A few years ago, I considered writing Young Adult fiction. I had an idea for a story that started as the early years in one of my character's life—how she got to be the adult she is in one of my not-yet-published books. The story took on a life of its own and is nothing like my original concept. Before writing, I knew I needed to do market research. What did today's eleven-to-fourteen year olds read? I was sure it was a lot different from what I read when I was that age. I needed to read what was being published today. So, I asked my daughter who had been teaching middle school language arts for several years and whose master's degree is in children's literature. If anyone was up on what today's kids read, it would be her. She gave me a list. What a list! She loaned me several and I started working my way through the list. I found several fascinating books and authors whose other books I would try.
But something held me back from reading one book. I don't like reading about violence—especially, violence to children. Even when the third book in the series came out, I didn't understand all the hoop-la about it on writers' loops. Now, I do.
Never mind all the books in my TBR pile, at Christmas I borrowed all three books from my daughter. Last week, I finally started the first book. I couldn't put it down. The book carried me away making me ignore my own work in progress, laundry, even meals. Thank goodness for an understanding husband who threw in the wash and made dinner. I read until my eyes became gritty. Double thank goodness, I had the next two books. In three days, I read them all. I was stunned by how compelling the series was.
Now that I've tweaked your interest, you probably want to know which series it was. The Hunger Games. Those of you who've read the books are most likely rolling your eyes. Well, of course the books are compelling. What took you so long to see what everyone else has?
My original question still stands. What makes a book compelling? Is it the topic? In this case, children fighting children to the death is still not compelling to me. Triumph over adversity? Well, yes. But not enough. Is it the writing? When I find a great book, I try to dissect it, to figure out what made it so good. Inevitably, I'll start reading with intent to analyze and get so caught up in a story I've read two, three, six times I forget I'm supposed to be analyzing how the writer did it. Granted, I don't really like to analyze stories. I like to be entertained. I can usually tell you why a book isn't very good or, rather, why it didn't appeal to me. But, to analyze character, plot, narrative, dialogue? It doesn't come easy for me. It should if I want to be a better writer. With Suzanne Collins' books, I was blown away. I didn't want to know how she did it. It's like watching a magic show. When you know how the magician does it, something is lost. The magic, if you will. Maybe I don't really want to know how Collins wrote such compelling books. Maybe I just want to be entertained.
In the early days of my writing career, I read some books and thought I could write better than this. Pretty arrogant, right? Those books were published, mine weren't. I've read fabulous books and thought if I try hard enough I can do this. I have never read a book or series and thought I could never write anything this good. Until now. That's rather humbling.
What book(s) have you read that captivated you?