Every writer wants to write a great novel, but not every writer knows the secret that can make the difference between a successful novel and a failure. The secret that every writer needs to know is that every novel is a mystery. I know that might sound ridiculous at first, especially if you’re writing a romance or a science fiction novel. At their core, though, even westerns and horror stories are mysteries.
Let me explain what I mean. When I say that every novel is a mystery, I mean that there is something (a mystery) that the main character must figure out during the story. In a murder mystery, this is pretty obvious. The main character must figure out who committed the murder. This search for the murderer then provides the framework around which the rest of the story is structured. In a romance, the protagonist may need to figure out how to get the man she loves to fall in love with her. In a science fiction novel, the main character may need to figure out how to get back home after his spaceship crashes on an alien planet. In each of these cases, solving the mystery in the story provides the framework.
When you’re writing a novel, this mystery can’t just be a passing comment in the story. It needs to be the bones of the story. Therefore, the very first step in writing your novel is to figure out what mystery your main character is going to solve.
First, answer these questions: What is my character’s main task during the story? What does he or she need to find out?
Next, give your main character a seriously compelling reason for completing their task. Let’s use our previous science fiction novel as an example. Our main character needs to figure out how to get back home because he wants to witness the birth of his first child. Maybe he is carrying a vaccine that can cure an epidemic on his home planet. Maybe he only has three days of breathable air. Maybe he has a message that must be delivered to the president in order to prevent war. The more dire the consequences, the better the story will be. The list of possibilities is endless.
If you’ve already written a novel, check to see if you can write a mystery statement. If not, there’s a good chance your novel lacks focus. I’ve seen some pretty decent writers spend a lot of time writing very mediocre books which sold only a few copies because they ignored this simple secret.
Make your novel a great novel by finding the mystery in it.
Julie Coan has been a writer and educator for more than twenty years. The Novel Writing Academy contains a unique step by step system for planning, writing, publishing, and marketing your novel. If you’re serious about becoming a writer, the Novel Writing Academy is the place for you. Click here to go to find out