Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What makes your writing a stand-out piece?


I’ve got a new bad habit.

When I watch movies, I point out the motivation and conflicts for the main actor. My husband has begun doing it too. In fact, it’s almost a race between us until the plot sucks us in.

But there is one part of the craft, I’m not sure I can pick up a how-to book to learn from.

How do you come up with an engaging plot?

Yesterday, I sent in my entry to ACFW for their Genesis contest. I think my chapter is polished as it can be as to the grammar, the GMC, and the detail in the scenes. I even love my MC.

But I’m worried.

What if my story despite all of that, is down-right boring? What if there is no meat to it? What if what sounds interesting to me causes another reader to snooze?

Here’s where you think you’ll read on and get a good answer.

Wrong.

After learning all the tricks to good writing, it still comes down to story. I don’t care how well-written a work is, if it doesn’t hold my attention, pace or no pace, I put the story down.

Story trumps everything.

So I ask you, how do you know if your creation is heart gripping, eye-opening fiction?

52 comments:

Paul Greci said...

Good question!! Different people will be drawn to different storylines. I just think you have to write the story you want to write, that said, running the idea by others can give you a sense of if you're on the right track. I rely on beta readers. My answer sounds simplistic to me. Maybe you are looking for something deeper.

Robin @ Be Still and Know said...

Good luck with your submission...can't wait to here how it comes out.

Have a great day!
R

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Janet Grant had a great post on this yesterday. Mostly it's a gut thing, but you are so right about an engaging plot. I think this is why it's essential to increase tension and conflict as much as possible.

Go get 'em w/ your entry.
~ Wendy

Julie Jarnagin said...

I really enjoyed this post. Movies are great places to learn about story structure! My son is obsessed with Toy Story 3 right now-so I basically have the movie memorized. The conflict and motivation in that kind of movie are so clear. I think for me it reinforces the need for a crystal clear external motivation. Writing romance, it's easy for me to get too caught up in the internal conflict.

terri.forehand said...

Great insight into the writing process, and getting it right. I am glad to hear other writers struggle with the same issues even after studying the craft.

Blessings for your submission.

Terri
http://terri-forehand.blogspot.com
http://heartfeltwords4kids.blogspot.com

Lin Floyd said...

I write non-fiction...lol!

Susan Roux said...

In a painting it's contrast, interest, surprises and a unified harmony...

Funny how it isn't particularly easy to hit all those points on one canvas.

Jo Holloway said...

That's what I've been SAAAA-ying! LOL! ... So when are we going to see "Chances of the Heart" all fixed up and ready for editing? :-) Or any of your other stories (equally wonderful, I'm sure!)?

Hope you're being richly blessed!

Keli Gwyn said...

Terri, my hubby and I dissect shows we watch, too. He's become quite adept at assessing what works and why. It's fun to hear him using terms like black moment and believability, characterization and conflict.

I've found that discussing my plot with other writers or friends who enjoy reading the kind of stories I write is a good way to gauge whether or not my idea is working. If their eyes sparkle and they begin asking questions, I figure I'm onto something. If they give me a polite smile, I need to do more work.

Congratulations on sending your Genesis entry on its way. I wish you well and am ready to join in some happy dancing on your behalf.

Cheryl Klarich said...

There's a lot to be said for letting something brew for a while, and then go back with fresh eyes... Darn those deadlines!!!

I'm impressed that you're taking a giant leap of faith!!
You did it, and that's awesome. :)

Karen Lange said...

Good question. I'm with you on the engaging plot. It has to grab the reader but like you said, to be objective is hard. Trusting for wisdom and having good crit partners is important. Wish you all the best with your entry. Congrats on submitting it. I'm excited for you!
Blessings,
Karen :)

Melissa Marsh said...

It's so subjective that it's hard to say. But for me, if I am bored writing it, then the reader will be bored reading it.

Yolanda said...

For me, my story always revolves around God, because He is evolving me into the vessel He desires. Often times, it hurts and is rough but on the other side it is victorious.

Doreen McGettigan said...

I write non-fiction also but I am hoping to write fiction soon. (actually I try in my spare time).
Good luck with your entry!

