Tuesday, September 29, 2009

5 Things I Love About You(r book)

It may be a sad reflection on society that I am only listing five things I love in a story, where last week I had ten things I hate. It may just be that I'm tired and the number 10 seems so very much bigger than 5. Or maybe it's that love is harder to describe than hate - or easier.

Whatever the mysterious reason, here are five things that make a story shine for me.

1. Strong characters. Now, by 'strong', I absolutely don't mean 'omg this character kicks a** so hard!' Please, spare me the amazingly competent paragons of perfection who are uber-tough and Chuck Norris-like in their abilities to overcome any adversary. Give me characters who are neither unicorn pure nor cardboard-villain evil. Let them have both flaws and redeeming qualities, and make me believe they do things outside the pages I'm reading, and I will love them.

2. Shocking turns of events. Got a plot twist? Keep it from me until the last possible moment - but don't let it come out of left field. Fold in some hints that I can see if I go back and re-read, but that don't stand out until I come to the Big Reveal, so I can think to myself, 'of COURSE it was!' Surprise me, and I will love it.

3. Movement. Like Captain Jack Sparrow, I want movement! Keep the story going - it's not necessary to have someone die or something explode on every other page, but don't stop to reflect on some irrelevant event or description for pages and pages. Make things happen, and I will love it.

4. Plausible motivations. In any given plot, the characters are driven to act by external events - but the machinations of the world alone do not a great story make. Your characters should have reasons for reacting the way they do to external stimuli ... and if they don't, they are as two-dimensional as the page or screen I'm reading them from. Tie your characters intrinsically to the story line, and I will love them.

5. Shades of gray. The world is not black and white - so don't let your story be so. I love to see characters with questionable morals who are nevertheless sympathetic. People are complex, with the capacity to make decisions (the right ones, or the wrong ones). Don't let them always take the predictable path. Show me the layers of your characters and your world, and I will love it.

What do you love in a story? And, if you have a book you think I'll love, let me know about it so I can check it out!


Marta Stephens said...

Oh, wow! All of the above. You've done a great job of spelling it out.

Kim Smith said...

I cannot think of a single thing to add that would carry nearly as much impact. thanks for a great list SW!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Wow. Wonderful list, S.W. And I must say, you do the "shades of gray" better than anyone I've ever read. Your evil characters end up being human and understandable, your heroes are nicely flawed. Yeah, you've got it down. My hero!

I might add another few items to the list, if it's okay. How about:

6) Take me there. Put me in the cracked vinyl seat in the booth at the Thai Restaurant. Let me smell the ginger and basil in the air, let me taste the galangal in the soup. Let me feel the rough surface of chopsticks in my hand. And the feel of the wind in my hair. LOL. No, scratch that last one, we're inside. And don't overdo it, a few sentences nicely interspersed with good dialogue is sufficient.

If you take me out of my armchair and whisk me into your scene, I'll believe it all the more. And I'll love your book!

How's that?

Oh! And what about:

7) Speak to me as if you're human and you've actually had a conversation before. Make your characters talk like everyone else does, in a natural manner. Don't make them sound too erudite or forced. Don't let them go on for hours. And it's okay to put in a little dialect if it's carefully done. Most of all, keep that dialog moving and natural.

Make me believe your characters are really talking, and I'll love your book.

Does that work?

s.w. vaughn said...

Thanks, guys! Glad you like the list!

And those are great points, Aaron! Description and dialogue - two things that are tough to get right. :-)