The ONE Thing That Will Make or Break Your Book

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You have characters. You’ve got a plot. A setting. All of the ingredients for a book. But there may be one thing you’re missing that makes all the difference between just a book and a good book:


By this, I don’t mean that you reach into your chest Once Upon a Time style and pluck out your heart, then thrust it into your book’s pages somehow (I don’t think even Rumplestiltskin could do that). But if you’ve ever read a book that looks good on the surface and checks all the boxes for a story but doesn’t evoke any kind of emotion at all, then you’ll know what I mean when I talk about a heartless book.

So how do you avoid this trap? How can you ensure that this book you so carefully crafted isn’t lifeless? Let’s take a look.

1. Create good characters

If you don’t already know how much I harp on characters, then good! You’ll realise it right now. Characters are the most important part of a story. Other writers may have different opinions, but this is a very firm belief of mine. You can have a fantastic plot, but if you have lacklustre characters, there’s absolutely nothing to invite the reader into the incredible story you’ve created.

Your main character is the window into the story world. They grab the reader’s hand and transport them into this fictional world, guiding the reader’s emotions with their own. So if your character isn’t well developed, if they don’t have an arc or a unique personality, then there’s nothing for the reader to latch onto.

So, for your story to have a heart, you need to make sure that first, your main character has a real beating heart.

2. Struggles and payoffs

“Make your characters suffer.” I learned that many years ago from the wonderful author Bryan Davis. When your character suffers, your reader will sympathise and be drawn into the story. But the story can’t all be suffering either. If your character keeps going from bad to worse with no victory or joy, readers will lose their motivation to keep reading because there’s no payoff after what they’ve been through with the character.

These moments of suffering are what will make your readers feel.

3. Relate to the reader

Think about the millions of people that will (hopefully) read your book. You need to relate to every single one of them personally. How do you do that?

This is a much longer post waiting to happen, but essentially, your book shouldn’t just be about one thing. It should have one main theme, but other smaller themes. One main plot, but also smaller subplots. One main character, but several side characters, each of them unique. A story with only one idea will only be relatable to one type of person. Diversify your book, make it more complex, and attract more people – hopefully, everyone!

4. Put a piece of yourself in the book

No, not a Mary Sue.

You know when you read something and the author’s enthusiasm for the work just jumps off the page? Or contrarily, when you pick up one of your old reports from high school or college and can feel how much you hated writing it?

Obviously, there will be times in life when you’ll have to write something that isn’t necessarily your idea or your favourite thing to write. The key there is to latch onto at least one aspect of the story that you love, and soon enough, you might find yourself enjoying the tedious process anyway.

For a book that’s your own, a book that you nurtured from its inception as the early bloom of an idea, it will be easy to love it at first. But as you keep writing and keep writing, and you can’t get that one character’s dialogue right and you’re not sure what to do about that plot hole you just discovered…

Well, when that happens, you may need to take my earlier advice about writing something you don’t really want to write. Because if your heart isn’t in it, the reader’s won’t be, either. Simple enough.

5. Recruit beta readers

The last thing you want is to release a book without heart and only realise it after the book has been released. This is why beta readers are so crucial: they’ll catch all the things you don’t and represent your average reader. If someone says your story lacks heart, feels flat, or doesn’t evoke emotion, that’s something you definitely need to fix.

For your story to be meaningful, it has to have heart. As long as you take the time to craft a story full of great, feeling characters, you’ll reward your readers with a memorable adventure.

Happy writing!

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Photo by Ryan ‘O’ Niel on Unsplash

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.


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