Nope, this is not a scholastic viewpoint but rather just a good ole-fashioned bunch of suggestions from my perspective after reading hundreds or perhaps a thousand books in my lifetime. I’m not counting the 10 pagers that we were given as 3 or 4 year olds- I’m talking from the very first novel-length book I’ve read (starting with Charlotte’s Web, summer after 3rd grade) and there on. I could even consider the many books I had to read in college because in a way, scholastically the authors of Biology (Campbell’s 100th ed. –j/k), Chemistry, English and Math are trying to teach a subject that needs to engage the reader and keep them interested.
For this, I’ll just stick to fiction.
I’ve written numerous essays and so far, officially ONE novel. Does that make me an expert? Certainly not. I will admit though, that I often find myself critiquing and thinking of ways to make the books and movies I look at more interesting. Writing this ONE book that I have (don’t worry I’m on to the next one) has forced me into the captain’s chair and opened my mind into the insights of what it actually takes to publish something that will:
- Keep the reader interested in the story until the last page.
- Will make the reader eagerly await the next story.
- Will encourage the reader to tell friends about it.
Yes, for me and my writing, that is all I wish for right now.
As a reader of a book here are the things that will likely have me close the book by the first few pages- permanently:
A Ho-Hum Beginning
This seems quite obvious but it never fails every few books I decide to purchase based solely on reading the synopsis on the back because it sounds good. I then clear my schedule (neglect my own writing needs), turn my smartphone off and get comfortable only to get 10 pages into a book and absolutely nothing worthwhile has happened. Nothing. I usually give it another 5 and 99% of the time that is my second mistake.
Authors: I’m not saying someone needs to die right away in your story but something good really needs to happen in the first 5. Please and thank you.
I’m not saying predictable character association. People sometimes need to easily associate what they already come to know in certain character types. You’ve given us a character ‘Robert’ and you’ve described him as a motorcycle riding badass. Me, the reader has just finished marathon watching my all- time favorite show Sons of Anarchy which has a lot of motorcycle riding badasses. I’ll do fine to let my mind go there and assume he’s similar to one of their characters as long as you make Robert a lot less easier to assume in your story. I need my particular familiarities with SoA to build this character in my mind. I do not need anything else from it.
Authors: I need your badasses (in the story) to be different than the ones I see on TV already. Please and thank you.
(Disclaimer: I do not watch Sons of Anarchy. I will one day. I know it’s a good show. They were just an example.)
Okay, so your book beginning was fantastic. Anyone with a moderate interest in the subject will push through and be amazed by the complexity of the storyline, the depth and uniqueness of the characters and their abilities or lack thereof to continue on. We’ve gone through hundreds of pages and have bonded with these folks as if they truly exist. The end has now come and we are…. let down. It’s similar to a car coming to a screeching halt- for absolutely no reason at all. End of story, go back to your regular life. I love when an author has put extra effort into the ending, or has set the stage for the next book in the sequence. Love that. I read a story last summer that was fictional but reality based and the way it was written in the end kind of left the reader hanging as if the rest of the book were simply not included. It was just like that last scene in the finale of The Sopranos. Cut to black- it’s over. The book itself was great enough for me to recommend to friends but it came with a warning about the ending.
Authors: Please, please invest as much time in the ending as you do with the rest of the story. Enough said. Thank you.
With all this being said you can bet your next cup of coffee or can of Red Bull that I’ll be extra diligent in my own writings from here on out to avoid these faux pas. There are whole books dedicated to the subject of good storylines and these are just a few- from my opinion. Again, I’m not an expert but as a reader I’ve found these little things to be important in the world of writing.