So this weekend I got to watch the Utah State Speech and Debate finals, in which my daughter was competing. I got to judge 4 hours of Student Congress, which was not only informative, but entertaining. After 2 debate seasons and countless judging stints and listening to the kids, it occurs to me that writing is very similar to all of the events in both Speech and Debate. In every single one of those events, the speaker is trying to convince the judge of something. The objective of the event isn’t to convince the judge that the speaker is right; it is to convince them that the speaker has given a more convincing demonstration of presenting their argument.
That is kind of what writers, particularly fiction writers, do: we try to create something to convince the judge, aka “the reader”, that our work is better than everyone else’s. While there can be more than one winner in writing/publishing, the concept is the same: does my writing convince you that you could believe it (not necessarily that you do believe it). Can I, as a writer, make you feel like the story you have just read not only could happen, which is hard enough, but make you feel that the story should happen. If you finish a book and say “I can totally believe that,” then the author has written a good book. What makes a great book is one that you finish and say “If only it actually worked out that way.”
To create a world, a place, a time, a character in which the reader can invest so much of themselves that they want it to be real, or have been real, or will be real, that is the true test of writing. That is what all of us who pick up a pen or pull up a keyboard really want; we want someone to finish and say “yes.”
I don’t know that I’m there yet. I consistently get feedback that makes me feel like I am a good writer, but I don’t know that I’ve ever written anything that meets that second threshold. Not that there is anything wrong with writing good books that don’t meet the second threshold. How many people read books like “The Hunger Games” and like them? A lot, judging by the YA section in Barnes and Noble, but how many people want them to be real? Not many. Sure, you can argue that the love triangle is engaging and how wonderful it would be to have 2 people so incredible in your life that love you, but that’s not unique to THG. Does anyone really want Bella’s story from “Twilight” to be their own?
Ok, bad example.
But you get my point. Every writer wants their book to be THAT good (not “Twilight” good….) so that people will talk about it, study it, read it again, discuss it, analyze it, and say “Why is this so good?”