Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sometimes It's Just A Feeling You Get

There are countless books, articles, websites, magazines, courses, conferences etc. etc. where a writer can go to learn his/her craft, to study the nuances of plot and structure, to learn how to incorporate symbolism and theme, to hone pace and develop characterization and a myriad of other technical elements that make up a story. But there is one thing that a writer needs to have in their arsenal of writing tools that is not so easily studied or obtained. That mysterious thing? The gut feeling when you know a story is not working.

This feeling can't be explained very easily. At least, I can't explain it well. Maybe it can be as simple as plot points not working but plot is one of the easiest things to fix, I think. What I'm talking about is when you know you have a good main character, a great idea, the pace is clipping along and the secondary characters are interesting, and there is escalating tension, a strong climax and appropriate denouement and, still, after all that, something is just not right. It is an undefined feeling that the story is just not popping off the page - for whatever reason. It's not about the technical components of the story. Those things can be fixed. But if, as the author of your story, you are feeling a general sense of unease when you read through your pages, or apathy, or reluctance to continue writing it, if you do not feel a little flame of excitement as you read the pages you've created then something is not working on an emotional level.

The other night, I was fixing up some things for THE BREAK as we head into the final stages for it's release in the spring, and my daughter asked me, "Mom, aren't you sick of that book yet?" And I honestly could tell her, no. I really love this book and I love tweaking it to make it better and spending time with it. Sure, I'm sure I'll get sick of it (there are only so many times you can read a book through before your eyes begin bleeding) but it hasn't happened yet. And that is the sign I look for when I'm writing my stories. You don't weary of it. It still holds some special charm over you. And it's not the fact that it's being published! I had one story (paranormal) that was sent out to a few editors and did not sell. Got great feedback and all that but just didn't sell. I still love that story. I could read it again even after all this time still get a little thrill when reading it. Still smile at certain scenes and want to keep turning the pages. So it's not about selling a story that makes it more appealing to me. That doesn't matter. It's that indefineable something a story contains.

I've been working on two WIP's this past year. One is finished and I've gone through a revision with it. I thought that was the one I'd be querying with this fall. Great premise, solid characters, etc. etc. But. There's something missing. I don't know what it is yet but I don't get that FEELING. I put it aside and picked up the other WIP. Still needs work, still need to finish the last 3 chapters or so. Maybe it's not as technically ready as the other WIP. But, boy, when I started reading it - BAM! - that feeling was totally there. There was something about this one…

So, there you go. Like anything that is creative in nature a strong emotion has to be involved or it doesn't work. You can have a technically perfect reproduction of Michaelangelo's David but, from what people tell me (because I haven't seen the real thing), there is something about seeing that actual statue that makes it special. I'm sure it was the emotion that the artist infused into carving that piece of marble.

What about you? Do you get that unexplainable 'feeling' when you know a story has - or doesn't have - something?


  1. Absolutely! I'm struggling with that lack of feeling with a WIP right now. I think I might have figured out what's missing; hopefully fixing that will be enough to get me excited about it again. :-)

  2. I have gotten this way when I've done extensive plotting before drafting. I feel like I'm going through the motions of someone else's book, almost. Adding/changing something that surprises even me has often helped. Today, I try to keep plot outlines a little more general and flexible. YMMV

  3. Here’s the kicker, Nelsa- I’ve gotten great feedback to stories I didn’t think were special. Makes one doubt their ‘sense’ just as a negative reaction to something you feel is spot-on would.
    But, yes, I know what you mean and you said it very well.

  4. Hi Anna: Oh, I feel your pain! Here's hoping you find the excitement and thrill of your wip again!

    Hi Jeff: Absolutely! Over plotting can definitely be an excitement killer. But I've also found if you don't fully flesh out an idea you might find it doesn't have the legs to carry out a whole novel. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

    Hi Mirka: I know, right?? Sometimes you can second-guess your gut by thinking "Oh, maybe I'm being too critical". But, honestly, in this business I think you need to be completely in love with a book to take the up and downs of this business.

  5. Yes, exactly! It feels like such an abandoned effort to take a break from a book that isn't working, but it's really like pulling teeth to keep putting energy into a wip that isn't working. Glad to know I'm not the only one!

  6. Yes and yes on that feeling you talk about...it's that this is working, this feels right. And what really seals the deal is coming back to the book and finding that feeling is even stronger! Looking forward to THE BREAK!

  7. Yes, absolutely! With my latest manuscript, which is now on submission, I just felt something pretty much from the start, and like you, I never got tired of working on it. Not through all the revisions. Not at all. There was something about it that made me love it and want to spend all my time on it.