What makes a book stand out from the crowd? Agents tell us they are looking for ‘good stories well told’. But in an age when everyone wants to write and very many can, being good simply isn’t enough. You actually have to be brilliant.
So what constitutes brilliance exactly? In revamping a novel regarded as ‘too quiet’, Catherine Czerkawska on her Wordarts blog (itself an object lesson in how hard even established writers have to work for recognition) concludes that the key to success is a stonking great story, and I’m sure she’s right. Certainly most of the first novels I have seen lately have a premise or a storyline that’s just a bit out of the ordinary.
On another of my favourite blogs, Sarah Duncan actually gives us 10 ways to stand out. Of these my favourite is ‘pzazz’ , i.e. “phrases, metaphors, nifty dialogue, cunning transitions, description etc” which really shine out and draw the reader’s (or agent’s) attention. The really interesting thing is that Sarah aims to get five of these on every page. Yes, five on every page. Wow! No wonder her romances never feel run-of-mill.
My latest read is another excellent example of this. The setting and characters in Major Pettigrew could easily feel bland, and despite plenty of action I occasionally felt my attention waning, but if I ever thought of laying the book aside, there was always some little nugget of gold (a truly memorable simile or one of the Major’s hilarious observations) to get me interested again.
That’s it then. Stonking story and sparkling prose. For a book to ne noticed it needs to be not just polished but encrusted with diamonds. If it were a cake, it would have to be well mixed, perfectly cooked and stuffed to the hilt with cherries, nuts, and chunks of rich dark chocolate.
Plain cake is not an option.