Authorship, Publishing, Books and More

Conflict and Emotion-Keys to A Great Story(and getting published)

Aerial view of a woman typing on a retro typewriter blank paper


Thank you for your submission but we’re sorry it’s not suitable for us…

On my journey to becoming a published author, receiving letters with that opening line became a weekly event. Sometimes I’d sit down and cry while other times I’d just get angry.

These are great characters I’d tell myself. Are all these editors crazy or what?

Then one day a very generous editor added a handwritten note to the usual standard rejection letter.

Your story lacks emotion.

Wait a minute, did they want grab a box of tissues sort of story? If that was the case then writing wasn’t for me.

I put aside my WIP and decided to go back to the drawing board. I went to the library and checked out so many novels that I staggered to my car.

I was an avid reader but I’d obviously missed some crucial element of the story telling process and by hook or crook I was going to discover that secret formula.

Three books later and I had my a-ha moment. I finally got what the editor meant by lacks emotion. All the published books had that. As I was reading them I felt something. Something stirred within me that made me feel happy or sad, angry, yes, an emotion. While it wasn’t always earth moving, I nevertheless felt it. When I went back to reading my own stories I had to be honest and admit I didn’t feel a thing.

A new writer emerged and I spent time reworking my plots and injecting scenes that stirred that something in me and guess what?

I finally joined the ranks of published authors.

Take a look at your story. Read it through, scene by scene and ask yourself what does it make you feel?

Does a scene make you cry, does it make you angry? As you read the last word how do you feel about the story you’ve just read. Sad, happy…

It doesn’t have to be overly dramatic but it should cause you to think about what’s happened in the story and your reaction to it.

This emotional element ties in with your characters. First thing you want to do is make the reader identify with them. Give them likes and hopes, goals and dreams like every day people so the reader can think I’ve felt that way too or I’ve experienced that. It’s happened to them, they know how it feels and they read on to see what happens next to this person they’ve made a connection with.

Another thing the emotional element ties in with (and this is another common cause for a rejection letter), is lack of conflict.

I sometimes read students’ manuscripts where the main character is having the best day of their lives. They get up, they eat breakfast, they go to work, they come home, they watch TV, and then they go to bed. In real life, how many days you do have where at even the smallest thing doesn’t go to plan? The alarm didn’t go off and you’re late for work. You burn your breakfast. You get lost when there’s a detour on your way home. A good story isn’t about a character’s best day of their lives, but oftentimes their worst.

Nothing should be smooth sailing in your story. Every character needs a goal and there has to be something that stands in the way of them getting it. It could be a person or a thing, even their own fear that’s stopping them from achieving it.

So if you’ve been getting one too many rejection letters saying, this story isn’t right for us, but don’t know why, check your story for conflict and emotion. Inject both of those elements into your manuscript and I’m guessing you’ll be one step closer to becoming a published author.

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