I’m going to use KAT INCORRIGIBLE as an example.
1. Let’s talk humor.
The kind of humor that pulls you from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, the kind that makes you fall in love with a character and the writing, the kind that make you want to read the book again in the same week.
For me, the best kind of humor is when the main character doesn’t know or think she’s being hilarious. For the character, the story is quite serious.
Here are only a few of the funnies from this story:
- The play on the tried and true plot of a girl dressing like a boy and running away – except it failed for Kat.
- The running gag of Kat always receiving long lectures.
- Kat’s willingness to speak her mind without being obnoxious.
- The scene where Kat turns herself into an older woman with a heaving bosom.
- The running gag of her constantly trying to arch one eyebrow like her older sisters.
(In your work if it’s not humor, it could be excellent description or well-chosen words to reflect voice or tension that leads your reader from page to page.)
2. Terrific ending chapter hooks.
Each chapter ending made me keep reading. Here are a few of them:
- I had the perfect opportunity for blackmail.
- Angeline opened her eyes and looked straight at me. “He murdered her.”
- “Miss Angeline,” he said. “Thank God I’ve found you. Your house has been burgled!”
- But what about the highwayman?” I said.
- The highwayman had arrived after all.
- The shot went off as the world turned inside out around me.
The others are great too but you wouldn’t understand the significance without reading the story.
3. Using specific body language that reflects the character.
How a writer uses body language can elevate a story from amateur to professional. In my unprofessional opinion that is. Here are a few:
- “Now,” Stepmama said, and ushered us, smiling as fiercely as a general, into the crowded Long Gallery.
- “Ladies!” The gentleman’s cough this time sounded like a crack of thunder.
- “None, obviously, that you are fit to learn.” She stalked pointedly away from both of us, her slim back vibrating with outrage.
There were plenty of shrugs, arched eyebrows, saids, – but when it counted, when the emotion was important to show, the body language was extended to show the character without telling and to reveal the emotion. In other words, it wasn’t overdone.
4. Historical fiction with a contemporary feel.
- Kat felt like a contemporary girl fighting for her family.
- She felt emotion like her readers would.
- She had relationships with her step mama and sisters that felt current.
- The only details from the period mentioned were the ones important to the story and it was never obvious. (Keep in mind that it was for middle graders.)
- The language used and behavior just made the book better and it upped the reading level, which to me is always a good thing.
- The historical part of the time period was used humorously, for examples, the long lectures for behavior that really wasn’t that bad.
(Even if you’re not writing historical fiction, you can work on creating emotions your reader can understand and connect with.)
5. The mix of external and internal conflict.
I would not have loved this story as much as I did without the balance of Kat’s internal conflict. She struggles with following her mama’s legacy and worries that the only reason her papa married her mama was due to a love spell.
Was this a literary novel with heavy theme and internals? No. But it had just the right balance of emotion and excellent writing.
What genre or kind of story are you writing? And what do you use on the page-to-page level to keep readers reading?