Ever wondered what makes for a best seller? Readers of course! But what keeps the eyes of your readers glued to your book? To figure that out, let's take a step back rather than dig into writing techniques. Let's assume you as an author have mastered the necessary writing techniques. They're not an issue, what we want to do is look at the bigger picture.
Let's start with the reader.
Storytelling is as old as humanity.We all have this vision of cavemen sitting around a fire after the hunt, munching on their grilled meat and telling stories to each other. The Lascaux frescoes comfort us in this vision. But we've moved on in storytelling sophistication since these early times, we want more than stories of preying on wild animals and killing. Though we still love suspense.
Suspense is the key.
Release from suspense is what we as readers yearn for, in the form of laughter or tears. And herein, you find the very essence of comedy and drama, the two major forms of literature.
But wait, there's more to it. We read to inform ourselves, to get a better grasp of the reality around us and within ourselves. We want to walk away from our reading feeling that we've gained something, we are a better, more prepared individual. And herein, you find the very essence of non-fiction and inspirational writing.
What kind of reader are you? What do you want to get out of your reading? Do you agree with this analysis?
Bottom line, what matters is that readers perceive that an author has something special to say. That is the litmus test.
But there's a problem here, a contradiction between readers and writers. Readers are interested in stories while writers tend to be interested in... themselves or they wouldn't write!
Authors, please remember that if you want to sell your stories, you have to pitch the stories, not yourself. You have to explain why your stories are unusual, arresting and above all entertaining. Nobody is interested in banal, monotonous tales. Readers want suspense, they want to laugh and cry. Hollywood knows this: to evaluate the success of a film, they measure how many "emotional beats" it has, the more, the better, the more likely that it will reach out to a big audience.
How can a writer figure this out by himself? Obviously this is where the role of an editor is essential. Beta readers help too. All these people who read your drafts will tell you directly or indirectly how many "emotional beats" your book has.
But there's another way to go about it. A do-it-yourself way, I call it DIY editing (pun intended - this is the way to know whether a book ought to be published or not).
What am I talking about? I'll let you in on a secret. I am a writer but I happen to be my own most demanding reader. If I don't get a kick out of my own writing - if my first draft doesn't amuse me as I write it - then I stop writing. As simple as that. You have no idea how many novels and short stories I have started and abandoned after I was one third (or so) of the way through. Why? Because they bored me!
Sure, the writing gurus will tell you that you should never give up, that you should keep writing, there's no "silver bullet"etc. Yes, there is none. But why finish something that bores you, the author? Chances are that it will bore your (eventual) readers even more!
Indeed, that is one of the reasons why I never work out complete, detailed outlines prior to writing. I know a lot of writers do, no doubt it works for them but for me it doesn't. I always jump into my story, hoping to keep my enthusiasm for my characters and plot alive, right down to the closing line. And sometimes, I'm lucky, my characters regale me with their shenanigans and give me an unexpected ending. When that happens, I'm happy, I know that is a book worth publishing (once it's been thoroughly gone over and edited of course). Otherwise, it goes in the drawer and these days, it gathers digital dust.
I don't mind, I don't want to see it.
If you're a writer reading this, let me know how you go about writing. What techniques do you use? What is your litmus test? And if you're reader, let me know what you seek from your reading, what kind of book makes you really happy that you've read them?