Blogger: Wendy Lawton
At a writer’s conference, when an editor or an agent panel is asked what they are looking for, someone usually answers with a frustrating “great writing.”
A writer will often put up his hand to say, “Can you be a little more specific?”
But the best the agent or editor can do is, “I’ll know it when I see it.”
What is that all about?
Let’s say we were able to synthesize one of those amazing books and figure out exactly what it is that makes it great. Let’s even say we were able to come up with five specific elements that ake it over the top, it still wouldn’t help the writer who’s trying to unlock the key to that illusive X-factor. If you were to combine all five elements in your manuscript, it would guarantee nothing. The X-factor cannot be quantified or mimicked.
It’s so illusive that we can recognize it but we cannot manufacture it.
You’ve seen how some speakers are able to woo the crowd each and every time they take the stage, right? They’ve got that X-factor. Another speaker could study the technique and painstakingly apply it to his own presentation and it would still miss the mark. It’s like that with books.
There is something instinctive with some writers, some innate ability to connect, to use language and to present ideas that simply rise above the norm. It’s the same with performers. Some are physically beautiful and technically perfect but compared to someone who has that x-factor, they simply fall flat.
It’s much like memoir. Many writers cannot distinguish between telling their own story—personal narrative—and memoir. There’s a big difference and much of it is that X-factor. We talk about “memoir voice.” I don’t think it can be taught. You either have it or you don’t. It’s a transparent way of telling your story—usually using sophisticated literary devices—that allows the story to become the vehicle for presenting universal truths.
The X Factor. Hmmmm. So I spent an entire blog not defining what it is.
But I know it when I see it.