Nancy Pearl, librarian extraordinaire, gave a talk last year where she discussed four different gateways to books: setting, story, language, and character:
One of the things that I found interesting about it was that it explained that different readers are looking for *very* different things from the books that they read. It provided me with an explanation of why books that critics might think of as “badly written” can be so appealing to such a large segment of readers.
I’ve discovered over the years that my primary two gateways are setting and character, with a slice of “language” on the side. If a book has a great setting and characters, and has beautiful language to boot, I will happily read for pages without worrying if the plot is moving quickly enough.
On the other hand, Da Vinci Code has a big-ass “story” (aka plot) gateway. I hated the characters, and the language sucked, but the puzzles and the setting (yep, it had a strong setting gateway — hey, look, here we’re playing in the back areas of the vatican) kept me reading to the end.
Several of the runaway youth hits in the past few years were nicely balanced between story, setting and character:
* Hunger Games — fast moving plot, interesting setting, fabulous main character
* Harry Potter — fabulous setting, fun characters, decent plot line once it got going.
* Percy Jackson — awesome characters, strong setting, fun & twisty plot.
I cannot explain Twilight, which in my mind did very little well, though I think that some readers really enjoyed Edward the sparkly and J (what’s his name?) the werewolf, but hey… Not every bestseller has to be comprehensible to me.
A lot of genre writers complain about plotless literary fiction, not realizing that language can be its own gateway. Several of the authors that I most love (esp. Neil Gaiman) have language as their largest single gateway. If you write beautifully enough, you can get a lot more leeway on one of the other gateways.
What’s your gateway, either as a reader or as a writer?