Saturday, October 23, 2010

Un-put-downable?

Over the last few days I've been trying to figure out what the key ingredients are to making a book unputdownable. Honestly, I rarely read a book's first chapter where I can't put it down. For me, a book doesn't become unputdownable til halfway through it. So what's the big deal?

I know taste has a lot to do with it. What makes a book unputdownable to me, won't always be the same for someone else. I've always given novels a kind of grace period at the beginning to get my interest flowing. Usually if it doesn't by the third chapter, I don't come back to it. But in today's publishing world, it's not enough. The first chapter has to practically sing itself off the page.

I get it. And it's tough creating that hook in the first chapter... that unputdownable-ness. But what is it exactly? I'm sure it's different for every story, but can you pinpoint the qualities or quality? I think with my story FLOAT, there is some unputdownable-ness in the first chapter, but I'm finding it varies from reader to reader. That's why finding the right agent is so hard.

BTW I got some great feedback from my book club last night. I even got quoted! How cool is that? One friend had singled out quotes from my book. I'm so glad I had them read it. They really liked it and are so positive about me seeking publication. That makes me feel there's hope. :)

But tell me, do you have any inklings as to what the key ingredients are to capture that unputdownable quality? Tell me everything, g'head.

17 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

After I landed my publisher, they had me write a short prologue that started the action off with a bang. So perhaps that's part of the hook.

Quinn said...

Im the same as you. A book doesnt become unputdownable until about halfway through -- until Im invested.

As for the first chapter, I think the book just has to give a promise of something to come.

Sam said...

I think it has to do with the characters. Usually in the first chapter we don't fully know/understand/get the characters, but as we get to know them more, we become more invested because we care about them. That being said, usually if I'm reading a series, in subsequent books I get hooked right off because they are about characters I already love! For new stories - I guess we have to create a good hook and give us reason to care and connect to these new characters right away.

LTM said...

that is so cool, P! My book clubbies are wanting to read my MS, but I'm hesitant. I mean, I don't know...

as for unputdownableness, well. Hmmm. It's probably the whole cliff-hangers at the ends of the chapters. Seriously! Because the tendency is to read to the end of the chapter, but then if you zing it right there, hargh, they have to keep reading.

That's what Collins did to me! :D

William Kendall said...

I think it takes me about five chapters to decide if this is a book I want to keep reading.

Kittie Howard said...

Great job, P, getting quoted!

You're right, your question (and a super good one) is subjective, something for everyone out there. For me, the first chapter can't be heavy with adjectives or adverbs, must have strong verbs (a little sprinkling of To be is okay, but not much), and the setting must be clear. I never buy a book that opens with dialogue or is really heavy with dialogue throughout. (I once read that the most dialogue a reader likes is five lines and tend to agree.) Above all, the characters must move. I gave up on Brown's The Symbol simply because he stagnated the characters. Characters can't be overly described...the author must leave some fill-ins to me.

None of this answers your question...sorry!

T C Mckee said...

In most cases the first chapter holds a key to the ending. I usually try to find that little piece of the puzzle. More and more,I'm finding it more subtle, but in the very best of novels, it's still there. How many times have you gotten to the end of an awesome book and felt that one sentence from the beginning suddenly click into place. That's the good stuff. So for me the beginning is usually where the book may begin but it's also a challenge as well.

Kathryn said...

Even some of the best books I've read (published within the past few year) didn't have strong first chapters. I loved THE HUNGER GAMES, but until that very last line in chapter one, I wasn't as excited as I was when I began chapter two.

I think voice helps though. If there's a strong voice, and we can easily distinguish a character - maybe even visualize the main character right away - that helps.

Oddyoddyo13 said...

That's great about the book club last night! Never hurts to have good feedback. :)

My personal un-put-downable quality is the voice! It has to have humor, otherwise I get bored and my mind wanders....and it all goes down from there. And likable characters.

JEFritz said...

Clear, flowing writing. At least, that's what hooks me.

Julie Musil said...

Congratulations on the great feedback! That had to feel pretty darn good.

For me, it's about the character. I need to feel connected to them and like them. If the character is unlikable but the story is good, I'll stick with it. I'm usually glad I did.

I see you're on nano. I'll look for you! If I can't find you, I'm there at Julie Musil. Good luck in November!

Pk Hrezo said...

WOW! These are such awesome points. I agree with all of them.... voice really draws you in, but if it's a voice you don't like you may not read further. On the other hand one you connect with, is one you can't resist reading more of.
And having a hook that's part of a puzzle or mystery is a great point. Of course, if the prose sucks, you're not gonna read more. So in essence, it's really a perfect combination of all these things.

Thanks, guys! :)

Jennifer Hillier said...

The middle part of a book is always hard, and you're so right, it's likely where I'll put the un-put-downable book down. How do you keep readers interested after a great opening, and keep them reading all the way to your great ending? Man. Wish I knew the answer to this.

lettucehead said...

For me, it's something that sticks out about the characters; an unusual characteristic, or what you wouldn't read often. Not her brown hair, but the fact that she hates when people touch her hands by accident, or that twitch in her eye that occurs every now and then... things that stick out like that remain in my head and makes me want to keep reading.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

The characters are key for me. I have to feel something for the characters: love, hate, curiosity. Some books I've read are unputdownable from the first page. Others take a few chapters.

N. R. Williams said...

Congratulations on the great feedback. I know that always makes me feel so wonderful. Sorry I haven't been by much, I got the illness from hell over a week ago.

I strongly recommend,'The Writer's Journey,' by Christopher Volger. Amazon has three of his books. It is the 2nd edition that I have.

Everything mentioned is critical so I will add what I've learned. Charlotte Webb, a writer and editor came to a workshop here and said that every paragraph had to be treated like a mini chapter. An opening, tension that builds and a hook at the end. I think that is difficult to do and certainly we have one line paragraphs at times which work. But if you can achieve that is would be awesome.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Marieke said...

Sounds like you've a great book club! :D

As for that unputdownable quality... voice, definitely. Expectations, stakes, characters... It's a combination of a lot of things for me, but mainly I have to care about the story. :)