Here are some tips I have learned in my own novel writing. I hope they help you as well:
1) Each Chapter should have a specific purpose. If you have ten things going on in a chapter, the reader has no idea what is important and what is not. Focus your narrative on important things. Use more descriptors for items that matter, fewer for areas the narrative just passes through never to return. Get one part of your character or story arc done in each chapter. If you have a movie you have to fit into 90 minutes you cut the scenes that are nice but not necessary. A novel fits into roughly 40 chapters at 2,500 words each. If you weave 3 major story lines and/or characters, you have just 12 to 14 chapters for each one. Introduce, development, twists, double backs, near finale, the final climax, the anti-climax, all have to get done in that time. A novel seems long, but you only have so many “scenes” to tell your story, don’t waste any.
2) Start your chapter with a reminder, end it with a tease. Many people read like I do – they finish a chapter and go to sleep. The next time they pick up the book might be awhile. Just like TV series will show you scenes of what happened the last episode, then end with teasers for the next week, you need to do that in your chapters. Start the chapter with a sentence or two reminding them where you left it the chapter before. Don’t make them read a few pages to remember. At the end you don’t have to leave some obvious hook like the old TV serials where the hero appears to be blown up, only to see that he magically escaped. However, give the reader some reason to want to pick up your book again. Your story should have enough interesting questions and story arcs to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next. A chapter that ends flat might mean even more time before they read the next one.
3) Don’t include all that cool narrative unless it is necessary to the story. This is the hardest for me because I do so much research on my novels. So, you are writing about a World War 1 story and you have so many things you want to talk about with trench warfare, the home front, cool historical factoids you want to share… The problem is, your book is not a historical reference, but a fiction. The story is the characters, not the setting. You should strip out any narrative that does not surround the characters and their slice of it. You might want to break into elegant narrative about the past four hundred years of history of the spot your character sets his foot, but the character, and the reader, only care about it if it influences the story. So much I want to tell about the setting, about history, about cool things, but it does not help the story. It hurts to leave it all out, knowing I will never revisit that spot in that point of history in other stories. Still, you have to leave it out.
4) There is nothing cooler than having readers know your characters. Going to book clubs, signings and events where people have read my stories and comment on them is a rush. It surprises me that these readers know my characters as well as I do. They know what they would do under different circumstances, their weaknesses, their strengths, what they look like, their aspirations. I always wonder what I evoke in a reader with my prose. When they tell you exactly what you wanted to convey, it is awesome. The magic of the written word is transmitting a fictional character from your mind to theirs in simple words. To do this, your characters needs to be complicated and real. Try to avoid having anyone in your story that you don’t have a full character build-up behind them. Gather characters in your daily life from friends, enemies, barristas, store clerks, fellow elevator passengers, anyone you meet.
5) Don’t describe anything with a common view and over-describe new concepts. If you say, “they walk into a sports bar.” Every reader has an image that comes up. It does not matter if their sports bar is the one you have in mind, it only matters that they see a sports bar in their mind. I no longer describe the lay-out, the tables, or virtually anything. They already have a mental picture and further description is distracting. However, I have an airship in The Travelers’ Club – Fire and Ash that features prominently in several chapters. In test reading groups, no one knew what it looked like, how big it was, or the layout. Despite the fact that I had described it. They simply had no pre-set mental image for the insides of an imaginary private airship yacht. I had to add an entire chapter with one of the characters taking another on a tour of their ship as it was being readied for flight. It turned into a fun chapter for me and solved the problem. So, as an author, ask yourself – Does the reader have a mental image of the item or setting? If yes, don’t describe it. If no, over describe it.
6) Focus on the core of your novel. Is your character dealing with internal issues, like over-coming cowardice, finding love, a life of rejection, scars of abuse? Are they dealing with action issues, like running from hitmen, the police, fighting in a war, putting out fires? If the story is internal and emotional, focus your writing on the internal dialogue and personal challenges. Don’t dilute an emotional story with a lot of useless setting and spatial descriptions. The action that the reader will care about is the emotional journey. If you have a physical action story, build the narrative around that. Is the character hurt, tired, hungry, thirsty, desperate for shelter? Build on the action, don’t just describe it quickly. Let the reader dwell on the excitement and the challenge of the physical environment. I think we writers sometimes try to make all parts of our story detailed and lose track of what the reader is focused on. Try to avoid red herrings to the reader that lead them away from the crux of the story and the main conflicts facing the characters.
Those are just a few of the things I have personally learned to include in my writing. We are all different, so maybe they will help you and maybe they won’t. At the very least, hopefully they will give you some additional ideas on how to approach writing your next story.