I love big books. I’m not talking about page count here,
but stories that are so big in scope that the novels live on with me long
after I finish reading. I’m even drawn to reread the story.
That’s the kind of book I want to write, so before I begin
writing, I analyze the bones of my story to see if it has some of those
Twelve Big Book Qualities
1. A Hero or Heroes: Characters
who take big risks and stand up for what’s right. They may be deeply flawed,
and yet, they’re saints, magnetic leaders, or they show massive courage of some
kind. They’re true to life and still larger than life.
2. An Impossibly Large Role to Fill: Characters
step into a role that at first seems much too large for them. It may be leading
a dangerous military mission, stopping a plague from spreading, or rescuing one
child who is falling through an emotional black hole. In the beginning, the
characters aren’t equipped, but as the story progresses, they learn to fill
that big role.
3. Injustice:It can be a
large scale injustice (the Nazis) or small scale (an overbearing parent), but
at all costs, it must have high stakes and the barriers to justice must seem
huge to the characters.
4. Complex Relationships:The story
provides relationships that are full of great love and yet are greatly
troubled. If there are complex relationships that intersect other complex
relationships, that’s even better.
5. A Larger than Life Setting:The setting
should carry the reader away – a family vineyard, an estate house perched on a
craggy coastline, a frenzied metropolis, a bustling medieval village, or a
dangerous forest. If your story calls for an ordinary town or city, make sure
to find its personality and drama.
6. Time Scope:There are
big books that take place in a year, even in days. But there’s something
dramatic about watching lives take shape over a lifetime. Even a historical
subplot within a contemporary story or significant backstory can make the story
7. Sacrifices and Crushed Dreams:A character
may voluntarily give up something precious for the sake of loved ones, or their
dreams may be grasped from their clenched fists. The story is bigger as they
struggle to redeem the loss.
8. A Goal with Long Odds:The
character – actually all of the characters – need specific goals, and they
should be hard to achieve, with plenty of obstacles in the way.
9. Characters with Special Talents
or Gifts:Readers love to watch gifted people work – whether artists,
geniuses, prophets, clever detectives, explorers, brilliant doctors or farmers
. If a character has a special calling or talent, all the better. But starting
off with only rudimentary knowledge or none, and bringing the reader along as
the character learns is compelling too.
10. Souls that Don’t Belong:Whether it’s
because of a special gift, an unusual heritage, a greater determination, their
life has set them apart somehow, and they find themselves alone in their
community. Of course as the story continues, they’ll find a mentor, a lover or
friend, but there will be some bumpy roads before they understand that they fit
11. A Long Mystery or Unusual Twist:Nothing
keeps readers turning the page like dropped clues along the pages as they try
to solve the mystery. Also great is a dramatic mystery, which the reader
understands perfectly but the characters don’t. Waiting for everything to be
made clear to the protagonist makes for great tension. Of course, any mystery
or twist in a big book should have lots of personality and be critical to the
character’s inner life.
12. Resonating Voice:I put this
last, but really it’s a first. An original voice that carries the reader into
the sensory and emotional experience of the novel will lure the reader in at
page one and hold them until the last sentence. Voice, more than any other
quality, brings me back for a second read.
Help me out. What is missing from my list? What qualities make a
“Big Story” for you?