Is it your greatest desire this year to write a best-selling book?
Have you prowled the aisles of your local bookstore, searched Amazon’s top-10 list, read all the reviews in your Sunday newspaper – all in the interest of deciding just what you want to write? After all, your desire is not only to complete a book, but to sell millions of copies, preferably within the first twenty-four hours.
You’ve gathered all the research you’ve completed. It’s apparent to you that Young Adult (YA) novels and erotic fiction are charting high every week. So you make your decision to start with a YA novel. After all, you can always write the erotic version for more adult readers next year.
After spending hours reading the breathless accolades for last year’s breakout YA novels, you are finally ready to sit down and write your own novel.
Before you whip out your breathtaking first chapter (heck, even if you’re halfway through the tenth chapter), go back to Amazon and any other websites you’ve used, and select the one-star reviews.
That’s right. Read those one-star reviews. Don’t just skim them. Study them. Look for common irritants and complaints about why this book didn’t work for those readers.
- Was it that the novel’s characters are insipid, shallow and unsympathetic?
- Or is it populated with cardboard (maybe even tissue-weight) personalities?
- Does the reader have a believability problem with the world the author created or with the rules that operate within that world?
- Does the plot snooze along until the end, when suddenly everyone springs into battle and wraps up the entire conflict in the last twenty pages?
- Or is the plot all action, all the time, yet devoid of the details and descriptions that allow the reader to fully experience the story?
- Are the characters whiny and sarcastic every time they open their mouths?
- Is there a lack of emotional connection between characters who are supposedly insanely wrapped up in each other?
- Does the heroine, who’s a self-proclaimed savior of the world, or her friends, or something else of dire importance, sit around looking beautiful while waiting for someone else to do the actual saving-the-world bit?
- Does the hero think the heroine is too incompetent, too weak, too… okay, let’s just blurt it out… too stupid to know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it?
- Does the hero demand that the heroine submit to his decisions or suffer the loss of his love? Even worse, does the heroine put up with this controlling behavior, telling herself it shows how much he loves her?
- If written in the first person, are the thoughts of the main character worth hearing, or do they only reveal how one-dimensional the character is?
- Do none of the characters change, grow, or learn from their experiences?
- Are there no consequences for the characters’ decisions and actions?
Do you see where I’m going here? The one-star reviews, the ones some readers ignore or pooh-pooh as sour grapes, can be a treasure trove to add to your writing toolbox. When you take the time to really study those reviews you can see exactly what to avoid unless you really do want to kill your novel in its infancy.
The best novel ever conceived will fail if you don’t meet the expectations of your readers.
Yes, there are readers who could care less if there are gaping holes in the plot, as long as the main characters are too beautiful to look upon with human eyes, and so filled with lust for their perfect counterpart that their every thought centers around how unworldly (or heavenly) their love is. These readers won’t care if the characters do impossible feats, defying every rule already laid out for this world. They’re reading for only a part of the experience, or to be part of the excitement of sharing the book with the fans that created the initial tidal wave of interest.
But there are other readers, those who want you to fulfill the promise of your back cover blurb in a soul-stirring, satisfying delivery. They are the ones who thrill to discover a detailed world, with believable rules. They’re the readers eager for heroines who think for themselves, find ways out of any situation by virtue of their own intelligence, and know their own worth. These readers are looking for male characters that support the heroine without making decisions for her, or attempting to control who she is and how she acts.
So imagine you wrote your novel for the latter readers. What if you wrote for the readers who will call you to task for not delivering your very best? Sure, some of the readers just looking for a fun story, or looking to be part of the latest publishing phenomenon might have a quibble or two with the richness and depth of your plot, your sympathetic and believable characters, and your fascinating world.
Would that be such a horrible review? That the world in your novel is too believable, and your characters too well-rounded, complete with intriguing personalities, values, and intellect? Seems like you can’t lose if those are the only problems that a reader can find. It’s worth the effort.
What do you look for in popular fiction? Are you only interested in the surface story, or do you prefer to be immersed in strong storytelling, and powerful characters? Go ahead and share your thoughts in the comments.