What Makes People Love a Novel
It’s more obvious than you think — I’ll show you
Come on, follow me. Pick a novel that you like and let’s step inside.
What do you mean “how do I do that”? You do it every time you open a work of fiction. Close your eyes for a minute if it helps, and just imagine what it’s like to be there. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, it can be anything. I’ll go for fantasy, you can pick your favorite.
What Do You See?
Take a look around. What does it look like?
It looks real, right? The plants and the trees in the countryside, the houses, the roads, the fences, they all look just like in the real world.
There’s no difference as far as you can tell. You can feel a light breeze on your face, and you can smell real smells. Flowers, food being cooked, animals, garbage. It’s all there and it’s all real.
Everything in this story has just the right amount of detail to get your imagination going. You only had a few hints to work with, and now you’re imagining a whole new world. The things that are described more meticulously are those that you pay more attention to. These matter a bit more in the story, so you see more detail which helps you imagine them more vividly.
What Are People Like?
You bump into the protagonist, or some other character. She looks real too, right? This is such an interesting person, it’s always exciting to read about her adventures. She makes you laugh and cry, and you want to be there for her when she’s having a tough time.
In fact, she’s very much like someone you know. Your friend maybe. Or your sister, or your cousin’s girlfriend. It’s things like the way she talks, her habits and her facial expressions that make her look so familiar.
But it’s not just that.
You know about her desires, her fears, what she loves and what she hates. You know what she’s after in her life and, above all, you know why. There’s a reason behind everything she does in the story, and it all has to do with her past.
What makes her so interesting is what she’s been through, her life’s story. It’s so realistic and complicated, that it feels like you’ve met her before. That’s probably because this character has actually been based on someone the author knows. Maybe she even has the author’s own personality and behaviour, and her experiences come from the author’s own past.
What happens in this book is mind-blowing, really exciting. It makes you turn the pages like mad. Most of what these people go through happens exactly as it would in real life. They’re chasing their dreams, there’s hardship and sorrow, there’s betrayal, and there’s love, pride, exhilaration, success and disappointment.
You wish you could join them and go through this adventure with them. There’s at least one character in this story whose life you’d love to live. Actually, this person’s reality isn’t that different from the life of a friend or a relative of yours.
It’s all like in the real world, but somehow different.
So, What Is It That Makes This Story Extraordinary?
Can you tell what it is that’s new in this world after all? So far everything seems to be very very real. Most of it — the places, the people, the feelings, the struggle — you’ve already come across at some point in your life. So, what is it that thrills you in this novel?
The environment and the events are familiar and straightforward. And they should be, otherwise it would look fake and you wouldn’t be invested in the story. Things seem new and exciting, though, because you see them from a different perspective.
As it turns out, it’s all about the story and how it’s told.
Look around you. You do recognize the building blocks of this world, but it’s intricate in its own, unique way. Filtered through the author’s experiences, it’s given a new angle that’s never been discussed before. At least not in this voice, this color, or this mood. It’s the author’s character that makes this novel fresh and memorable.
At the same time, it’s the simplicity of this world’s elements that makes you care about the characters’ well-being, even after you’ve read the last line of the last paragraph of the last page.
Before we go back out of the novel, turn around and take another look.
See? Writing a good story was never hard at all.