I’ve been reading a lot lately. A lot of Princess Diaries and Twilight, nothing too complex. It’s how I give my brain a break between writing sprees without letting it totally shut down. It’s also healthy to read if you’re a writer. I think of it as brain food. Or that’s my excuse, anyway.
One reason I read as much as I can is so I can, as creepy as it might sound, get inside the heads of my readers. So I can understand what they need from me as a storyteller.
I’ve come up with a list of “requirements” of sorts. Things I need a book to have in order to consider it “good.” To remind myself what to and not to do as I’m working on writing my own book, but also for your benefit, if you so choose to indulge.
Here are my three “requirements.”
You can write a fantasy story with realistic characters. I don’t care which genre you’re writing in. I need to be able to believe that this character could come to life right now and exist in my world.
I tried to think of a good example for this point, but nothing specific comes to mind. I’ve read books where characters are inconsistent, or they’re just way too extreme in one direction to be able to actually imagine them existing. That’s a huge turnoff to me. I can’t get into a story if a character annoys me to the point of not being able to focus, just because he or she is unrealistic.
Something unexpected (and preferably the opposite of what I want to happen)
Many, many people I know hated Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent series, because the author killed off a character, which no one expected her to do. Honestly, I get really annoyed when people claim to “hate” books because of twists like that!
I need to not be able to predict what’s coming next. I’ve fallen in love with Gillian Flynn for this very reason. I feel sort of disappointed if there isn’t a huge plot twist. Someone doesn’t always need to die; it doesn’t have to be that drastic. But I want to be surprised, and upset with the author—in a good way.
An ending that makes me feel all the feelings
When I finished reading A Casual Vacancy, I probably sat there with the book still open to the last page for 10 minutes after the fact. That’s the kind of feeling I’m talking about. I’m okay with happy endings, I promise I am. But a happy ending sometimes makes me feel as if I haven’t learned what I was supposed to learn. Like I’ve cheated, somehow.
If there is a happy ending, though, the entire book can’t be happy. I’m sorry. I need to cry or feel like I need to punch a character (cough cough Edward Cullen) in the face. I read for the feelings.
It helps to step away from your own work for awhile and think about your audience. Because at some point, their thoughts and feelings toward your work does, to some extent, matter.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.
Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and health. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist, Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.