Thursday, November 5, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes....

What makes a good book?

It seems like the more books I write, the more I ponder this. And discuss it. And read books of writing theory, “How To” tomes, and volumes about “voice”. I worry about three act structure, point of view, and scene-sequel placement until it keeps me up at night. I want to get it right.

But the other day, I watched my wonderful seven year old granddaughter uncurl herself from my couch with a giant sigh. She’s an amazing reader.

“Oh,” she sighed with a stretch. She closed her book. “That was a great book. I hate that it’s done. I wish I had another one right here to start right now.”

My writer’s ears perked up. “What are you reading?”

She was reading a mystery from the Boxcar Children series. Remember that one? Not exactly high concept. Not exactly dark and gritty, as so many editors and agents acclaim. Yes, I know she’s only seven, but still…

“So what was so good about it?” I asked. “What makes it a good book?”

She dreamily sighed. “Well, it’s about these kids, and I really like them. I mean, I feel like I know them. It’s like they are really real.”

I nod.

“And then, instead of having a regular day, they get stuck in some kind of problem, and they have to solve it, and they have to be brave and do things they might be scared of doing. And I feel like I am there with them. It’s exciting.”

I nod again.

“And then, just when you think they will never fix things, something happens, and all of a sudden it all makes sense, and then everybody gets really happy. You know, happily ever after. I like that.”

I nodded once more. I get it. I put down the latest “miracle” book that I wanted to use to tell me what makes a good book. I know what makes a good book. And so does my granddaughter.

I decide to write instead. But first, I take my granddaughter to the library for her next Boxcar Children book.

Kids say the darnedest things!


Carol Hutchens said...

Oh, Christine!
How sweet. Give your granddaughter an extra hug for me!
And how revealing...I'm going to follow your example...close the 'how-to-books' and do the writing.
Thank you!

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Chrsitine--this is how I grew up. Every Christmas I received BOOKS! And that afternoon I'd settle in front of the fireplace (with a big fire going) and read. Magical. Hearing about your granddaughter brings back such wonderful memories.

AND as a writer, I'm glad to hear she recognizes good characters and character-driven plot.


Sandy Cody said...

"Out of the mouths of babes" indeed! That's exactly what I love most about reading - spending time with people I can care about. It was true when I was 7 and no less true today.

mulligangirl said...

I love this! I think we'd all do better to listen to the future book-buyers of the world. I'm also one who always tries to learn more tactical skills around structure, plot, character development, etc. All that is well and good, but this is a good reminder that there is an intangible force that either speaks to a reader (of any age) or doesn't. I'm pretty sure it can't be learned from a 'How to' book.

Beate Boeker said...

A great story . . . thanks for sharing!