As writers we do our best to create stories that will capture our readers’ attention and hold it, hopefully so well that they have a hard time putting the book down to do all the other things clamoring for their time. It’s like a magic act: we create something from nothing, and sometimes that something is so powerful that it takes on a life of its own and fans start creating their own stories set in your universe.
How does that magic happen? In some ways writers are both magician and their own audience. The trick is as much a mystery to us as it is to our readers. If it wasn’t, if there was a formula that guaranteed success, we’d follow the recipe every time. Every book would be a bestseller. Computers could be programmed to do it.
I recently read a couple of paranormal romances that were good enough to finish (with limited time, I’m rather picky these days), and that I learned a few things from, but ultimately, didn’t satisfy me.
One seems to have everything going for it. It opens with the hero rescuing strangers and segues into a battle, but I didn’t care. I even considered putting the book down, but the premise intrigued me enough that I kept reading. But why didn’t I care? The author seemingly did everything right: she established the hero as sympathetic, and opened the book in media res. The heroine is facing a dilemma of protecting a loved one at the expense of the many. As the second book of a series, the author didn’t bog down the action with an info-dump, but instead doled out background only as the reader needed to know it. Nevertheless, it was only about page 40 that I started to connect with the the principle characters, and even after that my commitment was iffy, since most of the tension rides on the heroine keeping information from the hero.
The other book has the opposite problem. It too starts with a battle and then moves on to cultural conflict. I was immediately engaged. But then, as the hero and heroine travel together to his homeland, the tension fizzled out. The heroine is a reasonable woman and lets her experience convince her that her prejudice against the hero is unfounded. (This is a good thing. I hate contrived conflict.) Some of the problem was that too much of the author’s research found its way into the book. The world buiding captured my imagination, there was just a little too much detail. But mostly it seemed as though there was nothing at stake. Everything came a little too easily to the heroine until the very end.
These authors didn’t set out to write anything less than their best. By at least three measures they succeeded: their books were published, I bought them, and I finished them. But given my limited time and book budget, I may not buy their other books. The magic failed.
As serious authors we go to conferences, we take workshops, we learn from our peers, all so we can saw the woman in half and make the audience exclaim, “Oh! How did she do that?” In the end though, even if we’re masters of the mechanics, our success depends on the real thing: Magic.