Wednesday, 6 February 2013

five things that make a great book... in my humble opinion!


Read the silliest book on writing this week. I'm not going to name it as that's just rude, plus I'm sure there are people out there who might find it helpful. Unfortunately, all it did was bring out my cynical streak. It told the writer to clear their mind, to focus their attention on the creative side of the brain and wait for the words of their muse. It then said that writing is all about the left side of the brain, or was it the right, not sure, but I needed to get the correct side to engage with the words. Honestly. That's when the book took a nose dive into the trash. Get the correct side of my brain to work?? Most days I'm grateful if any part of my brain is working, let alone a side!

Whether you have a muse or not (NOT in case you were wondering) you still need to get your head around what makes a good book. Which made me think about the elements I consider essential when I write. Which, in turn, led to a list. (Big grin - who doesn't love a good list?) So here it is - five things that make a good book, for me anyway!

 
  • A sense of wonder and excitement. Not wonder as in, "I wonder how the heck I'm ever going to get this done, why oh why did I ever start?" But wonder as in a sense of awe at the magic of story telling. Nothing has the ability to transport a person like a story. It fills your mind, carries you away from yourself and into another world. It fills you up. Most of you know that I'm a trained artist. I love art. I love paintings. I can spend hours in front of a painting, captivated by it. But I still can't lose myself the way I can in a good book. So when I write - which happens rarely during the school holiday! - I try to chase the wonder. If I don't feel it, how can I expect the reader to feel it too?
  • It's all about the story.  A great vocabulary and wonderful sentence structure are amazing. I wish I had the ability. But I read books for the story. I don't care if the author ate a dictionary, what I care about are things like: Are the people real? Is the story moving forward? Do I feel like I'm in wonderland? So chill with the literary expectations and just get the story out of your head. Before it starts to feel old and you don't want to write it anymore.
  • I like books that run at you. I like to feel like I'm right in the middle of the story and know everyone before I even realise it! I have the attention span of a three year old. I know. I have a three year old! If things slow down I wander off and, most of the time, I never wander back. So for me, pace is a really important aspect of the  book.
  • Say it once, say it well and say it in as few words as possible! I hate reading a book that tells me the same thing over and over. I hate books that use a paragraph to say two words. I want it clear. I want it fast. And I don't want you to treat me like an idiot and explain what I've just read. Readers have brains. It's true - they write to me and tell me! It's time to let the reader figure things out for themselves.
  • It isn't enough to tell people the story, you need to make them feel it. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them feel outrage. Embarrassment. Fear. The power is yours. So whatever you do, whatever you write, make sure it packs an emotional punch. But, in saying that, never, ever make your reader feel bored!

new screen and old screen - now I can read whole pages at a time!

Those are the main things I look for in a book and strive for in my work. There are other smaller, but equally important things that aid good writing practice - like lots of caffeine, a chair with good back support, a decent size screen so you can read more than a sentence at a time (I wrote two books on a notebook computer with a 7 inch screen. Painful!) Regular chocolate intervals help too. As does silence. And, of course, you'll need much research involving old movies and good books by other authors. And naps (not that I ever get any, but I can dream…) Naps are essential in becoming a great novelist. I'm completely convinced of that fact!! :)

18 comments:

  1. Wow!

    Janet,
    I've read literally thousands of "how to" posts over the years and this is a cracker.

    A sense of wonder... story telling...galloping pace...say it once and say it well...make them laugh and make them cry...make them feel.

    This is so refreshing.
    So many authors forget that first and foremost we are story-tellers transforming the ancient art from the hearths of pre-history onto the page.
    Did out ancestors worry about grammar, punctuation and all the other detrius writers surround themselves with? No they related the thrill of chase... the events that shook their world.
    A lot of modern authors have forgotten this so thanks for the timely reminder.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Shirley! These are genuinely the things that worry me when I write, so I appreciate the comment. :)

      Delete
  2. You make it sound so easy, Janet! :) But you forgot something. This list needs to come with a health warning. Something along the lines of: don't try this at home, folks, unless you've got a good few months of kiddie-free and hangers-on-free time, otherwise you'll end up feeling a complete failure. This wee list is actually quite hard to complete!

    Now, hold it right there while I go and dash off another quick novel ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't forget it Maggie - I was trying to block it out!! I've written about 400 words this school holiday. Sometimes the only words in my head come from a 7 year old who talks incessantly!! So I get where you're coming from. :) But - if writing a novel was easy, everyone would be doing it! ;-) I don't know about you, but I love the hard parts. I love having something to strive for - that's when I get time to strive... :)

      Delete
    2. in the time it took to write that last comment, I was interrupted 13 times!!! I so get what you're saying Maggie!

      Delete
  3. Thanks, Janet! This is just brilliant. I agree absolutely about "losing" yourself in a good book.
    And I'm thrilled that you told me "you'll need much research". I take that as a mandate! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah - but don't forget the writing part too, Jenny!!

      Delete
  4. hehehe - sorry - I got nothing... just enjoying this post and thinking how at least I know ONE person whose life is a touch more insane than my own! And that is saying a lot :)

    I've got to share this on Twitter. What fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey LaVerne, there seems to be a lot of us out there - all suffering in chaos! Maybe there's a book in that? :)

      Delete
  5. Great post Janet! That about sums it up for me too. I like to feel the story was written just for me.

    Rose

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fantastic post, Janet! I agree with you 100%! As a reader, I know I definitely enjoy that sense of wonder and magic that I get lost in, a fast pace, to figure out things for myself, to fall in love with the characters, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Rose and Vonda, I appreciate you stopping by. There are lots of books out there teaching writers systems for writing the perfect book. I sometimes wonder if there are too many people focused on the system, and not enough focused on the magic of a good tale well told. Nice to know I'm not alone in that! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are absolutely right Janet.
      For a while there I went crazy buying 'how-to' books and two pages in my eyes glaze over.
      story-telling should never be hard. If it's hard then it's not spontaneous.
      I'm talking about the actual writing here....not the editing. That's right brain stuff!

      Delete
    2. Looks like we're on the same page Shirley! :)

      Delete
  8. Love the post. Thanks for sharing. I read for the story, but lousy writing can ruin a good story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree Sandy, but when the words get in the way of the story that can do your head in too!! :)

      Delete
  9. Same here. I want to be swept away. Loved your five-things, and a reminder to listen to my editor when she says, "Tighten up that paragraph!" The self-portrait in the side bar is pretty awesome too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks MJ, I'm quite fond of the Smurf version of me too! Glad you stopped by.

      Delete