There is the belief in fiction writing that a great story line must include a main character attempting to overcome some enormous obstacle multiple times before they are finally allowed to succeed. It doesn't even matter whether the trouble comes from outside sources or is one of their own making. Readers have a hard time relating to some perfect role model leading a perfectly normal life...there is something hinky or just not right about characters like that which makes even the most liberal of editors pass on a manuscript. But give that same main character a way to struggle within themselves or tackle the world around them where they have the chance to subtly learn a life lesson at the end of the day and readers will beg for more...and so will your editor.
With that idea in mind, when I made the decision to become a professional writer a few years ago, I created my own RULES OF THREE I follow when I'm working on a new manuscript or even revising an old one:
RULE NUMBER ONE
Make the challenges and solutions believable. Unless you are writing pure fantasy and have created a world where anything goes, your story needs to make sense to your intended reading audience. I started a picture book story once where my main character wanted to win a costume contest. A simple enough idea any child can relate to. But if I write the plot where his mother gives him a store bought suit guaranteed to take first prize where is the conflict? Where is the struggle to overcome the core problem of the story? So I make him watch others take the coveted prize in previous years while I have him weep for his failures. I have him try different ways to come out on top but each time he falls short until he wants to give up the fight. Only then do I dangle the solution in front of his nose and allow for that AH-HA moment where main character and reader figure out together how to win the prize. Engage the emotions of your audience with real life connections and they will hang on every word you write.
RULE NUMBER TWO
Writing isn't for the faint of heart. Learn to take chances. Think outside the box. Ask yourself all those what-if and
I-wonder-what-would-happen questions. Don't be afraid to dig deep inside yourself and be vulnerable on the page. Remember rule number one? Your writing has to be believable and in order to do that you need to connect with your reader. Once you have polished your story as much as you can, don't be afraid to let others critique it. I can verbally castrate myself all day long about how bad one of my stories may be or even worse, shower myself with false praise on becoming the next Mercer Mayer or J K Rowling. But until I am brave enough to let my words stand up to the critical eyes of my peers, I will never really know my strengths or weaknesses as a writer. At some point I have to take that leap of faith and place my "baby" in the hands of people I trust to give me honest (if sometimes painful) feedback on how to make my story shine like a diamond. Only then can I think about rule number three.
RULE NUMBER THREE
It's one step back and three steps forward. Everything I do concerning my writing is planned to constantly move me forward in this new career of mine. Through no coincidence I'm sure, I'm now in my third year of writing professionally (maybe the publishing industry IS right about the whole three thing rule?) and I am ready to start submitting my work in the hopes of gaining the attention of an agent who sees the same strengths in my writing as I do. The first year I researched and read as much as I could about the industry itself. I followed the advice of wise authors who came before me and worked hard to overcome my own weaknesses as a novice writer. Year two found me deep in the creative side of things where I wrote numerous stories, entered contests, created this blog, and widened my circle of friends within this writing community. While I work on building the foundation of my own career, I get to celebrate the successes of those ahead of me on this path to publication. This year, my third one of writing, I'm ready to start submitting my work. I keep in mind it's one step back and three steps forward every time I send one of my "babies" into the world. For every ONE rejection email or letter I receive I send my story to THREE more agents. I carefully consider any encouraging comments they may make but I do not allow those rejections to stop my dream. I don't take it personally and when they say it's not a fit for them, I simply take that leap of faith again and send my story back out in the hopes one day an agent WILL take notice. Perseverance and patience go a long way in this business.
I'm not saying there aren't days when I'm afraid I'll never make it as a writer. And I'm not saying I have the perfect solution to the challenge of becoming published. But I do know there are moments of greatness in all of us...moments when our fingers fly over the keyboard to create a little magic much needed in the world we live in today. So why not have a little fun along the way?