I am reading a book called Story Fix by Larry Brooks. I’m still in the early part of the book, but I read something that resonated with me. Brooks said that over the best years, he evaluated hundreds of stories as an editor. He said, “Because, based on results, very few of those six hundred writers get that nuance. They simply chose the wrong story, or an inadequate story, to write. Their instincts didn’t show them a higher bar to reach for, and their submitted stories bore the evidence of that fact.”
I think the reason this resonated is because I am working on a story right now that I’m wondering whether the story is strong enough to carry an entire novel. When I have a strong story, I’m interesting in writing. It captures my attention and imagination. Right now, I’m not feeling that about the book that I’m writing.
With 19 books under my belt, I can look at them and know to a certain degree whether the story works. I can look at them and see differences in how strong the story is. I’m not saying that some of the books weren’t publishable, but I can recognize that the story wasn’t as engaging as it could have been should have been I hope for.
This becomes particularly apparent in series. You’re using the same characters and same settings, but books within the same series are not similarly popular. It’s because the story of one of those books is weaker.
One of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, has probably written close to 100 books. I love his novels and have read most of them, but even he has periods where some of his novels are weaker than others. It doesn’t mean that those aren’t good novels, but compared to his novels when he is on fire, the weakness becomes apparent.
Sometimes you might not recognize this in your own writing until you have finished the novel, polished it, and edited. Then you have a decision to make. You can abandon the story if it is too weak to save, or you can dig into the structure, characters, and story to figure out what went wrong and fix it.
My feeling is that you should at least finish the first draft before making those decisions. If you do, you may see what is wrong with the book when you can see it in its entirety.
Brooks says that the two major reasons why a story doesn’t work are either proposition isn’t strong enough or the execution isn’t effective enough. However, there’s a lot of wiggle room with what is “strong” and what is “effective.” He compares it to the definition of beauty. It is in the eye of the beholder. One reader might consider your book wonderful while another reader won’t.
So if you find yourself wondering why your manuscript isn’t selling, don’t necessarily doubt your writing talent. Consider whether the story you want to tell is worth telling.