Class of 2014: YA Superlatives Blogfest ELEMENTS OF FICTION

The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest (hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me) runs Monday, December 15th through Thursday, December 18th and will highlight favorite books published in 2014 using a variety of fun superlative categories. The Class of 2014: YA Superlative Blogfest is all about promoting the extraordinary young adult books published this year, so if you haven’t already, draft a post and sign up to participate at the end of this post. We can’t wait to see your favorite reads of 2014!

Class of 2014_Banner

2014 Reading List (starred = debut): The Winner’s Curse, *Let’s Get Lost, *Loop, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, *17 First Kisses, Ashes to Ashes, *The Secret Sky, *Behind the Scenes, Isla and the Happily Ever After, *The Only Thing To Fear, Bleed Like Me, The Bridge From Me to You, *Creed, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I’ll Give You the Sun, *One Two Three, *Of Scars and Stardust, We Were Liars, *Wish You Were Italian, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Frozen, What I Thought Was True, *The Eighth Guardian, *Pointe, *Push Girl, *Open Road Summer, *Far From You, *The Symptoms of My Insanity, Panic, *The Truth About Alice, *NIL, Complicit, The Summer I Found You, The Evolution of Emily, Into the Still Blue, Heartbeat, The Killing Woods, Brown Girl Dreaming

Elements of Fiction

Most Envy-Inducing Plot

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart kept me guessing (even though there were “hints” about “surprises” all over the Internet), and I thought she pulled off the twists and characterizations beautifully. This one’s one of my favorites of 2014. (Honorable Mention to Caroline Tung Richmond’s debut The Only Thing to Fear — loved her reimagining of the outcome of World War II!)

Most Formidable World

Teenagers get exactly 365 days on Lynne Matson’s Nil, a sort of island paradise that reminded me a little of that Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach. But after those 365 days, you’re out — like, presumably dead. The ticking clock aspect of this book amped the tension to almost unbearable levels.

Most Wanderlust-Inducing

How Kristin Rae’s Wish You Were Italian made me want to travel to Italy! The delectable food, the unparalleled history, the lovely landscapes, and the beautiful boys. I adored this sweet, full-of-voice debut.

Loveliest Prose

Did you have doubts? Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun is gorgeous, full of enchanting imagery and unique metaphors and pretty, pretty prose. I found myself rereading so many passages just to more fully absorb their amazingness.

Best First Line

“She shouldn’t have been tempted.”
Oh, but she was! Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse is all about temptation and yearning and torn allegiance. So good!

Most Dynamic Main Character

Theo from Brandy Colbert’s debut Pointe is one of my favorite MCs of 2014. She’s struggling with A LOT of trauma, yet she’s amazingly resilient. She’s a perfect example of the “strong female character” we’re always hearing about because she IS strong, but she’s also layered and complex and flawed. (Honorable Mentions to Sophie From Tess Sharpe’s debut Far From You, Kara from Jessica Love & Chelsie Hill’s debut Push Girl, and Reagan from Emery Lord’s debut Open Road Summer for all the same reasons.)

Most Jaw-Dropping Conclusion

In an effort to avoid spoilers, I won’t say why the conclusion to Stephanie Kuehn’s Complicit made my jaw drop, but I will say that you should read it as soon as possible. (Honorable Mention to E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars!)

Best Performance in a Supporting Role

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – The whole of Lara Jean’s family, plus Peter. I loved this book’s cast so much!

Best Use of Theme

Jessica Love & Chelsie Hill’s Push Girl and Elodie Nowodazkij’s One, Two, Three have similar themes of overcoming the loss of an identifying pursuit due to injury (dance, in both cases). I love that while both protagonists struggled with the unwanted changes to their lives in realistic and complicated ways, neither was weak, and neither gave up.

Class of 2014_Button2

Click below to add your name and your Elements of Fiction post link to our sign up so we can hop around and check out your selections. Don’t forget — there will be a new link sign-up each day!


2013 YA Superlatives :: Elements of Fiction

The Class of 2013: YA Superlative Blogfest (hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me) runs Monday, December 16th through Thursday, December 19th. All of our fantastic participants will highlight favorite books published in 2013 using a variety of fun superlative categories. The Class of 2013: YA Superlative Blogfest is all about promoting the extraordinary young adult books published this year, so if you haven’t already, draft a post and sign up to participate at the end of this post. We can’t wait to see your favorite reads of 2013!

