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Fiction: How to Find the Felt Need

fiction 101 finding the felt need

This is the first post in my editing series in 2020 for how to develop a great story by having all the layers in place before actually writing, or if you’ve already written your book, how to make sure all the layers are in place.

The first layer in developing a great story is finding the felt need.

We all have needs. We have a need for sleep, sustenance, and sunshine. Your readers have needs, such as reading a soul-stirring good book. Your characters have needs like how to move forward in a relationship or making it through a congested highway in time to punch the clock. And do all those needs need to match? Not really, but they should at least mesh in some way. If you don’t know why your readers are reading your book, then what’s the point? You don’t have an engaged audience, you can’t sell books, and you just aren’t going anywhere, eh? Well, I want you and your books to go somewhere! 🙂

Recently, one writer lamented that the qualities necessary for a good nonfiction book were clearly not the same as the qualities necessary for a fiction book. Readers of fiction, they said, do not specifically read to meet their “need.” Okay, so I can see what they’re saying, but I respectfully disagree.

While it’s somewhat true to that fiction readers don’t read because they have a flaming need, readers of fiction read because they enjoy a good story. And as writers who care about writing good stories, we must give readers what they’re looking for, what they’re craving. The next few paragraphs presents several ways to easily find the felt need in your fiction manuscript.

How to Find the Felt Need

  • why are you writing this particular story?
  • what do you want readers to come away with at the end of the story?
  • how do the answers to the above questions play into your characters’ lives?

Why Are You Writing this Particular Story?

If you’re writing for the sake of writing, that’s a good cause, but if you’re writing because you have an urgent message to share with the world, that’s an even better cause.

Sometimes a book explores an issue to seek to uncover the lie and expose the truth, as in To Kill A Mockingbird. Sometimes a book is meant to show the reader what is most important, such as in Where the Red Fern Grows. And sometimes a book is just fun and lighthearted, with a loose message threaded throughout, like Cranford.

What Do You Want Readers to Come Away With?

Every story has a “so what?” factor, whether it’s an essay, article, nonfiction, or fiction. Every story has a purpose, even if it’s to have a good, hearty laugh (like the ladies do in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford) or to integrate the romance factor as in The Great Gatsby.

In my essay, “The Meaning of an Heirloom,” in The Horse of My Dreams (Revell 2019), I wanted readers to come away with the idea that an heirloom extends beyond the space of something tangible; an heirloom could be intangible—and have a lasting impact on the world and others.

Each author benefits from exploring this “why” question when crafting their novel because it’s really the secret sauce to writing a great story that captivates people, agents, editors, readers, marketers, and the person who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book and read it.

A Few Examples

In The Baggage Handler by David Rawlings, the characters are on a journey of discovery about who they really are and the baggage they carry. I believe the author wanted readers to be at peace with their relationships in all kinds of spaces.

Under Moonlit Skies (Prairie Skies series) by Cynthia Roemer seeks to empower readers that self-acceptance is more powerful than romantic love.

The theme of Sarah Sundin’s Sunrise at Normandy series is about forgiveness, and each main character (The Sea Before Us [2018], The Sky Above Us [2019], and The Land Beneath Us [2020]) must forge their own forgiveness path as they interact with each other and experience different situations that speak to their own needs.

So … as you’re editing your manuscript’s “felt need” and crafting your novel and its purpose to better serve your current readers and your future readers, I hope this bit of explanation is helpful to you.

For those interested, I’ll also be giving a talk later in January 2020 about self-editing your fiction. We’ll dig into two basic elements of fiction that are key for powerful storytelling. Be the first to know details by signing up for my editing newsletter, click here!

(Psst … this isn’t just to get you to sign up for another newsletter. This is a free online conference and I’ll have a few practical gifts for you too! Details forthcoming…) Love to join? Click here!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to engage in the conversation with you! Drop your question or comment in the chat below, and I’ll look forward to responding!

Your Turn!

What is your character’s felt need? What is your story’s “why”?

What do you want your readers to come away with by the end of reading your book?

(Please, no retelling what the book is *about.)

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Author Interview: David Rawlings, The Baggage Handler


I am very excited to introduce my friend David to you. When I first met David Rawlings, we were at our first ACFW conference. (For my non-writer readers, that’s American Christian Fiction Writers conference held each year – a huge to-do and so fun!)

Well, it was at the end of the day, and a small group of us had gathered for a late-night brainstorming session. The funny part about writers and brainstorming…

No one talked. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

We just sat around, staring at each other, nervously smiling, perhaps expecting the other person to jump into the fray. So I did. After I shared my conundrum with my fiction series, David pipes in with stellar suggestions, with me scribbling like there was no tomorrow.

