I was reading my Writer's Digest Magazine last night, and once again came across a superb article about why some novels become successful and others don't. Culprit number one, according to Donald Maass, is timid voices. "A snappy premise and meaty plot can hook us and keep us reading but cannot by themselves work that magic. It takes something extra: voice." Further, "voice in a novel is not the author's thoughts or vocabulary but the sum total of what her characters observe, think, feel and express in their own unique ways."
The fix is easy. Write your characters with strong voices. Let them speak in their own words and tell the story.
(Which is exactly what I've been doing with my latest wip! I know, great minds think alike, right? Me and Don? We are so on the same page when it comes to characters. It's scary.)
Anyway. Moving on. Culprit number two, according to Maass, is untested characters. If they don't do anything then what was the point? How compelling is it to read about a character who doesn't react? The best characters act bravely even though they're scared, jump to defend their principles and rise to face their deepest fears. They come out the other side, changed different, and so do we for reading about them.
But the last and best is culprit number three (Overly Interior or Exterior stories), which really hit home: "Certain story patterns are pretty much guaranteed to lead to fiction of underwhelming force," especially novels heavy with "delay, suffering, and being stuck." Fiction of underwhelming force is, of course, the last thing we want. The way to rectify this, Maass says, is to give interior stories "more dramatic outward events; by the same token, dramatic outward events need to create a more devastating interior impact."
Yeah. I had to underline that last part. Brilliant, right? Especially the devastating part.
And if that doesn't get you all fired up to write something then I'll give you a last gem I found, a question to ponder. Ask yourself, what's the biggest thing your protagonist could possibly do, but can't? By the end of the story, have her do it.
Hmm. I think I might.