The So-What? Factor (Reposted)

I ran across a great article the other day HERE. And almost ten years later (hello 2021), that post is still up!

It mentions a bunch of cool things but a particular idea caught my attention. It's the SO WHAT factor.

From the post:

"It's easy to confuse concept with plot, and that's not it. Because that leaves out something that Lisa Cron's recent book WIRED FOR STORY calls the "'so what?' factor." She goes on to explain that the "so what?" factor is what clues a reader in on the point of the story, the relevance of everything that happens in it, what the story is about."

Basically, why should we care? Empathy is SO important in books. I think empathy and curiosity are the two biggest things that will keep a reader turning pages. 

What do you think?

If you've got a WIP, check out your first page and ask yourself if it piques curiosity or empathy.

Think of a book you couldn't put down. What kept you reading? How can you work that "So What" relevance into your WIP?

I would also call this STAKES.
What does your character have to lose if he or she does not reach the initial goal? Stakes, stakes, stakes. That's what makes the story matter, in  my opinion. 

Think even of movies, since they tend to go faster. Immediately the viewer is thrust into a situation with a character who needs to accomplish something OR ELSE ... something bad will happen. This is what keeps us hooked into a story. We have to care about the character. 

Whew. So this is a repost almost ten years later but I still feel just as strongly about it. Now I need to revise, I think. LOL And maybe rewrite all my books. 


I'm finding myself asking this question more and more in the process of writing a rough. I want to make sure there's connection, empathy--give readers a reasson to not only hang in, but flip on. :D

Flip on, Jessica! :D
~ Wendy
Oh this is great, Jessica! I will keep this in mind as I finish my rough draft of my wip. I think it applies to nf as well as fiction, don't you?

Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Wendy, I love to flip. *grin* I know I need to ask myself this more often too about my books.

Jeanette, I would think so, although I think your chapter breaks are different than fiction, and it's okay to have more of a rest between chaps in nf.
Sandra Orchard said…
At ACFW Karen Ball, in her class, asked a related question for each person's wip. The brave souls who volunteered an answer then were asked why? then in response to that answer--why? And so on, until they discovered the core of what was really driving their writing. I think the deepest whys that our stories address are often hidden to our conscious selves, but unconsciously we're compelled to wrestle with them through the story. Once we understand what they are we can write all the more intentionally.
Jessica Nelson said…
Oooh, that's good!! A blog post in itself. Thanks Sandra! :-)
Jaime Wright said…
DARN IT! Now I have to go back and look over my plot again! :)
Patti said…
That's such a great point. I often find myself thinking of ideas, but then think now what. How can that idea mean anything. I'm finding that writing the query before I write the novel really helps me figure out if I've got a good idea or not.
Linda Kage said…
I'm liking the idea of this "so what" factor. And I totally back you on the curiosity and empathy factor.

I also like what Jody Hedlund said once about how characters who care about others more than themselves (like their main goal is to accomplish something for someone they love instead of accomplishing something for themselves) make really great stories too.
Karen Lange said…
I think that is such an important question to ask. It fits so much of our writing, whether fiction or not.
Thanks for sharing the link!

I've been thinking about the "so what" factor for awhile as I edit my ms. You are so right about empathy, and I'm realizing I need to increase that in my story. A reader needs to care in order to continue reading. I recently read the Hunger Games and I couldn't put it down because I was just too concerned about the main character. The stakes were just too high.
Julie Jarnagin said…
I've heard so many good things about that book. I need to read it!
Nancy said…
I can see how those two things are different. And I can see how important it is that the first few pages get the reader going right away.
Sarah Forgrave said…
Awesome tip, Jessica. I haven't heard this concept specifically named before. :)
Jessica Nelson said…
You guys are so funny! Love the comments. :-)
I've never heard of the "so-what" but it sure makes sense. Am I understanding that the so-what is the part that makes the reader relate in a personal way, the part that gains empathy? I'll have to read the article!
Oops, leaving another comment so I can get the follow ups...
Jessica Nelson said…
Hey Georgiana, yep, that's right. Something bad is happening and the one thing you don't want a reader to say is "So what? Why should I care?"
By making it something relatable or something that tugs at their heart, they begin to invest their emotions into the story and into the outcome. :-)
Thanks for clarification!
V said…
Great tip, Jessica! The faster I care about the characters the quicker I'm drawn into their world--and I love it!
Jessica Nelson said…
Me too, Tori!

LOL Hope it helped, Georgiana. :-)
Unknown said…
Never thought to double check as I always care for my characters! Thanks for the tip. :)
Jennifer Shirk said…
Yes, that is SO true. And something I'm going to go ask myself right now as I go back and re-read!

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