Character, setting, theme, point of view, and plot. These are the elements of fiction, the fundamentals on which agents and editors judge your novel. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses in these areas. You might be best at character development and setting, whereas another author might be a master of plot and conflict. Few are masters of all of the elements of fiction, but a weakness in one area can destroy an otherwise exceptional novel.
For example, let's say you excel at setting the scene and theme and focus on those elements. Character development and plot are your weak points, so you procrastinate, waiting until halfway through your novel to start building your characters and advancing the plot. The end result will be a book that feels uneven and choppy, floundering in the water like a man cast overboard in the middle of the ocean.
It is also important to know why you are writing and for whom you are writing. Are you writing to entertain or to comment on the human experience? The kind of book you are writing will dictate which elements of fiction upon which you need to focus. Plot-driven genre novels spend less time on character development and more on plot, creating the riveting page-turner. Novels that play on the reader's emotions will focus on the other elements of fiction and leave plot to develop more slowly.
The art of bringing all of the elements of fiction together is the craft of fiction. Let your strengths shine in your writing and work to improve and polish those areas in which you are weak. The more you write, the more you will improve.
Sunday Grab Bag [Wylie Merrick Literary]
Read more on my Writer's Corner blog.