Posing the question ‘What is your story?’ to writers can be illuminating. The next question I ask is: ‘Whose story is it?’
Sometimes the writer realizes that the story lies not with the character that they set out to write about but with another. For instance, they might say it is Miles’ story that they are telling and reflect that in the synopsis but, when looking more closely at the story, realize that it is Fred whose voice is coming through more strongly and whose story is demanding to be told.
Often I work with writers who don’t realize this until late on in the process, it’s not a problem as it’s never too late to change this but it is utterly critical to your book’s success to know whose story it is.
If you haven’t let the main character shine – because you hadn’t fully realized that they were the main character – then your novel won’t feel quite right. Either consciously or unconsciously the reader can feel this confusion as a weakness in the book. There will be a distance from the character.
Often, the heart of the story isn’t where we think it is, because we’ve buried it with too many characters, heavy description, pointless actions, and scenes that fail to pull their weight in the scheme of the overall story.
Watch out for the detail trap, both in the writing and in evaluating your book. When asked what their book is about, writers can go into great detail explaining their characters quirks, how they look, what they think, where they go and what they do, but these things don’t constitute a story, they are just details, however personally important they are.
Try this right now. Fill in the blanks: ‘At its very centre, my book is about…’
Get this right and you’ll be a step closer to a winning book deal as the one thing that can dramatically increase your chances of a bestseller is knowing your story inside out.