Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Three things that make me want to read a novel (and three that don't)

Recently, I've been snooping around the Blind Speed Dating Contest at Cupid's Literary Connection. While sadly one needs a completed manuscript and a query to enter - neither of which I yet have - I've had an excellent time reading other people's pitches. I'm far from an expert in knowing what agents or publishers are looking for in queries, but here's a list of what makes me keep reading, and what makes me put the book down in disgust, helped along by some lovely examples from the contest on the positive side, and some examples of my own on the other:

The Good

  1. Out-of-the-blue plots: "Finn Rackham is tired of being told that he's bound to end up just like his parents--behind bars.  Sure, his temper is a little toasty, but that doesn't make him a criminal.  But when he accidentally falls in with a band of pirates..." (The Lost Figurehead) Nobody saw those pirates coming. It actually makes me really happy when you start reading a book expecting one genre, and get something else - it means the book isn't just stuck in the rut of, say, 'paranormal romance'. It's welcome change from books that follow the conventions of their genre.

  2. Shameless awesomeness: On the topic of Finn Rackham - "But the men and women who sail under Captain Kelsey Dash are not the sword-swinging, pistol-wielding, treasure-hunting rapscallions he expects.  They're time travelers, and they just commandeered a ferry in New York Harbor." There are some things that just ought to exist. Time travelling pirates. Bishounen wizards. Magical boarding school. On the one hand, they could be described as shamelessly gratuitous. On the other hand - if you don't appreciate a good time-travelling pirate, I don't know what you're doing with your life.

  3. Unusual juxtapositions: There's nothing better than reading along and suddenly that the antagonist of your teen fiction is none other than "the legendary “once and future king”—King Arthur himself." (Broken in Blue I've often come across writing advice that suggests that to make an interesting character, you need to give them two conflicting or contrasting traits. For years I thought this was trite and unhelpful. But then someone (and I can't remember who) explained it with the example of a young girl who wants to pursue her interest in necromancy, but has to babysit her younger siblings. And everything made sense. Totally unexpected juxtapositions are what make original fiction. And of course, who can go past something billed as "LE MORTE D’ARTHUR meets GOSSIP GIRL"?
The Bad
  1. Vaguely atmospheric words: Stephenie Meyer apparently chose the title of Twilight from a list of 'atmospheric words' offered by her publisher. If the first sentence of a blurb contains lots of atmospheric words ("Elina's fate is wreathed in shadows...") and no actual content, chances are I'm going to put the book down.

  2. A main character who wants to be normal: The best way to introduce a novel, in my opinion, is to tell me the really exciting things that your main character wants to go out a do. "Jessie Warnes just wants to be normal..." immediately has me thinking that Jessie Warnes is going to be a relatively dull type of person. I want a main character who was wants to be part of the action.

  3. Fiery redheads: I think the world has a quota of fictional fiery redheads, and I think it has been reached. I am sick of them. If anyone says "a temper to match her hair" or tries to describes a character's personality by telling us their hair-colour I will put the book down. It's overdone, and it's lazy writing. I want a character with a personality, not a hair-colour.
A Fun Fact
  • If you don't know how to start writing your query, every single one goes like this: "<number>-year-old <name> is <unusual trait>. When <negative experience>, s/he must..."


  1. Oh my goodness, I love these! They're all so true. Great example choices, too.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier - I replied about the crit group advice.