Superlatives Banner

My Books Pubbed in 2013 Reading List (starred books are 2013 debut novels): Shades of Earth, *The Tragedy Paper, Just One Day, *If You Find Me, *Nobody But Us, *Taken, Through the Ever Night, Eleanor & Park, Requiem, *Pretty Girl-13, *Uses For Boys, This is What Happy Looks Like, Quintana of Charyn, *The S-Word, The 5th Wave, *Nantucket Blue, *The Sea of Tranquility, Golden, *Strands of Bronze and Gold, Where the Stars Still Shine, Dare You To, All I Need, Out of the Easy, *OCD Love Story, The Dream Thieves, *Canary, The Truth About You and Me, Fangirl, *My Life After Now, September Girls, *Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Dead Silence, Invisibility, Just One Year, *Fault Line, Allegiant, *How to Love, The Beginning of Everything, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, *Unteachable, Dangerous Girls, and *Reclaimed (Covers link to Goodreads pages!)

Here are my selections for Elements of Fiction

Most Envy-Inducing Plot 

It’s a toss up between Abigail Haas’s Dangerous Girls and Jessi Kirby’s GoldenBoth books are exceptional contemporaries. I love the twists and sense of unknowing in Dangerous Girls, and I envy the way Jessi Kirby so seamlessly weaved past and present story lines into Golden.

Most Formidable World

Another toss up… The ether storms in Veronica Rossi’s Through the Ever Night terrify me, and the idea of a world without love as depicted in Lauren Oliver’s Requiem is equally horrifying. Come to think of it, there’s not a dystopian setting I’d want to visit.


I’ve not been to Nantucket, but Leila Howland’s debut Nantucket Blue made me want to book a summer house there. She describes the beach and the town and the people and the foods so clearly. I could feel the sand beneath my toes.

Loveliest Prose

I’m not usually fan of dialect in novels, but Emily Murdoch pulls it off beautifully in her debut, If You Find Me… My sister don’t talk much. When she does, it’s only to me, in moth-winged whispers, and only when we’re alone. The entire story is  this gorgeous and evocative.

Best First Line

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys: My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.

Most Dynamic Main Character

Reena Montero from Katie Cotugno’s How to Love is one of my favorite protagonists ever. She’s can be irresolute which makes her  relatable, but she’s also strong and funny and loving and smart. I’d be her friend in a heartbeat.

Most Jaw-Dropping Ending

I could go with Allegiant, Dangerous Girls, or Shades of Earth here, but the final lines of Katja Millay’s The Sea of Tranquility gave me actual, physical chills. Breathtaking and moving… I loved it.

Best Performance in a Supporting Role

Dee from Gayle Forman’s Just One Day. I had so much fun reading the scenes he shared with Allyson, and I appreciate how he’s more than just the fun best buddy type. He’s got depth and does his own growing as the story progresses.

Best Use of Theme

I love Trish Doller’s Where the Stars Still Shine for its characters and intense emotionality, but I also love it for its messages regarding forgiveness and family and kindness and love, and how it’s possible to recover and start over.

Don’t forget to link your “Elements of Fiction” post below!

Superlatives Button

On Dialogue and Characterization…

Over the weekend I read a fantastic adult novel by Rainbow Rowell called Attachments. If you’ve read her YA debut Eleanor & Park (and really, if you haven’t, please hurry to your local bookstore and pick it up — it’s amazing), then you’re probably already aware of what an amazing writer Rainbow Rowell is, and you also probably know that she creates lovably flawed characters who engage in awesome, witty, REAL conversations. This, I think, is a gift.

Attachments is a novel with an interesting and unique format. Here’s the Goodreads summary, just so you have an idea of what’s going on…

Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can’t seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period. When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he’d be sifting through other people’s inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can’t quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can’t help but be entertained -and captivated- by their stories. But by the time Lincoln realizes he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? “Hi, I’m the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you.” After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it’s time to muster the courage to follow his heart… even if he can’t see exactly where it’s leading him.

