Building a novel is very much like constructing a body, a kind of reverse autopsy perhaps.
Morbid, you say? Perhaps. But bear with me while I explain myself, and it might end up making sense.
Every now and then in any good story, something happens that reveals your characters heart, their inner life, their fears. Whether it happens as a quick flash of emotion or a longer drawn out scene or conversation, it stops the flow of the story for just a heartbeat and lets the messy, squishy, sometimes even ugly, parts of your character leak through.
These moments are like snapshots, freezing your character in time to allow an ‘A-ha’ from the reader. Something that lets them say, Now I get it, that’s why he hates her, that’s what she’s running from. These moments need to be handled carefully specifically because they do stop the heartbeat of the story, and if they are not spaced out, will drag the overall pace of your book down.
When I talk about muscles in a story I mean the action scenes. Whether that is a battle, a sex scene, or a major event or a conversation that dramatically changes a relationship or plot point, these scenes do something. Sentences get shorter and more emphatic. Word choices get stronger and more emphatic as you deliberately push your reader’s heartbeat up to match the action on stage. The tendency right now seems to be in favour of really muscly books. Stories that push higher and darker with little room for breathing, let alone introspection. These books are not my style, but worth mentioning, because right now they are selling.
Your story needs to get from here to there, bones are what do this. They are the work boots of the novel. The ‘time skip’ or ‘journey’ scenes that act as connective tissue, tying your story into a cohesive unit and giving your plot the time, and movement, it needs to unfold at a natural pace. Forgetting too many bony scenes will make the story disjointed. Your reader may feel like they are reading under a strobe light as the story flashes from one thing to another with no sense of time or place.
The flesh of the book is the stuff that makes your book, yours. It’s the voice of your characters, the emotional tone you choose to use, how much or how little description you decide to include. Everything in the flesh of the book speaks about you, your style of writing, your voice. Decide what you want the book to say about you and be consistent in that voice throughout your story. If you are a writer (like me) who uses tons of description and sensory images. Don’t make your book look like Popeye with one arm fleshed out noticeably more than the other.
Ahh, the pretty, brown-haired, blue-eyed face of the book. Skin is your books first impression. It includes everything from the cover, to the blurb, to the editing, to how you set up your marketing and your amazon keywords. All I can say about this is research your genre, know who you want the book to attract, and, if like me you are useless at this stuff, GET HELP. This is where professional designers, marketing, research tools, book clubs, beta readers, author friends, all come into your mix. Know your weaknesses in this area and reach out to people who can help your work be as complete and presentable as possible. It is hard to find an audience right now, give your book the best chance it can have.
The timing, percentages, and order in which you use these ingredients, as any mad scientist knows, is a matter of experimentation.
I tend to write organs first, then muscles, tie them together with bones, and then start panicking because it needs fleshing out and the skin is all the wrong colour. But that’s what happens when you are making Frankenstein’s novel.