Why Should We Care?

When I take on a new editing project, many times the writer will start by seeking line or copy editing, when what the work really needs is story help. It’s my job to gently guide that writer to evaluate their story and become aware of the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) Factor.
Writing Tip for Today: You’ve worked so hard to get your novel into good shape. Now you’ve heard the advice to hire a pro editor to make sure your manuscript is clean and professional. But hold on a minute, cowboy. The editor insists your story’s real problem lies not with “ly” words or incorrect spellings, but with the story itself. What’s a writer to do?

  • Keep Your Chin Up. First, don’t panic. While you may be tempted to chuck your writing altogether, chances are your story is not terminal–it just needs to be able to pass the WIIFM test.
  • WIIFM, So What and other Phrases. One of the most common shortcomings of first novels is the failure to make the reader care about the protagonist or the situation. You’ve heard the phrase, “a likable protagonist?” The reader must care about your character enough to follow the story to see what happens. Not only that, but you must create a logical or at least believable motivation for the character to embark on this story. And finally, readers want a story they can relate to (WIIFM) so it’s imperative that your novel address some deeply held emotion or opinion.
  • Stakes, Steaks and Stakes. You’ve probably also heard about the need for high stakes. No fair saying your character will die if they don’t achieve the story goal (unless of course, the character really does die) Agent and author Donald Maass asks novelists what will happen if the goal isn’t reached and says he gets a lot of blank stares. If your stakes need to be higher, hire an editor who does more than fix broken sentences. Ask around and get recommendations for an editor who can brainstorm with you and help you raise the stakes, answer the So What? question and help you guarantee the reader will get something out of your story too. A good place to look is at writers’ conferences or on recommendation from someone you know. The Internet can be a tricky place to find a good substantive editor–anyone, after all, can hang out the shingle. Proceed with caution. But don’t give up.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Why Should We Care?

  1. Right-o, Linda. That’s where it always is. Many writers think clean prose will get an audience but readers need more than a sanitized ramble.

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