What Speaks To You?

In the last post, I listed eleven questions. Interestingly, most of the responses I got said the questions were too hard. Also interestingly, those responses came in to my email rather than here so I think it was difficult to admit that, too. So I decided to prime the pump of opening dialog by answering them myself. Not all at once, of course, as some are hard.

What makes a book speak to you – the characters, the setting, the plot?

For me, it’s always the setting that pulls me in. The characters and the plot keep me in the story world once there, but it’s the setting that hooks me.

I want to immerse myself in a place that resonates, even if it’s somewhere I’ve never been. Ellie Griffith’s book, The Crossing Places comes immediately to mind, with the salt marsh, the space between land and sea. I also think of the late, great, Elizabeth Peters and her Amelia Peabody series that took me, over the course of many years, to Egypt.

No matter what the location is, the emotional responses are similar. Especially if the setting is an integral part of the story so it becomes a character in its own right. I want to feel that sand in my clothes, the damp salt air on my skin, the freezing, biting snow (Winterdance, by Gary Paulsen). When the setting is so well written that I can see, smell, feel it, so well written that it no longer becomes just a background description but alive and vital to the story, then I won’t want to leave. I’ll want to read everything that author writes from then on. It’s a dream world that becomes tangible on the page.

I also love it when the author uses setting as a character, as I mentioned. Whether that land is an antagonist, throwing up conflict for the protagonist, or is a supporting character, or even comic relief. Writing like that brings the world even more to life, even if it’s a futuristic place on another planet.

For me, the land is the main character, and I’ll wander there, following the other characters as they move through that story world. I’ll even reach first for a book with a cover that shows the setting.

So what makes you reach for a book? What pulls you in, speaks to you, makes you stay within the pages all the way to the end?