What Readers Search for in a Book

Have you ever read a book and couldn't pinpoint what was missing from it? A bit of je ne sais quoi? Here is a list of quotes about reading that helps pinpoint why people read in the first place, because it's that driving factor that changes a reader's opinion from giving it four stars to adding it to their favorites on their Goodreads shelves.

We read to know that we are not alone.
- William Nicholson, Shadowlands
 One of the top characteristics of a protagonist reader's search for is relatability. On the surface, that
seems a daunting task to a writer whose main character is an assassin or zooming through space.

But look at this quote. Really look at it. We don't care that the character lives in the same town as us, has the same skin tone as us, or, on paper, is like us in any way. It's the struggles that the character faces that are universal. The boy in love with someone but too afraid to act on his feelings. The girl worried about her sister's depression or drug use.

When characters worry about their loved ones or their own happiness, every reader can relate. No character wants to be alone. By reading about people who share that central fear, the reader is not alone, either.

No two persons ever read the same book.
- Edmund Wilson
One of my favorite parts about other people reading my writing is listening to their perspectives on my characters. They have different opinions of certain characters than me, including their favorites. They read the dialogue in a completely different style than I imagine for the character. They make my characters theirs, of sorts.

The more layers of a story and characters, the more interpretations can develop. If readers develop an opinion of an aspect of your story, they are claiming part of it as their own. They are invested in being proved correct and daring you as the author to prove them wrong.

In a good book, the best is between the lines.
- Swedish Provert

I think that every author has probably filled out something resembling a fact sheet about their characters. The kind that lists everything from hair color to horoscope. The problem appears when writers attempt to include every single detail in their story.

If you feel like your dialogue or narrative is starting to run dry, give a character or two a secret or a backstory that will transform your entire perception of them. This should affect their motivation in some way, either positively (a goal, running toward something) or negatively (a fear, running away from it).

Here's the trick: never directly talk about it to the reader. An easy way to pull this off is making your main character out of the know while having secondary characters drop hints about this secret. Whether or not you decide to reveal the secret at the end is up to you, but that added tension can do wonders for your reading. (See BBC Sherlock)

Books are a uniquely portable magic.
- Stephen King
It's amazing to think about the idea of a book. It's paper with million of small lines and dots arranged into symbols, in a row, with other symbols to tell us how to read those arrangements. We get words without speaking them, that turn into sentences and chapters that touches all of our senses. We don't really remember the act of reading--I barely remember where I read a book, how old I was, or what mattered at the time. I remember the book. It's scenes are engraved in my memories as if I personally experienced them. And in a way, I did.

That is the closest thing to magic I can imagine. This magic could be a whole post in itself, but I think to summarize it, it lies within the reader's emotional investment in the story.

The reader is merely an observer, yet they care. They're desires are intertwined with those of the protagonist and other characters. For them to cry as the character cries, or laugh or curse or have any reaction at all, that is brilliant. To steal someone's emotions and drag them through a roller coaster, that is the ultimate je ne sais quoi.


  1. Extremely well said, Loki. I'm impressed. Especially the bit about magic at the end. It makes me want to write better books :)

  2. Eh, Loki, making me google things..."je ne sais quoi". But now I know what it means! ;) This is a really good post, too, by the way! I often think books are missing something but it's so tricky to put your finger on it exactly.