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Friday, January 31, 2014

Intense and Marketable Novels? A Simple How-to - by Jennifer Slattery

Writing Intense and Marketable Novels
by Jennifer Slattery

Does the following make you cringe?
“Your story’s too heavy.”
“Too dark.”
“Readers are looking to escape reality, not read about tough issues.”
It was 2009, my first large writers’ conference, and quite a shock to my newbie ego. I came pumped and a bit over confident, one of those naïve storytellers who knew just enough craft to elevate my pride but not enough to justify such an elevation.
Needless to say, I left with a more accurate view of myself and my abilities. Unfortunately, I also began to question not only what I wrote, but who I am. Appointment after appointment, I heard that my writing was too intense. One solution was offered, again and again: Write something light, more humorous, to get your foot in the door.
Everything in me said, “No!” Because although I can enjoy light reading, I don’t feel called to write it. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t called to write or that I’d never be published.
It did mean I had a lot to learn about writing intense stories effectively.
You see, it’s not that there isn’t a market for the intense. I can think of numerous, very popular novels that deal with some very dark issues, such as Mary Connealy’s Calico Canyon, Kathi Macias’ Freedom Series, the Hunger Games, Maze Runner (all books I LOVED).
The issue was, I needed to learn HOW to write about intense or heavy issues without overloading or depressing my reader. Because here’s the deal—we all want real, and real can be tough; intense. But reality is handled best when it’s peppered with lots of humor and tact and sprinkled with a heavy dose of hope.
When writing about intense issues, consider:
  1. Adding humor at strategic points throughout the novel. Some novelists will create an eccentric character specifically for this purpose. I’ve done this, but more often, I like to bring out the goofy in my main characters. Because we all have silly, less-than-brilliant moments inherent to our personalities. Find ways to exploit and expose those quirky traits, most especially following tense or dark scenes.

  1. Know the whys behind the boundary lines, and when pushing them, your whys for doing so. Does your why have purpose enough to override the whys of the boundary lines? A dark or intense novel with graphic violence or vulgarity might be pushing things too far. To find the reader-gripping balance, one must constantly keep their reader and their emotions in mind.  

  1. Continually remind the reader of hope. The darker the scene, the more necessary this will be. This can be done numerous ways such as showing the determined inner strength of a character, by showing a possible solution, or the help and support of a community.

The more I write, the more I realize there aren’t very many set rules in the CBA market, and even those are changing. It really comes down to knowing the craft, writing with skill, and always considering the effect each scene and the story as a whole will have on your reader.

Jennifer Slattery writes intense, intensely funny, and heart-pattering sweet missional romance for New Hope Publishers. Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, will release in the fall of 2014. She also writes for, Internet Café Devotions, is part of a jibillion blogs (according to her handsome railroader) and has a slight obsession with Facebook. When she’s not writing or gabbing, she enjoys going for long, leisurely walks with her husband and giggly shopping dates with her hilariously sarcastic teenage daughter. You can visit her online at, on Facebook at or on Twitter at


  1. Great article, Jennifer. I've actually stopped reading several novels, a rarity for me, because they were so intense and hopeless I couldn't take it...

    1. I get that, Jennifer. I've had that before. In one novel in particular, the writing was so very good, and the overall plot so well-thought out, I wrestled with why I didn't want to finish. I realized it wasn't that I couldn't handle the content or intensity. Rather, I needed moments of reprieve. Using my experience, I began to look at my writing. I realized I needed to add humor and more hope. :)

  2. Jennifer, this is great advice! I, too, love intense stories. But you are so right that there needs to be humor and windows of hope. Thanks!

  3. Thanks, Michael! I learned so much from Reading Mary Connealy's Calico Canyon. It's hilarious and sweet and romantic, and yet, the main character is an orphan who escaped an abusive adopted "father" who forced orphans into child labor. Wow, there were some intense, heart gripping moments in that novel, some authentic life change, and real hope.

  4. I agree completely, Jennifer. Hope and humor are great ways to keep your reader out of the dark place that an intense, dark scene can leave them. When dealing with dark subjects in a novel, there are also ways to plot the story that infuse it with light. When light meets darkness--we all know which one wins that confrontation. For those interested, I'll be sharing a post on Yvonne Anderson's blog in early March about how I treated the subject of child trafficking in my upcoming release, On the Pineapple Express.

  5. "When light meets darkness--we all know which one wins that confrontation." Love that! So very true! I'd love to read that post!

    1. I think Yvonne has it scheduled for March 6 on The Borrowed Book blog.

    2. Thanks! That sounds like a fun blog! :)

  6. These were great reminders! I have some of the same issues with my writing. One beta said that "my characters were well-developed, but really depressing." And I then God convicted me about it more when I realized I dreaded reading my own drafts, because they were so intense and moody. At that time, I enjoyed writing satire and fluffy, humorous short stories, but kept that humor separate from my full-length novels. Allowing the two styles of writing to merge made a HUGE difference.
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Janeen, how awesome that God gave you such guidance for your writing! I love it when He does that! :)


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