“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.” — Kurt Vonnegut
What are you writing now? A novel? A short story? A memoir? A journal? A letter to your best friend from college? Whatever it is, my question to you is: why are you writing it? To be a little clearer, why are you writing THIS story, journal, letter, etc.? What is it about this story that is compelling you to write it?
Memoirs and fiction based on writers’ lives are regular visitors to my submission inbox. It’s no mystery why we write them. We all have our own stories and we need to tell them. In truth, we all have many stories to tell, so when I read these submissions I often wonder, why THIS story?
Sometimes, the why is very clear: the writer has developed a passion for promoting something, or for changing something, that has altered or defined his or her life. A passion for gun control develops in the life of someone who has suffered gun violence; a passion for motherhood develops in someone who struggled to become a mother; a passion marine life develops in someone who grows up swimming in the gulf. When this passion is present, it almost always produces a good story.
If there is nothing to reveal the writer’s passion, and the story ambles from anecdote to anecdote to anecdote, there is generally very little that keeps a reader turning the pages.
The same is true for fiction of every genre: mystery, romance, family saga – you name it.
I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with a talented young writer who talked about the evolution of his writing focus. He said he once imagined himself writing conventional stories about corporate greed and governmental malfeasance, but was now thinking more along the lines of writing science fiction. I remarked that some of the best stories I’ve ever read used those conventional themes in very unconventional ways – science fiction, for example. His eyes lit with something I can only guess, but I imagined he had already begun creating a story in his mind – maybe a corrupt emperor on the planet Caligula who has learned to control the weather so that he can flood cities and enslave their inhabitants. What’s important is that if examining greed and corruption is what he cares about, he can tell it any way he chooses and still make it compelling. What matters is the passion.
Are you writing your passion? Feel free to share.