How long do you give a book before you give up on it? Two pages? A couple of chapters? Or are you more precise, like a woman I once knew in a reading group, who gave a book ‘to page 40’. If it hadn’t grabbed her by then, she put it down for good.
These days I give up on more books than I finish. I used to feel guilty about it but no more! There are zillions of books in the world – far more than I will ever get to read in a lifetime – so why should I waste time on one that I’m not enjoying?
I’m reading a good ‘un at the moment, though: Ordinary Thunderstorms, by William Boyd. (I’d call it an ‘intelligent thriller’ if you want to know the genre). I don’t usually read thrillers but this has got pace, suspense and intrigue (and some proper scary bits!) combined with real-life characters that you can actually believe in.
It had me hooked from the very first page (hurrah!) AND I can’t wait to get back to it (you know that lovely feeling, when you’re itching to re-enter your book’s imaginary world?). I only started it on Saturday and I reckon I’ll have finished it by tonight. That’s pretty speedy for me.
Anyway, what’s all this got to do with writing, I hear you cry? Well, my reaction to ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ is what we should all be striving for, as writers. We want to make our stories, novels and articles UN-PUTDOWNABLE!
Now, I don’t have the secret recipe for that, I’m afraid but one thing you definitely need to strive for is an un-guessable ending. I’m half way through ‘Ordinary Thunderstorms’ and the one thing that’s really keeping me turning the pages is: I want to find out how the main character, Adam Kindred, is going to get himself out of the almighty mess he’s in!
I remember reading an interview with Gaynor Davies, the fiction editor for Woman’s Weekly and she said that was one of the main reasons for turning down a story: she could guess the ending. If the reader can guess the ending, she won’t bother reading on. And that’s something I’ve always tried to bear in mind when I’m writing.
That doesn’t mean you have to give every story a weird ending (eg: alien abduction!) or a ‘twist’: your ending still has to be believable and the characters still have to behave, well, in character but giving your readers something slightly different from what they are expecting – but still making it satisfying – will lift your story – metaphorically and hopefully, literally (out of the slush pile).
Right, now then, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my book…!