All fiction writers have much to pay attention to in order to create a reader-worthy novel. Something significant new fiction writers sometimes forget to pay attention to are the details.

Let’s go back in time a bit. Many of us played make-believe as children. We’d come up with an idea then act out our story, often changing it as we went along. Maybe we were the only cast member or maybe we recruited one or more others to be on our pretend stage with us. We might have started out saying, “Let’s pretend that . . .” then took it from there. Perhaps what we suggested was agreed to by everyone who had a role in our mini-production. Perhaps one or more cast members decided to change their role or the plot a bit. “You’re a school teacher,” you might have said to one, and he may have responded with, “No! I’m a pirate.” You may have then said, “There aren’t any pirates in this story.” He may have replied, “Then I’m not playing.” Either the story went on as planned, without a pirate, or you came up with a way to include one.

In make-believe, we may start out with one “reality” in mind then alter it to suit our purposes. The structure is loose. That’s fine when you’re playing that game. It’s not fine when you’re writing a novel. Details and structure matter in fiction. Some new writers don’t realize this. The responsibility to keep track of details and structure consistency is yours, as the writer. Your readers will expect this of you. They expect to suspend belief in some measure when they read fiction, but they still expect the story and details to be believable, logical, and realistic. And they expect you, as the writer, to fulfill this promise to them so something written on the page doesn’t launch them out of the movie playing in their minds as they read.

Being an editor for over twenty years, I’ve seen a lot of good writing and writing that needs improvement, especially since new writers tend to be my clients. It’s a tremendous pleasure to assist them to become better at the craft of writing and to create books they’re proud of. But I do come across issues like the one being discussed in this article. For example, a client had her protagonist living on the East Coast. The protagonist did something that led to her incarceration. The writer had her protagonist imprisoned on the West Coast, for no reason other than that’s what came to mind. First, that’s not how the legal system works. Second, the writer had the protagonist’s family, friends, and lawyer visit her often in prison. That’s a very long way to travel, and costly. You can see why that’s impractical and implausible for the purposes of the story: It contradicts real life in a way that doesn’t work, even in fiction. But this is the kind of “oopsie” that happens fairly often for new writers. The Devil is indeed in the details.

As a new writer, you may feel the thrill of your fingers flying over the keys as the story pours forth from your imagination. That’s a great feeling. But you need to create a system that works for you and that you stick with so you can manage the details. Somewhere, somehow, you need to track dates, days, and times of day so you keep this straight. You need to track the approximate time that passes in each scene. It would benefit you to create a cast list. This is especially important if your first book is one with a sequel or will be a series. And this also helps you to be consistent with the spelling of your characters’ names. It can quickly become tedious to keep scrolling through your manuscript to confirm or check something that you could readily find on a separate document.

Repeating that the Devil is in the details, you may (or should) have to do something many new writers fail to do or don’t think to do: Research. For example, if your story takes place in a town or city you’ve never been to—or even if you have been there or lived there—you still need to get certain details right or you’ll have readers howling at you. This research also helps you create settings so your readers can imagine themselves in them, and your research notes help you stay consistent about the details. What else in the novel you’re writing would benefit from research?

Go ahead and get your draft written, but when you sit down to read through it, aloud, for that first of several revisions, look at the content not as the writer but as a reader. Pay attention to what’s going on in your mind’s eye. Is more research needed? Is what you have your characters saying and doing realistic, logical, and believable? Is the timing involved for each scene and the story as a whole realistic, logical, and believable? Did you inadvertently change the “facts” anywhere in the story in a way that makes the reader balk, or that defies basic physics or time progression in an unacceptable way? Did you mistakenly alter the personality of any of your characters without creating a valid reason for this to happen? What else needs your attention?

Yes, there are many things you as the writer must pay attention to if you want your readers to be happy with your novel and you as its author. Whether you like it or not, writing a good novel involves managing the details and getting them right, rather than just making up whatever you feel like writing as you go. Don’t give readers a reason to call you a lazy writer. It may seem as though other authors, including or especially best-selling authors, sit at their computers and just make stuff up. Yes and no. They make stuff up, but they base it on real information they’ve researched and real life experiences. This is part of how they draw us in and keep us captive until the last word, and sometimes even after we finish the book. You can be this kind of writer as well. You just have to do what it takes.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.

Author's Bio: 

Joyce L. Shafer provides services for writers, with a focus on assisting new and indie authors. Services include Manuscript Evaluation, Substantive Editing, and Silent (Ghost) Rewriting/Editing, which includes converting plays and screenplays into novels. Her clients say she’s part editor, part teacher, part coach. Details available at