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What makes a book an enjoyable read?

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Apart from the most obvious factor being the plot, it is also the style of writing.

Last week at the Young Executives’ Club Talking Circle, we decided to take a break from the intense discussions on climate change and settle for something lighter. We decided to talk about our reading interests and explore further what made our favorite books enthralling.

In the process of discussing our reading interests, we also discovered the Wuxia genre in books thanks to one of the teens in the group. If you are new to Wuxia, it is a genre of Chinese fiction featuring ancient warriors. Another teen shared her fascination for the Harry Potter series and how much she wishes to own the original of the 1st edition. She used interesting set of words to describe her excitement on seeing gifts wrapped for her birthday and how it is always been wonderful to discover a book from the Harry Potter series that would soon become her favourite. We considered her choice of words and discussed the importance of choosing the right words to enable the reader to easily visualize what the writer is trying to convey. Yet another teen shared how Geronimo Stilton had helped change her outlook towards reading and how she gradually moved to books written by Sudha Murthy.

We considered her choice of words and discussed the importance of choosing the right words to enable the reader to easily visualize what the writer is trying to convey.

Studying two different ways of describing a character and a scene: Which approach sounds better and why, soon became the crux of the discussion.

After discussing our reading preferences, we took an example in which two different approaches were taken to describe a character and/or a scene. We analysed both approaches and discussed to pick the best approach that did a better job of conveying the intended meaning in the most impactful manner. The example is as follows:

(A) Harvey is a white colour dog who thinks he is very smart. He is now walking on the sidewalk enjoying the cold weather.

(B) Harvey is a West Highland Terrier, a ratter with a white coat, extra shiny and clean because he was just groomed yesterday. He trots ahead of Maggie, feeling quite smart. He enjoys the chill of early November air as it rustles against his skin.

The group agreed upon option B as the better option.

Every teen had a different perspective and reasoning as to why they chose option B

  • “It raises the question who is Maggie? From a reader’s perspective it seems like Maggie is the main character and the skilful way in which her name has been slipped in, makes me curious to know more.”

  • “It is easy to imagine the dog and the place.”

  • “It seems like the dog has a personality of his own. That suggests that this story is likely to be a nice one. Any story or movie with a dog in it, generally tends to be nice.”

  • “We know what the weather is like, making it easier to feel the scene.”

  • “The description of the dog gives away information that could be relevant to the story, such as the fact that the dog is well cared for by the family who keeps him.”

Writing that shows the character or the scene instead of simply telling.

Books that are enjoyable reads generally follow the “Show, Don’t Tell” technique. This approach to writing strives to appeal to the five senses- seeing, hearing, smell, taste and feeling/touch. As the discussions between the teens revealed, option B above did a better job of drawing the reader in and instilling a sense of curiosity in the reader’s mind- an urge to read further. Creating that urge is the key to impactful writing.

Trying their hands at creating impactful writing

The teens were given the following example which they had to transform into a short descriptive paragraph that appealed to at least one of the five senses and made the writing easy for the reader to feel inclined and curious to read further.

Jake got off his bike. He dropped it down and climbed down to the beach.

Different teens adopted very different approaches to enable the reader to visualise it. It was fascinating to see even character personality traits emerging intertwined with the elements in the scene. One teen built a history leading to this scene while others too the approach to add other elements to the scene in terms of the sound and visuals. It simply depends on what the write wants the readers to see!


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