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Monday, June 13, 2011

What Really Matters in a Story

I've been involved in too many discussions over the last months, mostly with other authors. One question I've never resolved to my satisfaction is, "What matters in a story? What do the readers want?"

Authors will tell you that point of view matters. Sentence structure is very important. Grammar is necessary. Rhythm and pacing are important. Character, setting, and plot and all sorts of other technical aspects matter. And they're right. All of it is necessary. Good writing is the foundation and structure where you hang your story. If the writing is flawed, it's harder to create a strong story.

But one aspect I think gets lost in the discussion is that the main thing readers want is a story. They want characters they care about to take action and resolve problems. They want a story to carry them away. Most people read to escape. They don't care if a book is technically flawless. They care if the characters are likeable, if the story is entertaining.

Authors love to pick apart other books especially best selling books, pointing fingers at the flaws, at the terrible prose and weak descriptions and wandering dialogue. Readers don't seem to care about the technical flaws. If they did, the books wouldn't sell like they do. The authors wouldn't have rabid fans mobbing them.

So what do readers really want in a book? Am I completely off base in my assumptions? Do typos make you quit reading or can you overlook them if the story is good enough?

Here's the incentive to participate in the discussion: If I have more than twenty people commenting on this post in the next week or so, I'll pick a random commenter to win their choice of one of the books I've got on my shelf - Nexus Point (my SF adventure novel), Rotting Tales (a collection of mostly silly zombie stories), Wretched Moments Anthology (celebrate those moments no one wants to ever remember), How the West was Wicked Anthology (weird western horror stories), or Leather, Denim, & Silver: Legends of the Monster Hunter Anthology.

Comment away and tell me what you as a reader look for in a book.