The Most Important Part of the Book (or, Immunity to Iocane Powder)

Congratulations to Jill James! She’s won a copy of Megan Hart’s first women’s fiction from MIRA, Precious and Fragile Things.

A hearty and magical welcome to our guest muse today, Natalie J. Damschroder. Natalie is clever and talented and generous–someone I’m thrilled to call a friend (because, honestly, I wouldn’t want to have to match wits with her in any contest!) and pleased to introduce to our readers! Β Take it away, Natalie…

You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

This scene came to mind recently when I was at work. I was itching to get my task done and get back to the book I was reading so I could find out what happened. I was considering the rating I’d give it on Goodreads. While it held my interest, it wasn’t this compelling all the way through. But how I felt at the end was what would drive my rating and, more importantly, whether or not I add more books by this author to my wish list.

What part of the book is the most important part?

In the book I’m reading, I’m at 84%. The tension is high, my breath bated as I prepare to find out the answers to all the hinted-at or unknown events and issues. This is vital for a writer! We, the readers, have to feel like disaster is about to explode in a big mess, either emotional or physical. Then it has to actually happen. Then the hero and heroine have to prevail in a spectacular way that matches the level of exploded disaster, and wrap it all up with something really satisfying. Tall order, but if you do it right, it guarantees that I’ll be getting the next book, or maybe the entire backlist, and e-readers make that impulse buy oh-so-easy.

So clearly, the end of the book is the most important part.

But wait a minute! We all know about hooking the reader. No matter how good the end of the last book was, it ceases to matter as soon as we start the next book. It can’t be boring or trite. The heroine can’t be too bitchy or weak, and the hero can’t be too obnoxious and overbearing. There has to be a perfect balance of setting and action and deep POV. If the reader doesn’t like the opening, they’ll put the book back on the shelf and not buy it. If it’s killerΓ³if the author draws the reader right into the head of the protagonist, and sets up the action just right, and promises something exciting (including emotionally), they’ll not only buy it, they’ll go sit in the coffee shop and start reading immediately.

So clearly, the opening of the book is the most important part.

Am I finished? Not remotely! Say your opening is killer, but the first major turning point is only meh. Or never comes at all. Your characters might stagnate halfway through the book, or you’ve added tedious placeholder scenes to make the book long enough. Perhaps the conflict doesn’t carry through, or is so complex it confuses the reader. Maybe the tension isn’t building well. Doesn’t matter whatΓ³for some reason, the reader has put down the book and isn’t thinking about it. They’re not driven to pick it up again, or to sit and finish it in one go. You’ve lost them, so they’ll never get to that explosive ending or the killer opening of the next book.

So clearly, the middle of the book is the most important part.

Here’s where I switch the goblets, drink, and burst into maniacally arrogant laughter before keeling over dead. But you’ve developed an immunity to iocane powder by writing a killer opening, a compelling middle, and an explosively satisfying ending, ensuring your ongoing success. πŸ™‚

What do you think is the most important part of a book? Commenters are entered into a drawing for a copy of Megan Hart’s first women’s fiction from MIRA, Precious and Fragile Things.

Hopefully, Natalie applied Vizzini’s logic to her latest romantic adventure, Fight or Flight, available now from Carina Press, via Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and wherever e-books are sold. It’s also available in audiobook! Her next book in this genre, Behind the Scenes, will be out late this year.

You can learn more about Natalie and her books at her website, eHarlequin, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. She blogs with three other opinionated writers at The Gabwagon, and with four other obsessed passionate Supernatural fans at Supernatural Sisters.

About Amy Atwell

Amy Atwell is a storyteller at heart. After fifteen years in professional theater, she turned from the stage to the page to write contemporary capers and historical tales that combine romance and adventure. Her books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. When not writing, she runs the online author communities WritingGIAM and Author E.M.S.
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27 Responses to The Most Important Part of the Book (or, Immunity to Iocane Powder)

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    Natalie, what a great blog! I’ve heard that the beginning sells the book and the ending sells the next book. But I’m so busy and have so many books to read that I don’t have patience for “placeholder scenes.” (Love that; now I know what to call them.) Or characters who get irritating, or whatever might be turning me off about the book. For me, everything you mention is important.

  2. Hi, Edie!

    Yeah, the emphasis we get in craft workshops and articles seems to be on the beginnings first, endings second. But most of the time when I put a book down and don’t finish, I’m somewhere in the middle. So it seems like the importance is equal.

    Too bad execution isn’t as easy as insight. LOL

    Thanks so much for having me here today!

  3. Jen B. says:

    I love a good hook in a book (ah, illiteration). However, if the writing and story are excellent, I don’t need a super mega hook just a push to keep going. The middle of the book has to be smooth and make sense. I have read books that jumped the tracks and I just finally gave up. Still, if it’s great writing, strong character and an author I already love, I will slog through it. Now, the ending it interesting. I want an ending the fits the book/story/genre/author style. You pick. If a book has a WTF ending, I might be less inclined to buy from that author again. On the other hand, a well crafted ending is a thing of beauty that makes you hug the book, write a review, Facebook the author begging for more and recommend to your friends. BTW, the ending doesn’t always need to be clean and tidy. Sometimes endings that are more exhalation and the feeling of oh are super. So which is more important? They are all equal because they are part of a whole. My humble opinion.

