When You Write a Perfect Story

Yesterday my first granddaughter was born, so I drove up to Provo to see her.  It was pretty much a perfect day—excellent driving weather, the baby was healthy and looks like she’ll be a beauty. She is also obviously highly intelligent and might someday make an excellent president.

We topped the day off by going to a nice vegan restaurant for dinner, where I ordered a “super-foods protein salad.” It had lots of greens (maybe a little too much for my tastes), some fried veggies (I’d have liked a little more), various seeds and golden raisins, all covered in an avocado-vinaigrette dressing.

The salad was fantastic, and if you’re in the mood for it, you would have said it was perfect. But what if I’d been in the mood for lobster?

Very often, that’s the way that stories are. You write an excellent story and turn it in to an editor, and you hope that the editor is in the mood for that kind of story.  Sometimes it works smoothly. I got a story like that in the Writers of the Future Contest last quarter. I was hoping for a nice comic science fiction piece, and among the stories I found “The Trade” by Australian author C. Winspear. It’s a great story about an alien who would be delighted to solve all the world’s problems—for a hefty price. It’s powerful, funny, thoughtful, and ultimately moving.

It ended up winning first place for its quarter, and when I edited it, I don’t think I made a significant change to it at all. But how will it fare against the other first-place stories when going up for the grand prize?

There are three other stories that are pretty much perfect, too. Each is from an author with formidable talent.

When we sent the four stories out to our judges, the results were confused. Do we want vegan salad, lobster, barbecue ribs, or maybe a perfectly ripe peach?

As an editor and writing teacher, when I see a story that I think is ready for publication, about the only comment that I should give is “This is great. Send it out. Publish it. Make money. Win awards.” I don’t believe that I should say, “That’s a great salad, I just wish it were barbecue ribs!”

Yet time and time again, I see critique groups that urge writers to fix perfectly fine stories. As a paid critic, sometimes I worry that I might do that myself. Fortunately, I’m often smart enough to recognize a good story when I see one, and I tell the writer.

Just remember, many of the best-selling novels of all time got rejected over and over again by publishers. They were vegan salads, but the editors were only interested in hamburgers.

When you believe your story is good, keep your chin up and your eyes firmly on your goal.


I’ll be teaching a workshop on “Creating a Perfect Cast for Your Novel” this next week. The title isn’t sexy, but the information in it is vital.

You see, when you create characters for a novel or a screenplay, you can’t create each one in isolation. You have to create characters who surprise each other, motivate each other, and bounce off of one another in unpredictable and exciting ways. Creating such characters strikes at the heart of what makes great storytelling.

So if you’re interested, if you’re serious about breaking into this field, follow this link. http://mystorydoctor.com/live-workshops-2/

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