Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 7 novels, published by Revell and Guideposts, including The Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas and The Discovery. For those who haven’t read Dan’s books, reviewers often compare them to Nicholas Sparks and Richard Paul Evans. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and CWG’s Word Weavers, Dan served as a pastor for 25 years and now writes fulltime. He and his wife Cindi have been married 35 years and have 2 grown children and 2 grandchildren. They live in Port Orange, FL where Dan is busy researching and writing his next novel. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter, or read his blog and can connect to these on his website at www.danwalshbooks.com.
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What Matters Most to Readers
Recently, I was invited to teach a fiction track for newer and mostly unpublished writers, who will be attending the CLASS Christian Writer’s conference in New Mexico in early November. I’ll have three sessions with these fine folks. As I thought about what topics to address I decided to do a survey.
The goal of most people attending a fiction writers’ workshop is to learn how to write well enough to become published. To one day hold that book in their hands (or see it appear on their Ebook screen). And I suppose, to get paid for doing something you love is also a part of that dream.
The people who actually make that dream come true are…the readers themselves. You might think, “No, they don’t hold the keys. Agents and editors do.” But readers are the people agents and editors have in mind when they evaluate a manuscript, deciding whether to say yes or to send out that dreaded rejection letter.
For them to stay in business, agents and editors have to consider what they believe readers will like, what they will buy (this speaks to the age-old tension between commerce and art). So they put themselves in the “reader’s seat” when evaluating an author’s work. My most recent novel, The Discovery, is my sixth. Thankfully, both my agent and editor at Revell are big fans now (and good friends). I have completed two more novels and have contracts for five more.
But I’m just as eager now to “please” my readers as I was the day I sent off that first manuscript for The Unfinished Gift in 2008. I want my existing readers to eagerly anticipate my next book. I want them to like it so much they have to tell all their friends. For me to “stay in business” my readership must continue to grow.
So when I write, I care about the things that matter most to readers. And so does my agent and editor.
I had a general idea about all this, but thought a survey given to avid fiction fans would clarify things and help me decide which three topics to address when I teach this conference in November. To set things up, I gave people a choice. I asked them to pick the “Three Things That Matter Most” to them when reading a fiction novel, out of seven possible choices.
Here are the seven choices:
A) A Beginning That Grabs You
B) Characters You Care About
C) Realistic Dialogue
D) Setting (Time and Location of the Story)
E) The Story Itself (plot)
F) Pace of the Story (is it a page-turner)
G) A Satisfying Ending
Before you read the results for the Top 3, why not take a moment and pick your top three? Which of these things matter most to you when you read a novel? I’d love to hear from you even if your choices differ from my findings (this isn’t a scientific survey, after all).
I’ll give you the answers but, before I do, I want to mention that the top answer was almost unanimous. It was the first choice for the overwhelming majority but in everyone’s Top 3. Know which one it is?
B) – Characters You Care About.
Does that surprise anyone? Even fans of thriller/suspense novels mentioned this as being the most important. They want action, yes, lots of tension, and a fast-paced story. But even they want to spend time with characters they care about.
So who took the 2nd and 3rd place honors? These two also made a strong showing in everyone’s response (quite a distance between these and what came in 4th place).
Second was: A) – A Beginning That Grabs You. And third was: G) – A Satisfying Ending.
This doesn’t mean the other four components of a novel don’t matter, just that these three matter most. So, that’s what I’ll be teaching my class come November. I offer these results here to encourage you to consider what to pay the most attention to in your writing.
It seems readers mostly want a beginning that grabs them, characters they care about and a satisfying ending.
Oh…one more thing. And I found this interesting. I had expected “F” to show up in the Top 3, but it didn’t. Oddly enough, it came in dead last (got only 7% of the votes). I was shocked. But my advice would be not to ignore “F” in your writing.
I’d asked one more question in my survey: “What Things Cause You to Put Down a Book You’ve Started?” I gave them 6 choices. “Pace was Too Slow” was the overwhelming TOP answer to that 2nd question, garnering 83% of the votes.
So…what do you care about most in the books you read, especially the ones you just have to tell your friends about? And…are these the things you mostly focus on as you write?
Other Info for this Article: Link to the CLASS Christian Writer’s Conference: http://www.classeminars.org/page.php?pageid=10
An Engrossing Story of Family Secrets and a Love for the Ages
When aspiring writer Michael Warner inherits his grandfather’s venerable Charleston estate, he settles in to write his first novel. But within the confines of the stately home, he discovers an unpublished manuscript that his grandfather, a literary giant whose novels sold in the millions, has kept hidden from everyone—but which he clearly intended Michael to find. As he delves deep into the exciting tale about spies and sabotage, Michael discovers something that has the power to change not only his future but his past as well.
Laced with suspense and intrigue, The Discovery is a richly woven novel that explores the incredible sacrifices that must be made to forge the love of a lifetime. Author Dan Walsh delivers yet another unique and heartfelt story that will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.