The Chinese have a theory that there are five different tastes in food— sweet, spicy, bitter, salty, and sour— and if you have each of these five elements in a meal, then food will be more satisfying. You won’t be searching in the fridge 30 minutes later for that something you can’t quite put your finger on that you are missing.
It’s the same thing for writing books. There are five elements that every book needs to make it every bit as satisfying.
Scientists say that laughing does two things: it helps us to bond with people, and it lessens tension and anxiety. Both are VERY important in fiction. We want our readers to bond with our characters. (As an added bonus, it’ll help the reader bond with you as the author!) And at key points, like right after an intense scene or even during a stressful scene, we can use it to lessen tension and anxiety.
2. Horror / Scariness
Even if horror isn’t your main genre, there are plenty of ways to occasionally frighten your reader. Even things as simple as having your character walk through a creepy setting or leaving a chapter at a cliffhanger will go a long way in adding horror to your book. The big key is to make your reader afraid: they don’t want to know what will happen; they want to worry about what might happen.
A mystery in a book, such as information the character wants to find out, can keep a reader glued to the story. So build curiosity—even if it’s something like whether a character is a friend or foe, or what the key that they found goes to. Hint about things—like a monster, a treasure, or what’s around the next corner. But NEVER try to build a mystery by making things unclear. That’s confusion, not a mystery.
4. Action / Adventure
It’s a good idea to not go too long without action in your books. I’m not saying your characters have to run for their lives or jump off a cliff (although I am quite fond of characters jumping off a cliff :)). Action can be things as simple as running to make the train. Sneaking around somewhere they shouldn’t be. Being caught in a rainstorm. Something that gets the characters moving. Preferably fast.
5. A Sense of Wonder
Some genres—fantasy and scifi, especially—evoke a sense of wonder quite strongly. But it can be added in any genre through fascinating characters, looking at an everyday something very differently than you’ve looked at it before, or with an interesting setting. Think of where you’d love to go on vacation the most. You want to go there because of the sense of wonder that setting will evoke, right? Whenever you can, think about putting your characters in a more interesting setting. Why have a conversation happen in a boring kitchen, when it can happen in the woods, at a construction site, in a museum? Use things that will get the reader to stop and think about what is possible. To stop and look at something closely. The wonder they’ll create themselves.
If you put some of each of those 5 things in your book, when a reader finishes, they won’t be searching their Kindle for the something they’re missing that they can’t quite put their finger on. They’ll be texting all their friends about how they have to read your book.
Peggy grew up in an area filled with untamed places to explore, with parents who allowed her to be daring, and with resourceful siblings, which combined to make her middle grade years one giant action / adventure story. The magic of those years has never truly left Peggy, and she can’t help but tap into them as she writes books like Sky Jumpers and The Forbidden Flats. Today, Peggy lives at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, and hangs out online at her website, blog, Twitter, and Facebook.