When a story’s working, it has heat. You can feel it when you write it, and you can feel it when you read it. There’s energy, an urgency to get to the next sentence, and the next and the next. There’s life in the story.
We’ve probably all encountered stories that leave us cold, the ones we drop and never finish. As writers, we’ve had those drafts that wander off-trail and go cold. Mark Twain once abandoned an attempt at a sequel to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn mid-sentence. Sometimes when the flame goes out, it goes out, vanishing without a saving ember.
But often a draft can be saved when we hunt through the pile of ashes, looking for a hint of something smoldering. Where is the unanswered question, the clash of different characters’ goals, the thing that must be said, the thing that nobody in the story can bear to say? Where is the spark that started this fire in the first place, the idea that made us say, “I have to write this down?” Where is the longing, the fear, the love? It’s one of the joys of writing when a draft blazes to life again, when we brush aside whatever’s been smothering it and see it burn hot and clear.