I am pretty active on the website Quora.com, where you can ask or answer questions. A few days ago, I was asked to answer the question: “What are some qualities a book should have to keep a reader engaged for hours?” I responded by quoting writing guru Robert McKee from his famous writing book, Story.
In it, more than once, he states: “Give the readers what they want, but not in the way they expect it.”
That, in a nutshell, is what successful writing is all about. Your book needs to be satisfying and yet surprising. You have to have characters your reader cares about. You have to have believable dialogue. And you have to have a story that takes them where they want to go, but not on the path they expect.
Part of what I do on this site is book reviews. I have done quite a few over the past two years–at least 30 or more. Some of those books have been a pleasure to read, and others I keep looking forward to see how many more pages I have to sludge through. I started a book about a week ago, but found myself looking for excuses not to read it. My eyes were tired. I wanted to watch TV. I needed to wash dishes.
And then I received another in the mail. Bam! I read the first few pages, and I was hooked. At the risk of giving yet another book five stars, I am 50 pages into the book and know that the other 450 pages will be just as great. At least I hope so.
What did the second book that the first one didn’t? Well, to begin, great writing. The dialogue was not only believable, but entertaining. The situation, even though it was set in space 200 years in the future, was believable. And the story was, well, amazing, exciting and made me want more.
Sometimes all it takes to get a Wow from your readers is good writing. Actually, most of the time. But providing that isn’t easy.
But that doesn’t mean we should keep on trying.