With all the discussion about the craft of fiction and the need to write a great story, there is one thing missing in the equation. The one thing that is the secret to great fiction. And it is the one thing the writer cannot control.
That one thing is the story the reader brings with them to their reading experience. As a reader, I have the life I have lived, the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, and the places I’ve been that I bring with me into the world your novel has created. This makes the reading of every story unique. No two people can read the same story the same way. This is why one person’s favorite book is another’s thrift-store giveaway.
In the memoir The End of Your Life Book Club, author Will Schwable writes about the books he read with his mom during the last years of her life. In his introduction, he wrote something profound:
We all have a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.
This is the secret to the greatest novels of all time. They were written so my story, the essence of who I am, merged with that story and became something new. Something unique. Something inexplicable. A new story. And then became a part of who I am and a part of what I bring to the next story I read.
That’s the story I want to read. Can you write it? I can’t wait to read it.