As a judge, I’ve just finished my second pass through the Writers of the Future contest stories for the first quarter, and several times I have been reminded of something: Your story needs to accomplish a lot.
Let me explain. Very often I get good stories that are told pretty well. With beginning authors, even doing that can be quite an accomplishment. But as an author, you need to ask yourself, “What more can I accomplish?”
For example, let’s say that you have a fantasy story about a young heroine who goes to fight a bear that has wounded her mother. The thrill of the hunt might be palpable. We might yearn to see her succeed. We might even feel relieved when she succeeds. But is that enough?
I suspect that in most cases, it isn’t. In your fantasy story, you need to bring in some new ideas. So let me ask you, does your story introduce a magic system that is new and unique? Does it provide an intriguing world that a reader will want to get into? Is there an aspect to your character that will fascinate us, or some mystery to uncover?
Does the plot provide surprising twists and turns that defy our expectations? Can you complicate the story in ways that make it more powerful? For example, what if the girl feels deeply convinced that the bear attack was her fault? What if the bear is more than just a normal bear? What if the mother will die from her wounds if the girl doesn’t return? What if she has a life of her own to live—a young lover to marry, or a child in her womb? In other words, how can you keep ramping up the stakes?
Even if you do all of that, it isn’t quite enough. You need to write beautifully, too. That means that your descriptions and settings need to be brought to life, as well as your characters. You need to develop strong voices for each character, so that they are easily distinguishable. You need to hook the reader at each scene’s opening, and, at the very least, with each scene’s ending. You need to write in language that captivates and entertains.
A story that accomplishes a lot, that satisfies the reader on several levels, is one that readers will remember days or even years after it was read.
So before you send a story to an editor, ask yourself, “Is there more that I can do?”