Tearing a book apart
I’ve currently got three books I’m reading critically in addition to the one I’m doing my best to write. So currently at the top of my mind is what readers are looking for when they read a book. What I should be looking for as I tear these books apart.
Number one, of course, is a good story. Without a compelling plot, readers won’t even get past your blurb. But a good story is completely subjective. Some people like suspense, others want something a little calmer; some people are looking for sexual tensions, others want it all put out there. What everyone, I think, would agree upon is that there has to be a problem and the main characters need to solve it by the end of the book. In other words, we need to know by the end of the first chapter what the story question is.
Next would be the characters. Are they well-rounded, fully-fleshed people with flaws as well as good points? Do they feel real to you or are they flat like a cardboard cut-out of a person? Is it clear what the protagonist wants (their goal), why they want it (motivation), and what’s stopping them from getting it (conflict)?
Not only do we need real-to-live characters, but we need to like the protagonist too. The author is asking us to spend a lot of time with this person. If we don’t like them, we won’t want to do that unless they are really compelling.
Once we get past these two main items, to keep me reading I need appropriate pacing (faster in high tension scenes, slower in calmer ones), believable dialogue, a clear idea of who’s head we’re in without jumping around from head to head, and a clear picture of the external world (setting) and how it works—especially if there are fantasy or science fiction elements. The writing needs to be smooth with more showing rather than telling—I would rather “hear” people talking than being told that they talked; I would prefer to see someone’s visceral reaction to events than be told how they felt. And finally, to truly pull me in and allow me to experience the story fully, I want to be deep into the protagonist’s head. I want to know what they are thinking and feel what they are feeling (deep pov).
All this is writing craft. Getting the words right, showing the story so that your reader can live it as they read. These are the marks of a well-written book and this is what I’m looking for as I read critically and tear down the books I’m reading.
GMC, World Building, character development, romance, pacing, point of view, show and tell, and deep pov are all things the author has to have a good grasp of in order to write a compelling story that will keep a reader engaged and stand up to an editor tearing it apart.