Note from Jen: This is a guest post from my badass bud, David Villalva. He’s awesome. You need to check out his site here.
The epiphany struck in the bathroom.
I stood in front of the mirror as my inner voice revealed I was meant to write novels.
That revelation forced me to unleash the story living inside my head. I wrote everyday by the seat of my pants, and less than a year later, I celebrated the completion of a first draft.
During my first read through, it took me all of a few minutes to realize my story sucked all kinds of suck.
That’s because my story lacked focus. Every character drifted without purpose. Uh oh, I’d written a two-hundred plus page hopeless opus.
This enlightenment encouraged me to start looking into authors who had actually written and published novels. I ended up investing in an author’s lecture series where he asked one simple question:
“What’s the number one thing that readers want in a novel?”
I froze because I hadn’t considered that question. Of course, I knew why I wanted to write my story, but what would future readers want from it?
Did they want my story to inspire them? Educate them? Change them?
The author’s lecture shared the answer, but all I needed to do was look inside the very definition of the word, “story.”
Story (noun): An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
Novelists Must First and Foremost Entertain Readers
People want a form of escapism. They’re begging you to transport them into your created world, but it better be entertaining upon arrival.
Because if it falls short of their expectations, they’ll hop back into reality, and look for another novel that offers the right recipe of leisure. (Or cruise Facebook, Twitterest, Instachat, uh, you get the point…)
- Why did you read the last novel you purchased or borrowed?
- Did you read it to be inspired by the author?
- To be changed?
Come on, you probably read its synopsis, thought it looked fun, and leapt inside. If you got more than entertainment, that was a cherry on top.
Entertainment is the greatest common denominator among fiction readers.
Except far too many emerging novelists misplace the importance of this core ingredient. Heck, even well-known authors end up getting sidetracked during portions of their story.
Ever heard this one about a popular or trending novel? “Just get through the first fifty pages because then it gets really good.”
Do you really want someone talking about your story like that?
Of course not! Your goal is to captivate the reader on page one, and keep them hooked every chapter thereafter.
Fortunately, there’s a proven approach that you can use to increase your chances of giving readers what they want.
Explore the Proven Structure Living Inside Novels
Novels are pieces of art but even the most creative art often comes to life within a proven framework.
We all know that novels have a hook and climax, right? Well, it turns out the hook and climax are just two of the plot milestones inside a novel’s plot structure. There’s also a proven scene structure that moves your readers and characters throughout an overarching plotline.
I recommend emerging novelists explore the principles of story structure for the following reasons:
1. Readers expect to be entertained by a well-designed story.
People subconsciously know stories should have a special rhythm to them.
Readers have been encouraged to receive stories in a certain way because story structure has been infused into novels for decades. So audiences expect to experience plot milestones at specific intervals, meaning plot points occur at well-timed moments to deliver maximum impact.
And then there’s scene structure which helps pace readers to inhale, exhale, process, and absorb all of those special moments in your story.
2. Story structure focuses your ideas.
It’s a beautiful thing to be blessed with exciting story ideas except it can feel like a curse when you’re not sure how to use them.
Story structure can help you arrange your ideas inside a novel’s proven foundation. Don’t worry, this isn’t like painting by numbers because that approach tells you what colors to use. Story structure is more comparable to building a house.
Every house needs a solid foundation to make sure the big bad wolf can’t blow it down. But once that foundation is established, its interior and exterior can be customized in unique ways.
3. Story structure can solidify your mastery of the craft.
You may have instinctively picked up story structure through years of reading and writing.
I was amazed the first time I compared one of my drafts against story structure’s basic principles. That was the moment in my storytelling journey where I became lucid to how the pieces fit.
What if you’re already using some story structure principles without realizing it? Better yet, why not discover if story structure’s full potential can help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world?
Create Your Story With Purpose
People read novels to be entertained. It’s that simple.
So let’s take advantage of a proven approach that helps us give readers the entertainment they’re seeking.
Fortunately, story structure can help you, too! It can focus your ideas, solidify principles you’re instinctively using already, and help you finish a story you’re proud to share with the world.
Straight up, story structure isn’t going anywhere. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re open to going anywhere with it.
About the Author: David Villalva helps novelists write stories that connect with readers. Connect with him HERE to receive a free visual guide that illustrates the plot and scene structures used in best-selling novels and screenplays.
5 Replies to “The Most Important Ingredient in Every Novel (And One Proven Way to Deliver It to Readers)”
Thanks for returning us to the center. Readers want to be entertained and storytellers (the good ones) want to entertain. The novel is a multifaceted, heavily nuanced form that relies on basic order and organization to compel the reader to enter the dance and be, as you say, entertained. So very simple and so very profound. Excellent piece.
Stephanie, thanks for the eloquent and kind words. Thanks for the support, too! 🙂
I love how you just give me the “permission” I needed to not seek after anything other than entertaining my readers. For a long time, I wrote fiction and fell for the whole, “You have to have a platform – a message.” And I would always ask myself, “How in the heck do I come up with a platform for this fiction?” (I was writing in various genres). Well, I abandoned fiction for a time, and went to nonfiction. But my heart’s not really in it. I’m genre hopping AGAIN, just for the sake of writing entertaining fiction (it’s a cozy mystery – what kind of “message” is that supposed to have that’s different from any other cozy – “If you murder someone, you’re going to caught because you’re a bad guy.”). Now I can continue on in my cozy mystery writing endeavor, secure in the knowledge that my readers want nothing more from me than a good story. Thanks!
Thanks for the great article Stephanie. Entertainment. So simple, so overlooked in our endeavors.
@Daniel The article is by David Villavla (not Stephanie)