Posting early today.
30-day Challenge from Supposed Crimes Day 2: What makes a compelling story? What takes away from it?
I talked about DNF in the last post. The opposite is this. A compelling story, one that pushes me to go on to the next page, the next scene, the next chapter, the next conflict, curious, anxious, determined, to see events through, to accompany these characters in their travails and see them victorious.
When a book is compelling me to read it has three things:
- fluid, smooth writing style – minimal grammatical issues so I’m not constantly substituting the correct spelling in my head, or constantly swapping out the homophone (or slant rhymed!) word for the one the author must have meant. Please have the professionalism and belief in producing clear, understandable prose to someone professional edit your story. You ARE too close to see the errors. I promise you, no matter how good you are at catching the errors in others’ work, DO NOT be the only editor of your own.
If I can get through your prose to keep reading, next hook me in with:
- interesting characters – by this I mean three-dimensional. While a character’s entire history and physical description does not (and should not) be revealed in the first few pages, consider the other ways to reveal bits of character. Tantalize me. But also, please don’t fill out your character with quirks for the sake of quirks. By this I mean, make sure what you’re sharing is both relevant to understanding character motivations and the plot as it unfolds. Childhood traumas are only relevant inasmuch as the conflict ahead will be making a character deal with it. The last breakup is only useful if the love interest coming is going to have some of the same warning markers and the character is going to learn from past mistakes in their approach to a new relationship. If there’s no love interest coming, I do not need to know the intimate details of why their last relationship broke off. If special abilities are the result of traumatic introduction to the body (science lab escapee) then I expect a character to be wrestling with both the experience in the lab AND the new powers — not comfortably using them the first time out.
That leads me to the third requirement:
- conflict that involves realistic personal growth and stakes – I realizes that realism can be in the eye of the beholder a bit, particularly in fantasy. But what I mean by this is the psychology of decision-making, the psychology of maturation, of socialization, or its lack, should not be given short shrift. These psychologies are at the intimate heart of how we form, or don’t form, relationships, healthy or otherwise. And I want to form a relationship with your characters through their trials. So give me the psychology to connect with them, and I’m there every step of the way. But plug “character A” into a plot that doesn’t give them growth in some way, and I’m quickly bored. Mystery series do this a lot, because the detective is seldom intimately involved with the central crime plot — I often feel the “neighbor/lover/child in danger” climax is melodramatic because it’s not an inner conflict for the protagonist, it’s an external one. This is why mystery is generally not my reading choice. While related, suspense or espionage plots can create a deeper connection between protagonist and the solving of a “large” world-shaking conflict when the events of the plot or the antagonist is challenging the protagonist’s world-view or some other inner belief at the same time.
So, there you have it, how to compel me to read your story.
As a writer, this list is also why I often toss away plots that are suggested to me unless or until I can find a character who logically will need just the right psychological reformation from dealing with that plot’s particular conflict.