How to Write a Mediocre Novel

Here’s what to do … if you want to write an “OK” book.


What makes a good story? We’ve tried to answer this question a few times before. Let’s look at things from a different angle: what makes up a not-so-great narrative?

These are the things that make up a mediocre novel … and how to turn around and write an excellent book instead.

Tell a safe, comfortable story

If a story doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable – reading or writing – you haven’t gone deep enough. Stories have to make the reader feel emotions they don’t particularly enjoy feeling; that’s just part of how this all works. If you can’t get an emotional reaction out of at least the majority of your readers, you’re falling short. Tell a story you think goes too far. Speaks too loudly. Hits too close to home, for yourself or for someone else. Those are the kinds of steps you need to be willing to take in order to write a book that tells a really good story.

Resolve conflicts as quickly as possible

Think you’re drawing a conflict out too long? Keep going. Probably one of the biggest mistakes you can make in telling a story is thinking people are going to get bored of a conflict too quickly. Real conflicts start off shallow and burrow deeper and deeper, which lead characters into making decisions that lead to even more conflicts branching off the original. Real life is full of conflicts: we just don’t always know they’re happening. Imagine the worst, and put your characters through all of it. With conflict comes growth. A character must grow, or you haven’t done your job as a storyteller. If things seem too over-dramatic, it’s because you’re telling a story, not recounting everyday nonfiction.

Create likable, simple characters

Who wants to read a book in which you like every single character and none of them harbor any complexities that spark curiosity and emotional reaction? Think of your favorite book. Now think of a character in that book you absolutely despise. I immediately thought of Alaska’s father in LFA (my favorite book). Every book has at least one. It brings up a sort of moral conflict within your reader. Either they hate a character but want to like them or they hate to love them. People encounter people they don’t like all the time in real life. Tell a story that reflects and exaggerates that reality.

Always give as much detail as possible

While details are important, writing a good story is all about inserting small, seemingly insignificant details into a much larger narrative. From my experience as a reader and storyteller, too much detail can distract from the most important elements of a story. I suppose if you wanted to write a piece of literary fiction, you could carry on with your descriptions and metaphors all you wanted. In some books, this works. But aside from painting a picture that will set a scene, keep the story moving forward. Use details only to drive the plot. Like desserts, too many adjectives won’t do a story much good in the end.

Writing a good story takes a lot of practice. It’s all about going deeper than you think you should. Drawing things out and moving the plot along at the same time. Creating characters your readers don’t know how to react to. If you’re going to write a great novel, it’s probably going to be uncomfortable – and that’s how you know you’re doing it right.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Storytelling Tips for Fiction Writers

Tell good stories.


The more I read, listen to and watch things other people have written, the more I am inspired to write my own things – and write about writing things. This blog wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for all the extra time I spend doing things that, on the surface, seem like major time-wasters. Thanks, Marvel.

It’s October! November is closing in, which means it’s time to talk fiction. Are you ready? Here are some of my favorite storytelling tips for fiction writers.

Create characters that are exaggerations of people you know

This is my favorite thing to do, so I do it as often as possible. Readers want characters that make them say, “Oh yeah, I definitely know somebody like that.” Why exaggerate their attributes? Because that’s what makes it fiction. People don’t always want to read stories with characters that are exactly like the people they have to put up with every day. Storytelling can reflect real life even more effectively when that know-it-all from biology class turns up in a novel and, instead of that passive aggressive way he tries to one-up the smartest girl in school, tries to get her expelled for making him look bad in front of the class. The latter makes for a much more interesting and dramatic narrative.

Unravel the past little by little, but never tell the whole backstory

Readers want to know everything about the events that led up to the present, which is exactly why you shouldn’t give them what they want. Not all of it, and certainly not right away. Everyone has a past, but sometimes not telling your readers what they want to hear is what keeps them interested in the beginning. I’m watching Luke Cage right now … we learn in the first episode that our beloved MC did jail time for something. What? We don’t know. Mystery! Then we get some background on that later. As far as I’ve gotten, we still don’t know what he did. It’s not the whole story, but it’s critical to the plot. And if we already knew what happened, the story would have less momentum. Reveal your backstory in fragments. And always keep at least a few of them to yourself for all eternity. Muahaha!

Go where your characters go

Obviously not very practical advice if you’re writing a novel set in space, right? Still. Something I’ve found helpful, when I’m having a hard time immersing myself into a scene enough to write decent dialogue, is to go to the place my characters are and try writing there. A kitchen. A coffee shop. A college campus. One of my favorite scenes from the book I finished writing last year took place on a train. Guess where I was when I wrote that scene? Yep – on a train, commuting to work. Put yourself in your characters’ place – literally. When it’s possible, when you’re feeling stuck. It helps. It forces you to picture the events in the story as they happen, which helps everything flow together as you’re writing it.

