Memorable Stories

In his book Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass talks about novels that are truly moving and memorable.  He says, “A truly big book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply felt themes, vivid setting and much more.”   Thinking about my middle grade mystery novel The Light on the Hill, which I wrote ten years ago and I am now trying to edit, it points out some of what’s wrong.

Inspired premise – I just don’t know.  There’s a ghost who looks just like the main character, trapped in reliving the nightmare of her death and asks for her Emma’s help.  Original?  Inspired?  I’m not sure.

Larger-than-life characters – No, my characters are fairly simple.  Perhaps even a little one dimensional.  Well, maybe a bit quirky.  Jane is the scientific, precocious type at age 11.  Micah is hyper but a nice guy.  Emma is the girl next door – straight blong hair, big blue eyes, kind of short.  Pretty, but normal.  How do I elevate her?  She’s self aware and sensitive – more so than many girls her age.  Self possessed and directed, thoughtful – but larger than life?  No.  How do I elevate them?

High stakes story – Well, Emma feels linked to the ghost and is very worried about her but she doesn’t stand to really lose anything if she doesn’t help her.  That’s definitely a problem.

Deeply felt themes – Family secrets.  An excellent theme but do I communicate it effectively?

Vivid setting – I think this is actually my strong point.  My writing group confirmed my thinking that I needed to cut 1/3 to 1/2 of what I had in the first chapter, but now I’m worried that I’ll be cutting out my setting.  Do I need to cut or add more to make it more compelling?

And much more – Yikes!  What more am I missing?

I could abandon it as an early attempt, which I’ve learnd a lot since simply through writing more.  But I don’t want to abandon it, I want to take this draft and turn it into what I always wanted it to be – that deeply moving and memorable book for kids that fires their imagination.  I love the idea and I want to write a sequel, maybe even a third.  I’m just not ready to give up on it.


  1. Sandi Hilton said,

    October 1, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I didn’t want to cut it. I wanted to know more. I know I was the only one in the group to say so, but I really wanted to know more detail. I guess I’m just that kind of person. 🙂
    I have a friend who reviews books on Amazon. I went to college with her way back when……….you might like her. I’m currently reading the book “Outliers” and Nancy reviewed it:

    • melorajohnson said,

      October 1, 2009 at 9:27 pm

      LOL, that’s okay, it’s good to have a cheerleader in the group too so that we don’t just give up! And I’m trying not to cut too much. I don’t want to lose the setting or story, just make it better.

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