  4. Clearly, you have left a trail of bread crumbs that leads us down the rabbit hole, so therefore, I must assume you want us to guess which part is more important?

    Of course, knowing that is what you have tried to do, I should ignore the bread crumbs and go for door number three … unless you have laid a trap and it is actually in the box on the table.

    Great use of one of the best scenes in that movie, not of course, excluding Billy Crystal’s explanation of being “not really dead.”

    I’d say … IT’S THE WHOLE BOOK STUPID* … you can grab me at the beginning and I’ll read on, you can arch up to the highest peak and then drop me on my rear and I’ll continue to read on … but don’t you dare try to give me a rotten-hacked-lazy-or-contrived-ending … or I’ll never read you again.

    *Not you, you’re not stupid. I was just pretending to be married to Carver.

  5. Ah, why don’t you just give me a paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?!

    Now I have to make sure my current WIP is tight in the right places. Thanks a lot.

    No, really, thanks a lot. πŸ™‚ Great blog!

  6. Jill James says:

    Natalie, enjoyed your dizzying intellect. I love the beginning of a book. Will it catch my attention so I can read it all? Will I fall in love with the characters and want to know their story? I get sad at the end of stories because soon it will be over and I will know about those characters no more.

  7. LOL, Natalie!!
    Great post…although, you make me want to stop everything and watched our battered VHS copy of “The Princess Bride” again. πŸ˜‰
    I know every part of the story is critical…sigh. SO much work, this book-writing stuff! But, I guess if I were forced to place more importance on one part over the others, I’d say the beginning, just because it’s so easy to lose readers there. If they set the book down after page 2, they won’t be around to get ticked off at me if I mess up the middle or the ending. πŸ˜› I tell myself these things when, like now, I’m in the middle of drafting a book and it none of it is all that sensical…

    • Yeah, every time I come back here, I have to quell the urge to go put the movie in again! πŸ™‚

      See, this is where I started this whole circle of logic! The beginning HAS to be more important because as you said, if they don’t like the beginning, the middle and end don’t matter.

      BUT, once you nail the beginning and they’re hooked, then the middle becomes most important. I’ve been struggling through the first book of a very popular series. The hero is a hunk, the heroine kicks ass and is smart and funny, and I love the whole premise. But I’ve managed, over weeks, to get to the mid-point of the book, and I just don’t care. I actively look for something else rather than pick it up. So I gave up. Which makes the middle the most important part.

      Until the middle is great, and then… LOL

      So the beginning is most important until it’s over, and then the middle is, until you reach the end, and then the end is. And I come right back to them all being equally important!

      Right? πŸ˜€

  8. Amy Atwell says:

    Natalie, this is such a great conversation for readers as well as writers. I know I need at least one character to draw me into her/his plight during the beginning of the book. Hook me there, and I’ll hang on even if there are some rough spots in the middle. Set up my expectations at the beginning and deliver them at the end, and I’m a happy camper. Of course, it’s so much easier to say than do!

    Now, I’m going to schedule a couple hours to sit and watch The Princess Bride uninterrupted. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but you’ve definitely reminded me of its brilliance and rapier wit (so much like your own!)

  9. Geez, Amy, between the intro you wrote and the comment, I may never stop blushing. 😳 Thank you! πŸ™‚

    So far, I think beginnings are winning. I should have set up a poll, too. LOL

  10. Janni Nell says:

    Thanks so much for reviving wonderful memories of The Princess Bride. πŸ™‚ Every part of a book is important. Even the fricking commas. πŸ˜†
    Best wishes for your latest release ❗ ❗ ❗

  11. Cynthia Eden says:

    You had me at Iocane powder. LOVED The Princess Bride. πŸ™‚ What a great post! And now…I am off to check out the Supernatural site…Such a Dean Fan.

    • Hi, Cynthia!

      Apparently, I’m not the only one who has random Princess Bride quotes/scenes running through their heads. Everyone seems to love it as much as I do! πŸ™‚

      Yay, Team Dean! LOL

  12. Liz Kreger says:

    Cripes! Now I’m thorough confused. You gotta be hooked into the story. The plot has got to keep the reader’s interest. You have to come to satisfying conclusions …

    We’re in this business … why?

    Thanx for joining us, Natalie. And for adding more mulch to my already addled brain.

  13. Jami Gold says:

    I’m still giggling over this post. Love it! πŸ™‚

  14. Kayleigh Butler says:

    Awesome post Natalie!

    I have to say that I can’t decide what part of the book is the most important until I start to care about the characters and what happens to them. So I guess that would be the beginning but so much important stuff happens in the middle and then the ending obviously. Ugh such a thinky post lol.
    The whole book may be important but there are my favorite parts and character moments that I could re-read over and over again.

    • Hi, Kayleigh! Great to see you over here!

      Now you’ve introduced a new factor: the most important part of the book is the part you want to read over and over. We’ll add that to the list of requirements. πŸ™‚

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