One of the things that struck me about Attachments was the bond between Jennifer and Beth. Their relationship unfolds in a series of email conversations (read by Lincoln) and that’s all we get from them. We never see them chatting in a coffee shop, or talking in a nail salon, or gossiping in the break room at the newspaper. Their interactions are all email, and they look something like this:


That is to say, there are no inner monologues, no dialogue tags, no descriptive beats, no awkward pauses or long sighs or knowing chuckles — none of the stuff that clogs up conversations in traditionally-written novels. All we know of Jennifer and Beth are the words they type to one another and yet, we get to know them really well. I was sort of blown away when I realized this.

See, I consider dialogue to be one of my writerly strengths. I think I have an eye (ear?) for flow and organic word choice. I think conversations between my characters read like real conversations between real people, and I think it’s fairly easy to get to know them based on how they talk and interact. That said, I definitely incorporate tags and supportive narrative and the occasional adverb (*gasp*) into dialogue I write. These devices are important and I will always use them, but I wondered what it would be like to write conversations like those of Jennifer and Beth. Words, clean and simple.

As an experiment, I tried it with a scene in my WiP. Words, alternating between two characters. Though it was challenging at first, I did not let myself write he said, or she sighed, or he squeezed her hand. There were no inner monologues. There was no supportive narrative. Just words, back and forth — statement, response, question, response, statement, response, etc.

And you know… It was kind of fun. And quick! The conversation flowed more easily than usual. The characters were clever and their banter felt spontaneous and sincere and natural. I didn’t have to try so hard. Best of all, I could truly see who the characters were in the words they spoke.

Of course, I’m not writing a story about inner-office friendships, and my story doesn’t include email at all, so I did eventually go back and insert the traditional dialogue tags and beats and descriptions, all the nuanced stuff that normally has me biting my nails and running for the jelly beans when I’m trying to draft a conversation. Imagine my surprise when, again, this part of the process came more easily. Since I already had the entire discussion laid out, the pieces that needed to be augmented with additional narrative were clear. All I had to do was tuck those bits in, and I ended up with a pretty engaging conversation.

So… I’m thinking I may have a new method for writing dialogue. Huh.

Tell me… Do you have any tips for drafting dialogue?  

*sad face*

Last week I read and fell head-over-heels in love with Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life. Its themes of loss,  grief, and starting anew resonated deeply, and I’ve found myself thinking often about the story and its wonderfully flawed characters and how profoundly they’ve affected me over the last several days.

I’ve thought, too, about the other contemporaries I’ve read and adored over the last few months: Amy McNamara’s Lovely, Dark and Deep, Hannah Harrington’s Saving June, and Kristin Halbrook’s Nobody But Us. Just like How to Save a Life, these novels are centered around tragedy. Their protagonists deal with death and guilt and unimaginable sadness, and they must learn to find their way through whatever dark burdens life has thrown at them.

Turns out, almost all of my favorite young adult contemporaries are similar in this way: Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, John Green’s Looking For Alaska, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer.

I’m not sure what my penchant for literary sorrow says about me, but it’s a fairly safe bet that if a novel is steeped in heart-wrenching sadness, has a strong romantic element, a mature narrative voice, and a conclusion that rings with at least a hint of hopefulness, I’ll probably be a fan.

Tell Me: Do your favorite books have a consistent theme? 

{Oh, and a few links to share: First, today at YA Confidential we’re accepting first page submissions of YA manuscripts for critique by our teen spies. Click HERE for more information. And, via Rebecca Behrens, a fascinating essay by a former Sweet Valley High ghostwriter — how I adored those books growing up! Finally, there’s a March selection for YA Book Club (hosted by Tracey Neithercott). Click HERE to find out what we’re reading. You should most definitely join us!}

The Class of 2012: YA Superlatives Blogfest – Elements of Fiction

Before I get on with my Elements of Fiction choices for the YA Superlatives Blogfest, I’d love to refer you to Kristin Lynn Thetford‘s blog. First and foremost, she just signed with a fantastic agent… Go congratulate her! Second, she recently interviewed me about my writing, my experiences with querying, and my eventual signing with super agent Victoria Marini of GSLA. The interview is HERE if you want to check it out. (You totally should!)

The Class of 2012: YA Superlative Blogfest (hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me) runs Monday, December 17th through Thursday, December 20th. All of the awesome people who are participating in the blogfest (YOU, I hope!) will highlight favorite books published 2012 using a variety of super fun superlative categories. The Class of 2012: YA Superlative Blogfest is about promoting extraordinary young adult books, so if you haven’t already, draft a post, hop down to the end of this post, and sign up to participate. We can’t wait to see your favorite reads of 2012!

