There is one specific genre that I find most compelling to read. It’s not really a genre, even, just a broad plot line. When I read these stories (when done correctly) I’m gripping the edge of my seat (figuratively) and biting my nails (sometimes literally) and reading as fast as I can until I get to the end.
One such book is Inside Out. To get an idea of how amazing this book is, it has no one star reviews on Amazon. Not a single one. There are 147 reviews, and none of them one star, even though the book has been out since 2010. I call that impressive. (The second book only has 90-some reviews, but it has only three star reviews and up!)
The next such book is Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. I might be a bit biased because I LOVE Juliet Marillner, this book has 0 one star reviews out of 102 and has again been out since 2010. I’ve reread this book multiple times, and like Inside Out, it’s one of the ones that made the trip to college with me.
So, what genre are these books? Well, they’re both young adult. Inside Out is science fiction and Heart’s Blood is fantasy, and both have romance. The main character in Inside Out is a lower-class janitor of sorts and the main character in Heart’s Blood is a traveling scribe. What is so similar between the two stories?
Well, it’s frustration. The characters make bad choices, choices you want to throw a book at them for. They don’t do what you want them to. They’re like the blonde in the horror movie who goes through the door you know has a serial killer behind it, you just want to yell, “YOU IDIOT, GET OUT OF THERE, STOP THAT.”
Not only that, but in both stories there is a distinct “The world is against us” vibe. I love stories like that that throw every single obstacle at the characters, so much so that it seems like they’re not going to make it (even though most stories I’ve read have a happy ending). George R. R. Martin is fabulous at this kind of writing, especially because you KNOW he isn’t afraid to kill off the character you’re routing for. (Here is a link to a spoiler that is only safe if you’ve read all his books that illustrates my point.)
So, here are some tips for making me need to read your story:
- Make your character likable. If I don’t like them, I won’t care if they’re killed. (I don’t yet have a post about making a character likable, but Stephanie Meyer wrote a whole book about making a character unlikable.)
- You don’t have to threaten to kill your character, but some kind of conflict has to happen. Not just any conflict. The more frustrating, the better. Right after A and B fall in love, A overhears B talking to C about how much he hates D and misunderstands him and thinks that he was talking about her then flies away to England and enrolls in University even though B just accepted a job in Pittsburgh and they’re perfect for each other. Just as X and Y were about to overthrow the oppressive government, Z swoops in and throws them in jail. J and H are about to pull off the big heist when they open the safe and find that it’s empty. You get the picture.
- Be convincing when you write your conflict. As I said, most of us can tell if a story is going to have a happy ending. Romance novels, young adult novels, novels by specific authors—we can normally guess. However, you want to write well enough to make your reader forget that. You want them to be so caught up in the story that they think that X and Y are really going to be executed, or that A and B might never get back together again.
The meat of the story is the conflict, so you have to make sure you do it right. I’ve read books where I ended it with a “meh” and never picked it up again. Worse, the conflict happened too late in the story and I never got to it because I got bored in the first few pages. You want to make your readers NEED to finish the book, and if you’re really good, they’ll need to read your next book too!
What’s your favorite novel where it’s been the character versus the world?