I knew it was going to be one of those books. The kind that keep you from doing anything you're supposed to be doing, the kind that makes you stay up too late and feel terrible the next day. The kind where you cannot STAND not to turn the page, over and over again.
And nope, it was not my usual kind of love. I'm not much into futuristic dystopian societies with high discomfort factors. And this was not only riveting to read, it was also very UNCOMFORTABLE to read.
So what was the book? Well, it was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I had it under my bed in my book stash for a year and a half. Knowing I would never put it down once I picked it up, I avoided it, until my fourteen-year-old son needed it for his freshman lit class.
Wow, what a book. Here are my thoughts on what I learned about writing a book that you simply cannot put down:
--You (i.e., the reader) immediately sympathize with the heroine because she is a normal person in an impossible situation, and she immediately makes an unselfish choice that may cost her her life. She makes this choice out of love. We also learn that she has done remarkable things to keep her family alive. She is one tough cookie.
Note to aspiring author self: Don't let you heroine hang about and wring her hands because she's not going to the ball, Cinderella! Make her do something! Make her remarkable! Don't let her be a victim, where things happen to her. Make her make things happen, despite her unhappy circumstances. This can be a problem amongst us historical writers--to have a strong heroine who starts off fighting against her societal constraints, etc., but still be period-appropriate. But it is essential. (The stars aligned for me at RWA and I won a critique by author Kris Kennedy who brought this to my attention. And I saw it played out in this book so well. To see Kris's tough-cookie heroine, just read her book The Irish Warrior and you'll see what I mean.)
--There is a very strong external conflict and it is a high-concept conflict. The heroine's life is at risk on EVERY page. You must turn the page to find out what happens next.
Note to self: You must have an idea that is a twist or turn or a novel spin on the tried and true.
--The book jumpstarts immediately and does not let you go until the very last page. Even when the main conflict ends, we worry about something else until the very last word.
Note: Pacing pacing pacing. High stakes. We are so emotionally involved with this teenage girl, we really CARE what happens to her.
--The love triangle also has high stakes involved with it. And it is a completely mystery how the heroine is going to solve this.
Note: Keep your reader wondering.
This is really a brilliant book in so many ways. The writing is concise, the way the book is constructed (as part 1 of a trilogy) is clever. It stirs conversation about deep topics and moral issues--hence it will be perfect for my son's lit class and many other classes, or for anyone who enjoys discussing important issues. And it will be a classic and timeless read for years to come.