Posted on 2 Comments

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.)