As a reviewer, I look for some key points. First and foremost, the most common detraction to a novel is poor editing. While typos or grammatical errors are found in most novels, more than 2 or 3 become a distraction. Novels rife with poor grammar and superfluous words quickly lose appeal.
One of my pet peeves is the word “that.” It is an overused word that, in many cases, does not need to be included. I am guilty of this habit and always go back through my work to ensure I have eliminated every “that” possible.
Lengthy passages of narrative relating events are sure to cause a reader’s eyes to glaze. Instead, characters conducting conversations or engaging in activities to impart the information keeps the reader in the moment. This technique is valuable for immersing the reader completely.
While on the topic of narrative, passive sentences slow action. Sluggish progression equates reader boredom. A tightly written novel with active wording and succinct dialogue zings with vitality. The pace has highs and lows. Readers need to catch their breath after a climatic event, but not for too long. An outstanding novel wraps up almost immediately after the final climax. To continue on for a few chapters with explanations of what happened afterwards ruins what could be an excellent finale.
Authors who complete comprehensive character studies “know” their characters intimately. A cynical character who, inexplicably, becomes tender and forgiving in Chapter 3 before reverting back to sardonic in Chapter 4 goes beyond suspension of disbelief. Well-developed characters evolve throughout a novel in a convincing fashion.
Now to what is called the “story world.” A novel lacks depth when it skims over the characters’ environment or contains easily notable inaccuracies or discrepancies. Credibility is lost if a character pops an 8-track tape into his 1954 Ford Customline telling his passenger how “cool” the Back Street Boys are. If a dog is black at the commencement, he’d better be black at the conclusion.
Fantasy, paranormal and science fiction story worlds have more liberalities, yet they must also be plausibly constructed. Fans of the genre expect intricate, imaginative settings, but still require some familiar grounding. Even Star Trek’s Spock had his rare moments of emotion.
Not just a few of these elements are essential for an outstanding novel. They all are.
Darlene Elizabeth Williams reviews historical fiction at http://darleneelizabethwilliamsauthor.com/ (under the HF Reviews tab) and is currently working on her first historical fiction novel.