What Makes People Actually Want to Read Your Story?

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Falling in love with a book happens so fast you don’t even realize it’s happened until you’re halfway through reading it.

Obviously, for a book to be considered a good book, it has to have a good story. And everyone has their own definition of what that entails. Not just a good story, but a story people will actually want to read, has a few vital components. They’re not too easy to master, and it takes time to do so. But it’s possible. Many before you have mastered the art of telling a story the reader can’t turn away from. There is hope for you and your stories.

New takes on old ideas

Have you ever stopped writing for a second, sat back and thought, “You know, I think this story has already been written”? You’re not wrong. Not at all. Pretty much every basic framework for every story has already been written hundreds upon thousands of times. But it doesn’t always feel that way, because writers are always coming up with new ways to tell those stories, to use that framework only as a foundation to build from.

Just because “it’s already been done” doesn’t mean you can’t still write it. Readers love familiar elements of stories they’ve read before. But it’s up to you to make it unique, to add a new twist, to keep it interesting even if it is just a little bit predictable.

Real conversations between realistic characters

Every once in awhile, you will come across a book that’s just “okay.” The story is overdone, not that unique and you can already predict how it’s going to end (or so you think). Even though that might seem like enough to convince you to set it down and pick up another book, it’s not. Because despite the so-so storyline, you’ve immediately fallen in love with the characters.

Real characters engaged in conversations you can envision happening in real life are often the anchor that keeps a new reader turning pages. Some stories just get off to a rough start. Especially first drafts, which you know well if you’ve written plenty of them. Counteract that weaker beginning with strong, dynamic characters right from the start. Those personalities will carry you through the rough points until you can go back and write a stronger introduction.

Layers that keep going deeper

A good story, good characters and good pacing all have one thing in common: layers. All those stories you’ve read about a hero going deep into a cave or beneath the earth’s surface are just metaphors for good storytelling (well, maybe). Depth in a story is everything. A cast of flat characters, zero character development and little to no deep discovery are sort of just like walking around the Midwest. There’s not much variety and our hills don’t count. It gets boring, and fast.

To keep a reader engaged, you have to peel back the layers of every character, conflict and event and dive deeper into back stories (but no more than necessary), internal conflicts and so on. You don’t have to tell all, but age-old techniques like foreshadowing something yet to come are the things keeping the pages turning, even if it seems cliche to you right now.

If you’ve ever fallen in love with a story, you’ve probably never stepped back to analyze exactly why you love it. Everyone likes a story for different reasons, and as a writer, it’s not possible to cater to everyone’s needs and satisfy every person that picks up your book. Don’t make that your mission. Aim to write a story that has as many good storytelling ingredients as possible without overdoing it.

Go with your gut. Often, it will steer you right.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Even Your Unpublishable Stories Are Still Important

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With every worthwhile masterpiece comes a harsh reality: just because you have written the best story yet, doesn’t mean it’s right for the publishing industry.

Pitching a story is the same across all channels, whether you’ve written a book, an article or a totally kick-butt essay. It has to fit into a niche; it has to be written to/for a specific audience. It has to, to some extent, align with current trends, themes and messages.

All that, and it still has to be well-written, with strong, diverse characters, an intriguing plot and usually a few twists nobody, not even your agent, saw coming.

Creativity and business do go hand-in-hand. While we need to focus on our own creative process to write something at all, it’s not over when we make that last revision. If you write just to write, that’s one thing. But if you write so others can enjoy your work, well, you have a long way to go yet.

And even if you put months, even years of your life into revising that story you love so much, sometimes it doesn’t always fit into a publishable category. Sometimes it’s unique, but not unique enough. Well-written, but not as original as you may have thought. Who knows: it might even be too ahead of its time (not such a bad thing really, if you think about it).

Once you write that story, you have to make a shift: from creator to seller. You have to figure out how to persuade an agent to see in your story what you’ve seen in it all along. Maybe it’s a matter of finding the right agent for that particular story, and yes, that will take a lot of research and a lot of time. It might pay off. Honestly, though, it might not.

This is why blogs exist. This is why self-publishing exists. If you think your story is worth printing, no one can stop you. But if you can’t sell it, and no one seems interested, and you’re starting to get discouraged, maybe you don’t want to self-publish. Maybe you just want to forget you wrote it at all, and move on.

Moving on is a must. Even if you’re still looking for an agent to give your queries a deeper look, that doesn’t mean you should stop working on other projects. It may turn out that your Best Story Ever just isn’t mean to go on to become the next bestseller. Does that mean the story’s bad? Of course not. Does it mean you’re a bad writer? Absolutely not the case.

It means you just haven’t found the idea + market combination that’s going to turn into a successful product. Every story you write matters, regardless of whether or not anybody else wants to take it to the next level. And here’s why.

Every story you write will teach you something new—about yourself, about your writing style, about your creative process: everything. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking when aspiring writers put their writing on hold when they can’t get published. Writing is your art! Your passion! It does not have to be your career. Claiming writing as your hobby does not make you any less of a writer. Getting published is hard. Especially in the very beginning, when you’ve never had to try selling your idea to someone else before.

Let your discouragement fuel your creativity. That might sound a little bonkers, but think about it: how many people get discouraged and give up? Probably a lot. But you don’t have to be one of them. Turn your disappointment into framework for a new story. Experiment with all the different emotions you’re feeling. Write something you’ve never written before. What do you have to lose?

If you stopped writing now, what are you gaining?

Some writers never get published. Some have to wait years. It’s a matter of how far you’re willing to go to learn how to write something you’re passionate about that will get a publisher’s attention. Practice does not make perfect. But maybe, eventually, practice can make publishable.

In the meantime, don’t you dare toss out that story you’ve worked so hard on all this time. Reflect on how much it has taught you. Keep it forever. Whether you want to believe it or not, it is now a part of your history. There is no going back.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.