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WHEN A BOOK HITS THE SPOT

April 13, 2016

Most of the time, when I mine material for my articles and it comes from my reading material, it’s when I find things wrong with what I’m seeing. How about when things are right? What is it about when you read a book and love it? What are the things that resonate with you, that put that smile on your face when you close it after the last page? What makes you wish the story hadn’t ended?

I can’t speak for all of you. All I can do is speak not only for myself, but from anecdotal evidence from others I’ve polled throughout the years. As a reader and a writer, even though I initially write for myself, as I’ve honed my skills, I’ve always done it keeping in mind that others might want to read my stuff. I want to present it in the most palatable way possible. That means taking as many of the good things I see and incorporating them into what I write as possible.

CHARACTERS

One of the first things out of a lot of writer’s mouths, and a lot of readers, is characters. Those with a literary bent think it’s all about the characters and little else. In genre fiction, the characters are important but the plot drives things and the characters react to it. However, regardless of which way you go, all characters have to be interesting.

Some say the best characters are the ones the reader can relate to. To be honest, I say bull because that’s not the correct word. I don’t think I’ve ever read a genre fiction story with a character that was in any way shape or form anything like me. Ever. Not even close. Only in the vaguest terms could I relate to any character as in we’re both Americans? We might both be male. That’s about it. Does that mean now that I’ll hate all books now? Give me a break!

How about likability? Now that’s something I can relate to that has nothing to do with whether I’m similar to the character or not. A character may be completely different from me, which they always are, but can be quite likable. That’s someone I can care about and develop an emotional investment in. That’s worth something.

While I cannot specifically relate to any of the characters I read about, there may be some intangible thread there that makes any character relatable, in a way. Maybe the character has the same moral code as I do. Maybe he or she likes the same food I do, or the same movies or music. The other traits, personality, background and everything else can be completely alien, but there can be that one thing that writers and readers might call that “relatable” thing. I’d still prefer likable and I don’t have to relate to the character at all. I just have to like them.

The character can and should have a sense of humor. Even in the worst circumstances, a minor joke or a bit of irony is all it takes to show something to give the character a bit of variety.

I’m not into superheroes. I say that in the broadest terms, not just the comic book ones, but the protagonists, male or female that perform impossible feats. A balance of believable traits is just fine. When the author stretches things too far, I start to lose interest. The exception would be fantasy because in that genre, all bets are off. However, even then, the author has to stick with the rules of their own world.

When the character is well-balanced, I’m all in and that’s the first plus in any good book.

ATMOSPHERE

The atmosphere can be light, dark or in-between. However, the thing that makes a story interesting and that hits the spot for me and many people is a bit of variety. Even though the main theme could be dark for instance, if the entire story is dark and dreary with no light moments, that gets to be a bit much. The same for a light story with nothing serious. With no variety, the story takes on a kind of monotone feel to it.

The stories that always hit the spot for me have a little of both, regardless of the main theme.

PLOT

To me, there’s nothing worse than a plot with no twists. Going from point A to B in a straight line smacks of routine. Life usually doesn’t work that way and neither should any story. Seeing as how fiction exaggerates real life anyway, you want a story to exaggerate those plot lines as well.

However…wild and convoluted plot lines that are too busy and sub-plots that go nowhere only confuse things and leave lots of noise. They leave the final outcome fuzzy.

When the A to B has a good solid plot with plenty, but not too many twists and turns, and all of them are tied into the main plot and make sense, that’s gold.

WRITING STYLE – INCLUDING POINT OF VIEW

The writing style is a critical element to whether I’ll enjoy the substance. How the author conveys that story is very important.

First is point of view. For you all that have been reading me a while, you know that I only read third-person. If you’re okay with first-person or third-person omniscient, then POV isn’t an issue. To me, it’s a huge issue and before I’ll read any book, I always scan the pages first to determine whether the book is in the proper POV.

Tense. Some authors like to write in present tense. I despise that. I find present tense unreadable and will almost throw the book back on the shelf. If you are okay with that, fine. Not me.

Literary bent. Some authors like to ramble on. I hate that. When I look through the book and find solid words with no space, little dialogue and lots of half to whole page paragraphs, I know this author likes to ramble. To me, a great story is one where the author gets to the point. That means the story moves, the author takes just enough time to give adequate description and background to the places and characters so I, the reader can fill in my own blanks. Then they move on.

That, folks is gold!

OUTCOME

This is the point where it all comes together. The final outcome. No matter what comes before, no matter how good the rest of the book is, if the author disappoints with the final outcome, it negates the rest of it. The payoff is the whole point of spending all that emotional investment and time into this story, not to mention the money on the book!

I don’t read to get bummed out. I don’t read to see the hero die. I’m a glass is half full type person.

Some people love that emotional tug when the hero dies, for a good cause or for a doomed whatever.

I’m not one of them. When that happens, or when the hero or heroes (heroines) die for stupid reasons it pisses me off. I felt I’ve wasted my money and time. It completely ruins the experience. I’m not alone in this either.

However, like I said, there are those that love this kind of stuff. Stephen King is a big advocate and that’s one reason I usually avoid any book he endorses. I’ve been burned before!

To me, the hero, heroes or heroines must prevail in the end. If that happens, the story is gold. It hits the spot.

I just read a great book that had all of these elements. Sure, there were a few minor quirks, but overall, it was good to go. Lately, I haven’t had such a great streak because I’ve been trying a lot of new authors. Then again, that’s the point. My favorites can only put out so many books.

When I get one of those great books and it hits the spot, I really do close the book with a smile on my face, and a bit of sadness knowing the story had to end. I wish there was just a bit more. Now that’s a great book!

Happy writing!

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