Beginning to read the next novel isn’t like buying the a house or car. And yet…
A novel is a commitment. So many novels to choose from, so little time. No one wants to waste it on the book that never deserved to be a bestseller, the dud your formerly favorite author must’ve completed over a weekend, or the unwanted gift of ungainly fiction from your least favorite sister-in-law. You’d prefer to choose your own books, thank-you-very-much, and your choices depend on avoiding the following mishaps.
Deal Breaker: Predictability.
She doesn’t want him. He doesn’t want her. But if there’s lots of emphasis on their apathy, you know that they must want each other by the end. Yawn.
Deal Maker: Readers are positive the plot’s headed in a certain direction and—wham—it’s as much a twist as it is credible.
Deal Breaker: Repetition.
Sam tells Nancy he’s leaving her. But Nancy needs Roger, who’s madly in love with her, to know about Sam’s bittersweet surprise. So the novelist blithely reiterates the conversation to Roger. No. No, no, no!
Deal Maker: Once readers know it, only repeat it if it adds tension.
Deal Breaker: Impossible sentences.
There’s more than one kind. Unable to break free, she hissed and then she bit him and before long she spit at his eye and she and oh! Please! And that’s more than enough. Or. The boy who is the leader of the student council elected in an unprecedented vote because the preppie got kicked out of school for drugs is known for discarding girls even the prettiest and most popular ones, like Kleenex.
Deal Maker: Clean sentences are inviting sentences.
Deal Breaker: Point of view irritants.
It felt like roving or omniscient, but now suddenly it’s limited to a single character. Or we’ve heard only from Prudence for ninety-six pages, but here’s Roderigo. What’s up? Not enthusiasm for the next page.
Deal Maker: Point of view is always and only in the eye of the reader. If it kinda feels like a violation, then it unquestionably is. What’s “legal” doesn’t apply.
Deal Breaker: Disastrous dialogue.
Does the dialogue reveal pertinent information that’s meant to inform the reader and isn’t even vaguely credible? Does the dialogue sound exactly like real life? Are the dialogue passages long and tedious rather than snappy? Do the characters shout exactly what’s troubling them, or do they use subtext?
Deal Maker: Great dialogue only resembles people talking. Because that’s tedious to read.
Tip: If you’re a novelist, you’re a reader. What breaks a deal for you? Your readers feel the same.