Friday, November 25, 2011

Guest Allison Knight Tells Us What She Thinks Makes a Really Good Novel

At an early age I learned to read. That love of the printed word translated into trips to the local library, my grandmother's bookshelf, even the books at home. I still giggle a bit when I think of the books I hid from my mother, when I should have been cleaning or washing or doing some other chore.

Now that I'm a writer as well as a reader, I analyze why books, especially the ones with an HEA, ending fascinate so. I've come to the conclusion most people read to get lost in another world, or a different time period. There's also the need to escape from reality. Some people read to learn something, but I think romance readers also want to share in the emotions of the book characters. So the question that follows is --

What makes a good novel really good?

I’ve been writing fiction for nearly thirty years now and I think I’ve learned what I believe are the three most important points in writing that darned good book.

First, I learned you better start with action, or dialogue and it had better be where the story really begins. It doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t know the hero or the heroine or the murderer yet. The first couple of sentences, the first couple of paragraphs had better be the start of something important. You can tell us later what happened before, maybe at the end of the second, third, or fourth chapter. But start off with the immediate. The long detailed explanation or scene setting no longer fits our life style. We move fast; we get bored easily. It has to be in the here and now.

Second, I learned much of a books today need to be full of dialogue. Good dialogue, in the voice of the character, with indications about what he’s feeling, doing, or how he’s reacting. If the heroine is despondent, then she can talk followed by an action – hanging her head, wiping away tears so the hero can’t see them, or even flopping into a chair. Just remember, if you're in her view point she can't see the gloomy expression on her face.

Third, and just as important as the other two, especially in a romance, the reader has to know there are problems right from page one. If it is a romance the hero and heroine don’t have to be together on page one, we just need to know things are anything but good, and we understand they are not going to go well. He can be a tycoon, she a struggling artist. He can be a bad boy, just out of prison and she the daughter of the most honest politician the town has ever known. They have to be different, enough to make the story interesting so at the end the reader can say, “Ah, isn’t that nice. They solved their problems and now they’ll live happily ever after.”

It took me years to figure all this out, but I now read with the soul process of deciding why I like a particular story. The reasons are always the same. The story starts right away, there’s lot of dialogue and the hero and heroine have what seems like an insolvable problem at the beginning of the book. I’ll also add the bigger, the more difficult it will be to solve the problem, the better the story. With the next good book you read, think about my three points. I suspect you’ll find that’s what makes it a good book for you too.

Alwyn ab Brynn Ffrydd wants revenge against a powerful Baron without losing his king's support. What better way to exact revenge than to kidnap the Baron's long time mistress. But she is not what he thinks she is.

Shy, unworldly Milisent Mortimore has been confined for nine years by a brother who now demands she agree to wed a cruel, heartless man. Thanks to her father's will, she has the right to chose her mate or her spouse will lose her inheritance.

When Alwyn kidnaps her, desires flares and together they must struggle against the treachery of Alwyn's current mistress, her brother and the man he wants her to marry.

In defying all three, Alwyn places his life at risk. Milisent saves him from certain death and together they celebrate their life of love.

Allison has graciously offered to give away a digital copy of Windsong to one lucky commenter. What do you think makes a really great novel?

Allison Knight
'Heart-warming Romance With A Sensual Touch'
Award winning author, Allison Knight claims she's married to the world's greatest husband because he's her biggest supporter and works with her on all her projects. The mother of four children, Allison retired from teaching to enjoy her six grandkids but now that they've grown, her three cats. She has published seventeen romances, her latest, available November, 2011, is the third in a series of medieval romances about the members of a thirteenth century Welsh family drawn into the turmoil of the times.
Because she can never quite step out of teaching mode, she blogs often sharing the knowledge she gained writing and publishing in the romance genre. She also loves to talk about the growing digital market.


Brenda Whiteside said...

Your post is so timely for me. I'm in the midst of an edit and your points pound home what I need to rework. Your book sounds exciting and so "romancey".

Jannine Gallant said...

I've had comments like, "Wow, so much dialogue in your books." I guess that's a good thing because I also hear they're fast paced. I think good dialogue really speeds up the book and makes it "readable." Your other points are spot on. Thanks for the terrific post.

Allison said...

Thanks Brenda and Jannine. It took me a while to figure it out, but I think it paid off in the end.


Jacki C. said...

Windsong sounds like a great story. For me, what makes a really great novel are the characters, the dialogue, and the ability to picture the scenes.

CC Kaufman said...

Thank you Allison, I am learning the trade and it pays to be reminded of the basic, important facts.The trick is to apply what I learn with some style.

Rita Bay said...

Great post, Allison. Love that dialogue. Usually skim the narrative when it gets too long. Rita Bay

Ciara Gold said...

Too fun. I've found that the more I write, the more I do what you do when I read. It's hard to read for just pleasure because I want to dissect as well. But tension in a romance is what I like best and the more tension the Hero and Heroine have to wade through, the stronger the HEA. Great post.

Teresa K. said...

Hi Allison,

I do agree with you the characters have to have a great dialog. I also think you have to have that chemistry. Yeah they can start out as enemies but there's that sexual attraction chemistry that is so tense you could string a guitar from it.
I also like a lot of descriptive writing. For than I can picture the scenes in my mind like a movie.

When I'm writing for fun, my son say's when he reads my work, it is like watching a movie. He says; "you so in detail or descriptive, I can really see the hero & the heroine like I'm watching it on tv".
I guess that's a good thing. I haven't tried to write professional. Maybe someday.

I also think you heroine and hero should be strong characters not wimpy. I get disgusted with a wimpy character for in real life, most people are going to fight to survive one way or another.

Teresa K.
tcwgrlup41(at)yahoo dot com

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Allison,
Great blog. You have hit the nail right on the head. Readers of today want the here and now, not like a few years ago, when you could slowly draw the readers into your story.



Allison said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.
I guess once you're a teacher you can't stop. So glad I helped some of you and a special thanks to those who say I got it right.

Fedora said...

That makes sense, Allison--I think those elements do make a good story! In the best stories, the characters are ones that I can feel I relate to, even if they are completely different from me--the author allows me to make a connection, and I truly care what happens to them. Otherwise it doesn't matter how exciting the plot! :)

Linda LaRoque said...

Excellent post, Allison, and so true. I love the sound of your story. Adding it to my TBR list.

Allison said...

Thanks for all your comments. My DH kindly consented to pick the winner. flchen1, if you'll get in touch with me, I'll send the pfd of Windsong.

And thanks again all of you for your comments.

Allison said...


You won the medieval Romance I offered for comments. Congtratulations!
Please contact me at and tell me where to email your pdf or "Windsong". And thanks for commenting