“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it – to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once.” Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood.
“Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
These two quotes come from a Buzzfeed collection of “beautiful lines in literature.” You can visit their page to read 35 more wonderful sentences that show up in a wide range of books, from genre fiction like sci-fi and romance to classic and contemporary literature. What they all have in common is that people have remembered them.
Below I discuss the likely reason and present five books that will help you make your novel into something people will never forget.
Note: I will be writing more pieces on the writing and publishing process. If you’re interested, enter your email to follow my blog (upper right corner of this page) and receive notifications of new posts.
What Makes People Remember a Book?
Emotion. That’s it. Emotion. They read the story and they feel something powerful. The emotion could be suspense, longing, happiness, sadness, relief, satisfaction, anger, excitement, or something else. But, the feeling sticks with them. It floods their whole body. It takes over their minds so that they think about it even when they’re not reading the book. It makes them want to share it with a friend or a family member or random people on social media.
Scientists have found that emotionally charged memories last a long time. There is something about the way the brain stores memories when emotion is involved. There are chemical changes that make the memory more readily available and enduring. And, thankfully, the pleasant emotions tend to last longer in our memories than unpleasant emotions. Thus, by old age, we tend to have more memories of the good times than the bad times. Apparently, biologists suspect that imbalanced ratio had a survival benefit for us. In any case, if you’re interested in learning more about the relationship between emotions and the brain, check out the book The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Dr. Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley.
How Do You Get People to Remember Your Novel?
The “beautiful lines in literature” collected by Buzzfeed were most likely considered “beautiful” not for their appearance but because they gave readers “the feels.”
So, an awesome book cover will attract readers and a snappy title might be easy to remember, but it’s really the content of your book that will make them remember it fondly in the long run. That means the content of your book needs to have emotion.
The emotion can emerge from several places: description, dialogue, and story structure.
With description, the writer can take the reader anywhere–across different lands and different time periods, real and fictional places, and into the heart and soul. Here the writer is free to be themselves and spend as much space as they want to craft a story line that resonates with readers. Not surprisingly, it is easier said than done. When it’s done well, readers have their imaginations filled with so much imagery, which can include non-visual things like smells and sounds, too, that they gladly leave their daily life and enter your world. And by the end, they will have had such an emotional ride that they’ll want to talk about it with others and remember it for years.
For me, memoirs are especially good at emotional description. One that is already several years old, but still stays with me is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Yet, here is a book that will enhance your ability to write memorable descriptions.
The hard part of description is showing characters’ emotions rather than just telling them. Sometimes we fall into certain phrases that we use over and over again, like instead of saying “Johnny was surprised,” we write “Johnny widened his eyes to the size of dinner plates.” But, then, we sometimes run out of expressions. The following book is a fantastic resource to help broaden our abilities to show our characters’ emotions.
Writing good dialogue seems so easy, but it is probably one of the harder things to do. If done right, it can bring the story to life and it can make readers feel all kinds of emotions. The reader will laugh, cry, and everything in between. But, if done badly, it can make readers close your book and not come back to it.
Since there are so many components to writing good dialogue, I’ll refer you to this book for the details.
While description and dialogue are comparatively specific within a novel, the story structure is the global aspect of the novel that will create emotion for readers. You’re probably familiar with the three act structure: The set-up, the confrontation, and the resolution. But, there are many story structures. For example, there’s the Cinderella type that starts off low and ends high. Or, the redemption type, where the character starts off high, crashes to a low, and comes back to a high. Here’s a great book to help with crafting a compelling story structure.
Plot definitely comes into play here, too. Certain plots work better for certain types of stories, especially when writing in different genres. Check out this book for 20 popular plots.
In the end, creating emotion in readers is a powerful way to get them to remember your novel. And writing expressive description and rhythmic dialogue, as well as structuring the whole novel in a time-tested way, will help a lot in encouraging them to remember your story fondly and for years. As a result, they will also be likely to talk about your novel to other potential readers and look to purchase more of your books.
What Do You Think Makes Readers Remember a Novel? Any Recommended Novels for Good Examples?
In addition to creating emotion in readers through description, dialogue, and story structure, there are probably other things that encourage readers to remember a book. What do you think makes a novel memorable? And what novels do you think are good examples? Please leave a comment below. We’d all appreciate it!
Note: If you found this post useful and would like more, please share it on social media, check out the writing and publishing section of this blog, and enter your email at the upper right corner of this page to receive notifications about future posts. Thank you!!
Photo Credit: JACLOU-DL from Pixabay.