I don’t write stories. I build them. That’s not just a casual metaphor; it’s the way I visualize any project I’m working on. Without a solid foundation the story will collapse.

How does a writer create a firm foundation? Some authors are planners. They work from a synopsis, outline, checklist, or notes. It’s a methodical and systematic approach. These are usually not the people that can write eight or ten thousand words a day and complete a novel in three weeks. I’m a planner.

Other authors are “pantsers.” They take an idea and run with it. These are the writers who may stay up most of the night filling the computer screen with the words that are burning in their brains. The idea is to get the story written and worry about edits and re-writes later.

Either approach is fine. Both require the same foundation of an interesting story that is evenly paced and well-plotted. The writing doesn’t have to be brilliant, but it should be at least workmanlike, with particular attention paid to syntax and punctuation. An awkwardly constructed sentence with a missing or misplaced comma or semicolon is a great way to lose a reader’s attention.

Okay, here’s the real point of this post: Have you ever read a book or story that holds your attention, but you can barely remember it the next day? I have. I think of them as disposable books, a way to pass a day at the beach or a rainy afternoon, but not worth further consideration once I’m finished. They certainly don’t merit a place on my bookshelf.

So, what’s missing? What went wrong?

In many cases the missing ingredient, at least for me, is empathy. I don’t think you can write good fiction without it. The characters will either fail to come alive or their words and actions will seem as false as the plot and dialogue on a television soap opera.

A writer has to feel the words as well as write them. When I read a scene I’ve written, I expect to have an emotional response to it. If I don’t get that response, I’ve failed, regardless of the quality of the writing. I want my readers to feel the story, not just read it. For that to happen, I need to feel the words that I’m writing. I want the reader to be transported into the story, to be there, to live and breathe every word of it. I’m trying to strike a chord that will resonate with my audience. That’s how I measure success.

 

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