It takes but one scene, one shaky description, to unravel a story and make the character unconvincing. And once the reader-story connection is broken, there may be no reconnecting. The reader may understand more than the narrator, or he may not know what pulled him out of the story. But it doesn’t matter because it’s over.
I was reminded of the important reader-story connection today, when a magazine editor replied to a submission I sent long ago. He accepted one of my stories before, but not this time. The reason? Halfway through the story the character slips into a short ‘woe is me’ voice and that weakens the impact. Worse, it affects the character’s credibility.
The editor writes: “She needs to be convincing throughout. If you can convince the reader that she’s a reliable witness, then the pathos of her situation should emerge naturally to the reader. The more time she spends saying “woe is me” on the other hand, the less the reader is pulled in.”
Another reminder that convincing character is a must, meaning the character should be herself, level-headed, strong, and trustworthy. And all this needs to come across in a natural way to the reader, with no ‘there’s a writer in the room’ feel. Easy enough.
So, back to work I go. Writing is revising and the outcomes are many — we have a better story or we decide to let go and move on. I’m okay with either result and hope this new/old lesson remains cemented in my memory for future use.
Good luck with your writing and all you do.
Photo credit: GLAHM 46413: Girl reading (recto)Unfinished, huntsearch.gla.ac.uk