If you ask readers why they read, you’ll hear a lot of different answers—but if a story doesn’t have some hard-won emotional truths in it as well as being entertaining, readers will likely put it down. And if your character doesn’t struggle to gain their goal, and they don’t have an internal or worldview change as a result, your story won’t be satisfying. We all struggle, and are all trying to figure out how to be happier, how to get what we want and need in life—how to gain greater insights. Story is one way to help us do that.
Readers respond to emotional truths in story. One of the reasons we read is to give us a roadmap for the pain and problems we’re going through, to know that not only can we survive them, but we can also heal from them, maybe even come away from them stronger or with a new purpose.
The right details can make your characters and settings seem more real, more alive, even more interesting. But loading your story down with detail can put your reader to sleep.
How do you decide what details to use and when? Here are some tips to help you:
- Use details that will stand out to the reader, or that describe an object, setting, or person in a specific way. Try to pick details that will stay with the reader. For instance, maybe your character notices that her friend’s lipstick is on crooked, or that her hand is trembling.
There’s a common saying among writers—write about what you know. I think that’s generally good advice. I’d like to add: write about what moves you, what you care about, what provokes strong emotion in you.
You want your manuscript to be the best it can be. You want it to move the people who read it, so they’ll read another of your books–and tell others how good your book is. But we can’t always see our writing clearly enough to make it the best it can be; we can be too close to it. That’s where a first reader comes in–someone you trust to give you honest, helpful feedback in a way that you’re comfortable with, and that actually helps. Feedback that doesn’t slam your writing, but that also doesn’t just praise it. But what do you ask your reader to look for?
The questions included here are questions you may want your reader to consider. Choose about 5-6 questions, the ones that are the most important for you, and ask your reader to watch out for them
- Write about what you care about. Write about what moves you, what touches you in some way. The more you care about something, the more passion there will be in your writing–and the readers will feel that. Write the kind of stories you like to read. Don’t try to write something because it’s the current trend–write what is important to you, and your writing will likely find a home.
Do you have to write every day to be a real or serious writer? The short answer is no–not in my opinion, any way. The longer answer is that it all depends on what works best for you, and how honest you are with yourself about that. I’ve seen so many books and articles state that you have to write every day to be a “real” writer–but I think that’s people trying to force what works for them (and maybe even for a majority of writers)onto allwriters. Writing every day, no matter what you feel or how your writing is going, works for some writers–but not every one.
Learning how fiction works—learning writing technique—is, in my opinion, vital to writing really great fiction. Writers, just like any other artist (such as musicians or painters), need tools they can wield to hone their creations, to make them the best they can be, a piece of writing that a reader won’t put down. It’s what you do with that technique, how you use those building blocks to create your own piece and to bring out your voice, that makes one book stand out from the others. Technique helps you to make your own writing more effective and powerful.
You’ve worked hard on your manuscript. You’ve finally finished it. But is it ready to send out? As writers, it’s often hard to get a clear perspective on our work. One day we love it, and the next day we think it’s crap. Or we may think it’s the best thing we’ve ever written. These reactions make sense; often, in order to write well, we become emotionally involved with the story. In my opinion, that’s one of the things that makes good writing good–caring about the story. But when we’re so emotionally involved with our writing, or so aware of all the time and energy we’ve invested in it, it’s hard to see it clearly. Often we can’t tell right away whether a piece of writing we’ve just finished is as good or as bad as we think it is. So how do we know when it’s ready to submit to an editor or an agent? Two things can help–getting feedback from a trusted reader, and putting your manuscript away for a period of time.
Books are powerful things. They can move us, make us cry, laugh, and feel. They can help us know we are not alone; that we are not the only one who has gone through a trauma or who has a particular problem. They can increase our compassion for ourselves and for others, and show us new solutions to problems. Books can help us release pent up emotions. They can gently nudge us out of stereotypical thinking. And they can help us heal.
You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children.
I think if what you’re writing is realistic fiction for teens, then you need to reflect their lives. The one thing I have heard from teenagers is that they want honesty.
– Kathy Stinson, author of Becoming Ruby
and other books for teens and children
Children like to read about success, whether it’s winning the hand of the best princess or prince, saving a life, helping people who need it, beating the other team in the game of the year, or discovering another universe.
-Janet and Isaac Asimov
Learning good writing technique is key to getting–and staying–published. I think, as writers, we can always keep learning and improving on our craft. I will never stop learning and adding to my knowledge.
One of my favorite ways to learn writing technique is through books and courses. They can help you discover new ways to make your writing more effective and powerful; show you things to avoid so that you don’t turn readers off or throw them out of your story; and dramatically help you improve the quality of your writing. Of course, what works for one author might not work as well for another author; our brains process things differently, we come from different perspectives, and we are all at different stages in our writing. But these books and courses have been invaluable to me. Take what works for you, and ignore the rest.