I’ve been wondering about what makes a story a page-turner, about how readers become devotees of a particular author.
What prompted me to mull over readability, was a sticker on the cover of a crime paperback I borrowed from the library last week. Life Or Death by Michael Robotham has a sticker proclaiming LOVE IT OR YOUR MONEY BACK with a qualifier in small print around the edge advising To find out more and for T & Cs go to www.thecrimevault.com/exclusives/lifeordeath/
As a story, it’s capably written, with a couple of mysterious hooks that drag the reader in to make them want to know what happens. I wondered how many readers claimed their money back, for the guarantee had a four-month time limit from the date of publication in 2015.
Robotham started as a journalist, before becoming a successful ghostwriter of celebrities’ biographies. He shares traits in his writing style with other journalists whose crime novels I’ve read, mainly that he’s masterful at concision, of getting the action onto the page without flowery excess, but it lacks the warmth of involvement in his characters’ fates. It reads more like a film treatment, detailed notes for a script than a story told by a writer with the common touch. Instead of sitting alongside me describing what happens, Robotham’s voice sounds like the narrator of a True Crime documentary.
From the Cambridge Dictionary:
The Common Touch: the ability of an important or rich person to communicate well with and understand ordinary people.
When it comes to choosing a book to read, the author is an important person, even if not as wealthy as they should be! Having the ability to communicate in a compelling way decides whether readers will like your story enough to read on. If you’ve touched them, they talk about your book and word of mouth promotion sells it in bestselling amounts.
As Alan Bennett said:
‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.‘
Such communicating with a reader is partly down to chance for a writer, but some authors have an amiability that is very attractive; I think, it’s one of the reasons for J. K. Rowling’s success.
We talk about influences on our writing, and for me, the main way that my style has been swayed is emulating the common touch of favourite authors such as Walter Mosley, Elmore Leonard, J. B. Priestley, Dennis Lehane, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham and Guy De Maupassant. There’s something about these authors where I feel like they’re on the same level as me…not talking down to me.
Being a companion to our readers is a strange thing for us to think about, but it’s the stance I consider when writing my Cornish Detective novels. I find it helps to imagine just one reader as I write, rather than attempting to appeal to the masses. Kurt Vonnegut put it well:
Joni Mitchell, in her song A Case Of You said:
“Love is touching souls”
Surely you touched mine ’cause
Part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
Perhaps having the common touch means that an author touches souls.
Which authors move you?
How have they got the common touch?