The 2012 YA novels I’ve read, listed in no particular order: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, A Million Suns, The Fault in Our Stars, The Disenchantments, Something Strange and Deadly, Pandemonium, Wanderlove, Under the Never Sky, Ten, This is Not a Test, Happy Families, Insurgent, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, Monstrous Beauty, Bitterblue, Time Between Us, My Life Next Door, Breathe, Pushing the Limits, Skylark, The Raven Boys, Live Through This, Bittersweet, Flawed, Ditched, Starters, Reached, Lovely, Dark and Deep, Meant to Be, and Days of Blood and Starlight…

And here’s how I chose to award today’s categories:

Elements of Fiction

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (Plot I wish I’d thought of myself…)

Time Between UsUsing time travel to tell a story of intense, lasting love has been done before, but I especially love the way Tamara Ireland Stone uses Bennett’s  special “talent” to challenge Anna and everything she thinks she knows.

Most Formidable World (Setting I would NOT want to visit…)

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1)From Smarteyes and Realms to Aether storms and savages and potentially dangerous air, Veronica Rossi has created a detailed and dynamic world where almost nobody can be trusted.

Wanderlust-Inducing (Setting I’d happily travel to…)

WanderloveAah, beaches and hiking and fun in the sun — this book’s title is spot-on. I’d love to backpack with Bria and Rowan.

Loveliest Prose

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)Or… perhaps Fate laid out your life for you like a dress on a bed, and you could either wear it or go naked. ~ Gorgeous imagery on every. Single. Page.

Best First Line

Amelia Anne is Dead and GoneThe night before Amelia Anne Richardson bled her life away on a parched dirt road outside of town, I bled out my dignity in the back of a pickup truck under a star-pricked sky. ~ The whole book is written this beautifully.

Most Dynamic Main Character

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)I absolutely adore Bitterblue. She’s so many things: utterly endearing, open and charmingly honest, naive and occasionally brusque, determined and loyal. Over the course of the novel, she faces what should be soul-crushing opposition, but she never, ever folds.

Most Jaw-Dropping Ending

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1)Ronan’s confession about Chainsaw’s origins… *shivers* Next book, please!

Best Performance in a Supporting Role

This is Not a TestGrace, Trace, Cary, Harrison, and especially Rhys from This is Not a Test. I loved the Breakfast Club-esque dynamic between main character Sloane and her colorful and carefully fleshed-out supporting cast.

Best Use of Theme

Lovely, Dark and DeepWren’s struggles with unimaginable guilt and grief could have been preachy and cliche, but Amy McNamara handles her protagonist’s troubles with subtle grace, which makes themes of forgiveness and acceptance shine.

O is for Oh. Em. Gee!

My favorite book (or movie) moment has got to be the Oh. Em. Gee!

I like to be surprised. No, scratch that… I like to be shocked. I love a plot twist that makes me rethink everything I thought I knew. I love how, as I’m reading one of those Holy shit, that just happened! scenes, my heart begins to race and my skin breaks out in shivers. I love when the absolutely unexpected  reaches out and slaps me across the face. I love being awed by the way dozens of once-hidden clues suddenly become SO OBVIOUS. And I love nothing more than when an author ties numerous seemingly loose threads into a neat and tidy bow.

I love to have my mind blown.

A few books that totally rock the elusive Oh. Em. Gee! moment (there’s a reason these are on my FAVORITES list):





Do you have any Oh. Em. Gee! book recs for me?

Talk to me about…

…character-driven YA vs. plot-driven YA.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a character-driven novel is one that moves forward because of the protagonist, antagonist, and the decisions they make (most often romances or literary fiction–think Saving Francesca or The Sky is Everywhere). Conversely, a plot-driven story is propelled forward by circumstances, usually beyond the control of the protagonist (often historicals and fantasies–think The Hunger Games or Across the Universe). Although all novels have character growth and some semblance of story structure, most can be categorized as either character-driven or plot-driven.

