Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are You Readable?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what makes a book readable. And not just readable, but unputdownable. The kind of book you take with you everywhere because the thought of having a spare moment without it at-the-ready is horrifying. The kind of book you hunch over protectively, obsessively, like Gollum over the Ring, desperate to get as close to the words as possible so you can take them in even quicker and more effectively. The kind of book you are ready to re-read the moment your eyes (reluctantly) settle over the words The End on the final page.

The kind of book that might possess you to do a ludicrous thing like this:

This is my brother and I both trying to read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan at the same time. Probably not an all-time favorite, but still a good book. And clearly, quite readable. (I can only imagine what kind of wrestling match would have ensued had we been reading The Hunger Games or Harry Potter at the same time.)

In less than a month, I am going to the Highlights Foundation's writers conference in Chautauqua, NY. In an effort to make sure I have a printed manuscript on hand while I am there, I have been frantically editing the holy heck out of Ephemeral, my YA fairy tale, trying to make it thoroughly presentable. Trying to make sure it is strong enough to stand up to professional scrutiny. And desperately hoping it is readable.

Which brought me to the point: what makes a thing readable?

Obviously there are certain elements--fluid prose, good character development, engaging plot, etc.--that are staples of the kinds of books that suck readers right in. But the question remains: what nudges acceptable or good writing over into the realm of the Unputdownable? Like so many things in the book world, I think it largely ends up being subjective. Having to do with taste. But I have another theory.

I think it also has something to do with how much fun the author is having.

For example, J.K. Rowling. You know she didn't start Harry Potter (on a train, on a napkin, as a single mom) because she thought it would be wildly successful. She started it because she couldn't help herself. And when you read her writing, you get the distinct impression that she's having just as much fun writing the story as you are reading it. Same with Stephenie Meyer. And Suzanne Collins. Now, granted Suzanne knew the market when she wrote The Hunger Games, so her genius can't necessarily be chalked up to innocent, self-indulgent fun, but it is clear she was enjoying herself enormously while she wrote it.

It's widely established that writers should write what they want, and not what is popular. Toni Morrison famously said, "If there is a book you want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." And we've all heard, "Write what you know." But how about, "Write what brings you alive"?

If we love the books that were written purely out of love, then it follows that we should try and write books with the same motivation. Love. In my last post, I bemoaned a lack of passion born out of an attempt to cater to the needs and wants of publishing professionals. Thank the Muses, I'm back to having fun with my Word Documents. And it's because I'm writing selfishly, out of love for the story I want to read. Sometimes I think that's the best I can do.

Of course, my opinion is subjective. And I'm still a WIP, after all. (*Smile and wink*)

What about you? Do you love what you write? Does your writing bring you alive? What are some books you've found Unputdownable, and what do you think makes them so engaging?


  1. My writing definitely brings me alive. I've had stories that became moments of infatuation, that meandered and then faded. But anything that I've finished is something that I could not stop writing because I was alive while the ink was flowing. In fact, I carry my notebook (I write longhand) with me EVERYWHERE because I might, just might, have a few minutes to continue whatever I left of working on when I went wherever it is that I am at the moment.

    I think you're absolutely right, for the most part. I say most part, because in Kristin Chashore's own words, she is NOT having fun writing Bitterblue, at least not steadily, and I still know that it is going to be unputdownable when it finally lands in my hands because of her voice. I think a writer's voice is just as strong as whether or not they had fun - IF it's a certain sort of voice.

    Example: Stephenie Meyers. I'm not a huge fan of the Twilight saga, but there's no denying how much fun she obviously had in writing it, and even not caring for them I found them pretty unputdownable because of that. The Host on the other hand? I never got past the first few pages. It just didn't feel like Meyers had the same obsessive passion when she was writing it and, alone, her voice isn't one I'm drawn to.

    Other books I found unputdownable: Graceling, Fire, Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Raised by Wolves, Mistwood, By The Time You Read This I'll Be Dead, The Bones of Faerie, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Deadtossed Waves, Shiver (and I bet Linger will be too) and Beautiful Creatures. Those are just the ones that pop in my head.

  2. Excellent post! I'm so happy I stopped by. Good luck to you with polishing your manuscript and enjoy the conference.

  3. Great post! My goal is always to create that story that's hard to put down. Sometimes I think we get caught up in what techniques to use (especially writers who are early in their careers) to create tension, build character, etc. and forget to experience that fun!

  4.'s all about a writer's "voice." For me anyway, even if the story breeds little interest, if written with creative zest, I'll continue on simply for that reason alone.

    Great post:)

  5. A. Grey: Thanks for your feedback. I'm glad you get such joy from your writing. And of course, I'm always glad to have my theories validated... I think you're right with your Kristen Cashore example, too. It raises another point: that everyone cannot be expected to have a blast writing all the time--even on every book, perhaps--but that on the whole, enjoying your work tends to translate into readable, enjoyable writing.

    Jamie: Thanks very much--and thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you did.

    Andrea: I agree. It's almost distracting to have so much information at your fingertips sometimes. But I think if we're not having fun, all the technique in the world becomes rather useless. Thanks for your feedback!

    Elliot: That's an interesting point. Would you argue that good voice can come out of pained and/or unhappy writing? Or is it organic: natural and comfortable to the author? Can it be forced? Just some thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I really liked this post. "Write what brings you alive" sounds very fitting. =]

    I'm reading a book that's "unputdownable" right now, called Maximum Ride by James Patterson. Lots of fun, and always something interesting happening.

  7. I have to say that is the cutest picture I've ever seen! I love it.

    The "unputdownable" books for me lately has been the Hunger Games Series (Come on, Book 3!!) and Howl's Moving Castle. Loved both!

  8. Cholisose: Thanks! I'm glad you stopped by. I've heard good things about that series. I love finding an unputdownable book.

    MBW: Oh, the Hunger Games. I cannot wait for August 24. I've never read Howl's Moving Castle, though--glad to know it's one of those types of books. I've been thinking of reading it. (I'm glad you like the picture... :) )