Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The One Most Important Thing
Two days ago I asked the ACFW American Christian Fiction Writers) e-mail loop: what's the one most important thing a novel needs to have in order for you to enjoy reading it?
Not so easy to answer as it may seem. Most of us want to say two or three or four things. What's a good plot without effective characterization? What are deep characters with a weak or unsatisfactory plot? It's all in the beginning ... oh, wait, and the end!
Nope, I wanted one answer. I was curious about the responses. I'm always looking for various kinds of reader feedback in writing my own books. And I thought the discussion might be helpful for each writer on the loop. For me anyway, when I stop to figure out what I really want to read in a novel, it helps me create my own stories.
About 62 different people responded (some had various thoughts/questions and wrote in more than once). A lot of the responses easily overlap, but I did my best to sort them into logical categories. Here are the four basic categories that arose and their numbers:
Reader response (25)
The breakdown of each category is where it all gets interesting:
~ Strong beginning hook
~ Good hook at each chapter
~ Don't know how the book will end/unpredictability factor (6)
~ Satisfying ending/not ending with a hook for the next book (3)
~ Uplifting ending with hope for the future (2)
~ Rollercoaster along the way, but with an expected ending
~ Fast-paced (2)
~ Intriguing plot
~ Twists and surprises throughout, starting on first page
~ True to genre
~ Believable protagonist/pulled into his or her world/identify with him or her (5)
~ Strong motivation to overcome all obstacles
~ Rugged hero from past century
~ Intriguing, likable characters (2)
~ Need to see scenes/feel the emotions (7)
~ Story seems real/reality factor (5)
~ Swept away into a different world/swept away into storyworld (5)
~ Care about characters (3) (One respondent added--"enough that their struggles change me")
~ Deep characterization (2)
~ Need to be quickly engaged (2)
~ Rollercoaster of emotions
~ A book that can be enjoyed when read again and again
~ Captures heart and imagination
~ Trust in author to satisfy me with good story and right ending
~ Reader grows with main character, is touched by new insight, becomes aware of humanity in a new way
~ Clarity--through logical plot points and in character growth
~ Spiritual depth and emotional integrity
~ Back cover copy without obvious questions as to how book will end
~ Setting as character
The reader response category is tricky. We all want to respond to a story, but what is it that makes us respond? Seems most of these answers had to do with being pulled into the world and emotions of the story. That requires scenes that are multi-layered, scenes that a reader will feel, not just read. There are a lot of tricks to creating such scenes. Certainly easier said than done.
Your thoughts on the survey?