Monday, June 9, 2008

What's the one hardest thing?

I was asked this last week during a book club chat from a gentleman who writes a weekly column for a local paper and wants to tackle writing a novel.

"Is it the self-discipline required to write every day on the same piece of work for six months to a year? Or the rewriting once you've finished your first draft? Or the gutting and rewriting yet again after you receive editorial input from an agent or editor?"

"It's the story," I said. "Any writer can throw down snappy dialogue, a handful of poignant or humorous pages, a few chapters that are structured perfectly. Lots of writers are great at character development, and many churn out novels that are technically brilliant, but when all is said and done most readers want just one thing when they pick up a book -- to get sucked into a golden story that stands out from the crowd, the kind you can't put down. So for me, the story is always the one hardest thing."


Nadine said...

I can attest to this in a red faced way cuz I have two finished manuscripts in my closet and 16 rejection letters telling me my writing is great, but the story isn't.

It's so HARD!

laughingwolf said...

agreed, if i can't 'live' the tale, the author is 'dead' to me... personal friends, excepted

hey nadine, i'm in lr.sackville ;)

Victoria said...

I'm with yah!
Gimme a rocking good story puleeeeeeez cuz I have no free time to waste on boring books that are technically brilliant but otherwise boring.

kyla-dale said...

I have loads of admiration
for writers who are good storytellers.

That's why I pop by here all the time, devoted fan that I am.

Mystery Robin said...


I'd love to hear your thoughts on how "story" is different from plot. When you're talking about a good story, is it the hook? The main thread?

Thanks!!! Robin

Adam said...

I'm interested in your response to the above comment as well. ie., when you talk about 'story' I naturally assume you're talking about the process of 'plotting' but maybe not?

How do you separate the two?

Jay said...

It's definitely the story. The characters and their story have to be totally compelling for me to want to follow them around 24/7/365 or more. I have to care about them. And I'd hope that comes across to my readers (ultimately) as well.

--Three novels under the bed, a handful of rejections, and more cockamamie ideas in my head...


Heidi the Hick said...

But it shouldn't be, Holly, because it seems to me that you're really good at it.

Or maybe you just make it look easy...

Holly Kennedy said...

Mystery Robin / Adam --

'Story' and 'plot' are obviously related but they differ for me in a few ways. The story idea itself becomes the axis the rest of the book spins around (it might be based on redemption, self-sacrifice, or something as simple as 'a second chance') and yes, key plot points need to be put into place to make sure the novel has a solid arc, a good turning point, and a satisfying resolution.

However, I lean away from logical plotting as much as possible because it can give a story a contrived feel vs. a more realistic narrative drive.

I DO lay out general plot points, but once I begin writing, much of what happens happens organically and isn't always planned, which I believe makes the story more true to life.

Mystery Robin, I believe the hook and the main narrative thread need to feed off one another. Without a good hook, I find it twice as hard to develop a solid narrative thread.

Holly Kennedy said...

Heidi -- you are too kind.

It might look easy, but that's not the case. I have lots of good story ideas, as do other authors, but it's the telling of it that matters most, and that's not always easy to do.

ie., if you gave 10 writers the same story idea they'd all execute differently, some telling it well and others falling short. And a good story told poorly has zero marketability, right?

There's a saying that goes like this: If it reads easy, it wrote hard. If it reads hard, it wrote easy.

Very very true!

wordman17 said...

I wanna be dragged thru a book page by page and have real trouble staying awake when I read literary novels where it seems not much goes on but there's tons of deep character development *yawn*

Gimme a good story!

Ramona said...

Interesting stuff.
And here I woulda thought
thinking up characters
would be the one
hardest thing.

Nadine said...

Laughingwolf -- teeny wave from
a fellow Canadian!

So kewl to stumble across fellow bloggers from our side of the border.

dianne said...

Any plans for a sequel/follow-up to your first novel The Tin Box?

Thank you.
Dianne from Cleveland

Heidi the Hick said...

You know this is a really good point once we delve into it.

Coming up with ideas is one thing, getting a coherent interesting gripping story is another. (There are a ridiculous amount of different skill and talents needed to write fiction.) Some writers just seem to be naturally good at telling those stories.

"If it reads easy, it wrote hard. If it reads hard, it wrote easy. "

Man, that is a great quote!

Trish Ryan said...

So true! What a great point. I've put down "well written" books because I just couldn't make myself care, and stuck it out through oddly written ones where the characters felt like people I knew. Ideally, you find authors (like you, my friend) who combine both. Then you cheer them on as they keep writing :)

ORION said...

I spent a lot of time talking with literary agents and editors in London and yanno each one said the exact same thing...they ALL want a great story!

The Anti-Wife said...

Hi, Holly! Well said.

Chumplet said...

I'm scheduled to have that conversation with our sports editor. He wants to take me to lunch and discuss the book publishing process. I don't know what I'll tell him.

John - Chapteread said...

I agree 1,000 percent, story is so important. How many times have we read a story where a monster is attacking humans - there will be millions more - how will they be told?

Megaera said...

Well, now I know what my problem is. I'm that (apparently) rare bird who reads for character, pretty much full stop. I couldn't care less about the story most of the time, but give me characters I care about and I'll follow them anywhere, even places I'm not interested in.

Maybe that's why I can't get the current book sold. That and I am decidedly anti-competitive. Is there any way to get a book out there where people will know of its availability that isn't competitive? (no, it's the distribution, not the physical existence)

I wish that was a rhetorical question.