Kurt Vonnegut was one of my favorite writers when I was a teenager and he still is. He’s profound, profane, sardonic, ironic, satiric, sometimes bleak, sometimes plain goofy, almost always interesting. The link below is to a video that lasts all of one minute and twenty-eight seconds. In that time he tells you how to write a good short story. Most of what he says can be applied to writing a novel though.
All of it is good advice, but here’s a line that jumped out at me the last time I stopped by to listen to Mr. Vonnegut. “Every sentence must do one of two things, either reveal character or advance the action.”
It’s hard to stay focused sometimes when writing a novel. You can’t help but get tired and lazy now and then. Vonnegut’s advice is a good reminder of how language can’t be independent of story. A sentence that doesn’t do anything to deepen character or push the story forward, even a beautiful one, generally weakens the work. A lot of those sentences and the story may falter.
But there’s a lot more advice loaded into Vonnegut’s minute and twenty-eight second talk.