Race to the comments and leave one comment with the title of your favorite book. (from those that do as I say, I'll draw one name to win one of my favorite books. ;-)
Are you back?
I'll wait. I'm not going anyway. You should though... down to the comments.
Did you leave the title of your favorite book? Good. Now stop and think for a minute, what made this book so memorable for you? What made you love it so much that you'd ignore your job, spouse, kids, siblings, responsibilities, etc and read all day until that book was finished?
Let's do a quick break down:
Characters: I don't know any successful books that don't have characters of some sort. ;-) But the characters we root for and want to see succeed are the ones who have a relatable goal. We might not necessarily want to go run a software company, but can we identify with their goals for why they want to run that company? Giving a strong why behind the actions of your characters will strengthen them on the page and within your readers' hearts.
Dialogue: Rachel Hauck has a fabulous piece of advice: tell the story within the quotes. If you can say it in dialogue instead of prose, then do it. Your point will become more powerful, the reader is able to read more quickly which is appealing in this text-messaging world... plus dialogue can be fun to write! Give it sass, snap and the last thing you would ever say and you'll come up with something great. Long paragraphs clumped together of description stop the reader like a truck in a Louisiana water-bogged field. Keep those few and far between and important to the story and surround everything with dialogue and you've got a winner.
Themes: This concept is a little bit more abstract, but the theme makes a difference to the reader. They might not immediately identify with this concept, but when you close that book and realize you are a changed reader from when you started, you know the author did their job right. I don't know about you, but I don't start my book out with a theme. That tends to grow and change through edits. But think about that while you edit and draw this out in certain character actions and settings, similes, etc.
Writing Quality: Voice makes a huge difference. You'll continue to hone this and make it stronger by writing, writing, writing. You'll also find out what makes you, you by reading. When you start to pick apart how the author says something and how you'd say it differently, you know you're figuring out what makes your voice work. Now go put it into practice!
Setting: A good setting can do wonders to make a book memorable. Sometimes that just includes having quirky secondary characters. They contribute to your setting too. Is your setting larger than life like in Texas? Or is it small town America like the mountains of Tennessee? Is it warm and welcoming like the small towns of the Iowa interstates or is it harsh and closed off like a ranching community set in its ways?
Overall Story: 3D characters. Memorable secondary characters. Setting that sparks. Dialogue that zings. Writing that keeps strong with vibrant descriptions, action verbs and sensory details. The reader wants to enter the story world and not leave anytime soon. Anything that disrupts that story world entrance is a mark against the book. And we don't want marks against our books. ;-)
Final Rating: Story is subjective. Sure. You can love it and your neighbor can hate it. But if you rate this book five stars and you love it that much, nothing is going to keep your mouth shut for anything, even chocolate. A good book is worth spreading without even pausing to think on which one would be your top favorite.
Your thoughts: We've all got a favorite book. If I were to give you five seconds or less to answer this question, you could tell me without even hesitating (see my point has already been proven) and it's the first title that pops into your mind that you don't even hesitate to give that proves all of what I've said above. A good story has to have: a star quality about it that keeps drawing you back when a thousand different things are pulling you away. So the next time you say you "love" that book. Or you "couldn't stop reading" it, stop and think about why. It's from this you'll learn the most.
Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.