Chuck Wendig, author of the addictive, raunchy blog Terrible Minds wrote recently about story elements that keep the pages turning. It got me thinking. When I read, what is the #1 most important thing I look for in a book? What will keep me engrossed way after it’s time to stop and cook dinner? What will keep me up late at night, leaning close to the bedside lamp?
Well…there are a number of things that I value in a book.
Really beautiful writing, for instance. Or maybe a fast, twisty-crazy plot. Classic genre tropes given new life are a favorite, as are classic genre tropes done really, really well. Darkness, danger, and protagonist imperilment can hook me, as can books that combine a romping story with a larger message.
But the one thing that will grab me, pull me in, and drag me along – no matter how many of those other elements are lacking – is a compelling character. I’ll read just about anything that features a great character. If I care about the protagonist (or the antagonist, or even a prominently featured secondary character), I’ll follow them through a sea of bad writing, cliched plotlines, dragging narration, or message-less brain candy — anywhere, just as long as I can get more of their thoughts, words, actions, and reactions. Show me the world through the eyes of someone interesting.
Give me Anya Balanchine in all these things i’ve done, Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove, Tyrion Lannister in the Songs of Ice & Fire series, Samwise and Gandalf in LOTR, Jane Eyre, or Humbert Humbert from Lolita. Give me Chess Putnam and Sookie Stackhouse. Hell, they don’t even have to be human. Give me Fiver and Hazel in Watership Down. Give me good characters and I’ll read every last word you have to write about them. That’s a promise.
So, that’s it for me. Characters.
How about you? What element do you find the most compelling when you read? What do you look for in a good book? Do tell. Writers everywhere want to know 🙂