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.