Strive for the “nooooooo” reaction

I do not react audibly to TV shows, movies or books very often. But, when I’m watching or reading something really good, there is always usually a point where I, out loud, will “Nooooooooo” my way into irreversible despair. Something happened. A character I like is in trouble. Someone betrayed someone else. Doesn’t matter. You have to build rapport (“nooooo”) with your readers before you can leave them emotionally wrecked. If they’re not invested in the characters or events, your plot twists won’t have any effect on them. You want to be able to picture their “noooooo” reaction. Make them hate you. Don’t forget to make them love you again later, though.

Everything I know about fiction writing, I’ve learned by reading and watching just as much as I have by actually sitting down to write. Think of your favorite book, show or movie. How do they use these techniques to win you over? The comments section is open if you have a good example to share. :)

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Steve Sands/GC Images.

This is What Everyone Gets Wrong About Storytelling

At their core, all stories are the same. It’s the unique elements we choose to highlight that make them different from one another.


Sometimes it starts to feel like all we see is the same old story told over and over again. Or the stories we read are all about the same people, or at least an archetype of that person.

You’re not wrong if you’ve felt this way: after all, every story that’s written has in some form or another been written before. Yet what many don’t realize is that this is actually a good thing. It’s a springboard. We can look at an old story and dissect it. What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses? What can we do different? What element can we focus on that hasn’t been focused on recently, or ever before?

At their core, all stories are the same. It’s the unique elements we choose to highlight that make them different from one another.

There’s this belief that only certain stories are worth telling. Bottom-to-top success stories, or unlikely hero stories, or stories about things already well-established people have done to make them even more awesome than they already are. Those stories are fine and they make us feel good. But aren’t we forgetting something?

Aren’t we forgetting that every single person has a unique story to tell? Maybe on the surface everyone’s story seems to fit into a general category of stories already told, but that’s because not everyone bothers to dig deeper. A story isn’t about telling an audience a beginning and an end. It’s about giving a completely new perspective on the journey a person takes from point A to point B, or the journey they are continuously on, and will be for the rest of their lives.

As a writer, it’s your job to find the uniqueness in every single story. Even fiction writers are responsible for putting a new spin on every idea, giving it unique features so that it sets itself apart above the rest. It’s not about research, it’s not about exaggerating the truth, it’s about finding the angle least often found. It’s about finding that one thing that makes someone’s story different, and creating something completely new out of it.

Pay close attention to those stories you assume everyone has heard before. Pay attention to people and places and fictional characters you don’t initially think are all that interesting. There is something special lingering beneath the surface. A good writer, a great storyteller, will find it. They will use it as their focal point. And they will create something truly amazing from what others never even knew was there.

Image courtesy of Abhi Sharma/

Writers: Pay Attention to the Little Things

We’ve managed to glorify busyness to the point where saying you aren’t busy gets you the judgmental eye rolls instead of the other way around.


When was the last time you paid attention? REALLY paid attention?

Not just to street signs or what’s on your screen as you walk from place to place, but to the little things, the details. The people around you, the cars, the dogs, the insects. The way the rain hits the pavement, the shapes of the clouds, whether there’s anyone else out there paying any attention to their surroundings for real.

Being detail-oriented isn’t just a generic job qualification. Not when you’re a writer with a mind that needs to imagine and create in order to continue functioning properly. It’s a skill that, if developed over time, can help you write better stories. Stories readers will find themselves unable to pull away from, once they are sucked into its details.

A good story includes small, seemingly insignificant details that end up becoming an important part of the plot. And if you have a habit of breezing through the world without paying enough attention to the small details scattered around your own life, you’re probably going to have a hard time writing stories that have this level of strategic detail woven in.

The problem is, we’re busy. More than that, we’ve managed to glorify busyness to the point where saying you aren’t busy gets you the judgmental eye rolls instead of the other way around. But that’s not going to help you write better. You have to stop. You have to observe. You have to be able to build an entire story around something as small and seemingly insignificant as a dandelion in the middle of a backyard, because details really are everything, whether you realize it or not.

We’re not talking about endless descriptions and paragraphs full of adjectives here, either. We’re talking about the way authors often surprise and mislead their readers, by throwing in small details that are easily and purposefully missed, because they know paying attention to details isn’t at the top of everyone’s priority list.

Pay attention. Tell better stories. It’s something small, and seemingly insignificant. But there’s a lot that goes into writing a story, and it isn’t enough just to sit down and write. You have to live first. You have to practice skills in the real world before putting them to paper.

It’s time well spent, if you take it.

Image courtesy of Meg Dowell.