For as long as I can remember, there have been books that have captured me. Bound me up, held me tight and wouldn’t let go until I’d read the last word on the last page. My body could be in a noisy classroom or on a crowded train, and yet I wouldn’t hear someone call my name or feel a hand on my shoulder. I was elsewhere.
Oh, what a delicious feeling to be book-bound. It made me a book junkie. I still am to this day.
But what is it that captures a reader?
A great story? Sure that helps, but I’ve read books with an interesting story and yet they haven’t held my attention. Sometimes – shock horror – I don’t even care if the protagonist’s life is in danger. Let the wolves have him, I say.
So do we need to have a sympathetic character? Probably helps, but there have been some pretty nasty ones I’ve loved and some nice ones I couldn’t give a damn about.
Is it in the nitty gritty technical stuff that your English teacher nagged you about? Show don’t tell, use correct sentence structure, no splitting infinitives, avoid alliteration and rhyme. So many rules and yet some of the best writing stomps all over them.
Rhythm, tone, style? These subtleties begin to lead us closer to the answer, I think. Because it has little to do with the words you see on the page. They are like matter. The building blocks.
What creates narrative magic is unseen. It lies in the spaces between the words. I believe it is a completely subconscious process. The writer and reader are unaware of it. But it’s the unseen that captures us. Not the words so much, although we may admire the technique. But technique is merely the delivery method for a far deeper energy.
The inner world of the writer, his/her demons, hurts, and unspoken longings whisper to the reader. Honesty, openness seep through the page.
Perhaps you’ve noticed this with your own writing. You put it aside for a while, and when you’ve come back to it, discover symbols and themes entwined through the narrative that you weren’t aware of when you were writing it.
Of course, I don’t have the answers yet. I’m in the process of exploring the spaces. Any theories, suggestions very welcome.
Will keep you posted…