As I navigate the world of trying to get published, I often look back on early drafts of writing. It makes me happy to see how far my writing has come in the last 14 years. Working on the skill of writing is, as it turns out, quite similar to working on a good marriage.
A marriage starts with a good proposal. Take my husband's proposal to me: We were on a romantic drive through the Appalachian Mountains. The trees were changing colors. The southern breezes must have been whispering sweet nothings into my then-boyfriend's ear. He pulled over at scenic drive along the Cumberland Gap. With an engagement ring full of diamonds in his hand, he smiled at me said, "Marry me, or I'll jump over." I laughed, of course, and agreed that marriage sounded wonderful. I love his sense of humor, but I also love that he is responsible, driven, and adventuresome.
A good piece of writing shares those same qualities. It was actually when I went to write my vows—naturally, we had decided to write our own—and began to list all the qualities I loved in him that I thought about how that translates into writing fiction.
I am a writer of young adult fiction, which means I have to pay special attention to morality in my writing. Where in adult fiction, a writer can publish a piece that is dark, a young adult piece without a hopeful ending will likely be a hard sell. But in most fiction, young adult or otherwise, readers relate to the good guy. It could be the guy who may be long-suffering, but has strength of heart or the underdog who works hard to bring his team victory in the face of difficulty, or possibly even the boy who does the right thing when the wrong thing is easier. Authors give a reader a reason to read the same way a guy gives a girl a reason to say yes to the engagement ring. It starts with some kind of moral ground.
If a character isn't driven to solve problems, you have no book. Successful characters succeed because they stay true to the one thing in life they need or want most. They don't give up. Marriage is similar. It's probably different for every couple, but if they stay true to the thing that is most important to them as a team, I think that marriage will be a strong one. I guess I can only answer for my own, but that has been my experience thus far.
Not all books are adventure stories, per se, but I think they all have an element of characters doing something new or becoming something new. Great books begin with a character's problem, mystery, or desire and end in his or her transformation. So, even if a character doesn't end up somewhere physically different from where he or she started, something has changed for him or her. Readers love to follow around a character that allows them to experience a new world or a new mindset. I'd say the same is true for spouses. The very act of getting engaged and then married is doing and becoming something new. But, it can't stop there. Love and marriage is truly exciting when you realize you've become something new—something better—because you're together.