I've had people say to me, "What . . . pay for writing? Don't be ridiculous. It's only words."
A compelling story enthralls you and it hangs on. The characters, situations, and feelings stay in your mind long after you finish it. There's a moral, a lesson, or takeaway. You forget about all else for a while. Artful story crafting makes you keep reading to the end. Then you feel hungry for another story from that author.
It takes a worthy concept followed with excellent drafting and revising to make a story gel. A threatening situation that interesting characters have to face and resolve. Trouble along the trail to resolution. Things get worse before they get better. Threats of personal destruction and a "death" of some kind but not simply "la petite mort."
What more does a great story need? Add resourceful thinking and action. More than one failure before the breakthrough that finally solves the issues. And then a threat of new, worse terrors even before the characters have a chance to enjoy their hard-won resolution.
But those characters, especially the protagonist, change into new, different, and sometimes better, people. Sometimes worse. That kind of structure fits a large number of scenarios.
Understanding all this is just the beginning for the writer. Fleshing it out in a succession of dramatic scenes—that's when the pudding sets. Or when it turns into a gooey, sticky mess that's not worth serving. No wonder it's so easy to fall into using violence to make a story work. Add an author's commitment to gentle peacefulness and compassion and that surely makes the trail harder to hike. This is a fiction writer's dilemma.
When a writer has the innate ability to make a story like this and keeps going through attempt after attempt until they get a grip on the handles and then learn how to make it happen repeatedly, well, that's when you get a Stephen King or Barbara Kingsolver.
This kind of writing is usually popular, genre fiction. That's a respectable destination to set as a goal. It's more than enough for most writers. Some of us are satisfied with simply being able to pay the bills. But then, others are satisfied only by doing Nobel Prize level work and we keep trying even when a reward never comes because the journey isn't over at the destination. It becomes its own reason to exist.
I want still more. Another kind of story is more satisfying. It does far more than entertain; it has the power to shape a reader's life. Such stories shaped mine and now I want to write those kinds of stories. This is my own dilemma.
WIll I ever realize my dream of writing literature that lives forever? By definition, I won't live long enough to know. One thing keeps me going; always, I want more, like the readers who I want to reach.
Fulfilling their thirst is becoming my own dilemma. It's a good kind of problem as long as I'm up to it.
Keep On Reading,