What makes a book irresistible: One reader’s advice to authors

This is a guest post by Naomi Leadbeater

Apparently, I adore books, but I have a system for finding the ‘good’ ones.

I'm also enamored with numbers, statistics and analytical trends, which is probably why I also enjoy language…you know, that thing that books are composed of.

One of the biggest attractions to a new book is the way in which the author transmits their story through the written language. It sounds simple, but it’s awfully complex.

Languages, whether they are verbal, written, musical or mathematical, are comprised of subtleties that are sometimes lost between the mediums we choose to express ourselves with.

What though, makes a great book?

I'd argue it's the author's ability to tell the story, and their specific use of language that makes the difference between a nominal and a fantastic story.

Storytellers and writers are the people who bridge the gap and explain the world of one language-bearer to the world of another. There is something in the author's nature that allows them to break down the walls between worlds.

My language is inherently musical in nature. It speaks with a cadence and rhythm that make more sense in scores than they do as words sometimes, but I'm beginning to make sense of the rhythmic nature of the written language.

I think.

That, is why I read. It's also why I watch documentaries, have a thesaurus bookmarked in my web-browser, and do crazy things like hit ‘ctrl+f' type a word like ‘very' into the search box and see how many times it comes up. There are some great editors out there who do much the same thing and have an inherent talent for finding all those pesky repeated adjectives.

That is also why I am drawn to certain authors. Some of them are timeless classics, like Plato, Aristotle, Aldous Huxley, Anaïs Nin, David Foster Wallace, Jack Kerouac and many others. They all use language in a different way, and with different nuances. Those are Wikipedia links, and a great place to start some investigation into amazing works of the past—but they're just a jumping off place.

Some of those nuances are lost in translation between the author's native language and translation to English.

I'm also drawn to a vast array of contemporary writers. Today's world seems to be brimming over with thousands of possibilities and what feels like millions of storytellers trying to get you to read their latest work.

I choose rather carefully, and much of the time my choices are based not only on genre, but on a desire to learn more about how to manipulate the English language. You see, I'm trying to learn a new form of story telling, and as part of my research, the Indie publishing and self-publishing waves have peaked my interest.

I think the biggest piece of advice you could get out of all my ranting today is simply this:

If you plan to self-edit—and you should, especially before submitting something to a publishing house—Use the damn powers of the Internet.

A large part of what makes language and story-telling interesting is the vocabulary of an author. The more precise and interesting words an author uses, the better a story will be to read. Some writers take this to the extreme and use words so large a dictionary is necessary to understand them.

Writing a story is not like telling one out loud. There are inflections in every humans speech and mannerisms that enable the story to be told with meaning.

You can speak the word ‘very' and ‘love' and ‘like' in a million different ways, but enunciation in print is lost by the simplicity of spelling. ‘Like' can only be spelled one way.

And NO, using all-caps, bold, italics or some combination of a repetition of the letters is NOT an acceptable way of getting your point across.

I am of course guilty of using these words too—but I know to look for them, and the power of the keyboard lets me find and flush them out easily.

A recent discussion prompted me to prove this with some writing analysis.

How bad am I? Do I use words over and over again without regard, and leave readers with a vague impression of what I was trying to say? Or am I explicit enough to get my point across EXACTLY as I mean it?

 

# of Occurences
Word Very Like Love
Unedited Posts 2 12 8
Live blogged Posts 0 9 4
Posts I edit 0 0 0

 

Well, there we have it. Perhaps it's evident why I tend to edit my posts. Sometimes those words are appropriate, and after compiling those numbers, I realized the stark difference between the posts themselves and the comments after them.

Much as I suspected, our speaking voices and commenting voices can be vastly different than the ones we use to tell our stories.

Now I'm just curious enough to develop a way to do it with all the books I read, because I'm positive I'll find a correlation between the occurrence of those words and the books I've enjoyed more, and less than others.

There's a reason I idolize David Foster Wallace and Jack Kerouac. Much like there's a reason I <3 Novel Publicity and Evolved Publishing.

Is there room to improve and grow for all of us? Of course.

Check our some of these titles from Evolved Publishing and some of the events going on at Novel Publicity here. You might just find the prices favorable and the stories abundant enough to meet your every genre's desire.

naomi-bioAbout this post’s author:

Naomi Leadbeater lives in the middle of the continent, on the snowy plains of Manitoba. She is a blogger, writer, artist and musician. She found Novel Publicity just over a year ago, and has made it her online habitat every since–now she works for NP as a marketing assistant. You can find her on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Google +, as well as a few other places if you dig deep enough into the interwebs. You can also email her at [email protected].

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 12 comments
Brandy Robertson

One of my English professors once told me, “don’t write ‘bird’ when you can write ‘duck’; don’t write ‘duck’ when you can write ‘Mallard’.” That advice has stuck with me and repetitive word use always stands out to me to this day!

Reply
    naimeless

    Brandy – I love it! Mallard is so much more fun to write 😛

    Reply
Phil

Some good advice…good post.
Would like to thank all at Novel publicity again, for the follow on Twitter.
Have a great weekend. 🙂

Reply
ashleecowles

Thanks for this great advice! I find I often use some of the same words too…my greatest challenge is hearing my characters talk inside my head (does that statement sound crazy or what?:) ), and having to translate how they might talk in “real life” to the page.

Reply
    naimeless

    I started the post as an experiment, then decided that the results were really interesting. It’s amazing what you find out about your own writing when you decide to take a second (or third) look!

    I’m really glad you enjoyed reading – and I don’t think you sound crazy at all – but then again, I’m a writer too!

    Reply
Bernice Woodard

Storytelling and literature will exist always, but what shape will it take? Will we write novels to be performed? The story will exist, but how, I don’t know. The way my stories are told today is by being published in the form of a book. In the future, if that’s not the way to tell a story, I’ll adapt.

Reply
    naimeless

    I think a lot about the shape and forms of story telling – and I think you make a very good point. Adaptability is truly important in this day and age.

    Thanks for reading!

    Reply
Deborah Anderson

I can comment on what makes this headline draw me. The “Irresistible” part definitely grabs me, but the “One reader’s advice..” is what pulls me in to read more. It lacks presumption and, hence, appeals to my desire to read more.

Reply
    naimeless

    Thanks so much! I had a lot of fun writing it – the headline credit goes to Emlyn 🙂

    Reply
Romeo Warner

if you didn’t like White Noise, you’re an idiot. and I mean that literally, not as an ad hominem. i mean, really, you’re willing to argue against the likes of David Foster Wallace on this one, someone who has made it clear he thinks it’s one of the best novels in modern history!?

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SuzanneG

A major frustration for me is the use of a word that sounds (to the author) like it is the right word, but by definition is incorrect, or even worse, has nothing to do with the context of the sentence. There are so many places on the internet to find a dictionary or thesaurus for free. Yeah, maybe we all need to re-read the classics more often. Thanks for reminding us, Naomi.

Reply

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