Diane said...

Hopefully, what I write will get some kind of reaction out of a reader, whatever that will be. Any reaction, other than a blank stare, has promise. :O)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Good luck with your submission. I hope you win. If I am bored at any point while writing, I know I will lose my reader.

Susan R. Mills said...

I'm afraid I don't have the answer.

Sarah Forgrave said...

That's a great question. Objective feedback always helps, but in the end, it comes down to personal opinion. Doesn't that make you feel better? :)

Nancy said...

Well, one I know was good because the people I loaned it to seemed to like the story a lot. Another one had almost no comment. The others, sadly, are in my drawer.

Erin MacPherson said...

I'm not a fiction writer so I can't really answer that, but I know in non-fiction you have to be humble yet funny yet interesting yet poignant... it's a tough combo but otherwise, no one is going to read your stuff.

Stephanie Faris said...

In the 90s, I attended a workshop called "Goal Motivation and Conflict" by Debra Dixon. She warned at the beginning that we'd never be able to watch a movie or read a book the same way again...we'd be picking it apart. I don't always do that, though.

Lynda Young said...

Now this is a difficult question. I agree that story trumps everything. It is the most important element. That's why I always look at story first when I'm outline and then revise. But how do I know if it's good fiction? Gosh... I have to be excited by it for starters. The writer's passion will always show through. My beta readers/critique partners will also let me know if its too slow or has boring bits. Other than that... there is a bit of trial and error some times.

Patti Lacy said...

This is a million-dollar question...or a God-whispering one. I go for the latter.

Crit partners help, too.

And a discerning agent.

Good to be back at your place.
Love and blessings, Patti

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

Congrats on entering the Genesis contest!

I brought several pages of Chapter 1 to my writers' group for critique. They wanted more.

I asked a friend to read the first chapter. She wanted the rest of the book.

Having trusted crit partners is critical to the process.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jessica Nelson said...

Therein lies the beauty of subjectivity. :-) What interests one person doesn't interest another. That's just how it goes. I hope you do wonderfully! I'm thinking of entering too...

Tamika: said...

All the best Terri! I know that your piece is waiting for an audience!

I'm struggling with the same question. It's a doozy:)

Lynn said...

That's a thought-provoking question, Terri. I believe there is a reader for every story. And people are looking for connectivity wherever they can find it, and fiction is a way. I've read stories with little plot but still heart-gripping to me. I like what Paul said-write what you want to write, and characters become realistic, compelling, by connecting with the readers.

All the best with your submission!!

Emily said...

Entering the Genisis contest is the perfect way to find that out! The feedback is so detailed that if there's a problem, you'll know about it. Feedback from that contest has really helped me, anyway.

P.S. I love the puppies. :)

Sassy Granny ... said...

I'm going to be absolutely NO help to you with this one. My guess is that it all has to do with audience.

The conservative reader in our midst MIGHT like my story, but the ultra-liberal would probably write me off as one of those whacky religious types (I hate it when that happens ...). If the author isn't deemed worthy, watch out what happens to the baby they'll toss out with the bathwater. My guess.

Praying your book is a HUGE success!
Kathleen

Jill said...

My hubby and I are always looking for signs, symbols, and Monarch mind control in movies. Forget plot, hidden Illuminati symbols are way more exciting. :) Good rhythm in writing will carry a reader through. That's what I'm working on right now--my rhythm.

Joanne Sher said...

Congrats on submitting, Terri!

And, of course, I "just know." NO clue ;)

T. Anne said...

Yay for entering Genesis! I hope good things for you my friend!!!

I love that you point out the motivation and conflict. i'm going to have to start doing this because it seems like such a good exercise! For me, i have to feel the emotion and get lost in all the drama. That's how I know.

Rita's Random Ramblings said...

Way to go Teri! Good luck on your entry!

Carol Riggs said...

Aw, what a cute li'l soft puppy pile! Love the photo. Makes me want to pick one up...

Argh, you're right--story trumps everything. Although perhaps not VOICE. But I've seen books still be popular/published that don't have much voice, and yet the story still sucks people in. It's so subjective, too.

