Last week I talked about the 4 steps that disengage a reader, from my perspective. Today I want to talk about the 4 things I look for in a story—the hooks that get me to choose a book and why they get me excited to read. My tastes and requirements are fairly simple really, I need a plot that speaks to me, in a setting I like, with characters I want to learn more about. I mean, that’s not too much to ask is it? Especially if I’m being asked to pay premium prices for these books of wonder (famous authors, you know who you are).
I have a fourth requirement that’s not as tangible perhaps as the other ‘book hooks’, but it’s an important one to me. How is this book going to make me feel when I’m reading it and afterward? My time is important to me, and my reading time is limited. With everything going on in the world, I value the feelings and emotions I go through when reading a story. That value will have a determining say in the books I read. So without further adieu (I do love that phrase), here are the 4 hooks that make me excited to read a story:
I read an interesting article in my Twitter feed last week about whether I was a writer that was plot driven or character driven. I have to say as both a writer and reader, plot and characters are a 50/50 split for me. You can have the best plot lines in the industry but if your characters are meh–well to me that really puts a damper on the plot. Plot scenarios don’t have to run for years as in Gone With the Wind, a plot timeline can be as short as a day, weeks or month. I look for scenarios that will humor me, surprise me, educate me, scare me, pull at my heart strings—these kind of emotions can occur in the space of a day or years.
I like plots having unique twists to them, plots that take mundane routine into a totally new realm. This is true for any genre I’m reading—if it’s romance, why would this couple fall in love and what makes their romance unique? If it’s sci-fi, how is this new world structured, what’s the history or dilemma that would make me want to leave our own problems here on earth and come to your problem filled world? If it’s horror, what uniquity will make me come into your dark world? (just slashing and gashing doesn’t do it for me) Will there be new physical monsters (zombie love), or will we be drawn into the mind of a mad man/woman/person? If it’s a mystery or thriller, am I going to be able to take your elements of surprise and weave together a solution along with your main character’s? (something I appreciate very much, nothing worse than being totally blindsided by an outcome wondering where in the world did that come from?)
So does the setting…
I have to admit I like to travel, so I tend to look for stories that will take me to cities and countries I’ve never been to, or to places I have been to and have fallen in love with. This is my personal ‘hook’, not every reader will be the same. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t love stories that only take place in London, New York or Paris (although I must admit they may receive a slight edge). I love small southern towns, castles, alien galaxy bars, ships, fashion houses, shops, restaurants—I’m pretty open when it comes to settings or environments where the storylines are taking place.
My emphasis for settings is to take me as a reader out and about with the characters and plot lines. I’m kind of a social person, I like to mix and mingle, even in a fictional world that I’m a visitor to. I don’t just want to sit in a living room, or at a desk, being told a story (even if it’s in another country). To me a setting almost is like a character itself, I want the chance to get to know it (and explore it) almost as much as I do a human (or non-human) character.
Do I want to get to know the characters?
I guess if I’m really honest characters in a story may take 51% of importance to a plot’s 49%. As I stated last week, one of the main reasons I tend to look for storylines that involve a series is because I really do like to get to know the characters, they become like friends and family to me. If I’m reading a standalone story, I like characters that grow or evolve in the storyline, seeing them change with the circumstances interests me. I like knowing the background of a character, what makes he/she/it tick? Flaws of a character are important to know too, I think they make a character more likeable, for none of us are perfect.
Personally, I’m going to lean toward stories that have likeable characters, striving to improve or do good. I like to study evil (or narcissistic) characters to learn their nuances and what drives them to evil (or controlling or manipulative) deeds—but I prefer to see them come to justice in the end, #JustSayin . I’d like to believe that most of us are striving to improve or do good works, so the more examples I can read of people overcoming odds, the better, IMO.
How am I going to feel after I’ve read the story…
I’ll use Gone With the Wind as an example of what I mean with this hook. In GWTW, we go through the flirtations of a self centered girl, who becomes a woman as she survives the tragedies and hardships of the civil war and the Reconstruction period afterward. We go through the tragedies of her romances, the death of her child and good friend, and in the end still have hope that the situations of our main character and her supporting cast of characters will improve.
I read this story many times, and with each reading learn new details, and go through new emotions. Not everything has to be peachy keen in a story. I’ll go through hardships and horrors, but I do want to feel hopeful when I put down a book. I read the back blurbs, and a few lines out of chapters before I make a final decision. It’s a good investment, IMO.
I hope I’ve shared some of the things that are important to me and what makes me excited to read a story. What gets you excited to read? Dying to know. 🙂
Crowns and Kisses,
P.S. The tiles in today’s pictures were made on Catalina Island. I just love the colors and details, Gemma would approve 🙂