I found myself reading a novel last night in which the writing was just okay. There were some common writing mistakes–too much narrative and description slowing down the action, some awkward dialogue, some trite characters–and yet the story compelled me to keep reading.
When I asked myself why I wanted to keep reading, the answer was that the author’s voice and the emotion in the story were honest. She was being real. She felt what she was writing, and it came through on the page. She wasn’t talking down to her readers. She clearly respects the genre in which she writes, and she writes an emotionally compelling story.
Sometimes, there’s not much more you can hope for. Being real with one’s readers is no small feat. As a reader, I’ve had far too many moments in which I’ve felt the manipulating hand of the author trying to make me feel a certain way simply because that’s what the author imagines will sell lots of books.
This kind of manipulation is far too common in published fiction, and I think buyers continue to buy it simply because we are so eager to be emotionally moved by a story. But give me the feelings honestly, without pretense, on the page, and I’ll become a loyal reader.
So how do we know as writers when we are doing the job right? We know it’s right when we love our stories and more importantly, our characters; when we feel the emotion in what we are writing; and when we aren’t trying to make a certain thing or series of events happen. Instead, we are simply listening to our characters and letting them run the story.