Ever notice how it’s harder to be specific about what you like than what you don’t like? I’ve written before on what makes me stop reading a book once I’ve started it. Today I’m trying to come up with a list of what keeps me reading. Once I started, I realized it’s a lot harder to be point out the positive than the negative. Still, I was able to come up with seven things that keep me reading, four for fiction and three for non-fiction.
Stories that keep moving along, progressing to the dramatic climax keep my interest. These dole out the characters’ backstory in teasing little bits, making me wonder how all the pieces fit together. The same is true for the history of the world, setting, or family that are central to the narrative. The characters all talk like normal people, meaning they have conversations that alternate speakers by sentences or short paragraphs.
Stories populated with people who are interesting, complex, even contradict themselves are more likely to hold my attention. Even if I don’t agree with what the character does, if I have some sympathy for him, I’ll be interested in how things turn out. Also, characters that have some level of self-awareness, as in they understand the foolishness of their choices, or that their stubbornness is getting to be embarrassing, are more likely to engage my interest.
Attention to Detail
Not that the classics don’t have major holes, as in Jane Eyre at age 19 being able to give away three-fourths of her fortune. However, this happened at the end of a very satisfying novel, so it could be forgiven. Stories that don’t have holes but are believable and consistent in detail allow me lose myself in the reading. So if the moon is full one night, a week later it still can’t be a round silvery orb. Little touches of detail that add realism and flavor also help.
Along the same lines, accuracy helps. Novels set in 21st century hospitals need to have nurses wearing the right uniforms (ie, no caps). Historical novels based in facts are more enjoyable than ones with obvious and careless errors.
Make it Accessible
I don’t want to have to work too hard to be educated. If I did, I’d go back to school. If the writing style is interesting and easy to understand, I’ll stick with it. Simple language, clear explanation of terms, good organization so I can find the information I am looking for factor into my decision of whether or not to keep reading.
Make it Usable
The information in a book might be great, but if you don’t give me some pointers on how to use it, you’re not making me into a fan. Tips, worksheets, schedules, checklists all make me think I’ll actually be able to implement what I’ve learned, rather than feeling overwhelmed and ready to quit.
Stick to the Point
I appreciate authors who stick to the point. If a tangent’s really important, it should be in a sidebar, or another chapter. Likewise, authors who feel the need to rant about something and give a warning to the reader or highlight that section so it can be easily skipped have earned my gratitude, and willingness to read on.
These are seven qualities that keep me reading. Without them, I’ll probably be skipping a few pages, or closing the book and putting it in the donate to Goodwill pile. Unless I really hated it, then to the recycling bin it goes.
What about you? What keeps you reading?