Monday, February 24, 2014

Why I Start Reading--And Why I Stick With It

I'd like to compliment Donna on her excellent article from Friday, WHEN I STOP READING--AND WHY and thank her for the inspiration for my blog today. Donna presented a detailed summary of why a reader might toss a book into the DNF pile. I can relate. My DNF pile is growing too. Someday it might even rival my infamous Leaning Tower of TBR(R). Though, "Tower" is a figurative word when one loves to feed her Kindle with more books than she'll ever read in a lifetime.

And there lies my point. Too many books, too little time. If I can't buy into it, I can't finish it. There are too many other stories out there calling my name. There are key elements I need in a book to avoid having it fall into that category--Books Not Read in a Lifetime.

Donna's list of reasons why she stopped reading covered most of my bases, so now I'd like to offer my take of why I start reading a book...and why I keep reading. What hooks me? What intrigues me? And more than that, what keeps me enthusiastically driving on to those very last words...The End.

But most of all, what will make me say "Wow! What a ride!" when I'm done? (And go on to pound out a glowing review.)

1) The blurb has to grab me and drag me in.

The blurb is a first glimpse of the story, so it has to be concise, clear, and with the central conflict/dilemma revealed in words with "color and vibe"--the author's own voice shining through. The blurb has to convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that this book is different, better, more amazing than a million other books I'm being offered. It has to connect with me at a deep emotional level. In just a few cleverly-crafted words, it has to reveal its heart and soul and give me a glimpse of the universe it will unfold before me. The blurb must be breathtaking, compelling and brilliant. In a vast sea of books, that's what it takes to get noticed. No hook, no fishy.

2) The first three chapters can't be a yawn fest.

Okay, I'm on the hook. I don't want to be left dangling. The story has to cut to the chase very soon. I need to be transported into the heat of the action and conflict. It has to get my adrenaline pumping and/or my mind asking questions, right from the start. I have to be involved. Immersed! Oh, and info dump? Never a good thing. I want a story that weaves and braids the history into the plot. That reveals bits of the backstory and how and why it relates to the present conflict as the story unfolds. I don't want a backstory dump truck at the beginning of the tale that buries me under a mountain of information. I don't want to slog through the mire, I want to be shot out of a cannon. I want to discover the past like an archaeologist feverishly sweeping away grains of sand until I have enough fossil bits to reveal the entire beast. Discovery is exciting!

3) It has to stay real.

In order to continue to buy into a story, I have to believe everything I'm reading is really happening. This is sometimes called "suspension of disbelief" but it's really more than that. It's delivering plausibility. This goes double for SF/R. Spacecraft don't bank in a vacuum, planets don't explode because of increased volcanic activity and a galaxy is not a solar system. Law enforcement or military characters should never point their weapons in the air while peeking around a corner looking for the bad guy. That's called a Sabrina (think Charlie's Angels). A real officer would carry their weapon at low ready. Basic errors can lose me in a heartbeat. Movies and televisions do not make good research material, because directors and producers are more worried about shot angles and creating drama on the screen than realism. Books can do it much better. This also goes for characters who do things that brand them TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Their choices and decisions must be believable and reasonable, not just convenient for the plot.

4) Cliffhangers, baby! 


So I've been hooked and reeled in, but now the story needs to completely capture me. I want the stakes to keep getting upped. I want to see the characters do things they swore they'd never do, and I want to understand the reasons they must do these things. I want the situation to go from terrible to catastrophic, and I want to see the characters use smarts, know-how, sheer tenacity and trust to survive--physically or emotionally--only to face something even worse. I want reasons--lots of them--to keep turning the pages. I want to feel the characters' strengths, weakness and fears. I want into their souls to sense their heartbreak and understand their actions completely. I need high motivation to keep turning those pages.

5) Take those characters right off the ledge

I'm getting near the end of the book and I've been on the edge of my seat the entire journey. Now, I need a big finish. A grand finale with fireworks and pounding drums. Story, please don't fizzle out on me now! The characters need to charge right off that cliff they've been tap-dancing around for the entire journey...and then find a way to bring themselves back from the brink. They've been growing and learning and taking risks the whole way, now I need their world to come apart at the seams, and I need them to put all that experience to good use and find a way to not only survive but claw their way into their HEA. They deserve it. And I've been right there with them, sharing these trials and tribulations the whole way. I deserve it too!

What are your thoughts? Do you have certain expectations that every book you read--no matter the genre, setting, or tone--must fulfill to keep your attention? What are your "A Great Book Must Haves?"

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