Each of us has our cup of tea, of course. Romance novel readers might not like crime novels. Those who like historical novels might not like fantasy. Those who like short books with Dan Brown style prose probably won't like Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch or Amy Greene's Long Man.
Yet, even though we--as readers--all swear by our own brands of tea as fervently as Ford owners and GM owners fight about which company makes the better car, there are some common demoninators about what makes for a memorable novel.
Without intending to copy authors, styles and plots, a lot of us--when wearing our writer hats--like to write stories that are somewhat similar in ambiance to our favorite kinds of novels. So, as we mull over prospective story ideas, we might start by figuring out exactly why are favorite books are our favorite books.
Tentatively, I can say that since I like to write novels that accentuate the place where the story unfolds, one reason I like The Prince of Tides and The Shadow of the Wind is the strong sense of place conveyed by the authors in both books. But, we're not talking about old fashioned fiction with descriptions that ramble on for multiple pages. In both of these books, we're talking about places that--one way or another--interact with the stories. The stories in both books could not have happened anywhere else. I like the old notion that places are in part defined by what happens there.
Donald Maass, in Writing the Breakout Novel, suggests that so-called "breakout novels" as well as the books on our own favorites list have at least four points in common:
- Inherent Conflict
- Gut Emotional Appeal
If I were teaching a writing class, I'd make a list on the chalkboard of the students' favorite novels, finding as many books as possible that had multiple readers in the group. Then, we'd discuss the books in terms of plausibility, conflict, originality, and emotional appeal. The point of the discussion would be getting people thinking about how these four areas work in successful fiction.
Doing this will, I think, help us--as writers--get to the time where we can take off those training wheels and toss out the Post-It notes. We need to "feel" all of these things instinctively as we think about the next story we want to write. Then we can use the best of our art and craft to make our books as memorable as our favorites.