Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for X Factor in Writing

Join me as I blog through the alphabet. We post every day in April except Sundays. There are many others participating in the 2014 A to Z Challenge too, which is the brainchild of Arlee Bird at Tossing it Out. I'd like to encourage you to visit their entertaining, informative blogs. I'm amazed at the many talented people who participate in the A to Z Challenge.

The letter X always brings two phrases to my mind: X marks the spot and X Factor.

X Factor is what I've chosen for today because of its importance in our writing. X factor is an unknown quality that only becomes known after following a prescribed process. Doesn't that sound a little like writing? We outline our novels, follow guidelines, obey the rules, but honestly, we don't know if our books work until after we finish and sit down for a read through. Or get that first critique or rejection.

X Factor comes from the world of math, of course, but it extends to the business world too, as well as the entertainment world.  Interviewers, judges, and I dare say, editors and agents consider that unknown, vital quality when they read over our manuscripts, judge a competition; there's something extra, something that pops that gets their attention. Something they can't quite put their finger on.

When an editor takes five manuscripts home with her, how many of the five will truly grab her? The X factor will make the difference. It might be a fantastic sense of setting, characters that walk off the page, an interweaving of plot that amazes, or an unique voice. We're all aware of the "it" factor--translate X factor. We search for it ourselves when we're looking for a good book to read or movie to watch or a special dress to wear.

When we started renovating our house, I came across the term, X stretchers. I'd never heard that phrase before but it's defined as flat or curved supports forming an X shape used to connect and reinforce furniture legs. It can also be used in décor--X on glass cabinet doors, ornate knobs or other carved ornamentation. But it offers support. It occurred to me that these X stretchers are like the different aspects of our novels that do and should support each other. Like our setting can become a character and support the mystery.  Dialogue supports our characters. It makes them real or it can make them flat. Dialogue is supposed to move the story forward. Sometimes the dialogue can kill the story for the reader and they throw the book across the room.

To achieve the X Factor, we have to pay close attention to every sentence we write. Watch those passive verbs--make them active. Sentences should sing. Our setting needs to live. Is our rising action really rising? Are the characters in our stories alive to the reader? Not just a few readers, but many readers--ALL readers. Yeah, I know it's impossible to please everyone but we do need to try. Striving for that X Factor just might help us attain best-seller status. At the very least, some excellent reviews.

I want the X Factor! Do you? How do we go about getting it? Share your thoughts. 


Rachna Chhabria said...

The X factor is very crucial in our writing. Its this factor that makes our books stand out in the slush pile.

Melanie Stanford said...

The X factor is definitely important. I find even with how many books I read, only some of them hold that X factor for me, even if they've all been wildly successful. We dneed to strive for our own X factor in our writing, but we also need to remember it won't be the same for everyone. Great post!

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

Rachna - I agree. Now, if we can just capture it in all of our books.

Melanie - You're right, but it's so confusing when the X factor works for US in our manuscripts, but not others. :-/ Is it really there or do I just THINK it's there in my own writing? Tricky! Tricky!

Colin Smith said...

I don't think there's a formula for the X-factor. Some writers can get all the mechanics right, and write a decent novel, but no "X"--nothing that makes the book *special*. And some writers put magic into every book without (it seems) much effort.

I think we just have to write what we love, and write it as well was we can, with all the passion we have.

But that's just my take. :)

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

Colin - thanks for visiting. I agree but I'll keep striving for it. Passion is key!

Michelle Wallace said...

I don't think the X-factor can be defined. It's something you "can't put your finger on"...