We’re talking genre fiction, not literary works. I’ve been judging as a reader. Clean, smooth prose is good, but it should be a delivery vehicle for strong storytelling.
Many of the pages I’ve read have been thrilling. The heroine has a strong, active role – she’s a bodyguard, or a firefighter, or sniper, or a PI, or whatever. The world-building has on the whole been convincing and the writing sound.
So it pains me to say I would not have bought any of the stories I read, nor even bothered to read on if the author had given them to me gratis.
The problem, I think, was that not one of these strong, active heroines had a goal. They had expertise, they were parachuted into action-packed scenes, and they responded as they had been trained to do. They saved themselves, children, cute puppies and even hunky heroes. Things happened to them, and they reacted. Boom! Pow!
It was too bad that I didn’t know who these women were, or what they wanted, or why they were doing what they were doing. I admired their heroism, but I didn’t know what their story was about. As I didn’t want to know whether they’d find their missing sibling, or figure out who stole their inheritance, or track down the blackmailer, I didn’t much care about them or invest in their adventures.
It’s at times like these that I realise how much I’ve learned over the last few years.
I tend to assume that every aspiring romance writer will have read, or at least have heard of, Debra Dixon’s G.M.C. Her book is a simple, clear explanation of the idea that for a story to have shape and urgency, it helps if the main character has a strong Goal and the Motivation to pursue it in the face of Conflict.
If the character has an objective they’ll pursue to the death (physical or psychic), then the reader has a reason to stick around—to find out what happens. If said character has a powerful reason for pursuing their goal, their Motivation should, could make the reader care whether the character gets their goal. And if there’s a Conflict—another character with an opposing goal and equally strong motivation—then you have the kind of juicy, energetic push-and-pull that keeps readers awake and turning the pages long after bedtime.
It made me melancholy to read such clean prose and potentially interesting characters with so little basic story DNA.
I don’t have a way to tell the authors of those contest entries, so I’m getting it off my chest here instead. For heaven’s sake, if you’re thinking of investing the time and energy to write a book, give your girl (or guy, or alien vampire werewolf) a goal 🙂
So what did you read this week? How was it for you?