The words we use and how we compose them on the page are the building blocks for your novel. If you think of a novel as a ladder, it’s your job to keep the reader motivated so (s)he will willingly climb to the top. Each sentence represents a step to the next rung, and reading can quickly become hard work if you’re not careful.
My approach is to cut out the fat and keep my sentences as tight as possible so the reader can get to the next rung with the least amount of effort. When I wrote the first draft of my novel I was all about trying to impress people with fancy words. You know, I wanted to be an “author”, which at the time meant I needed to unzip my fly and attempt to pull out some ridiculous adjectives and turns of phrase.
In my quest to figure out my “voice” (best I can tell, that’s code for how you like to write in the publishing industry) I would research popular authors. My strategy was two fold: find interviews with successful authors in my genre, and when I liked what I heard, read their books to see how they applied themselves. While I was reading I would analyze their work and take away the things that resonated with me.
One author in particular that hit home for me was James Patterson. I’ve read a bunch of his interviews, but one in particular was with one of his coauthors Mark Sullivan on Publisher’s Weekly. The advice Yoda and King of bestsellers gave him really struck a chord with me.
“We are in the business of entertainment, not edification or enlightenment.”
“What most people who attempt commercial fiction don’t understand is that you have to write the way people talk.”
No shit. That makes a hell of a lot of sense. I immediately went and bought a Patterson novel and read it, and then got another and came to the conclusion that he’s absolutely right and I’m a dumbass. I was writing to sound smart, but if my goal is to entertain people, then I’d better take an objective look at what I’ve done and make a decision.
I then read the first couple chapters of my novel with prose in mind, took a deep breath, and began to rewrite most of the novel.
Do yourself a favor and before you start writing you should ask yourself some questions like:
- Who am I writing for?
- What is selling right now in my genre, and is there something that the bestsellers have in common?
- What authors do I find pleasurable to read?
- What about my favorite authors make sense for me to emulate?
There are plenty of other things you should consider before you get started, but before you start writing you’ll want to give some serious thought about your reader experience. You can try my approach and take the best from the best with respect to what resonates with you, and toss it all together to come up with your own “voice”. The jury is still out on whether I’ve done a good job with that or not.