While I read widely and enjoy books of all types, my tastes lean toward character-driven novels. I can appreciate a twisty, action-packed plot, but more often than not, my favorite books are those that are character-driven. I read to get lost in a new world and to get into the heads of fascinating people. I like to watch relationships develop and see characters grow and change and (hopefully) improve. After reading the final page of a novel, I most often find myself pondering the character arc before any other element of the story.

(Incidentally, the same can be said for my writing. I think about people first, story second. This, I suppose, is both a strength and a weakness. :))

Yes, thank you!

So… tell me:

  1. Do you prefer character-driven or plot driven stories? Why?
  2. What are your favorite character-driven novels? (Because I totally need MORE books to add to my TBR list!)

Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest DAY THREE

Today is Day Three of the The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest, a fun and interactive way to highlight and share your favorite YA novels, covers, characters, and story elements, hosted by Jessica LoveTracey NeithercottAlison Miller, and me. The Class of 2011: YA Superlatives Blogfest spans four days, beginning December 26th and culminating this Friday, December 30th.

Hopefully you’ve been participating throughout the week, but if not, that’s okay! Just draft today’s post (you can find the topics listed below or on the original post) and then scroll to the bottom of THIS post and add your link to the link list.

I’ve had a blast dropping by the participants’ blogs so far, and I look forward to stopping by your blog to read about your Class of 2011 selections!

And speaking of selections, here are mine for Day Three:

Elements of Fiction

Again, my books published in 2011 Reading List:

Crossed, The Future of Us, Hushed, Want to Go Private?, The Scorpio Races, The Pledge, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Chain Reaction, Forgotten, Notes From the Blender, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Ripple, Hourglass, A Need So Beautiful, Chime, The Day Before, Forever, Moonglass, Beauty Queens, Boyfriends With Girlfriends, Forbidden, Wither, Divergent, Invincible Summer, Trapped, Where She Went, We’ll Always Have Summer, Cryer’s Cross, Across the Universe, Desires of the Dead, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Imaginary Girls, and The Liar Society

And my favorites in the way of Fictional Elements:

Most Envy-Inducing Plot (Or, the plot you wish you’d thought of yourself.) – Easy. The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. The idea of using Facebook as a way to “travel” to the future is brilliant. There’s also the addition of the numerous nineties mentions that brought nostalgia to a whole new level.

Most Wonderful World-Building – I have to go with Laini Taylor’s The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. There are so many worlds in this story: Prague, Marrakesh,  the backwoods of Idaho, and the world beyond the portal doors. While submerged in Smoke and Bone, it was as if I was a willing and active member of all these worlds. I’ve even added Prague on my Must-Visit list! Honorable Mention: The Scorpio Races because by the end of the story, I felt Thisby.

Most Formidable World (Or, the setting I most definitely would NOT want to travel to) – While Lauren DeStefano wrote about Wither‘s world beautifully, there’s no way I’d ever want to visit it. Plural marraige and a painful awareness of the (early!) age at which I’ll die? No thank you!

Most Wanderlust-Inducing (Or, the setting I’d happily travel to) – Jenny Han’s We’ll Always Have Summer. I’ve been romanced by its quaint little beach town setting, Cousins, since I read The Summer I Turned Pretty, the first book in this series. Honorable Mentions: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby and Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz — Can you tell I love the beach?

Loveliest Prose – This was a very difficult choice, but I have to go with The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater because it was so incredibly emotive, yet never overdone. I imagine dual narration is quite a challenge to pull off, but Scorpio‘s Sean and Puck were unique and vibrant, as was their world. Honorable Mention: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Every sentence = Enviable.

Best First Line – Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone: “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.” Says it all.

Most Dynamic Main Character – Briony Larkin from Franny Billingley’s Chime. Oh, how I adore this girl! She’s so feisty and loyal and clever and intense. Her inner monologue was a joy to read, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. I want to know her! Honorable Mentions: Sean Kendrick from The Scorpio Races, Tris from Divergent, and Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. All were SO memorable.

Most Jaw-Dropping Finale – The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin because really… did ANYONE see THAT coming?! The last few pages of Mara sealed the deal: I simply must read its follow-up. Honorable Mention: Cryer’s Cross. Yowza. That ending blew me away!

Best Performance in a Supporting Role – Ruby, from Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. This girl was so colorful, so full of life, such a force to be reckoned with, I loved her and hated her with equal intensity. Entirely fleshed out and incredibly well written.

