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You remember that old wedding rhyme?
Well, apparently I'm in a poetic mood. Because I wrote 2 poems yesterday and, as I walking to school, another came to me. It's like the wedding rhyme, only it doesn't forecast a good marriage, but a good book. Here are the ingredients:
Someone to feel,
Something to do.
Your book is one of millions, but what makes a book stand out from the madding crowd? Details. A little over a year ago,(REALLY??? Have I been blogging that long?) I posted about the devil in the details. In that post, I talked about how people compared Avatar (the one with blue people, not the one with the benders of different elements) to Pocahontas and Fern Gully. They said it was the same story. But that's not true. There are people who love Avatar and aren't Pocahontas or Fern Gully fans. And vice versa.
Every story has been told before. What can you do to make your story stand out? Can you bring some innovation to the way it's told? (Whatever your feeling about Avatar, it brought advances in on-screen visuals.) Will you offer a new twist to an eternal plot? A new setting? A wildly different character?
Yesterday (or today, depending on where you are in the world) was Valentine's Day. I saw a lot of people on my facebook quarreling about it. Why should we get all up in arms, doing special things for one day, when we don't do anything else all year? It's easy to get caught up in the monumental, but don't forget, it's the little things that matter.
How can you need something tiny, but still need something huge?
Those little things that you tell the story with- they need to fit into a bigger framework. Because the big picture is where people connect with one another. For example, I like quirky books, and I like books that make me think (not at the expense of story), and I like books that make me warm and fuzzy. Now you may like your books dark; or with racing plots; or featuring ruthless, rugged heros. I like YA. Maybe you like sci-fi. But what brings us together is the love of books.
Let's take Twilight as an example. There are lots of little things that aren't my cup of tea in that book. Bella is a bit of a twat, to be quite blunt. And the writing itself is not the most graceful ever. But I love Twilight. And so do millions of others. Why? Prince Charming. Guy appears and whisks girl who was never going to get involved with anyone else off in a typhoon of pure love? Yup, that's as Prince Charming as it comes. We can talk about being practical women of the 21st century until the cows come home. There's still a little piece of most of us that yearns for the 'perfect' love.
A good book taps into one of these overarching ideas. Here are a few more big name examples, accompanied by the big picture idea I see in them:
Harry Potter - good vs evil
The Hunger Games - man vs the establishment
The Duff - self esteem
To Kill a Mockingbird - injustice
Th1rteen R3asons Why - death
Someone to Feel
Books and stories have moved from their earlier purpose of educating to entertaining. In order to entertain, they have to connect. They do that through the people in the story.
I'd like to point out that I said 'feel', not 'love'. Sometimes, you read a book, and you just despise someone. Draco Malfoy, for example - even moreso since the movies.
Also, these days, the people in books need to feel real. If they're not, we won't be drawn into loving or hating them, or pretending that Peeta just kissed us instead of Katniss.
Something to Do
Right-o, now we've got the little things, the big picture, and the people. But we can't just sitting around all day watching Disney movies. (Even if that would be awesome! Curled up against Wesley Rush-from The Duff- swoon!) Now we need to do something.
What we do depends on the type of book. In a murder mystery, we look for clues, and solve the case. In a thriller, or suspense, we might get stalked. Or do some stalking. (Us writer-bloggers are well practised in that art. lol.) In a romance, we'll fall head over heals in love.
At the outset it would seem impossible to mess this part up. But it's the hardest part for me. You see, it's quite possible to spend the entire time doing things, and still have nothing happen. It's like how you realise another year has come and gone and you haven't crossed anything off your list. It's not that you haven't done anything all year. You got out of bed, and showered, and ate, and went to the bathroom- at a bare minimum. But you've done nothing to advance your life.
This is true of books too. What is going on in the book, must advance towards the ultimate end. Would you read a murder-mystery where the detective spent the entire book eating, drinking and making merry and then the criminal turned himself in at the end, out of sheer boredom?
All together now
As I wrote this post, I purposefully avoided calling any of the parts by their technical names, but I'm sure you knew what they were.
Something tiny (hook)
Something huge (theme)
Someone to feel (characters)
Something to do (plot)
Together, I think these make up the list of things a book can do to sell itself. (There are two other major elements of a book. style/voice and setting, but I don't think they can sell a book on their own. You can't pick up on voice until you read the book, since cover copy isn't written by the book's author. And setting only sells a book when it's part of the hook, think Hogwarts.)
Did you find the rhyme useful? Do you agree/disagree? Which of these are you strong/weak on? Which of these, in the absence of recs from friends/bloggers, will make you pick up a book? And which makes you love a book?