What Makes a Book Worth Reading???

 

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I love to read.

I read a lot of books.

I post a lot of reviews.

When deciding what I liked about a book, I don’t look at things like writing style, typographical errors, or if certain elements showed up at exactly the right number of pages into the book. I’m not reading to be critical of someone else’s work.

I have my reader’s hat on and I am reading for enjoyment or for information. If what I am reading delivers, I am a happy camper.

So, in the case of reading fiction, what is it that makes a book enjoyable for the masses?

Here are a few observations. (Please feel free to write in and add any to the list that I may have forgotten).

I like a book when

  1. I have empathy for the main character, especially if they are the “under-dog” or are hurt or in a difficult situation which they are trying to change.
  2. I value one of the traits he/she has—love, courage, loyalty, etc.
  3. There’s not too much backstory.
  4. There is a nice balance of suspense and humor.
  5. If, by their actions and emotions, the characters seem “real.”
  6. There is enough description so that I can visualize the setting and the characters.
  7. The story doesn’t drag on and on way past when I feel it should have ended.
  8. There is a sentence or two at the end of each scene/chapter that makes me want to read “just one more”—and, often, late into the night. (I just have to find out…)
  9. The story isn’t totally predictable. If it twists and turns, making it a challenge for me to figure it out too readily.
  10. The hero succeeds/“wins.” That doesn’t mean that it must end the way I predicted. In fact, not at all. But, if the hero learns something or is in a better position at the end of the book than when the story began, I am satisfied.

 

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Writing Flash Fiction

 

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My last blog post talked about Flash Fiction and got us ready to address the “How-To-Write-It.”

So, here we go with what I’ve learned about writing Flash Fiction from a real-life pro, David Gaffney:                                                                                                                                      1. Start your story in the middle of the action. You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

 2.  Don’t use too many characters. Excess names and places eat up your word count.

 3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end. (What?) Give almost all of the information in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take the reader on a journey beneath the surface. This will help you avoid stories with punch-line- type endings. 

4. Make your title short and sweet. Give it punch.

5. Make your last line ring. Remember, it’s not the ending. – but it should make the reader continue to think about the ideas in the story and speculate about what it all meant.

6. Write long, then whittle your story down to the essentials. When you edit, don’t decrease the impact of the story. Choose your words carefully and sparingly. Make each one count!

Next week’s blog post: Flash Fiction Tips.

Lights! Camera! Action!

One of the first rules of writing, is to begin your story, chapter, or scene by dropping your reader into the midst of the ACTION.

You ask, “But, what about the backstory?”

Well, you tell me. Which is more exciting? The beginning of Story A or Story B?

A)  Claudette, a forty year old nurse, was born in Kansas City, met and married Charlie right out of high school. Together they had three children, a cat, and a dog. Her husband died last year, her parents the year before that.

B)  Claudette crept from behind a cluster of large oak barrels on the deserted wharf. It would soon be dark. If she was going to attempt an escape, she would have to do it soon. With the gag still in place, she couldn’t scream for help. Her wrists were raw where she  strained against the ropes binding them. Surely those hoodlums had mistaken her for someone else—someone rich and famous. Charlie would never be able to pay such a high ransom. He didn’t do well in stressful situations, anyway. No, if she was going to get out of this alive, she’d have to do it herself.

My point is, that once you drop your reading audience in the midst of the story with your character, you’ll have plenty of time to feed them the backstory, a little at a time, in the form of ACTION.

I find it easiest to accomplish this kind of writing by VISUALIZING my characters DOING: talking, moving, reacting. It’s a book, but the characters still have to be SEEN in the readers’ internal eyes.

In a movie, actors SHOW us what they are doing. However, in a book, it is the author’s WORDS that help readers SEE what is going on. If they are just sitting there on a sofa, it is likely the book will soon be tossed aside. (Would you want to watch a movie where the character didn’t say anything, talk to anyone, express any thoughts??)

I have made myself lists of verbs, adjectives, exciting phrases, facial expressions, and so on. These are displayed on huge poster boards hanging inside my office closet.

I refer to the board, often. If I use a word or phrase from my list, I put a mark beside it. I strive not to use it again in the exact same way in that particular book. I mean, do you want to read “huge crocodile tears ran down her cheeks” every time Mary cries? It takes some creativity, but it IS possible to say the same thing in a variety of ways.

So, there you have it. A book is really a movie, in a different format. If you are a screenwriter, you can count on actors and actresses—even animation—to make your story come alive. But, a writer?  Well, you must rely on your words—actions verbs, colorful adjectives, emotionally laden. You’re a “one-man-show.

When you write this way, not only is the book a more exciting read, the entire writing process becomes more exciting for you, as well. There are actually times I feel my heartbeat and breathing accelerate along with my character’s. My mouth goes dry when his does. My hands really and truly shake on the keyboard.

Now, that’s action!

And this is “a wrap!”

MILK IT!

There are times when my Critique Group writes “Milk It!” when commenting on some of my scenes. What they are saying is that they want MORE than I have written.

MORE ACTION

MORE EMOTION

MORE INTERNAL THOUGHTS

MORE DESCRIPTION

MORE CONFLICT

Why? Because that’s what makes a story exciting and satisfying. If you want your book to be a real page turner, then a writer has to deliver ON EVERY PAGE.

DON’T SKIMP.

PLUMP IT UP. Use rich vocabulary. Lots of adjectives and verbs. Paint a visual picture.

Furnish the details. Let them get inside the characters’ heads by revealing their emotions via DIALOGUE, ACTIONS, AND THOUGHTS.

PUMP UP the plot. Make the content EXCITING. Make your reading audience want to keep turning the pages.

I know I have read books that were so exciting that they literally kept me up ALL NIGHT. I just couldn’t put them down.

That’s what writers want, isn’t it? To have our readers so completely drawn in by our characters and their journeys that they just can’t turn out the light and go to bed.

When I am done writing a chapter, I set it aside until the following day. Then, I read it again, with the eyes of a READER. I look to see if the first paragraph “hooks” me, if I want to keep reading to the end, and then if the closing sentence leaves me wanting more.

If so, I start writing the next chapter. If not, I look for where there is lagging action, conflict, emotions, thoughts, and/or descriptions. Then, I re-write, adding those elements.

I repeat the process until I am WOWED.

Then, it’s ready for the critique group. If they are WOWED, then I’m a happy camper. If they are WOWED, I know readers will be, too.

So if you have a nice little story which is lacking in PIZAZZ, why not make it a page turner?

Spice it up.

Change it up.

Shake it up.

MILK IT!!!!

Brenda