Falling in love with a book happens so fast you don’t even realize it’s happened until you’re halfway through reading it.
Obviously, for a book to be considered a good book, it has to have a good story. And everyone has their own definition of what that entails. Not just a good story, but a story people will actually want to read, has a few vital components. They’re not too easy to master, and it takes time to do so. But it’s possible. Many before you have mastered the art of telling a story the reader can’t turn away from. There is hope for you and your stories.
New takes on old ideas
Have you ever stopped writing for a second, sat back and thought, “You know, I think this story has already been written”? You’re not wrong. Not at all. Pretty much every basic framework for every story has already been written hundreds upon thousands of times. But it doesn’t always feel that way, because writers are always coming up with new ways to tell those stories, to use that framework only as a foundation to build from.
Just because “it’s already been done” doesn’t mean you can’t still write it. Readers love familiar elements of stories they’ve read before. But it’s up to you to make it unique, to add a new twist, to keep it interesting even if it is just a little bit predictable.
Real conversations between realistic characters
Every once in awhile, you will come across a book that’s just “okay.” The story is overdone, not that unique and you can already predict how it’s going to end (or so you think). Even though that might seem like enough to convince you to set it down and pick up another book, it’s not. Because despite the so-so storyline, you’ve immediately fallen in love with the characters.
Real characters engaged in conversations you can envision happening in real life are often the anchor that keeps a new reader turning pages. Some stories just get off to a rough start. Especially first drafts, which you know well if you’ve written plenty of them. Counteract that weaker beginning with strong, dynamic characters right from the start. Those personalities will carry you through the rough points until you can go back and write a stronger introduction.
Layers that keep going deeper
A good story, good characters and good pacing all have one thing in common: layers. All those stories you’ve read about a hero going deep into a cave or beneath the earth’s surface are just metaphors for good storytelling (well, maybe). Depth in a story is everything. A cast of flat characters, zero character development and little to no deep discovery are sort of just like walking around the Midwest. There’s not much variety and our hills don’t count. It gets boring, and fast.
To keep a reader engaged, you have to peel back the layers of every character, conflict and event and dive deeper into back stories (but no more than necessary), internal conflicts and so on. You don’t have to tell all, but age-old techniques like foreshadowing something yet to come are the things keeping the pages turning, even if it seems cliche to you right now.
If you’ve ever fallen in love with a story, you’ve probably never stepped back to analyze exactly why you love it. Everyone likes a story for different reasons, and as a writer, it’s not possible to cater to everyone’s needs and satisfy every person that picks up your book. Don’t make that your mission. Aim to write a story that has as many good storytelling ingredients as possible without overdoing it.
Go with your gut. Often, it will steer you right.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.