So, for all intents and purposes, this is a list of elements that make a book one that I would love to read at this particular phase in my life. It is the type of book I’m attempting to write. So if you are like me, and enjoy young adult type fiction with the following elements, then you’re my target audience. If not, we may relate on some other level or stage of life, so maybe I’ll catch you later.
The List (for now)
Mystery: Curiosity-is-peaked type of book. It leaves you guessing how it’ll play out. Then when it begins to resolve, you may have had an idea of how it would end, but then you are blown away (I love the Mrs. Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman).
Suspense: The ‘just one more page’ syndrome that leaves you up, if you aren't careful, until 2 am reading the last page. This was my thought at a certain point in Only the Good Spy Young: ‘Noooo, he’s going to blow himself up so the Circle can’t have him!’ (Yes, I actually forced myself to turn off my Kindle at that moment in the book because it was 2 am, and I had a 7 am wake-up call from my kids.)
Interesting, developed characters: I like to know things about the characters from the things they experience. I like to see them encounter challenges. Somewhere I read once said the litmus test for an essential character is: do they have fears? do they have motivations? Do they have goals? I tend to think that this is good, but they need obstacles to those elements. Put your character through something hard and see what they do. It might surprise you…ahem, okay, so I strayed a little bit from what I like about a book to writing characters. But basically, I like a well-developed character, (and here I go again, commenting on writing...) but I struggle writing developed characters…why? because my life view is formed by ONE character: me. So it is hard to metaphorically "get inside their heads" and see what motivates them. I want to experience a real character: one that I would want to meet on the street…or be glad I won't ever meet on the street.
A twisting, engaging storyline: I like to go along with the character on an unbelievably exciting journey to some end. The journey isn’t predictable, isn’t told up front, has surprises along the way (minimal flashbacks), has twists and turns that you didn't expect, and gets resolved at the end.
Romance: When I say romance, I’m not saying steamy scenes where immoral and offensive lust is played out in detail & slapped with the romance label. When I say romance, I say, in the words of one of my good friends, I like the “first blush of romance” books as well as those who show true, lasting love. I love to see the connections between men and women because I believe that romance is an essence of life. It is important because the relationship of a man and woman in the family is the bedrock of our society. Men and women are completely different in how they view one another. But in their very differences, they complement and can uplift one another. A relationship guarded by restraint, respect, and true love (the kind of love that endures 2 am wake-up calls from a sick child or late nights at the office, the kind I think of every time I hear Just Another Day in Paradise by Phil Vasser) is beautiful and provides the greatest happiness in this life. The counterfeit of this love brings the greatest misery and hardship. True love is something beautiful. It is essential. I like to see the proper manifestation or beginning of this love (aka clean romance) hailed in books. It’s a great and integral part of the happy life. I think that is one of the reasons why I like clean regency romance. (for example, Edenbrooke or Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson)
Morally Sound: The lines of right and wrong are there. I believe that this life is not morally relative. So I do not prefer books that say right is wrong and wrong is right. Don’t get me wrong: I love books that make you think and dig deep. I just don’t want to consume something that proclaims moral relativism.
The Message: It has one. If it is just to make you smile, love some essence of life again, or some world changing revelation of truth, whatever it be, I want to be uplifted. I want a positive message that leaves me with hope. I love a book that has an amazing, entertaining plot and story line, but at the end leaves you thinking not only about what you read but what it reveals about life, even your life.
Symbolism: I love books that have imagery or symbolism that compliments the plot or message of the book. For example, Charlotte Bronte’s use of windows in Jane Eyre. Whether or not imagery/symbolism was intended by the author in a book, the meaning I discover while reading or thinking about it, thrills me.Background Description: I do not like long, drawn out descriptions of scenery or background. I like the background imagery and detail to be like basil in tomato soup. Just enough to give it flavor.
Dialogue vs Narrative: Both elements are important in a book. However, I find that I prefer dialogue driven books. The books that show through character action/interaction what the book is about, rather than telling through description. This may sound contradictory: dialogue=show, narrative=tell. I love the author who uses action/events to say something rather than just describing it.