Posted by: nancycurteman | March 23, 2012

4 Attributes of an Engaging Novel

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There are 4 attributes of an engaging novel. Note I didn’t say there are only 4. In fact, many elements go into writing an engaging novel. I have selected the 4 most critical elements. If one of these attributes is missing, then you will not have an engaging novel and it will probably not hit the best-seller list. Here are those attributes:

1. Unique, believable characters. Of course the personalities and behaviors of main characters need to stand out. They need to evoke emotion in the reader. They may or may not be likeable, but they must be memorable. Minor characters need to be unique as well. Their role, though different from that of the protagonist and antagonist, is critical to the development and resolution of the story. Minor characters are useful for providing brief backstory, hidden clues, and insight into the personality, motivation and goals of the main characters. You should take care to make all characters unique and interesting.

2. Tension. One of the main ways to produce tension is through conflict, both interior and exterior conflict. Of course you can provide the standard conflict between good characters and bad characters. Add the pain a character experiences when he has a conflict between his value system and something he must do. Suspense also produces tension. Build up to the climax. Put the hero in jeopardy. Make the reader wait and wonder what will happen. Add the element of surprise—a totally unexpected turn of events—and fast-paced action. Tension will mount.

3. Balance narrative, exposition and dialogue. Every novel needs all three of these elements in order to fully tell the story. Narrative is needed to set scenes and describe characters. Exposition is useful in providing backstory. Dialogue provides the interaction between characters that moves the story forward and provides insight into characters’ personalities, their relationships with other characters and can serve as a vehicle for learning about other story people and situations.

4. Plot. Translation: story and story presentation. Provide a gripping opening, a strong middle and a satisfying ending. Spice up the story with vivid settings, a bit of unpredictability and a touch of humor.

Attention to these 4 attributes of an engaging novel will pretty much guarantee an appealing book. Oh, don’t forget excellent grammar, spelling and sentence construction. Add some colorful metaphors and similes. Now you’ve got it.

More tips:

7 Story Structure Weaknesses That Collapse Your Mystery Novel

How to End a Mystery Novel

How to Open a Mystery Novel


  1. Thanks for this!


  2. Excellent points, NC!

    When characters (or settings) aren’t internally consistent or seem like cardboard cut outs. . . I lose interest. If the dialogue (internal and external) is redundant and repetitive . . . I lose interest.

    Finding Nemo is a good example of well defined characters with good dialogue, a clear plot, and lots of believeable tension.


    • Cardboard characters is a great descriptive term. Nemo characters look and act a lot like the actors who voice for them.


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