Writing with Heart

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.

Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

10 thoughts on “Writing with Heart”

  1. You so are so right. I recently read Bel Canto – beautiful prose, but I really didn’t like it. And yes to established authors who start “phoning it in.” It’s like they’ve forgotten that the real magic ingredient is the passion the author has for the story.


  2. I think you’re right about when a writer is passionate about their story, and I’ll go one further. I think when a writer truly loves their characters and story, they are able to let go a bit and write bigger. I think sometimes caution (and overthinking) makes us hold something back, but when writing from the heart we can let go and come up with wonderful things.


  3. Mary, I love the way you said it–that the passion is the magic ingredient. It makes me sad when the authors that I admire start to flag. Then again, there are so many talented writers out there to try.

    Diane, yes, I think you’re right! If we are truly engaged with our characters, we dare to and want to write bigger. I wouldn’t have thought of it, but this definitely speaks to me, for sure.


  4. I totally agree! There are so many stories we could choose to write and characters to write about, but when we think which ones do we feel the most passion for, then the stories almost choose us for writing them.


  5. I agree. A reader can tell when an author is just going through the motions. I hate to hear an author say they’ll try a new genre, just because it seems to be popular. But if there isn’t any heart put into their story for that genre, chances are it won’t have the success they seek.


  6. Super happy for the Agatha Award nominees!

    This post really made me think. I wonder what we bring to the equation, too…when I pick up a book by a favorite author and am disappointed, sometimes I think it’s me, as a reader, having changed tastes or something.


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