Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Want it Most of All

My sister in law just stopped by to visit. She'd been to the Sweet's Candy Company in Salt Lake City on a factory tour. My eyes about popped out of my head when I heard this. In fact, I found myself getting irrationally jealous. Get this: at the factory store, she'd purchased a 27 pound box of chocolate covered cinnamon bears (a $115 value) for $15!

Insane jealousy.

She told me there were great, cool facts on the tour. Did you know it takes several days to make a jelly bean? The sugar layers have to dry.

Of course I can't remember the exact number of days now that I'm posting this. But it made me think. It takes several layers of effort in editing and writing to make a great, sweet story.

I'm reading a novel for a friend, for a critique. I really like the characters, and the story is unique. I'm interested to see where it's going.

However, I'll be honest. I'm not as interested as I might be. Why not? Because of one glaring omission.


That would be like the jelly center of the bean.

In the book How to Write a Da*n Good Novel by James N. Frey, the author explains in great detail the importance of imbuing our characters with ruling passions. The character has to have a goal, something he wants more than anything else, and must be willing to go after it. The more the character wants it, the more the reader will care, the more the reader will pull for the character and invest their own feelings into the story.

When a character has a ruling passion, and a clear goal, we can begin to worry as readers whether the character will achieve the goal. And, Frey says, that's what the reader wants is to worry.

I was thinking about this--when I read for escape (and that's my favorite kind of reading) the cotton candy of the story takes my mind away from what I'm worrying about in my own life, and I can worry about something else. The diversion of worry lets me forget my own problem and I can invest in the fiction, leaving behind reality. The more I can worry about the fake person, the more I forget my own life.

So, I think Frey has a point.

As I read this novel for my friend, I look forward to letting him in on the secret Frey shared. A novel like this that is well constructed and has fleshed-out characters can only be made more solid with a clear goal for the reader to pull for. It already has sparkle and magic. It just needs focus.

As a writer, I have been working to get my characters to be more solid, and when their ruling passion is as clear to me as possible, it seems to shape all their behavior, and I think it makes for better characterization. The love interest girl in my book I'm editing (my own) lacks it, and I need to figure out what it is that drives her. I believe it will lift her out of obscurity and boringness and into the believable, sympathetic character I need her to be!

Meanwhile, if you're wishing YOU could go on the Sweet's Candy Company tour, you can click here to book a tour (or just to check out the home page and salivate over the candy.)

Of all the treats my sister in law bought, this was the crown jewel.


I have to say, possibly the best taffy of all time, and that's saying a lot.

I wonder how much shipping costs.


  1. Hmm, that's a good reminder. I need to get that book. Do you think a character's ruling passion can be abstract-- like a need for security or belonging? Or does it have to be something more concrete like wanting a specific job or a specific love interest?

  2. Good question, Melinda. I think it depends on the kind of novel you're writing. Some are more literary and cerebral, others more action oriented. In The Hunger Games its her desire for personal survival part of the time, and it's the desire to save/protect her city and her family, too. Is that abstract? The need for security and belonging sound like driving passions, especially in a time of war. I also think good novels have evolving wants or layers of wants. I do think, however, it does help to have a tangible goal the character can strive toward and that the reader can root for, even if it's just along the way to her ruling passion's fulfilment. Does that help? Yes, the book is at most libraries, and I linked it above to the place to buy it on Amazon. It's on the top of my MUST BUY SOON list. I hate to have to keep checking it out.


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