Writing with heart gets me every time.
The Agatha Award finalists were published this past week, and there are so many lovely, wonderful writers and stories on the list. I feel privileged to say that I’ve even met quite a few of the nominees, and the ones I’m familiar with are all such kind, humble, talented people.
I love that about them.
But I got to thinking, as I do every now and again, about why some writers and stories speak to me more than others. As a reader, I’ll forgive a writer some rule-breaking if the story is solid (J.D. Robb’s head-hopping), or I’ll read a few books by my favorite authors that are, perhaps, not at the same level of quality as past ones, hoping they’ll return to previous greatness. I have genres that I love (mystery, thriller, suspense, crime fiction, cozy, steampunk, science fiction, fantasy), and some I prefer not to read (memoir, literary fiction, women’s fiction, fan fiction), although there are always exceptions, too. A well-written story, even outside of my favorite genres, is to be appreciated. For instance, I could appreciate the writing in The Lovely Bones. I felt it was a very well-written book, with an interesting narrator and gut-wrenching details. I hated it, but I can acknowledge the talent and call it a great book. What, exactly, makes the difference for me?
I think it’s the heart. Somehow, it seems like certain books just try harder to make you love them. (Yes, I’m giving an inanimate object a few human qualities. Bear with me, it’s our third snow day in six week days!) Seriously, there’s just a little something more to a story when the writer really, truly has their heart in it. I suspect that when a writer believes in the story they’re telling, they aren’t willing to send it out in the world with major issues–plot holes, boring characters, dull dialogue–and instead, they try to make it as perfect as possible. Sometimes, the story still misses the mark a bit, but as a reader, I feel that extra bit with which the writer has imbued his or her story, and it makes a difference. (Or, I’m delusional from the fourth foot of snow we’re now receiving.)
I think this is also why readers notice when an author should maybe. . .stop writing. When they’re written so many books in the same genre that they all start to sound the same. Wooden. Flat. Predictable. The heart is gone. (James Patterson, anyone?)
As we dig out of the snow, again, I’m going to be thinking about my works in progress, and making sure I believe in the stories I’m telling, that I’m writing with heart. I think it makes a difference.