I’ve been reading some books lately as a judge for a competition and I’m supposed to be giving them scores out of ten (ten being the highest). I thought I might find this difficult, as the stories are all different sub-genres, but actually it’s not. I have no trouble giving them scores at all as I just judge them on whether I was hooked or not and how much I enjoyed them once I was. The type of story doesn’t matter, it’s the enjoyment factor that counts.
I’ve given some top marks as I really liked them but it made me wonder – what is it that’s drawn me to those particular novels and not the others? Because they weren’t bad, just didn’t grab me the same way.
The beginning? Everyone says you have to hook the reader in the first page, first paragraph, first sentence, but for me that’s not always true. First chapter maybe (if I’m bored after that, I’ll carry on for another two or three, but then, like Gill-Marie, I’ll give up and move on). I know myself how hard it is to write that first paragraph so I’m willing to give the authors more of a chance to catch me.
The plot/story line then? Well, I don’t mind if it’s a type of story I’ve read a hundred times before as long as there’s something different about it. A new take on Cinderella or whatever. What I wouldn’t like is a novel that feels like I’ve read it before or a story line/plot that is either plain boring or totally unbelievable. I’m willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to fantasy of course, provided the author builds his/her world in such a way I feel it could be like that. It has to be effortless though, easing you into that world without too many overt explanations. No long info dumps. (That goes for historical novels too, I have to believe I’m there, in that era, with the characters).
The ending? Yes, sure, it has to be happy-ever-after for me to feel totally satisfied, but that’s usually guaranteed in the type of books I read so not really an issue. Although I suppose there are degrees of HEA and if the ending is too rushed or leaves any loose ends I’ll get annoyed and frustrated.
The characters themselves? Yes, I think this is the crucial one for me. I want to be the heroine, so that means I have to like her and empathise with her. I have to feel I would act the way she does, not that she’s being unbelievably stupid in the way she behaves. If she’s kick-ass and a bit sassy, that makes me like her even more (probably because I’ve never dared to be that way myself and would have liked to have been). But she can be shy and unassuming too, as long as she has strength inside her that will come out when it’s needed, when she has to stand up for herself.
The main one though is the hero – quite simply, I want to fall in love. I want to be intrigued by him (at first), attracted to him (almost immediately), drawn to him so much I wait expectantly for each time he appears on the page. Infatuated by no later than chapter three. And yes, I have lots of criteria for how a hero should be, but I’m sure we all have those? A “type” we prefer, in my case the alpha hero bad boy with a sense of humour who is capable of protecting the heroine (me) in every bad situation, but who at the same time learns he can’t be without the heroine in his life. If he’s handsome too, that’ll be icing on the cake 🙂
Yes, I’m an incurable romantic and I look for the romance in every story, even if it’s just a sub-plot in a crime/thriller. I remember watching the Lord of the Rings films avidly waiting for the few romantic moments – Aragorn and Arwen, Faramir and Eowyn (had to go and read the books to get the full story on those two so I did!). And it was Aragorn who made me continue to watch those films even though I found parts of them very long and dull. He was a hero with a capital H, the kind I want to read about.
So I guess what hooks me is just the hero, plain and simple. What about you? What’s the vital ingredient that makes a book stand out for you?
Pia Fenton writes contemporary romantic YA stories and her Northbrooke High series features UK heroines clashing with US heroes in an American high school setting. The latest one is New England TLC. Pia also writes fantasy YA and is currently working on a new trilogy full of elves, trolls and other fairy tale creatures, but if you think they’re going to play nice, think again!