cause and effect are the links in the chain that is your story – and one effect can have multiple causes (and the resolution moment, the moment when your protagonist makes the right decision, or in our case with character-drive plots, comes to a deep understanding of her own self), and one cause can have multiple effects (this is important for the first decision that the protagonist makes), direct ones and indirect ones – which often need to be more extreme in nature.
4. Analyzing the scenes
After you’ve edited for story or plot, it’s time to analyze each of your scenes – not just the major ones, but all of the scenes. Basically, the job of a scene is to present the protagonist with a problem – then when the protagonist tries to solve it, an obstacle shows, amplifying the protagonist’s tension until something happens to break it – a bang or a whimper, as in, an emotional explosion, or a quiet end of the tension where the protagonist has achieved the momentary goal, and is now moving on to the next step, the next problem, the next obstacle or the next task that has come out as a direct result of previous scenes.
The second part of a scene is marked by reflection, the moments where the protagonist reflects on what happened and comes to a certain conclusion – right or wrong – and decides, for better or worse, what to do next about that problem.
5. Chapters, paragraphs, sentences
It’s necessary to analyze the scenes by themselves first, because most often, scenes that follow the conflict – reflection route create a nice pace throughout the book, where chapters and scenes are connected with a nice pace. A good pace for a novel is when the reader enjoys the ride without stopping – or as close to that as possible, meaning that when you reflect – or introduce flashbacks, the pace slows down. When the protagonist actively pursues the next goal, we’re presented with action and a faster pace, not to mention dramatic scenes with arguments and outbursts.
However, when it comes to chapters, ensure that the chapters are not too short or too long. This does not mean that all chapters need to have the same number of scenes or the same length. A chapter should need to be as long as it needs to be, without being too short or too long. A chapter needs to feel like a completed piece of the novel, even if it ends on a cliffhanger. In fact, ending the chapters on cliffhangers (cliffhangers that make sense within the story and the narrative) is a good way to ensure that the readers won’t be able to put the novel down without discovering what happens next.
The same applies to paragraphs and sentences. Do not break paragraphs unnecessarily, but if a paragraph starts to feel like it’s too long, then consider rewriting it by using fewer words. And when it comes to sentences, it’s interesting, from an intellectual perspective, to try to write longer sentences, or flowery ones riddled with metaphors and similes, but that doesn’t mean that the readers will enjoy reading them. (Case in point, ask yourself if you enjoyed the previous sentence).
Another type of edit that you should skip is, of course, proofreading. This is where beta readers come in and take a good look in your manuscript and seek out potential plot holes, inconsistencies in character, as well as wrong words or misspellings. In addition, you can proofread your novel yourself, and pay special attention to repetitive words: words that you’re using so often in your writing that you barely notice.
And when all of these edits are done, your novel is ready. You can submit it to agents and editors, or you can try to publish it independently.
6. Genres and publishing your novel
Genres and labels are mostly used in the publishing world to let the readers know, in general, what the story is about. A melodrama is something different than a family drama, and chick lit is different than women’s fiction.
If you’re getting published traditionally, and your publisher wants to label your novel as a romance, do not let this happen, especially if your story has very little romance and there is no happy ending for the relationship itself. You may have felt like you’ve written a family drama, only to have your publisher insist on women’s fiction.
Point is, your novel is going to get a label, and it’s very good when that label is the one that you were aiming for. Every genre has its target audience, however, so make sure that you know and research what that audience wants in a novel before you attach a label to your novel, especially if you’re trying to self-publish it.
Each genre and label have their own rules and expectations in general, from the cover to the back of the novel, to the format – hardback, paperback, eBook. In any event, try to match the genre’s expectations. The cover needs to relay the story that’s hiding inside, the blurb needs to present a hook so that readers will pick it up.
Getting traditionally published means that the publisher will decide on most things: the cover, the blurb, the author’s biography, as well as the formatting. The marketing for your novel will also fall into their hands, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot give this process a push.
On the other hand, if you’re self-publishing, you will need to do all of the above by yourself. So, research everything related to self-publishing, from platforms where you can do it, to how to find the right price for your novel, to genre rules about the cover and the blurb. And the best way to give your novel a good head start on the market is to, of course, write a good story about a compelling protagonist with a fulfilling ending.
Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As a screenwriting student, she is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, watching a film or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her own.