What writer wouldn’t love sitting inside a reader’s head as they read a book, whether it is the writer’s or another’s? I would relish knowing what thoughts occur to a reader as they progress through the novel. Are the characters intriguing or boring? Are there too many characters or too few? Is the setting over described or too vague? Should the plot be pimped to make it more interesting or is it already all over the place? Where does the reader fit into the writing of a novel?
Unfortunately, we can’t sit inside a reader’s brain. But we can ask readers what they like and don’t when they read. And we can tell via sales whether a book lives up to a reader’s expectations. But while being written, is there some way a writer can try to zero-in on ways a reader reads?
After giving this some thought and investigation, I came up with the following list:
- According to reader desires, a good novel contains these elements, in this order:
Story-must be interesting
Characters-must have dimension
Theme-must be current
Atmosphere/setting-must seem genuine to story and genre
- Characters are the reason readers read. If the characters are boring or flat a reader will put the book down and pick up another with interesting, intriguing characters.
The main character must want something specific. Strong desire of a goal defines a strong character.
The main character must do something within the story. If all of the plot situations ‘happen’ to the character a reader gets bored. Sometimes the character must instigate the situation.
- Humor helps any story and readers love it. You don’t have to create a comedy, just insert some humor, especially where it’s not expected.
- Lastly, style is not nearly as important to a reader as it might be to a writer. The days of ‘purple prose’ are gone. Today’s readers want quickly flowing story with little narration and less description. Don’t eliminate either completely, just be judicious.