Kathy Carlton Willis

Kathy Carlton Willis shines the light on God and His people through her communications firm as: writer, publicist, writer's coach, book doctor, speaker, and more. She’s built a network of industry connections and is affiliated with Advanced Writers and Speakers Association and American Christian Fiction Writers. Her columns and book reviews have appeared online and in print. She served as grammar guru for three publications and ghostwrites books and e-books. Kathy is a contributing author for The Reason We Speak, It Happened By Design: A Series of God-Incidence Stories and Groovy Chicks’ Road Trip to Peace. She has a background in newspaper journalism as copyeditor and feature writer. She is a contributor and editor of daily devotions for The Christian Pulse. Kathy and her pastor/husband minister together in Raymondville, Texas. She set up a church library and served as librarian for several years and also has facilitated church book clubs. Read her professional blog at http://kcwcomm.blogspot.com and learn more about her at http://www.kathycarltonwillis.com/.

Elements Of A Good Book

Your one-stop CFOM resource—chock-full of how-tos and helpful hints—equipping you to get more out of your reading. Designed for the individual, libraries, and book clubs.

One of our readers requested tips on how to evaluate and appreciate good novels. Last month we discussed how to dig deeper when reading, and this month we’re looking at the elemental ingredients of excellent writing. If you take the time to analyze each of these areas while reading, you’ll discover layers cleverly crafted to create a stand-out novel.

What is the theme of the story? Is there a moral or life lesson? What message do you think the author wants to convey to the reader? You will be able to see the themes unveiled as characters make choices and reveal their strengths and weaknesses. Look for integrity and virtue. What is of value to the main characters? Without theme woven throughout the book, the story lacks substance.

One of my favorite ways to evaluate a novel is by noting character development. Do you find yourself caring what happens to the characters, or how they react to situations? Are the characters true-to-life, three-dimensional beings, or do they seem unrealistic? Even speculative fiction characters need to have relatable traits for readers to be drawn into the story. Characters have hopes and fears, life goals and motives. They react to relationships based on their personality types and any baggage or life experience they possess. Sometimes the author won’t reveal everything about a character in the story line, but you can pick up on clues as you read the way they respond to stimuli throughout the book.

Are the characters consistent throughout the novel? It’s fine if they show growth or evolve as the story unfolds, but they should always be true to character. If something stands out as unrecognizable for that character, it creates a read-bump that confuses the reader. Also, individual characters shouldn’t be “Stepford Wives” or cookie-cutter people. Readers love getting to know quirky or unpredictable characters.

The plot is what moves the characters from situation to situation throughout the story arc. It’s what causes page-turning suspense, action, or romance. Without plot, there’d be no resolution at the conclusion of the novel. Does each scene advance the plot? Or does the author bury the storyline in minutia? Actions and agendas reveal the plot as characters overcome trials and face detours. Plot builds tension, leading to the story climax. Ask yourself, “Is this event or situation necessary to the rest of the storyline?” Conflicts throughout the book help build tension. Look for conflicts:

1. between individuals
2. between a person and society in general
3. between a person and nature
4. within the character’s warring values

Plot is the invisible web that provides structure to the entire book. Some authors achieve this by outlining the major scenes in advance, while “seat of the pants” writers,allow the characters to tell them where to go next in the story.

Do you like the point of view used by the storyteller? In first person, one character speaks in the “I” voice. Second person is the least common point of view and uses “you” as the story is narrated. Third person is the most frequently used method. Third person limited: The narrator can tell the story from the perspective of only one character throughout the entire book. This requires the character to be in every scene, and sets up the story through what he witness from his own eyes. Third person unlimited: The author tells the story from the perspective of

more than one main character. He will alert the reader that point of view change is coming by adding an extra space of some kind between paragraphs. If this is not done correctly, it will seem as if the author is “head hopping”—jumping between the perspectives of more than one at once. This can be quite dizzying to readers. Some authors will use a technique called omniscient point of view, but it is rarely done well. In this scenario, a narrator or voice outside the main characters tells the story as if he is witnessing it from a perspective outside the scene. He presents it from a variety of views at once.

What is the setting for the story? Does the author choose a real location? If so, facts must be accurate. You’ll know if he’s done enough research. Setting must serve both style and story. More often than not, the author creates an imaginary setting for the story. Even if it’s not real, it needs to be believable. Does the book you’re reading use setting in such a way that you feel like you are transported there? Does it lend itself well to assist with character development and plot to deliver an excellent novel?

Dialogue involves conversation between two or more characters. Dialogue functions to advance the story and build texture by showing the reader what’s happening rather than narrating a lot of backstory. It provides background and builds characterization. Does each character have a distinct voice? Does the dialogue seem realistic, or is it stilted? Stylization of dialogue often uses unique speech patterns, word choice, or accent. When you read the dialogue aloud, how does it sound to you?

Dialogue is also used to set the mood and to provide some humorous elements for the reader. Dialogue often happens in present tense even if the story is in past tense, allowing the reader to sense the pace, the action, and the tension in real time.

Reading Assignment: You will become a better reader as you analyze books from these elements required for good writing. Pick up your current read and grade it for theme, characterization, plot, point of view, setting, and dialogue.


Kathy CArlton Willis