The Seven Deadly Sins of Novel Writing

devilIn my mind, there are seven big things that can undermine a novel. I want to address them all, but to avoid having a post 8 miles long, I’ll break them up so they each have their own real estate. Today let’s look at the first sin on the list!

Sin#1: Low Stakes

Stakes are paramount in a novel–they force your character to act. High personal stakes create strong conflict because each choice or action will carry a hefty price. Low stakes lead to mediocre conflict and a risk that the reader will not care about the outcome.

Often low stakes can be attributed to two things:

–the storyline lacks adequate conflict

Conflict is the key to holding the reader’s attention and the driving force behind forward story movement and character investment. Pushing your character to clash with the forces against him or her is what gets the blood pumping–this is conflict! By infusing your story with scenes where characters experience heightened emotion and face powerful obstacles you not only create high stakes in your novel, you also raise them for the reader. Pages turn because your audience is drawn into the action, compelled to find out what happens next.

–The writer doesn’t push the characters hard enough

Sometimes the stakes are high, the consequences dire, the action bursting off the page…and the character does not rise to the challenge. While indecision is often a large part of any thought process when facing difficult choices, it cannot overrun the character’s actions. At some point, the character MUST COMMIT to a chosen course and put their all into it.

Other times, the writer sabotages the story because they care too much about a character to shove them in harm’s way or force them to do the dirty work. If circumstances or another character always swoop in and save the day, the stakes flatline. CHARACTERS ARE NOT OUR CHILDREN. Never hesitate to throw them into the path of a bus. Only then can we really see what they are made of.

Can you think of other ways low stakes ruin a novel? Have you ever cared about a character so much you struggled to force them to face their fears?

Sin # 2 Counterfeit Characters

Sin # 3 Missing the Mark on Voice & POV

Sin # 4 Plot Snafus

Sin # 5 Flat WordSmithing

Sin # 6 Dialogue Disaster

Sin # 7 TMI (Too Much Information)

BONUS SIN  Disappointing the Reader

Image: 7thDwarf @ Pixabay


Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Characters, Description, Editing Tips, Seven Writing Sins. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to The Seven Deadly Sins of Novel Writing

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  6. sjp says:

    I love pushing my characters and finding out what they’re made of 😉 looks like a stellar list looking forward to the next installments.

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  8. Whenever I start to write my favorite phrase is “now how do I make this worse for my character” It is the cornerstone of most of my writing. I rarely find myself in a corner because there is always a way to make things worse. The down side to that is that there is always a way to make things worse. It is the pulling back from that and finding an ending that is the greatest challenge of them all.

    Great article. Keep them coming.

  9. Merc says:

    Nice post, Angela! 😀

    (I don’t think I’ve ever really had trouble being nasty to characters… *cough* but showing why stakes are important to individual characters is, I admit, a struggling point.)

    Looking forward to the next six. 😉


  10. Hot topic. I agree completely, placing the destruction of not one, but two universes on my characters’ shoulders. It’s fun to watch them squirm and then conquer.

  11. Thanks so much, Lisa and everyone. I’m happy this is useful to you. 🙂


  12. Such an excellent post. Of course I expect no less from you. Yes. My poor characters would most likely kill me if they ever escaped the pages. A frightening thought. But truly I do it for their own good. ;D

  13. Excellent advice!! Looking forward to getting through the rest of the sins!

  14. This was a marvelous series! Thank you so much for the description of Voice. I think you defined it in a way I can finally internalize.

  15. Mary Witzl says:

    My God, I’ve been guilty of every single one of these sins! Often, it’s reading another novel which has made me see the error of my ways. Last year, I got a quarter of the way through a novel where all the characters liked each other and got on beautifully; their way was tough, but they never faltered, never found any obstacles that weren’t easy to overcome. I got so bored I finally stopped reading, and I almost never do that.

    “My characters aren’t my children.” (Repeating that like a mantra…)

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