There are four keys to a successful novel, and while one or more of these might be stressed over the others in any given book, their combination makes for something a reader will find difficult to put down.
Key 1: The Story
If you don’t have a good story, nothing will save the book. Generally speaking a writer needs one gripping concept that asks the reader a question, and then answers itself through the unfolding of the novel—or gives the reader the ability to answer the question him or herself by the end.
For example, what if the line between animals, humans, and androids was significantly blurred? This is one of the big questions posed in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick’s classic science fiction piece that became Blade Runner on the big screen. In fact, even the very title of the book (sadly lost in the film) asks a profound question that drives the story, and thus the reader, forward.
The reason the story is focused on a question is because mystery and intrigue are what pull most readers in, and keep them turning the page. It is that desire to find the answer that makes it impossible to put a book down, and is, indeed, the reason why the mystery and thriller genres are so popular, and why the likes of Sherlock Holmes continues to inspire to this day.
Humanity is questioning by nature, and it is largely our curiosity about ourselves and the world around us that has driven civilisation forward.
Key 2: The Character/s
You might encounter the notion of “story-driven” or “character-driven.” Sometimes a story is so good that it almost doesn’t matter who the character is—it’s the concept that matters. Other stories are less engaging, but the characters are so real and interesting that we just have to take a peek into their lives.
A good character not only propels the story forward, taking on a life of his or her own, but invites the possibility of numerous sequels. Think of, for example, the character of James Bond. While the various situations he gets into (in both the books and films) are interesting, it is largely the character itself that people are interested in. It almost doesn’t matter who the bad guy is, so long as we know that the martini-drinking and smooth-talking hero is along for the ride (preferably in an Aston Martin).
A well-developed character will not need to be prodded on by the writer, but will actively react to story elements as he or she encounters them. The most engaging characters, with the most interesting personalities, will stay with a reader long after the book is closed.
In fact, the fictional nature of the character may even be questioned by some readers, for whom such characters can seem more real than the people around them. We see this with some people who obsess with characters in soap operas, for example, and begin to warn the actor of situations in the show as if it were real life.
Key 3: The Suspense
A truly engaging story has risk. If Frodo could get on the back of an eagle and fly all the way to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, we would stop caring about the characters. It is their struggle, and the possibility of failure, that excites the reader into rooting for the hero, and investing emotionally in the journey.
Many great stories not only have the central quest that must be achieved, and the major risk associated with that, but a series of smaller hurdles that must be crossed. Sometimes these throw the entire endeavour into jeopardy, further engaging the reader.
Plot twists, cliff-hangers, and surprises are all tools designed to heighten the tension. Some of them answer questions, while others pose new ones. Will a certain popular character die? (Or, in the case of George R.R. Martin, will any of the characters live?) Can the hero cross the new hurdle unscathed, and will success in this minor battle affect the bigger war?
Tension can also be worked into a story in more subtle ways, by hinting to the reader that all is not quite right. We are familiar with this from horror movies, in particular, where lighting and music will be used to suggest danger.
Writers can do the same in fiction by associating key words or phrases, or a particular style of writing, with intense events. When this literary “score” resurfaces, it instantly communicates the same emotions to the reader.
Key 4: The Conflict
Conflict is the driving force behind most stories, with many of the risks and hurdles characters face coming from other characters, or situations created by those characters.
There is external conflict, such as the various forces of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, more immediate conflict, such as Boromir turning on the Fellowship, and internal conflict, such as Frodo’s struggle with temptation, amplified by showing just how far that internal struggle can go in the dual-natured Gollum.
Popular soap operas thrive on conflict. Whether it’s family disputes, martial cheating, backstabbing friends, or just plain old shouting matches, it is this kind of thing that makes people watch. The same is true for any novel, because a story without conflict is boring.
Imagine for a moment if the central question of a story was answered by all of the characters in the same way. With no disagreement, a major source of interest is lost. We stop caring about the characters, because there is no battle to win, and thus no real side to root for.
When a good story is populated by strong characters, and when that story is underlined by tension and those characters driven by conflict, the reader is in for a treat.
THE DYING BREATH. THE DYING WILL. THE DYING HOPE.
After the catastrophe of the Call of Agon, Ifferon and his companions find themselves in the unenviable situation of witnessing, and partaking in, the death of another god—this time Corrias, the ruler of the Overworld.
With Corrias locked inside the corpse of the boy Théos, he suffers a fate worse than the bonds of the Beast Agon. Yet hope is kindled when the company find a way to restore the boy, and possibly the god, back to life.
The road to rebirth has many pitfalls, and there are some who consider such meddling with the afterlife a grave risk. The prize might be life anew—but the price might also be a second death.
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Genre – Epic Fantasy
Rating – PG
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