I highly recommend Mur Lafferty’s blog post from last Friday for any writer looking for the secret ingredient that will make his/her book great. As I continue to work on my novel about a ghost hunter, I found a few of her points especially instructive to me, though all of them are worth considering:
Raise the stakes. Up to this point in my story (I’m around two-thirds of the way to my target word count), I’ve suggested that the villain has the capacity to kill, but no one has actually died yet. I’m not saying that someone will be killed in this novel (I haven’t decided yet), but it’s definitely on the table for consideration. As I tried to convey in Acts of Desperation, nothing raises tension like a character whose life is in danger.
Adventure changes people. My main characters are going through some very difficult events. I don’t think I’m spoiling much by saying that the ghost hunter has been around the block with ghosts a few times, but the person he’s trying to help is experiencing this for the first time. Still, this fight must have a profound effect on both of them. I can see that one of my jobs as a writer is to decide what that effect will be, keeping in mind that it might not be positive.
Keep the action coming. Pacing is something I struggle with, especially in first drafts. My first novel (which is kept securely in a box in a closet at home) developed a reputation as an effective sleep aid, at least during the first half (beta readers have told me that the second half picked up considerably.) As I write about a man battling a supernatural being, I have to balance the exciting parts which are also supposed to be terrifying (come on — it’s a ghost already) with necessary down time for the characters. I don’t expect to have the balance right until the third draft or so.
If I can raise the stakes for my characters to a high enough point that readers will care, trace character arcs that change in reaction to the events of the story, and get the pacing right, I think I’ll produce a book worth reading. It’s that easy. Wish me luck.