Tomorrow Thanksgiving will arrive in the United States and I’m reminded of all the good things the season adds to my life. It brings my family flying in from far-flung corners. It means a pan of fresh hulled walnut meats and crisp apples is bubbling in a cinnamon sugar bath inside my oven. It creates an atmosphere of magic as the kids start the momentous countdown to Christmas. Most of all it means I’ll be snuggling up with a teacup, a blanket and a brand new book.
A great novel is one of life’s perfect experiences; it warms your heart and leaves you invigorated. Fall is when I stock up on all the books I somehow missed the first time round. I consume novels all season in rapid secession. By the end I’m often sad to see the stories over. The wonderful books I’ll slip back on the shelves. These “keepers” will make me wonder how long I must wait before I can read them again and feel that same crazy rush.
Lately, I’ve been in a reading slump. I keep starting books with high hopes and getting them dashed. I don’t want to be an unsatisfied reader, I want to be a pleased reader. The kind of reader who gladly becomes an evangelist of a good author’s work. I want to recommend them to friends, and buy copies for everyone on my Christmas list, but somehow I keep missing out on making a book connection.
So how can an author turn me and every other unsatisfied reader back into happy readers? Simple: they can grant us 3 wishes.
- I wish for a protagonist who feels real:
When I read a great book I physically need to finish if for no other reason than to prove my fictional friends are okay. I’m not greedy, I only require one character (okay maybe two) that I’m excited about. If the writer can’t give me a single great character, I’ll get annoyed and set the book down. I also need the characters to act in a way that makes me believe in them. Characters that are flip-flopping and doing things that make no sense will start to feel fake. I never want to feel like I’m reading dialogue or actions the author forced on the character. That’s a huge turn off for me. And I’m not alone. The most common complaint in book reviews is that the reader couldn’t relate to the characters or they found them unlikable. Creating reader kinship isn’t easy, nor will the same elements work for every reader. The best any writer can do is build a consistent, yet complicated character. Give them a mix of good and bad traits, but also make sure the good outweighs the bad. I have no other hard and fast preferences. It can be male or female, young or old. I don’t even need them to be human, give me a robot or alien, just make sure I care about them and I’m hooked.
- I wish for conflict, conflict and more conflict:
There are few things I find more unsatisfying as a reader then the absence of any real conflict. I define real conflict as something that can’t be cleared up by a two-word apology. I think any writer taking 50 to a 100 pages to sort out a simple misunderstanding is disrespecting me as a reader. Conflict needs to run throughout the story. It needs to weave in and out of the corridors, block the character’s progress and challenge the character’s expectations about themselves and their worldview. If it’s not making the characters think, talk and then act toward resolving the conflict, I’m not going to worry about them resolving their problems. Also many readers (including me) enjoy a healthy dose of external conflict. Inner conflict is fine, but real life never happens in a perfect vacuum, so neither should fictional life.
- For my last wish I beg for story stakes worth battling for:
I like my book stakes on the higher side of the spectrum, but not necessarily global in scope. I’m actually getting a bit bored with end of the world stakes. For me big stakes worth fighting for are often about the moral questions. I like the main struggle to relate to those issues and problems that define and challenge humanity. I want a book that aims to defeat evil, and restore justice regardless of the scope of that fight. I love a story when the stakes prove more significant than the lead characters first expected. Sometimes in series books I find it frustrating when the story arc has only one main problem that runs through all the books. In my ideal satisfied reader situation, each book would have a huge problem that resolves at the end of book one and yet spawns a second problem of equal or greater size for book two to deal with.
In the afternoon I’ll be sitting down to a huge Thanksgiving meal with my family, and after the dishes are cleared and the bones are picked clean, nightfall will find me tucked into a corner with a new book. I’m hoping somewhere the book genie has heard my plea and I will settle down with a tale that refreshes my brain as successfully as the turkey pleased my tummy. If this new author fulfilled my three wishes, the odds are favorable.