What makes gripping fiction? Hmm. I think uniqueness counts, something people haven't seen before. A humorous situation, perhaps, or a plotline that really hits in people's guts. Luckily, there is a variety of people out there in readership-land, and the snooze factor is all somewhat relative.

Kara said...

I have the same problem. But I think if we write about something that is important to us or moves us in some way it will show through in our plot and our writing. I know we still have to worry about pacing etc. but I'm hoping it all falls into place as we're shaping the story.
At least I hope so:)

WritingNut said...

Good luck with your submission!

Don't stress over it, I'm sure it will be wonderful! :)

I understand your worry though, I have the same one, what if people don't like it? What if I'm the only one who does?

I read somewhere that if you don't feel passionate about what you've written, others won't either. So let's give it all the passion and faith we've got, and hope for the best! :)

Jill Kemerer said...

I don't! I can only hope I've put everything together in a meaningful way.

Good luck with the Genesis!!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Writing is so subjective. What appeals to one person doesn't for another. I'm still learning how to make my writing stronger. It's a process. Just keep plugging away. You'll get there.

Sally said...

Write what you like and there will be someone out there that likes it too. Good luck on the Genesis project.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

It's hard because that's so subjective. Last year with Genesis, I had a judge who loved my story, somewhat liked it, and one who didn't like it at all. That made it hard for me to re-evaluate things!

Jackie said...

Don't have an answer to your question but I completely agree with "story trumps everything"!

Praying the your work is well received at Genesis!

Keep us posted!

Blessings!
Jackie

Rosslyn Elliott said...

I'm glad you entered Genesis! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My answer: I know it's good when there's nothing EXTRA, but only what absolutely must be there. It's funny when 100,000 words can feel like a tight limit. :-) And also, it has to make me cry or lift the hair on my arms at times while I'm writing.

Linda O'Connell said...

A writer once told me that every page has to have dynamic action to hold the reader's attention. Wore me out listening to her.

I am still developing a love of writing fiction. Write from the heart is what I do best.

Rhonda Schrock said...

Best wishes, Terri! I hope you win. I don't write fiction (well, some would claim otherwise), so I'm out of my league there. I just know a great story when I see one.

Keep us posted!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

LOL, I do the same thing with movies...

Good luck with your competition!

I think you have to rely on your cp's and beta readers to determing if your story is going to work. Do they have the emotional reaction to it you are hoping for? Are they connected to the characters? Do they want to know more?

sarah said...

I love those pups....and story...heart gripping? not sure but you got to take a risk right...you got to try and I'm glad you did....

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh, that is the essential question, isn't?

I recently read several hundred of the one paragraph entries in Nathan Bransford's contest, trying to identify the common thread of what made a me want to read more. The closest I could come to identifying the miracle formula is you have to have build an emotional bridge to the reader - you have to get them to care, and you have to promise that something is going to happen. But even with that, there's still so much competition out there, you have to have a story concept/theme that really STANDS OUT. help!

Julie Musil said...

Oh Terri, how I wish I knew! I struggle with doubt all the time, and I suppose I'm not alone. I do rely on my critique partners to help me out. If the plot sags, they have no problem telling me.

Good luck with your story. My fingers are crossed for you!

Carmen said...

Writing well is such a long process of learning. I am amazed at your tenacity. Most books I read are written well enough, that if the story has gripped me, I will not put it down. However, if the story is weak, no matter how well written it is, I will put it down.

I thought those puppies in the photo above were buns in the small picture on my dashboard. That is what initially drew me. The thought of food! I know, sad--really sad. Did I mention I'm trying to lose weight?

Deb Shucka said...

Boy do you ask good questions - the really hard kind without simple answers. A good quality in a writer, I think. Sending prayers for your submission and your heart whatever the outcome.

Natalie said...

I've been there. I always know that I love my story, but I'm never confident that it isn't boring until I send it to my writing group or have my husband read it. It's so hard to know what other people will connect with. I had a scene in my last book that I thought was hilarious, none of my betas got it at all.

Janet said...

That is a good question. A story may be heart gripping, eye-opening to one publisher but uninteresting to another. We all love our stories, or at least we should, we just have to do our best and find the right publisher.