So. Yep. That’s how we met. But here’s what’s really cool about it. We didn’t bump into each other again until after the post-conference session, and David’s friendliness and encouragement was a boost — writers sharpening writers. But honestly, I think that’s just the person David is. 

And I can tell you that The Baggage Handler is going to be on your wish list or purchase cart by the end of this interview. At least, that’s what David and I hope will happen. Without further ado, here’s The Baggage Handler with David Rawlings. 

What image was an inspiration for you when writing The Baggage Handler?

The crowds of people that surround baggage carousels in an airport. Each with their own baggage. Literally.

I’ve seen some pretty interesting people in my airline travels, as I’m sure you have. I love that you chose three characters, all from various places in life where most readers can relate. Describe David, Gillian, and Michael each in one word or brief sentence.

Good, so do I. David is a hothead who’d rather be right than happy (and no, he’s not named after me). Gillian lives in the shadow of her sister – that’s why her self-esteem is stunted. Michael is being made to pay for his father’s lack of achievement by being forced to live his father’s dream.

What is your best (or worst) airport experience? Have you every grabbed the wrong suitcase?

Worst experience: I went to Manila in the Philippines and my suitcase didn’t appear on the carousel after my 12-hour flight. I filled in all this paperwork (written in really broken English) then went with our Conference group to the hotel without a change of clothes. My suitcase was delivered to the hotel hours later. It had been opened, everything was soaking wet and there was also an envelope full of US dollars from “the airline” in apology. I still cringe when I wonder what went on with that suitcase.
Best experience: on the way home from Nashville to South Australia in 2016, my Nashville to LA flight was cancelled. Without that flight, I don’t make the flight to Sydney, and I don’t make the flight to Adelaide. God looked after me – I was re-routed through Atlanta and made my connecting flights by 13 minutes, 3 minutes, and 5 minutes respectively. It was my best flight because I figured God was handling it, so I’d enjoy it. And when I arrived at Adelaide Airport, we were even five minutes early.

Hey, that’s after we met – but, wow, what a wild flight ride! Have you ever had the chance to speak with a baggage handler to get his perspective of his job? 

No. Although my daughter’s friend at school has a baggage handler father. Nice guy.

Now that would be fun! I bet he had some stories to tell… What do you hope readers will come away with from reading The Baggage Handler?

Thoughts about their own life. We all carry baggage – especially those who deny they’ve got any – and I’d like the story to start a reflection on what that might be. For them to perhaps consider that carrying their baggage may not be what’s best for them.

And I really like that because I get the sense of hope and freedom. For fun, and because your bio just screams it, who is your favorite sports team and why?

You’ve asked the right guy. I’m a sports nut, so here goes:

Australian rules football = The Adelaide Crows
Australian rugby league = Cronulla Sharks
NFL = Kansas City Chiefs
Major League Baseball = San Francisco Giants
NHL = Nashville Predators
NBA = Boston Celtics
English soccer = Blackburn Rovers
I could go on, but I think you’ve got the point by now. I’ll follow anything.

Haha, I’m sure! Thanks so much for stopping by today, David, and for sharing your debut novel and a bit of your life with us. I’m getting my copy of The Baggage Handler in the mail very soon, and I cannot, cannot, can not wait to read it!

The Baggage Handler

When three people take the wrong suitcase from baggage claim, their lives change forever. A hothead businessman coming to the city for a showdown meeting to save his job. A mother of three hoping to survive the days at her sister’s house before her niece’s wedding. And a young artist pursuing his father’s dream so he can keep his own alive. When David, Gillian, and Michael each take the wrong suitcases from baggage claim, the airline directs them to retrieve their bags at a mysterious facility in a deserted part of the city. There they meet the enigmatic Baggage Handler, who shows them there is more in their baggage than what they have packed, and carrying it with them is slowing them down in ways they can’t imagine. And they must deal with it before they can leave. In this modern-day parable about the burdens that weigh us down, David Rawlings issues an inspiring invitation to lighten the load.

Rawlings Low Res Colour-2 for InstaAbout David

David Rawlings is an Australian author, and a sports-mad father-of-three who loves humor and a clever turn-of-phrase. Over a 25-year career he has put words on the page to put food on the table, developing from sports journalism and copywriting to corporate communication. Now in fiction, he entices readers to look deeper into life with stories that combine the everyday with a sense of the speculative, addressing the fundamental questions we all face.

Get in Touch with David

Don’t miss another book update! (David’s got another book launching soon!!)

Where To Find The Baggage Handler