Monday, November 12, 2007

Is There A Secret?

I've noticed a trend on this blog. I seem to be pulling in a lot of hits from people looking at the book reviews I do. I'd say maybe a quarter of my visits come from that. Of those visits, I'd say 90% are for Stephenie Meyer's books. The most recent was a google search for "Stephenie Meyer's writing secrets." Hmm, seemed interesting.

Now, I don't know how many of you have actually read these books, but if you're not in the know, apparently people are touting Meyer's books as the next big thing--destined to be a phenomenon of Harry Potter proportions. I don't know the stats, but I DO know that the first run of her latest book, TWILIGHT, was for a million books. I couldn't say if there has been a second or third...etc. run, but that number alone is very impressive. Obviously. (g)

And on a personal note, I love these books. I think Bella is a great character and both Jacob and Edward are yummy in their own ways. I first discovered them earlier this year. I had already written a good chunk of BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT, but hadn't picked up a young adult book in goodness...a long time. I thought I would do a little market some books in the genre I hoped to break into. Let me tell you, there are some high quality books in YA these days. Not only did I discover Meyers, but I also stumbled across Libba Bray, Stolarz, Ally Carter, and many others I can't wait to read. A high point was when a couple of readers compared my style to some of these women... I mean, wow. (g)

At any rate, it seems everyone is out to discover that certain IT factor that makes a book breakout. I know agents blog about this all the time -- often saying that they just KNOW it when they see it. LOL. Well, that's not exactly a scientific or or even a stylistic delineation. But this latest google hit has me thinking about what attracts me to a book.

1. First and most importantly: Characters. I think the best way to drive a story is to have memorable characters that leave an impression. Characters you can care about, cheer for...empathize with. When they suffer through some hardship, and I'm not crying with them, you probably haven't snared me as a reader. That goes the same for their triumphs, losses, the first time they fall in love...

2. An offshoot of characters is their relationships with one another. Be it friendship, love, father/son, mother/daughter, I want to feel the emotions they have for each other. It doesn't necessarily have to be love -- however their relationship is defined, it needs to progress in a natural fashion and without those pesky about faces that come out of nowhere. Nothing bothers me more than when the foundation for a relationship isn't properly laid out. Now, that doesn't mean you need to give me a ton of backstory nor that I need to understand every intricacy... but when something is done for story purposes alone, trust me, it shows.

3. Story. Story. Story. Now, I'm not a believer in the necessity of coming up with some great new concept that will blow peoples' minds. Granted, it would be nice...but let's face it... it's hard to do. Therefore, I believe you can take a classic tale and tell it in a unique and fresh way that makes it your own. I think sometimes people try TOO hard to come up with something that has never been done before and end up muddling things in the process. This reminds me of Nathan Bransford's first paragraph contest. The ones he chose were simple, straightforward beginnings that didn't go over-the-top in order to snare his attention. (Granted, I wasn't a big fan of most of them. LOL. Go figure.) But seriously, if you're going to tell _another_ vampire story, come up with a unique concept. It worked for Meyers. (g) (It's what I'm _trying_ to do with BTPM...but heh, that's neither here nor there. LOL)

4. A unique voice. I think the biggest thing I've learned in the past three years is that you CAN NOT (or at least I'd argue you shouldn't) try to emulate your favorite author's story concepts and characters. Seriously, you're only asking for a heap o' trouble and endless comparisons if you don't tell a story In. Your. Own. Unique. Way. Plus, it's really doing yourself a disservice because you could be BETTER, only you'll never know. Study them...learn from them...but find your own path. Think how excited you get when you find a voice you really dig. YOU can do that for someone else.

5. Conflict and good storytelling. Nothing kills a book for me faster than when an author doesn't know how to self-edit. When they don't know what scenes should or shouldn't be in the book -- refuses to cut when cuts need to be made... when a story isn't told in an interesting way that propels me forward...that makes me want to turn the pages because I _just have to know_ what's going to happen next. This doesn't have to be in the form of your MC finding a dead body or something exploding at the end of every chapter. But however you choose to tell your story, it has to be interesting, relevant to the story, and something I want and can't help but become emotionally invested in. And it doesn't always have to be in a nice, safe way... shock me, that works just as well. You're talking to the girl who loves cliffhangers -- use 'em, cuz you bet I'll be in line to pick up the next book. LOL. Maybe I'm an anomaly, but whatever. (g)

So, these are all pretty obvious. I'm sure nothing has knocked you upside the head and made you say, "Of course!! Jen is a genius!!" LOL. So I guess it really does boil down to that IT factor...

How would you define IT?


Hélène Boudreau said...

Great post, Jen!

I read for exactly the same reasons, but as an author, it's nice to be reminded of these things and have them all laid out like that.

And I don't read your blog just for the reviews, but because it's just so darn enjoyable to read.


Jen said...

Thanks, Helene! :)