Great stories typically sell. Well-written books get rejected every day. It's a weird contradiction, but the books that captivate readers and get them talking aren't always the one with the most polished prose. Love them or hate them, those mega-sellers all have something in common.
The resonate with the reader.
I think this is a tough and murky area for writers. We're told how critical it is to write well, have a fresh idea, create interesting plots, but it's that sense of story that will make or break us in the end.
And that's hard to quantify.
So stop worrying so much about the craft for a minute.
Now, I'm NOT saying you should ignore the technical aspects of writing and toss the rules of grammar out the window. You want your writing skills to be top-notch. But if you spend all of your time thinking about the technical side, and not enough on the story side, you might wind up with manuscripts that get "very well-written but it just didn't grab me" rejections.
Monday I talked about reading like a reader and pinpointing what you love about your favorite books. Today, I'd like to talk about taking those elements and putting them into your own stories.
I love books about struggle. All my favorite books and movies contain this. "Struggle to survive" can be literal (as is you will die) or thematic (as in a struggle to succeed). Aliens is a struggle to survive. Feds is a struggle to graduate FBI school. 13 Reasons Why is a struggle to understand. I love them all.
When I sit down to write a book, I think about how I can bring this favorite element into my own work. What is this story a struggle for? If I don't have characters struggling for something, I know the story won't be as compelling because what I love is missing. I'm just illustrating a plot idea and odds are good that the story won't grab readers. I'm writing a book, not telling a story I love.
Take a look at your own list of favorite stories and what resonates with you. (If you didn't make a list on Monday, go take a peek and make one now) What are the common elements in the stories you love?
This is where the adage "Write what you love" comes in. It doesn't just mean if you love romance write romance. It means write with the themes that grab you as a reader.
Let's go back to your current WIP and that list of favorite stories.
- Do your favorite themes occur in your current story?
- If not, then why not?
- Identify the common themes currently in your WIP
- Are those themes that resonate with you?
- If not, how can you change them to themes that do resonate with you?
- Look for places you can tweak to better show those favorite themes
They'll be about the story.
And story is what matters.
What elements of your favorite stories are in your books?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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