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What is a Compelling Read?

by Kelly Lynne, editor

Reviewers talk about a “compelling” story, but what does that mean? How does the writer capture that lightning without it feeling forced or false?

Merriam-Webster says:

Compel: 1: to drive or urge forcefully or irresistibly (hunger compelled him to eat) 2: to cause to do or occur by overwhelming pressure (public opinion compelled her to sign the bill) 3: to drive together. Synonym: force.

Compelling: that compels: as a: forceful (a compelling personality) b: demanding attention (for compelling reasons) c: convincing (no compelling evidence).

What is a “compelling” read?

A compelling read is simply a book readers don’t want to set down. It is a story that draws them along and creates such vivid pictures in their minds that they are no longer aware of their eyes moving across the page. It contains active verbs, minimal passive sentence construction, three-dimensional characters with clear goals, motivations and conflicts, and decisive hooks at each chapter or section ending. It should be every writer’s goal to write such a book or story, no matter the genre.

Isn’t “compelling” manufactured drama?

This is becoming the norm on television and in at least YA and thriller book genres, sadly. Many readers do not find false conflict compelling; they are annoyed by it. When characters could easily solve their differences through one adult conversation but continually butt heads instead, making decisions based upon emotion instead of rational thought, readers can be turned off. Some people like this sort of thing; witness the rise of reality TV.

Way back in 1992, MTV created a show called “The Real World,” and the first season of that was compelling because it was unscripted and raw—no one knew what to expect, and the conflicts between the kids were real yet solvable. Repetition of that scenario rang false immediately because it became obvious the producers sought the most confrontational people and people with the most opposite extreme views on controversial subjects, threw them together, filmed them *aware they were being filmed*, and edited what the viewers saw to increase the “drama.” Yuck. Reality TV has been the same ever since. I’m sure you can name at least one book that uses this formula and you probably didn’t finish reading it.

High drama can be a good thing, as long as the characters are realistically in that bind. You want readers to be compelled to turn the page long into the night—not compelled to chuck the book against the wall and turn out the light.

The best way to know if your plot and character interactions are compelling vs. forced drama is to have a fresh set of eyes review the manuscript; a professional “reader” who looks at hundreds of such manuscripts is best. A developmental editor can not only spot these issues, he or she can assist you with fixing them.
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Kelly Lynne edits multiple genres of both adult and YA/middle grade fiction. She is the proud “auntie” to over 80 published novels, novellas and short stories, which have sold to Kensington Publishing, Carina Press, Cerridwen Press, Awe-Struck Publishing, Samhain Publishing, Wings ePress, Bradley Publishing, Damnation Books, and The Wild Rose Press as well as author self-published titles. These books have gone on to earn high praise from reviewers and readers, as well as multiple awards and contest wins.

As an editor for The Wild Rose Press, she edited contemporary western and light paranormal romances, with heat ratings from sweet to spicy.

Outside of romance, her fiction fortes include sci-fi, fantasy, speculative fiction, young adult, and stories of psychic or supernatural phenomena.

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