What Makes a Book a STORY?

I indulged in a guilty pleasure yesterday. I bought a paperback novel at the grocery store – with the grocery money. I know… taking food from the mouths of my overgrown babes to satisfy my fiction addiction.

The novel is the latest release in a series I’ve faithfully followed, written by an author I admire, even though she breaks all the “rules” I’ve been told to follow if I ever want to reach the end of the publication rainbow. But her books are more than books. They are stories.

Do you recognize the difference? Books are those inanimate things that sit on the shelf and gather dust. Stories are the living things that reach into your soul and move it temporarily out of this realm and into another, with characters as real as a childhood playmate, and settings that you’re convinced exist somewhere on the planet.

Children don’t clamor for just “another book” at bedtime; they beg for another story. Another pass through the magic wardrobe into an alternate world, just for a few moments before they face the reality of bedtime.

I listened to an interview with an editor at Harlequin/Silhouette recently. When asked what makes her select one manuscript over another, she gave the following (elusive) answer: “The manuscripts I buy have that certain something. A manuscript can be strong, good writing, but if it doesn’t have that certain something I don’t buy it.”


Me: (audible groan)
What IS that certain something? Can you define it? What transforms a generic book on a shelf into a beloved story that transcends time, culture, and location?
Ideas, anybody?

7 thoughts on “What Makes a Book a STORY?

  1. Debra E. Marvin says:

    The IT is transportation.

    Does it move me, carry me away?
    When the story transports us, we know nothing in our world because we've traveled to another. That's my idea of the 'certain something'…

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  3. Jeanette Levellie says:

    Niki: I like Debra's idea of taking me somewhere out of my own life full of responsibility and stress. Even if the characters' lives are stressful, at least I'm not in mine for the time I'm reading.

    I would add that I like stories with believeable settings and characters, but make at least one of the characters wise, so I can learn something from her or him. I love to gain some insights in the stories I read. Make me think; even dare to change my thinking.

    But don't you think IT is different for everyone?

  4. Patti Lacy says:

    It's the story that sucks me into the character so deeply, I cry. I laugh. I throw the book.

    But I remember.

    Hope you stop by my place during my mandatory cave time. Yep, blog visits SEVERELY curtailed until Lily is Written. Hope she grabs…
    Sigh. Help, Holy Spirit!!

  5. Niki Turner says:

    I like that. At least ONE wise character!
    So far, based on comments here and on FB, the consensus seems to be stories that take us away from ourselves, through a combination of plot and characterization. What that means specifically is, absolutely, going to be different for everyone!

  6. Niki Turner says:

    Interesting that characters are what moves you, since it's your characters I remember!

    Not only will I be stopping by, if I see you out bopping around you can be sure I'll chase you back to that cave! Lily needs to come to her fullness of time and be released!

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