Saturday, September 7, 2013

What makes a good book

(Forgive the blog absence; I've spent the past six months dealing with moving. But now I'm back! And have more writing thoughts.)

There are big books and there are small books, and one is not "better" than the other. There are times when I've wanted a sweeping novel that I carry with me my whole life, and other times I just need the right light, small thing to brighten my day, and only that will do. But that said, I think there are seven things one of those stick-with-you-forever books has:

1. Heart. Something in the book directly hits a core emotion.
2. Humor. Even if it's a serious book. A little humor goes a long way.
3. It's specific. Sometimes to be universal, you have to be specific. It helps with immediacy, it helps heighten both humor and pathos, and it helps a reader really know the characters.
4. There's something real in it (see #1) but there's also something exotic in it that the reader just isn't likely to experience in real life. That's the high concept element. It could be an exotic setting, a pitting of two extremely opposite personalities together, or an extreme situation where someone has to sink or swim and CAN'T push off the challenge. (Dystopia, mystery, saving the world from an evil overlord, etc.) Readers want to escape into that world, but they want ties to what they know is true at the same time.
5. Depending on the age group, probably some romance. In any case, there are characters (yes, plural) that the reader will love. INCLUDING THE MAIN CHARACTER. No blank slates!
6. A main character who is a bit of an underdog. Flawed, but trying so hard.
7. In MG/YA especially, a sense of immediacy and psychic closeness that lets the reader live inside the main character's head. Adult fiction may be completely different, but if you write a book looking back nostalgically on the character's youth, you will lose your audience nine times out of ten.

Especially in kid books, readers read to figure out who they are, how they fit in the world, and what they'll fight for. Kid books stay with you forever; they get into your DNA and bolster you when things get rough in the real world. They provide not only information but also hope. So build those books well! Because you're not just building books.