My ultimate judge of a book is whether or not it made me cry. If it didn’t, I’ll remember the book as just being a lackluster shadow of what it COULD have been.
Sitting unopened on my shelf, a book has all the potential in the world. It can make me laugh out loud, cry so hard I can’t read, and squirm in fear for the characters on the page. I want to connect to the characters, to care about what they care about.
Books that I connect to on an emotional level are the ones I will read over and over again. They’re the ones that have stayed on my bookshelf even after I put 9 boxes of books into storage, and have left countless more at my parent’s house.
All the books and series’ I love (J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, Kristin Britain’s Green Rider and more) I read over and over again because no matter how many times I read them, I feel the delight and the fear and the conviction and the struggle and the sadness of the characters.
As a writer my goal is to create one of these stories: the sort that will make my reader laugh, and squirm, and cry.
I’m currently reading a series of books that are OK, but for me they fall emotionally flat. After a book and a half, I don’t believe the emotional connection between the characters, and I don’t feel one myself. When one of the main characters died, I didn’t even sniffle, let alone bawl like I do in Harry Potter. (I’m also not convinced he’s really dead… but even if he is, I’m not upset about it.)
They’re fine books, but I feel like I am being told a story rather than living it. For the first time in my life it occurs to me that there are probably more stories like this than the sort I hope to write.
That terrifies me! The thought of writing a lackluster, disconnected novel is worse than writing no novel at all. When I hurt my characters, be it physically, emotionally, or mentally, I want my readers to care! I want them to feel the hurt, and the pain, and the struggle, and I want my readers to be rooting for my characters to succeed!
It’s not enough for me to cry when I write scenes I hope will move people – I can see the whole world in my head like a movie. I need to convey the appropriate thoughts and feelings so my reader can see what I do, and feel what I do.
Reading these books is perhaps the best thing I could have done while writing. They showcase for me exactly how a book can be sooooo good, yet miss the mark completely. From them I will take this valuable lesson I doubt I would have learned elsewhere, and use it as best I can.
Wish me luck, I have a difficult road ahead of me.