Book Review: The Irresistible Novel

One of the most influential books on the writing craft I’ve read is Jeff Gerke’s The Irresistible Novel. I had the privilege of hearing some of the book’s content in person from Gerke at a conference I attended in 2014, and loved his session so much, I bought the book to further understand what makes a great novel.

The Irresistible Novel addresses the so-called “rules of fiction”—such as whether or not you should write a prologue, how much description you need, showing versus telling, etc.—and argues that the measure of a great novel is not whether you religiously adhere to them or not. Instead, Gerke explains that the key to writing a fantastic novel is how well you, the author, engage your reader.

I recommend this book to writers who have spent a few years learning their craft, studying the “rules,” and are starting to find themselves feeling pressured to write the perfect novel based upon the craft standards we commonly hear. This was the stage I found myself in back in 2014 when I discovered The Irresistible Novel. Gerke’s message helped me understand that, while some of the craft “rules” often do help readers engage with characters and the story, many of them are just individual opinions on how a novel should be written. Understanding this helped me to better discern the critiques I received, and even to make me a better critiquer. I learned what my tendencies were (the craft standards I want to emulate or see others emulate) and started to express my critiques as ideas to help the author realize their novel’s full potential rather than as “you must change this by doing that or else your novel is terrible.” Sometimes I even directly state that a suggestion is my own biased opinion.

Gerke’s book isn’t just helpful for budding novelists, though. Writers in any stage can benefit from it. Recently I found myself in a season where perfectionism and clinging to the craft principles started to choke my writing again. I wasn’t writing consistently and found it difficult to pump out rough drafts like I usually do. I reread parts of The Irresistible Novel and was reminded of my mission as the author: write an engaging story. I felt free to ignore the rules—at least for the first draft—and write a story that I personally found compelling. If I ever fall into a similar perfectionism-induced rut, I believe Gerke’s message will help me get out of it again .

While I do still take craft into account in my editing process and take every critique I receive into consideration, I no longer feel constrained to follow any particular “writing craft mandate” or apply every single suggestion I receive from a critiquer. I’m more interested in how engaged my readers are—and that’s thanks to Jeff Gerke. I highly, highly recommend The Irresistible Novel and hope that you will find it as fascinating, freeing, and inspiring as I do.