The “Whole Package” Novel

Are you currently writing a novel? If so, my previous post encourages you to read great books in order to be a better writer.

For me, as a novelist, my goal is to write novels that encompass the “whole package.” So what is the “whole package” in novel writing?

In my opinion, the best novels contain compelling “can’t put it down” unpredictable stories, brilliant character studies, believable dialogue and rich, variant language. The majority of contemporary books are not “whole package “ novels (although there are a few contemporary novels listed below).

Most novels tend to have one or two strengths but may be lacking in other areas. For example, Jodi Picoult’s books have brilliant character studies, narrative voices and crisp writing, but sometimes the stories are lacking. Mary Higgins Clark’s novels have great stories and a crisp writing style, but they’re usually formulaic.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is one of those rare hard-to-find “whole package” novels: (Repeat from a previous post: I own a hard copy but downloaded this on Kindle for 1.99). This has become my favorite book of all time. Mitchell only wrote one novel in her lifetime, but it is the quintessential novel, especially if you enjoy historical romance. This book has it all: excellent, crisp writing, compelling story, intricate, believable and brilliant character studies and, most importantly, it is NOT formulaic. I don’t mind reading formulaic novels, but it’s more enjoyable for me to read a novel with unpredictable stories. The movie is a fair representation of the book, although reading the book offers richer character studies.

Reading and studying “whole package” novels will help novelists improve their writing.

Here are a few other “Whole Package” Novels:

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (This was also made into a movie, but I highly recommend you read the novel first. The movie is a fair representation of the book and I enjoyed both immensely.)

A High and Hidden Place by Michele Claire Lucas. My review is here. Excellent story, characters, writing.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Many people don’t appreciate the rich, literary language of the early 19th century, but this is my favorite of Austen’s books. Austen’s books are rich in characterization, complex in storyline and her writing is exquisite. There are quite a few film adaptations; my personal favorite is this one with Keira Knightley.

One of Ours by Willa Cather (my review here)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Most students will read and study this book at some point in their education. I read it first, in high school, then read it a second time when one of my sons was studying it. Again, Harper Lee only wrote one novel in her career and it was an incredibly moving one with rich characters, excellent dialogue, compelling story.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: (The movie remains fairly faithful to the novels). Rich characters, beautiful writing, compelling story and symbolism all make this a whole package novel.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis: I read these books out loud years ago to my boys at night before they went to sleep. Highly recommend.

Do you have any favorite novels that encompass great storytelling, rich language, believable characters and unpredictable plot lines? Feel free to comment below!

copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

About Ellen Gable Hrkach

Ellen Gable Hrkach is the president of the Catholic Writers Guild. She recently published her fifth book, A Subtle Grace (O'Donovan Family), which reached #1 in Religious Drama on Amazon Kindle within two weeks of publication and remained there for five weeks. Her third novel, Stealing Jenny, was an Amazon Kindle #1 Bestseller in Religious Drama (June/July 2012) and has been in the top ten of that category since November, 2011. She is also the award-winning author of In Name Only, a Catholic historical romance and the first of the O'Donovan Family books as well as the 2010 IPPY Gold medal winner in Religious Fiction. Her books have been downloaded over 550,000 times on Kindle. Her website is www.ellengable.com. She and her husband are the parents of five sons and they live in Pakenham, ON Canada.
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7 Responses to The “Whole Package” Novel

  1. LarryD says:

    Novelist Tim Powers comes to mind. I’ve read “Declare” and “The Stress of Her Regard” multiple times. He has a great talent of interweaving historical figures into fictional settings (“Declare” involves famous British double-agent Kim Philby and Noah’s Ark, while “TSofHR” has poets Byron, Shelley, and Keats, with the nephilim, vampires, and Greek mythology); the plots are non-formulaic to say the least, and the dialogue is excellent.

    “Declare” reads like a John le Carre spy thriller with supernatural elements, while “TSofHR” is pure Gothic horror.

    Oh, and Tim’s a Catholic too, and you can catch strains of his faith in the stories if you’re paying attention.

  2. Ann Seeton says:

    We have some overlap. I LOVE Tolkein’s work, and I LOVE every single novel by Jane Austen and find my favorite of her books varies based on which one I am currently re-reading.

    CS Lewis’ books are a must read for every child, I would add to these Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Kipling’s Jungle Books, and the work of Mark Twain. The poetry of John Donne, Robert Frost, Emily Dickenson, and Robert Burns have drawn me back again and again over the years.

    Also, I was quite surprised to discover that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter stands the test of being read repeatedly and discussed by grad students in both literature and theology; it is useful for examples of moral development and she portrays the maturing process very well. I cannot think of another writer who has done so well with it.

    I have noted that there are good writers who manage one or another or a collection of these things, but few who manage them all, and my favorites may not actually do all of them perfectly, also, I tend to books for younger people, and it is equally difficult to find a writer of Juveniles that puts everything into their work.

  3. Excellent suggestions, Ann. I agree that few writers can manage and juggle all these writing skills but it’s always good to try…you never know! Thanks for commenting!

  4. Johnny says:

    The perfect novel? I have a few.

    Love In The Ruins by Walker Percy

    That this novel has remained relevant since 1971 is no small feat. It’s still funny, accurate, and has a highly interesting cast of characters. Plus, it doesn’t end in a way that you think it will.

    The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

    I still find this the best young adult novel in being honest with how the world works and how much more complex it is when it comes to “Us Vs. Them” conflicts. Being that it was written by a fifteen year-old probably helps her not speak down to her audience, either. If more YA authors took example from this and less from Catcher In The Rye the genre would probably be much better.

    And Then There Was None by Agatha Christie

    In my opinion, this is probably the best mystery novel written. Intriguing characters, a plot you can’t predict, and there’s something floating beneath the surface you can’t put your finger on.

    Phantastes by George MacDonald

    It’s about a trip through the Fairy World. People criticize it for not being plot-based, but that’s not the point of the story. Richly detailed imagery, a simple story with an unpredictable ending, and a lot going on underneath make it one of my favorite stories.

    The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

    Everything is not what it seems, or is it? He keeps you guessing until the end but the characters and the high-adventure story will pull you along excitedly the whole way.

    On the whole, those would probably be my favorites that have little in them that detract from the story. None of them are formulaic or follow genre conventions and all of them have interesting characters you just can’t wait to hear speak. If I were to make a list, I would put these on it.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie! Thanks for the other recommendations. !

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