I’m participating in an interesting discussion on Facebook today about . . . you guessed it! Developing A Smell-O-Meter: How Do You Tell If What You’ve Written Is Good? It’s a topic I’ve been considering a lot now that my books are released and feedback is trickling back to me. I always knew A Spark of Heavenly Fire was good – even when it was bad, I knew it was good. I can’t tell you how I know – probably that smell-o-meter. Or perhaps an ingrained feeling for the flow of a story. That belief kept me going through multiple rewrites and hundreds of rejections. It’s nice to know that agents and publishers do not know what individual readers like. Today, Malcolm R. Campbell, author of The Sun Singer, left me a message on my facebook wall: I just finished reading A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE. When I stay up past my bedtime multiple nights in a row just to read a little bit more, I know I’ve found a winner of a book. Darned good, Pat.
On the other hand, I never got a sense of More Deaths Than One. Even after all the rewrites, it just didn’t seem to be as good as I wanted it to be. I entered it into a contest on Gather.com eighteen months ago, where the first chapter was posted for people to vote on. Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Mecine People and Lacey Took a Holiday, was impressed with that first chapter of More Deaths Than One, and he eventually became one of the book’s first readers. When he finished it, I asked if he was disappointed in the book. He said no and gave a little laugh. When I finally got up the nerve to ask why the laugh, and he said, “I laughed because anyone who knows anything about writing would know how good it is.”
So, apparently my smell-o-meter works only half the time.
As for telling if sentences, words, paragraphs, scenes are any good, it’s mostly a matter of reading them, changing a word, reading them again, changing another word until the piece flows. If the words flow and if the story flows (and if the story is worth telling), you don’t need a smell-o-meter. It will be good.