Every story has flaws and no story will ever be perfect. Having said that, I think the stories that resonate most with readers and earn the strongest reactions—hopefully positive, but perhaps not always—are the ones with a strong emotional climax.
You know, stories where you're on the edge of your seat wondering if they're going to live, or reunite, or work it out, or whatever. That feeling of being really involved and needing to know what happens next, as if it was you instead of these characters. That feeling.
I haven't managed that in every story I write. I write the story I have to tell, not to formula. And sometimes my fiction works for people, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I think my best stories are when I manage the emotional climax.
In Moths and Men, the emotional climax takes place as they are returning from a drive getting pizza and arriving home. Feelings have been slowly building and building, and now they are at a zenith. The emotion comes through in the details the main character notices and what he's thinking. Another scene, where they talk about Vietnam, or the scene where they declare their love for each other, are both strong, but to me they are not as pivotal as those moments just as they arrive home.
Winton's Strays probably has the best climax of the ones I've published so far. The two main characters are actually separated, and Our Hero is leaving, unwilling to trust himself to love. It is heart wrenching; the other man is clearly in pain watching him go, but letting him make his choice. Then, as he walks through the snow, the hero comes to a crashing conclusion and realizes he made the wrong decision. There's also a cat involved.
But this story did not work as originally written. I submitted it to Dreamspinner for their Christmas anthology last year. And it was turned down. I was very disappointed, until I reread it and realized, This story is not finished! And it wasn't. The climax was good, but there were a few things that needed adjusted, and most of all, we needed to see what happened afterwards, to know these characters were going to be okay before saying goodbye. So I wrote the rest of it, and then decided to publish it myself.
I'm very glad they turned it down because otherwise I never would've known it needed more. I ended up publishing it in January. After Christmas. I walked around in a daze the first day, because four copies sold, and I could hardly believe it. Me, an unknown, and four people had bought copies of my Christmas story, in January. I think that's probably still the best-loved of my stories, and I think the emotional climax is responsible—but the wind-down from that climax is necessary, too.
Anyway, even if the writing in a story is flawed (and every story will have flaws), the emotional reaction a story earns from a reader is what will carry the story through or make it fail. Nobody will like every story, which is important to remember. But if someone manages to hit that emotional climax, a reader will remember the way they felt reading it.
At least, I always do. It definitely helps me find new favorite authors!
I don't have such a climax in every story of mine, but I do have some I can inwardly pinpoint in upcoming stories. This makes me hopeful about their fate. (Most of these stories are in the pipeline at Dreamspinner as I wait to hear back.)
I know now I can publish by myself, but I also like working with DSP. It is win-win for me at this point, whatever happens. As long as I keep a good attitude, work hard, and keep striving for emotional climaxes! Um, you know what I mean.