Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Books that Stick in your Head

What kind of novels stick in your head long after you've turned the last page?

For me, I don't necessarily care how innovative a book is (although, that can often catch me as I'm browsing the aisles of my favourite bargain bookstore).  Sure, I like the aliens living among us or the well done apocalyptic tale as much as the next person, but I also like the tried-and-true done right.  That is, maybe with a little bit of a twist somewhere in the plot or a few strange new characters never before encountered (one of my favourite quirky books contains a bad Elvis impersonator and a pair of Siamese twins).

But I'm a fan of genres that tend to stay largely on the safe side: romance, both contemporary and historical, with a side order of mystery/thrillers.  So what makes a romance novel stand out to me as a reader?  Well, it's exactly what I strive to accomplish every day in my writing:
  • vivid characters
  • clear, crisp prose
  • minimal but compelling detail
  • a bit of foreshadowing but not enough to ruin the story
Of course, these are broad strokes and subject to exceptions.

Sometimes characters are flat because they don't have to be fleshed out in detail to push the story along, although the main characters (hero and heroine) have to be "real" in every sense.  I want to know how they dress, how they talk, even what they like to eat.  I want to live in their world for a while, after all, so I need to know what that world looks, sounds, and tastes like.

Same with the writing (both prose and the amount of detail).  Clear and crisp is my preferred style but sometimes it's wonderful to luxuriate in pages of adjectives, like snuggling into a sun-warmed quilt that's been hanging out in the summer sun all day.  Or something like that.

Lastly, like a good mystery novel, I want to look back and know why things turned out as they did at the end of the book.  Put another way, I want to follow the clues.

I don't want to read about a heartless hero who gives the heroine every reason to slap him full across the face ends up being a big old softie underneath, after he's kicked the dog and his grandmother down the stairs a few times.  I want the signs of his softness peeking through at odd times in the book, and I don't want to read about him doing something that leaves such a bad taste in my mouth that I'm not rooting for him in the end.

Maybe I'm a softie too, because I want to leave a book with a good taste in my mouth.  A little sweetness, perhaps.  Knowing that the world is alright again and everything is as it should be.

Photo courtesy of Matt Banks at freeditigalphotos.net

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