Best Use of Theme – I’m choosing two here, because they both did what’s nearly impossible: Taught an important lesson in an entertaining way. I’m not going to give those lesson away, of course. If you haven’t read these books, I recommend them both! First, The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder:

And second, A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young:

There you have it… My selections for Elements of Fiction. What do you think?

And if you’re participating in the Class of 2011: YA Superlative Blogfest, please click on the image below to drop your link:

And don’t forget to check out what some of the Bookanistas are up to today…

Shannon Messenger shouts about twelve 2012 releases she can’t wait for–and a pre-order giveaway!

Megan Miranda marvels at UNDER THE NEVER SKY

Corinne Jackson gushes over THE MATCHMAKER AND THE GHOST

Stasia Ward Kehoe gets psyched for 2012

On the elusive “perfect” novel…

I’m not sure there’s really such a thing as a “perfect” novel (all books can all be improved upon somehow, right?), but this weekend I read a story that was, in my opinion, about as close to perfection as one can get:

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins was just SO FREAKING FABULOUS. I mean really… I found myself grinning like an idiot as I read, blown away by the awesomeness printed on every. Single. Page. I’m not going to go into a full review today (though one will surely come later!) because more than anything, Lola got me thinking about what makes a novel stand out as truly amazing.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you read several books in a month. The bulk of those might hover somewhere around GOOD (like, three or four stars on Goodreads). There are probably a few that STINK, or, just weren’t for you (the one or two star books). And, if you’re lucky, there might be one that separates itself from the pack. It’s that elusive five-star book that makes you laugh and cry and gasp and clench your fists in indignation and cheer for the characters as if you know them. It’s the book that makes you feel.

I think we can all agree that the perfect book is a careful combination and precarious balance of crucial literary elements, melded together in a seamless, harmonious way. A way that makes us care totally and completely about the future of the book’s characters. It’s those crucial elements, though, that are different for all of us. Some people are all about character development. Others, pacing. Some are looking for adventure, or gorgeous writing, or steamy romance, or a setting that sings. It’s the importance of each of these elements, and the way they’re merged, that makes some people swoon over Edward and Bella’s undying love, and others cringe in disgust.

It’s a very subjective thing.

For me, the crucial Big Five elements that play into MY perfect book are:

  • Relatable, likable main characters. These people need to sPaRkLe.
  • A believable, naturally progressing (read: HOT) romance.
  • Flawless, distinctly-styled writing with engaging, authentic dialogue.
  • A unique setting, so richly and beautifully described I want to go there. Or, so crazily terrifying it gives me nightmares.
  • The unexpected. Twists and turns that leave me reeling. My jaw needs to drop at least once.
If those Big Five are all there, skillfully blended, I’ve found a favorite. In fact, if my Big Five are strong enough, I can overlook other weaknesses. A slow pace, for example. Or a somewhat flat supporting character. Or a slightly unresolved ending. If my Big Five are present and accounted for, I’m going to care. I’m going to feel. I’m going to have an emotional experience, one I’ll always remember. I’m going to recommend that book up and down and all around. And I’m going to be a very happy reader. 

Books that are on my Favorites List because they so perfectly unify my Big Five: Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and Where She Went, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Franny Billingsley’s Chime, The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield, and Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere. 

What are your must-have elements for an ideal reading experience? What books are on your personal “Perfect” List?

RTW: Recurring Literary Elements

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

Today’s Topic: What themes, settings, motifs, scenes, or other elements do you find recurring in your work?

For my non-writer readers, let’s begin with a few simple definitions (thank you, Wikipedia):

THEME – the unifying subject or idea of a story.
SETTING – the time, location, and everything in which a story takes place, and initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story.
MOTIF – any recurring element in a story that has symbolic significance, a repeated theme or pattern.
SCENE – a unit of drama, provide the building blocks of plot for short stories, novels, and other forms of fiction. 

Themes I tend to favor: overcoming guilt, first love, romantic heartbreak, reclaiming happiness after loss. Settings I love: the Pacific Northwest in general, any location near a body of water, cars (why? not sure…), and I certainly lean toward stories set in the present day. Favorite motifs: water, windows, sweet foods, fire. And scenes I always include: a first kiss,  a first fight, and a first make-up. 🙂

What elements of literature recur in your stories?