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Packing Heat 123: What's Important?

Packing Heat is a podcast I've been putting out since 2007. My goal is to help other writers stay motivated, and to encourage them to take their writing to the next level. You don't need special gadgets to listen; Packing Heat plays in your browser, like YouTube. Or you can subscribe (and leave me glowing feedback) at iTunes!

What’s important?

Recently I read a number of story-pairs at a contest being held at All Romance Ebooks . It got me to thinking about why I might like one story more than the other, and what specifically is important to me as a reader when I'm enjoying a story.

Character type

This is a really personal like/dislike. I would go for books featuring gothy or post-punk characters because that’s the type of social circle I travel in. Military types leave me flat.

Character voice

Be unique and consistent – snarky is overused


Have interesting setup. Good action is happening. So many scenes, broken down into action, would actually be “people talked” or “the main character thought.” Scenes need action!


Characters should want something they can’t have, or need to work for. Even better if their needs block each others’ needs. In romance, it’s often helpful to start with “why can’t these characters be together?” to figure out your plot. “I misunderstood you,” is not a strong enough conflict to carry a story.

Writing style

Gramatically correct sentences are important to me.

Misused words are a huge turnoff. It says to me that an author is reaching beyond her vocabulary, probably in an attempt to sound writerly. It also tells me her editor either has a shitty vocabulary too, or isn’t paying attention.

I prefer a transparent style that’s both precise and plain. Fussy words turn me off.

An editor can help you polish up your writing style if your characters, plot and conflict are strong.

Your assignment

Read at least one or two story pairs from the contest at allromanceebooks.com. Decide what you like/dislike in that pair and articulate it, either aloud, or by journaling. If you're listening to this podcast after the contest has ended, poke around for some free reads at All Romance and find a new-to-you author to analyze instead.

Being conscious of what you like/dislike in the mechanics of a story will help you craft stories so they better fit YOUR definition of what a good story is.

Listen to the show, 15 minutes


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 5th, 2010 05:24 am (UTC)
I was apprehensive about listening to this as I have a story in one of those pairs, and I was worried you might make some comment about not liking something in it! I shouldn't have worried - you've not mentioned any specifics to identify stories, so I can reassure myself it's definitely not mine that overrused snark or didn't have any conflict. And I'm fairly sure I understood all of the words I used... ;)

You're right about it being an interesting contest to read. With the similar lengths and themes it's much easier to work out what it is that really draws you in about certain stories compared to others. Whether or not the votes reflect this, or whether they reflect the efforts of particular authors to build a fan base I couldn't say. There are certainly a few pairs where I think the better story is lagging behind.
Oct. 5th, 2010 08:17 am (UTC)
I hadn't spotted your story on there! I must be focusing on titles/themes rather than author names. There was only one story I didn't care for, the misused word story (definitely not yours because afterward I went and looked at the author's website) - and it's ahead by quite a bit. I think that makes me dislike it more.

In every other story pair I've read so far, I've liked each story almost equally, and really had to analyze to determine what worked and what didn't. I thought this was a really valuable opportunity!

I don't think there was over-reliance on snark, though most of the women were tough-cookie paranormal romance types. Just that "snarky" in general is not enough to make a character stand out these days. All of them are, to some degree.
Oct. 5th, 2010 08:33 am (UTC)
Mine was the m/m genie one, quite near the end.

I haven't had a chance to read them all yet, but it's been interesting to see what works for me in the ones I have. I tend to prefer stories laced with humour and a strong narrative POV, with a hint of a world and history beyond what can be contained in the 3k word limit.
Oct. 5th, 2010 09:00 am (UTC)
I'd been saving the m/m for last, but I see now the clock is ticking and I'd better get reading. I'll make sure to read/vote in your pair, though I haven't yet.
Oct. 5th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC)
Great! I hope you enjoy the read :D

I wonder if other readers have been saving the m/m for last? They don't seem to have attracted the same number of votes as some of the earlier pairs. Either that, or some readers just aren't interested in m/m. It's going to be interesting to see what happens on the next round, when at least one m/m story will be paired against a het one.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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