How can you know when a novel is good?

How can you know when a novel is good?

You can’t.

You can know when a novel is finished. (When you’re done writing.)

You can know when a novel is appreciated. (When a reader gives you positive feedback.)

But you can’t know when a novel is good.

You can know when a novel is award-winning. (After it wins an award.)

You can know when a novel is critically-acclaimed. (When a critic acclaims it.)

But you can’t know when a novel is good.

You can know when a novel is funny. (If someone laughs when reading it.)

You can know when a novel has five stars. (After a reviewer clicks the 5-star link.)

But you can’t know when a novel is good.

You can know when a novel is wordy. (After you turn page 500.)

You can know when a novel is boring. (After reading Henry James.)

But you can’t know when a novel is good.

You can know when a novel makes a great movie. (After it’s adapted successfully.)

You can know when a novel has staying power. (When high school English classes start to read it.)

But you can’t know when a novel is good.

You can know when a novel is controversial. (By watching cable news.)

You can know when a novel is not selling. (By looking at its sales ranking.)

But you can’t know when a novel is good.

You can know when a novel is released. (By the date of its release.)

You can know when a novel is a best-seller. (When the New York Times says it is.)

But you can’t know when a novel is good.

 

So, writers, don’t fret about outcome. Just write. That is always good.

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Decision Making in Writing: When Writers and Readers Disagree

I always say this: “Writing is all about making decisions. Good writing is about making the right decisions.”

Now if someone would please point out to me the meaning of ‘right decision’ then I’ll be sitting at a Parisian Cafe with the next generation of Roaring 20s writers.

How do you know when you made the right decision? You don’t.

It might feel right to the writer, but it still might feel completely wrong to the reader.

But honestly, writing, to me, is not about making readers happy. For me I need to be faithful to the story as I see it. I have to write from my heart or I shall not write at all. Does this mean that others will sometimes disagree with my decisions? Absolutely. I’ll never be able to successfully please everyone.

My first novel is a great example of this. (spoiler alert if you haven’t read it!) Beauty Rising is a story that is near and dear to me. It came out of my personal experiences in Vietnam – not that the story is about me – far from it. But it was personal in the sense that it came out of my love for Vietnam and its culture and people.

The one comment that has stuck out the most to me concerning this novel is how I ignore Martin’s mother at the end of the novel. Once she kill’s Martin’s fiance at the church during the wedding, I don’t mention her again.

In several reviews I read how they couldn’t believe that I omitted mention of Martin’s mother after the fateful incident. They felt cheated as if I forgot to mention it or I wasn’t paying attention to detail.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

The omission was completely on purpose. Now one could argue that I made a mistake, but that’s not how I see it. Once My Phuong, Martin’s fiance, was killed, his relationship with his mother was severed forever. She, of course, would have been arrested and put in prison. That’s what happens when someone commits a violent crime. It’s the end of story for her. I assumed that would have been understood. What I didn’t want to do is put focus back on her. This story was always about Martin trying to find his way in the world. A few short days after the funeral, he took off again for Vietnam to bury the ashes and complete his quest – unexpectedly finding his home along the way. That was the story line. That is what was important to me as the author.

If I wrote a sequel, which I will not, I would most definitely bring the mother back into the story. But to wrap up Martin’s story, his mother was not necessary. She was there to provide the impetus which would push Martin to the end.

Not everyone agreed with my decisions, but I had to be true to the story as I saw it. Anything less would have been lessening the tension and resolution that Martin would find in Vietnam.

I’m fascinated at how different people experience stories in different ways. But I am mindful, that as an author, I have to be true to the story. True to my heart. I have to write with the passion and emotion which I feel within me. Anything less would be unacceptable.

I hope readers will understand. I completely understand that readers and writers will sometimes disagree. And I’m OK with that.