logo logo Menu Bar

Writer's Library


How The Four Elements Are Related

Plot, Style, Character Development, and Length are always related. Any good novel has exactly the right balance of each, one that is appropriate to the genre and story.

Also, it's important to note that genres tend to "weight" those four factors differently. In literary fiction, the weighting generally goes something like this:

Most important factor:

Writing Style (with an emphasis on original, wordsmithy sentences)

Second most important:

Character Development (high level of development)

Third most important:

Plot

Fourth most important:

Length

Southern Fiction, whatever that really is, is generally defined by a "weight" in this order:

Most important factor:

Character Development (with an emphasis on originality)

Second most important:

Writing Style (less emphasis on wordiness than literary fiction, but more than commercial fiction

Third most important:

Plot

Fourth most important:

Length

Commercial Fiction is generally weighted this way:

Most important factor:

Exciting Plot

Second, Third and Fourth-- Tied in importance

Writing Style, Character Development, Length

(These "weighting" differences are the reason that commercial writers are often called "genre" writers or "storytellers.")

The writing style, the character development, and the length should all be appropriate to the genre and story. To write a fast-moving thriller in the language of a literary writer is generally not a good idea since the plot suffers with the slower pace and thrillers must, above all, thrill. (There have been a few notable exceptions; The Alienist, by Caleb Carr comes to mind.) Similarly, to write a simple murder mystery a la Agatha Christie, that's 200,000 words long, is also inappropriate. (Her novels averaged 60,000 words). Or to have dozens of deep, wordsmithy pages of biography about the "Good Guy Sheriff" in a genre western is also inappropriate, since the reader already has an idea of what the hero is like. Character development is important, and it should be meaningful and original. But 50 detailed pages of it? Not in commercial fiction, but maybe so in literary fiction.

As someone wanting to write a novel, it's important to understand the differences between genres and how these four factors can help, or hinder, the telling of a story. If you want to write literary fiction, concentrate first on style and read tons of literary fiction. If you want to write southern fiction, concentrate first on creating some quirky characters and read in that genre. If you want to write commercial fiction, first concentrate on the plot and read in that genre.

NEVER ignore the other elements, however. They are always critically important, and they must be appropriate to the story or scene. For instance, when I write what I think will be a poignant scene, the writing style itself changes, because poignancy requires a different "flow" than, let's say, descriptive paragraphs. Writing style is never enough, nor is simply an exciting plot. Nor are simply unique characters. Neither is a book that is too short or too long. A failure in any one of those areas can lessen the quality of an otherwise wonderful book.

Conversely, when all four elements come together in an appropriate manner, what you're left with is a wonderful novel. Sometimes it's a literary novel, (Saul Bellow's, The Victim or Frederick Busch's, The Night Inspector). Sometimes, it's southern fiction (The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy), sometimes it's commercial fiction, (Jaws, by Peter Benchley, or Plum Island by Nelson DeMille). Some great books are long (Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield), and some great books are very short (The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein). Some were written a long time ago, (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens) and others were published recently (Hart's War, by John Katzenbach). In the end, what all these novels have in common is a seamless, appropriate blend of those four elements within the genre and story, and the results are magical.

About Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks

Did you know. . . He is a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do? He still holds a track and field record at the University of Notre Dame?

After selling The Notebook, the first thing he bought was a new wedding ring for his wife. Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) are the only contemporary authors to have a novel spend more than a year on both the New York Times hardcover and paperback best-seller lists.