Does your story have a pulse?


So, last year, I’m sitting in a room at a writer’s conference, listening to a panel of editors and agents talk about what they don’t want to see in a story.  Finally, some brave writer in the audience asked:

“Well, what do you want?”

This seemed to stump the group, but then there was some consensus:

“We’re looking for that next great story” and “we’ll know it, when we see it.”


Plagued by this ever since while suffering through multiple rewrites, I think I may have finally cracked the code.

As writers we are constantly bombarded with advice on what to do and what not to do, but I think if you can answer the following question with certainty, you are well on your way to writing a story people will want to read.

Does your story have a pulse?  Even better,– will it get your reader’s pulse racing? 

I’m not referring exclusively to erotica.  Ask yourself the following questions:

1.  Is your manuscript barely breathing, gasping or inciting breathless anticipation? 

2.  Are your characters real people or mannequins? 

3.  Is your reader up all night, feverishly turning pages or did she just nod off?

This pulse theory also explains why some writers are able to break the rules and still manage to gain a huge following.

How often have we heard this advice?

  • You cannot kill off your main characters.  No?  George R.R. Martin does just that and often.
  • You need perfect prose.  Really?  The critics have been less than kind to E.L. James yet she penned one of the best-selling books of all time and a book of the year award winner.
  • Your plot must be fresh and new.  Isn’t every plot a knock-off of Shakespeare?  Stephenie Myers’ Twilight Saga is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet with a few vampires and werewolves thrown in.
William Shakespeare

Like anything else, I say, take advice in moderation.  If you want to avoid a visit to the book doctor, check your project’s health by taking your typing fingers and pressing gently on your manuscripts jugular vein.  Do you feel anything?  If not, do not hesitate to dial 9-11!


One comment

  1. Nice one, Eileen! It is, indeed, a VERY interesting question. I also ponder on it as a reader, wondering what chemistry it is that makes some books so readable and others quite the opposite. Often, it can be pretty obvious – poorly written, crappy plot. wooden characters vs brilliant prose, gripping plot, well-formed characters. But often it’s not easy to work out what makes the difference. Aram recently gave me a book called “Shipkiller” which ticked lots of boxes for me. Even so, I’m finding it hard going. Maybe the plot is a bit hard to swallow and the writing inclined to sloppiness (this is an NY Times best-selling author). Maybe it’s just the combination of slightly unsatisfactory things which puts me off. Hard to tell. I started reading a Cormac McCarthy novel recently. He’s one of the “greats” of American Fiction. His writing style is unique and pretty stunning, but I couldn’t finish it, because it was so BLEAK. I need my reading to be at least a tad uplifting!


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