five things that make a great book – in my humble opinion…

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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!

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!! 🙂

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