“This book is incredible. You absolutely have to read it.”
Ah, these words. More than mere validation for authors who spend so much time in uncertain solitude, they are payment and a generous tip for all the pain endured on the road from first thought to last word. They are the perfect reward.
“It’s a good book.”
“A great read.”
These are fine words, too. Encouraging words. We’ll take them above silence any day. But they fall far short of “you have to read this,” which, when expanded to its original size, looks something like this: “If you don’t read this book, you won’t merely have missed out on a good story, you’ll have missed out on discovering something else far more significant – yourself.”
That’s the magic of “you have to read this” stories. They don’t just take readers on a ride, though they can. They don’t just provide an escape, though they often do. The “you have to read this” stories do something more: they reveal truth. Not just any truth, they reveal the reader’s truth. They show the reader something of herself. Something that helps her to feel like she is seen and known.
And perhaps most importantly, they remind the reader that she is not so alone.
These stories meet the reader right where she breaks and burrow into the cracks there. They grow roots in a character’s heartache that resembles her own. In deep longing that vibrates at the same frequency as hers. In a familiar fear. A familiar expectation. A familiar desire.
The breaking place is where characters become more than a writer’s fiction. It’s the place where the reader realizes the story isn’t about someone like her, it’s about her.
So how do you create this breaking place? Can you manufacture it? Well, writing is, in a purely functional sense, manufacturing. It’s putting words together in a certain order toward a certain end. But no, you don’t manufacture a breaking place. The breaking place comes from your story. It starts as your heartache. Your fear. Your desire.
This is why writing well is so difficult. First you have to know your own story. And you have to be honest about that story. Then you have to soak your fictional characters in your truth until it becomes their own.
But it’s worth the pain, writer friends. When a reader says about your book, “you have to read this,” they’re not just recommending a good story, they’re saying, “I’m in this book. By some strange magic, I’m right here on the page. See me. Know me.”
And so it comes back to you: the perfect reward. Because, of course you see them. Of course you know them.
They are you.
And suddenly, right there in the midst of your uncertain solitude, you realize another truth: you are not so alone either.
Payment and a generous tip.