I’ve gotten so caught up in my own books the past few months that I haven’t read in a while. I forgot how much you can glean from a book that someone else has written. It doesn’t matter if the book is poorly written or a masterpiece. You can learn so much from them all. You can learn just as much from a bad book as you can from a masterpiece in fact. It’s important to learn what makes a good story that draws a reader in and what causes hick-ups in the flow of the story. Like my taste in music, I don’t have a single genre that I can pinpoint as my favorite. I love anything that pulls you into a character’s life whether they are an endearing character or down right despicable. No matter how fictional the character is, I want to be able to relate to them.
I’ve spent the past week taking a hiatus from my own books and simply reading and taking mental notes as I progress through each book of what it is that makes me want to read more or what it is that makes me put the book down and want to scream out in aggravation. I have a horrible problem with investing time in a book and giving up on it. No matter how horrible it is, I normally push through. But there have been a few that have unfortunately turned into comedies for me rather than the serious tone in which they were intended. Now I won’t go into details and call anyone out because I’m no critic and that’s not my intention in writing this. What I would like to do is point out some the valuable lessons I have learned by reading some really bad books and reading some surprisingly good stories.
1. Make the story believable. Even the greatest fantasies of mythical characters that do things completely unheard of need to be believable first and foremost. I read one story where the character had a destiny to fulfill but first had to discover what it was. The author completely skipped over where they actually learned what their destiny was straight to suddenly possessing the knowledge and fulfilling it. The story was great up to that point and when I finished the book I wondered if several chapters were completely cut out of the book leaving me feeling cheated. Another story I read was about vampires that left an inn in the middle of a modern day town wielding axes as if no one was going to question why someone would be walking the streets carrying weapons as such. Considering they spent all the rest of their time hiding their true identity from the locals it was one of those moments of frustration for me.
2. Character Consistency. Characters evolve and by the time your story has ended your character may come out a whole new person. But you can’t take a socially inept person and instantly turn them into a social butterfly from one page to the next only to revert back to the original. It’s confusing to the reader. You also need to be careful about forcing your characters to do things that are completely out of character just to keep the story flowing the direction you want it to. It destroys the integrity of the story. If it’s something that your character is forced into then you need to lead up to the action so that the reader can understand why the character is suddenly cliff diving when you have made it adamantly clear that they have a deathly fear of heights. You can have the most amazing story but it will be completely destroyed if your characters are not consistent and believable.
3. Too many flowery words. Now let me be the first to say that I absolutely adore Jane Austen’s work. But lets’s be frank, unless you’re writing a non-fiction book that requires you to get into the nit and gritty technical terms, leave them out of your fiction book. Now I realize that there are some books that require more technical details and that’s fine if it is absolutely necessary for the integrity of your book. But if you’re writing about a group of your average everyday teenagers then write the way they would speak. When I read a story, I want to know about the characters. I don’t want to feel like I’m reading some hyped up college admission essay that’s trying to prove the intelligence of the author. Keep the narrative flow simple so that the reader can spend more time envisioning what you’re writing in their heads rather than stopping and having to look up a word in a dictionary so they can understand what you’re trying to say. Common language reaches out to the common people and if you want to sell your books then write in a manner that the majority of the population can relate to. When I read I want to feel like someone is telling me a story rather than feel like I am reading a textbook that I have to force my way through.
4. Allow your characters to marinate in the situation. Don’t leave your readers longing for more before your book is even close to the end. Allow your readers to soak up the pain and heartache of the moment. Allow your readers to celebrate and feel the elation of the moment. Allow the moment to be a moment rather than just a step that leads to the next and then the next. You want your readers to take a vested interest in your characters so you need to make the investment worthwhile. If you give your readers the chance to get to know your characters then they’ll be in it for the long haul but if you don’t allow them to make an emotional connection then there’s no reason to continue reading.
5. Don’t insult the intelligence of your readers. I don’t care what age group you are writing for. I read one book that was written for young adults and after the first few chapters I was absolutely certain that the author was a child. The circumstances were so immature that even my ten year old daughter would have rolled her eyes. When I finished the book I turned to the last page only to discover that the book was written by a woman who was married with children. The story had huge potential but the characters were absolutely ridiculous. It was horrifying to think that these characters were trying to “save the world” when they could barely form sentences worth typing. I don’t think there is an author alive or dead that doesn’t write or has written a story with the hope that by the time the reader closes the book they have received something worth contemplating on. I have books that I read as a child that I still pick up occasionally to read because of that very thing. They leave me feeling better about myself or remind me of how precious life is. The only thing I could remember about that particular book is the fact that I hope and pray that isn’t a representation of our future leaders.
Whether you’re writing a book for the masses or you’re writing a book for a small group of people, it’s important to write the way you would communicate to whomever you’re writing to. Just like an actor must fully submerse themselves into a character in order to portray them properly, a writer must do the same with each character in their story. When I write, I don’t think about how many people are going to read my book, I imagine myself telling the story to my imaginary best friend that is forever with me. I’d love for the masses to buy my books but I want each and every person within that mass to feel as if I am telling the story to only them. To me, that is the beauty of reading and I have learned is the beauty of writing as well.