Award-winning author suggests formula for success

There’s no foolproof method for writing a successful novel, but Terry Fallis has come close.

“I don’t have 14 drafts of my novel,” he said. “I really only have one draft that I keep going over.”

November was National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It was a month-long quest for first-time writers to produce a 50,000-word novel. In 2007, Terry Fallis self-published his first book, The Best Laid Plans. In 2008, it won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Fallis believes NaNoWriMo is a good program to help writers get started, but he said the timeframe is unrealistic.

“Nobody thinks that after a month the book will be ready for publishing,” he said. “It’s a program to get people to write, which is the greatest challenge writers face.”

Fallis added that a writer needs something even more important when crafting a successful book project.

“It’s easier to achieve if they have the story in their head and they know where it’s going,” he said. “Then you just sit down and write.”

For literary agent Beverly Slopin, success depends on the what happens after the first draft is written.

“It’s all about the rewriting and the feedback and the exchange with an intelligent reader (an editor),” she said. “You can’t make a good book out of something that starts out bad.”

Slopin sums up the essentials for a readable novel.

“(Structure) is the craft that makes somebody wants to turn the pages… Without structure you can’t appeal to any reader,” she said.

Fallis believes there are three essentials which each powerful novel must have: good writing, characters that the author and the reader care about and a compelling plot.

For him, it’s all about thinking ahead, especially when it comes to character building.

“(For my characters) I write back stories, I think about their personalities and what they look like and what they would wear, even before I write any of the story,” Fallis said. “The reason is that I want to be able to know the character so well that I can write naturally how they would react in any situation.”

The one thing on which Fallis and Slopin agree is their belief in the readers’ love of a great story.

“It’s about the reader as much as it is the writer,” Slopin said. “The writer has to create the world; the reader decides to stay in it.”