Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Captivating Words

Recently I delved into a novel.  The story line hooked my interest within the first lines. I whipped through pages getting to know the characters and experiencing their story.  One-third of the way through the book the main character made a horrid choice. I finished the page hoping he would change his mind, rectify the error, or simply do anything other than what he did—but he didn’t. 

I was taken aback. How could he continue in this wrong direction?  Dare I turn another page after I’d given him the last five pages to change?  I slammed the book shut and tossed it on the floor. 

The next day during my work lunch break, the storyline crept into my thoughts. I wondered, what did the main character do next?  Maybe he changed his mind and turned away from the evil.  After all, he was the protagonist! He had to!

That night I picked the book up and turned to the marked page.  young king Manasseh turned his bad choice into a worse situation by killing his citizens and leading his kingdom into failure.  His self-absorption drove away all instruction he’d received from his godly father. 

The next five pages singed my heart, ripping at my emotions.  I slammed the book shut again, and yes, tossed it on the floor.

The story wouldn’t leave me alone.  Lynn Austin’s riveting words grabbed hold of my curiosity, and forced me to finish the book. I bought copies for friends and family, they simply had to read this book.

What Captivating Stories Need:

1.     Life-like characters: Readers expect to identify with the characters within the first ten pages of a manuscript, hopefully sooner.  What would the reader know and/or feel about the main characters in your WIP after reading the first ten pages? 

2.     Turns in the plot: Oddly enough, readers like to be wrong.  If the expected falls on the next page all the time or even most of the time, the story becomes boring. Weave unexpected turns, pitfalls, cliffhangers, and trials into the story.  Can you cause another obstacle or escalate obstacles for your characters?

3.     Sentence fluency:  Great stories can be destroyed with jagged sentences.  Sentences need to vary in length, propel the story forward, be written tight, and etc.  Can someone else read your manuscript out loud without stumbling or questioning the meaning?

4.     Conflict that heats to a rolling boil:  Lynn Austin’s story released steam from the first sentence.  It continued to heat, spitting bubbles from the surface that built to a rolling boil at the climax.  The resolution sealed the impact.  Three years later,  I still remember my response to her book.  What can you infuse into your story to cause readers to remember years later?

5.     Don’t drop the ball:  Once your reader turns the first page, keep them turning.  He or she may throw the book on the floor, turn off the light, and attempt to go to sleep, but if the book is in his or her hand the next night…you’ve succeeded. Have you kept the momentum in your WIP?

        What captivating component draws you
to your favorite book?


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

"Oddly enough, readers like to be wrong."

You are so right, Mary! Readers like to find plot twists that take them somewhere new. They want the unexpected. They want to be surprised.

Great post!

Julia M. Reffner said...

So true. And you have me wanting to read this Lynn Austin series, Mary. She does write captivating stories.

Recent thoughts on books:
Great characterization: Lisa Samson's Resurrection in May
Turns in the plot: Julie Lessman's A Hope Undaunted
Beautiful sentences: Jody Hedlund's The Preacher's Bride

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks for adding examples:)
Its good to know which book to dive into next.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks for stopping by Sherrinda!
One of my favorite things to see is someone subconsciously holding a hand to their face as they read--I know that person is deep into the story.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

"Conflict that heats to a rolling boil"--I like that! Yes, that's definitely what I want in books I read.

I love life-like characters, too. And while it's fine to be wrong about their choices, I'd still like to see them reconcile poor choices by the end of the book. But hey--I'm a HEA girl through and through :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love that--conflict that heats to a rolling boil. Read one recently that didn't do that. I kept waiting...and waiting for it.
~ Wendy

Casey said...

You had a lot of great points in here Mary and like Sherrinda I liked your comment about how readers like to be wrong. And they do! It is amazing how often a twist in their actions (though they do have to be based in some sort of their reality)can make a story pop. I am still working on that with mine. Going through and picking random pages to see what I can do to pop the dialogue or add a different depth, a revealing layer that will bring the reader deeper into the story.

You always give me such good food for thought. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

I'm currently reading a book where the burner didn't get turned on until after page 100. I'm not sure why I stuck it out...I think just to see if it would actually heat up even a little bit. :) Great post, Mary!

Tessa Emily Hall said...

Francine Rivers' stories are great examples of captivating stories. I'm currently reading "Redeeming Love", and from the first chapter I was hooked. Her writing style is very easy-to-read, and almost every chapter has moved me in some way or another.

Great post!


Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I agree that the character should eventually make the right choice. I wasn't familiar with this Biblical account until I read this I honestly didn't know if Manasseh would turn it around or not. I had to keep reading to find out. I'm glad I did...don't want to spoil it for you:)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I've waited and waited for characters to stir the pot and give me a reason to turn the page. It gave me inspiration to get action moving early in my works.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I love your idea of picking random pages looking for the text to "pop".
I shall add it to my list of great ideas from others. :)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Don't leave us hanging...did the book ever get the burner going?
Sounds like a post you could address sometime:)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I must admit, Francine knows how to captivate readers. Her books are difficult to put down at 2:00am...what's one more cup of coffee?
So much to learn from her writings.

Pepper said...

Great post. Conflict? I love and hate it. One of my main problems is that I'm not mean enough to my poor people. There has to be a bit of ruthlessness to create to unexpected plot turns, I think. Strategic ruthlessness ;-)

clicking with the characters is vital for me. I don't have to agree with their choices, but I do have to udnerstand them.