My writing group talked last night about what it takes to suck us into a book so that we become immersed and feel that we must keep reading, and what kicks us out of the work early and lets us toss it aside. Our discussion suggested that three main elements were important: 1) Character, 2) Situation, 3) Quality of Prose. Although I can’t speak for all our members, and you might find other input or comments at C. S. Harris and Sphinx Ink, I believe I can extract a general consensus.
First, most group members seemed to say that “Character” was more important than the other two. Great characters will cover up some sins in the other two elements, but having those elements working won’t make up for shoddily constructed characters. I know that, for myself, even if I’m attracted to a piece because of the opening situation, I’ll lose interest quickly if the characters don’t click.
Second, “Situation” is not quite the same as plot. The situation is what we are introduced into, before we have time to figure out what the “plot” is going to be. I know that I want a dramatic scene to open a book, and I suspect that I put more emphasis on that than many of my other writing group colleagues. The writer needs to put me immediately into a place where action or emotion abounds. Unless something is happening already, I cannot learn enough about their characters from a few lines of opening dialogue to keep me going.
Third, I have read stuff where the prose sings even if I don’t consider the characters terribly realistic and don’t find the situation exciting. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian comes to mind. But I read such works slowly and I don’t think I can claim to be “sucked in” by them.
Fourth, the works that click on all three cylinders are the ones that create the biggest vacuum effect and become the ones that we truly call page turners. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of those page turners in my life.