Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Forced Writing

One of the comments I find myself making time and time again with submissions deals with a forced story. I thought that I would take the time today to briefly talk about what I meant by that comment.


Essentially, when I see a story that appears to be forced, it deals with numerous issues including the fluency of the story, the language and certainly the storyline. It isn’t always one thing or another, but the general tone of the story is one that seems to struggle off the page instead of simply falling into my lap. Remember that you want the reader to really whiz through your story. Not rushing it per se, but just wanting the story to keep moving and not wanting to stop reading. A story that is forced, however, is one that takes more concentration to read, and one that really stops and starts.


Let’s deal with the fluency and language. When we deal with this issue, the easiest way to describe it would be how well the story wants to be read out loud. There is a musical nature to things. The adverbs and adjectives the reader uses are natural and ones that the everyday person would be dealing with. I see this one more than anything in romance novels. Sometimes a writers has worked so hard for that “perfect” word to describe a color of a dress that in the end, it hurt the flow of the story. Look, why not just call it a purple dress. Now, I am not saying to dumb the story down, but keep in mind, how does the story sound when read aloud. Of course there is the other side of this. Sometimes writers have struggled so hard to get those words to sound “magical” off the page that it becomes almost arrogant and egotistical. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of contemporary poets describing the metaphors in their poem about their pet gold fish Spike. Don’t go overboard.


The final area deals with the forcing of characters. I think many writers struggle so hard to find a “great conflict” for a story that they put together characters who both would never get together, but come off as cartoonish. I had a story submitted to me several years ago about a heroine similar to Paris Hilton who is a) walking down a dark NY Street by herself at nighttime; b) stops to talk to a homeless person; and c) falls in love with this guy for who he is as a homeless person. Now, is this a story that really deals with people? Sure. We always find relationships built around complete opposites and yes, we do want to see people appreciated for who they are and not what they look like. BUT… a) Someone like a Paris Hilton is not likely to be going anywhere without a limo and a posse; 2) helping someone like this would not be personal, but would likely be a check; and c) those two getting together? Heck, if that is the case, I might have a chance with some of those movie stars. The key is, don’t force the story just to create action and just to get a story. Find something natural.


I have tried to say this before, but I would rather have a great simple story without all of the complications of extensive plots than a story with no depth but a lot of action. Think BEFORE SUNRISE here and you get the idea.


Off to have a simpler day.


Scott C. Eagan




  1. In all honesty, a story will most likely never come to an agent in perfect form. I always thought that if an agent likes a piece of work, that he or she will work with the writer to improve those errors. Perhaps the work isn't forced writing at all, but instead suffers from periphrasis. This would mean that the writer had too many fabulous ideas in mind but just needs to cut a little bit out to make it that beautiful, simplistic and easily flowing story.

    Those first few chapters are only a start-- I've heard that agents ought to read something from the middle to receive a better taste of the tale. Most works start out rocky and the writer is afraid to revise the beginning but it will flow with smooth beauty thereafter. Just a thought.

  2. Interesting when you compared realism to forcing. You've made some great points and as an editor I sometimes see the same thing with submissions, those stories just do not work.

    Now if I only I can figure out why my story sounded too flat and lacked depth...do you have any previous blogs on that topic?

  3. Forced writing can also come from a lack of a plot. There was one writer in my critique group who consistently had forced dialogue--she didn't have a plot, so she had to constantly hunt for things for her characters to say.