There are entire books devoted to writing a “big” novel, including books with names like “How to write a blockbuster novel.”
This is not one of those books in post form.
Why is it not?
Because those books, by and large, were designed to write a novel that NYC publishers would recognize as big and promote. This is not something that matters much now. For one because unless you hit a very narrow field of their current obsessions, or unless you happen to be sleping with one of them, it’s unlikely to do you much good.
Those books would go on about how to hit matters of world-shattering concern, besides the normal problems of the characters, etc. If possible, they wanted you to put in… well, some form of activism or an important world figure. So, for instance, in the second book in the Shakespeare biography, my then agent forced me to have Queen Elizabeth I show up. I just told him to take a hike when he suggested she be a voice character. (Queens aren’t interesting, unless the story is about, you know, the signing of edicts and such.)
I always found it very artificial that historical books had to have these “socially relevant talk D*MN REGENCY ROMANCE featuring either a suffragette or a woman who ran an abused women shelter? Because, yeah. It’s not at the point of hitting the wall, yet, if the rest of the book is interesting, but it’s annoying as heck.
And it’s because that’s one way to get the publishers to target it for a lot of distribution. It’s “Serious” and about “big issues.”
If you want to break into that type of market, figure out what the talking heads are making much about and go for it. I wish you luck.
There are two other meanings to a big story. The first one is not synonymous with “long” but it almost for sure ends up meaning “long.” – that is a novel that ends up with lots of subplots. I accidentally did this with Witchfinder, when it exploded into a four-heads (or six?) novel with various settings. It wasn’t meant to be that way, and it made the novel very long.
Two things: this type of big book is better because it allows you to bring in a complexity of views and a more complete understanding of your world (this is particularly good in speculative fiction.) OTOH it is bad, unless you can tightly control the theme and the multiple stories, so they converge/touch at certain points and follow a central problem/disruption. Otherwise what you have is a salad, not a book.
On the other hand, you can have a big book even if you have a SHORT book and/or it is first person or third person following a single character. Here in no particular order are the things that make a book “big” as opposed to small.
A big book is thoroughly imagined
- This means that you don’t move your characters through a blank landscape
- Your secondary characters aren’t chess pieces, and how they are affected means something for the main character, too. And sometimes it can alter the story.
- Your character doesn’t get so concentrated on the main problem that he’s two dimensional. Yes, in the middle of apocalyptic events, people still need to eat, sleep and (if they’re lucky) bathe.
A big book doesn’t putty over the weak spots.
- Or at least not all of them.
- Every book has weak spots, places where you need something to happen that is maybe the fourth most likely thing, or something that’s out of character, or… A big book spends time making it more likely and goes back and foreshadows the d*mn thing, instead of dropping it, elephant-like from the ceiling.
- A big book makes the most of the tension, instead of veering away from it, because you’re sorry for your character.
- A big book goes there. Yes, that scary thing, that bloody scene, that part where the character unwinds/is sick/wounded? A big book goes there.
A big book has richness of setting or characters.
– Unless that is the point of the story, make sure not all your characters are one thing, be they space captains or waitresses
– Unless that is the point of your story, make sure not all your settings are the same type. Not all classrooms, not all public parks, not all diners (ah!), not all public transportation. IF your characters had the last big fight in the bedroom, take them out to the ice-cream parlor for the next one.
– Remember that you don’t have to pay for special effects. If you’re writing about magic or space battles, give as rich a description as you can. I’ve found, over time, that people like that (heaven knows why, but they do. Apparently they pay you to imagine that stuff for them, not being able/willing to imagine it themselves.)
Now go consider embigenning your novel.
Next week The Perils of multiple POVs or How to Braid a Plot.
Disclaimer: I don’t know if big novels do better with the public. No one does. All I can tell you is that they SEEM to.