Four Tips to a Great Book

Craft a great story.

Publish your accomplishment.

Keep me coming back for more.

Who doesn’t love lounging under warm covers with a good book in hand?

Which of you haven’t staved off sleep to finish a page-turner?

What keeps your book in my hands when others are screaming for my attention?

These four tips will drown those other voices and get me to your final page.

  1. Get my attention!

  • Use the active voice.

Even if you begin your story with the setting (where, when) that so many of us were taught in class, use active voice instead of passive voice.

Consider the following:

The sun was setting behind the hills that were around the little town of NoWhere. John and Jill were living in a house at the end of Sober Street. There was a garden beside the house. They also had a small flock of chickens.

So nowhere…and boring…and sober….and are you asleep yet?

Or would this be your preference:

The sun peered above the hills and threw its rays into the town of NoWhere reaching through the half-closed curtains at the end of Sober Street. Inside, John and Jill absorbed the potential consequences of their pillaged garden.

  • Activate your story with action.

A dramatic scene is better than an uneventful one; such as, an evening ride that happens to end in a crash. Startle me with the crash and then give me the details.

Consider the following:

John and Jill decided to go for a ride. They were riding down the highway in their red convertible when they happened upon a white truck.

Or would this be your preference:

Brakes screamed as white meshed with red, each vying to occupy the same spot of pavement.

Television dramas reveal the crime first and then continue through a series of events that lead to the capture of the accused. The action creates the desire to know what happened and why.

NCIS is the number one television drama because of the usage of this method. Its viewers keep coming back for more.

  • Use questions to get attention.

Another method is to use questions to gain attention.

Jesus used this method when relaying His Parable of the Lost Sheep:

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” Luke 15:4

If nothing else, make me step into the story long enough to answer the question.

  1. Don’t make me hunt for the topic.

When presented with questions from John the Baptist, Jesus’ response was direct: Go and tell. Notice His response in the following verse:

“Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.” Luke 7:22

John’s disciples were to report to John what they themselves had seen and heard. That is telling the story. Teachers call it “Sticking to the Topic.”

Jesus also used strong nouns and active verbs.

Notice the simple but succinct wording that lets us visualize the action:

The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The gospel is preached.

Tell me your story with strong nouns and verbs that let me use my imagination to see the action. Don’t drag me down with a series of unnecessary and lengthy descriptives that send me to a screeching halt and a closed book.

  1. Keep me interested.

  • Give me a scenario that gets my attention and keeps me reading.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told a parable that caught their attention.

“There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of my adversary.” Luke 18:2-3

  • Use the element of surprise to your advantage.

This parable pitted a ruthless judge against a widow who had no man to intercede for her. Her boldness in coming before the judge intrigued the disciples.

How would this judge respond? Obviously, not as the disciples imagined. The element of surprise caught the disciples off-guard causing them to think carefully about what they had just heard. Please surprise me!

  • Get my attention and keep me hunting for the next clue.

Unravel the threads of the story ever so slowly but at just the right speed to keep me traveling to the next page.

Don’t lose me in wasted words and unnecessary actions that add no value to the story.

  1. Make me satisfied with the ending (but you can make me beg for more!)

Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after. (But, what change came over the kingdom?)

The woodsman killed the wolf. (But, did Goldilocks overcome the trauma of her grandmother’s death?)

“And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.” Luke 22:38

It is enough. Say what you need to say, no more, no less. (But, why two swords? One cut off a soldier’s ear; what did the other do?)

I expect Good to win over Evil. I expect Evil to be reprimanded. I expect Good to be rewarded regardless of the troubles that Good encounters.

Shakespeare’s classics stood the test of time because of these expectations woven throughout his stories.

Use these four tips to make yours a classic, and let me enjoy it for years to come.

Copyright 2016 by Peggy Clark


Do you have a story waiting to be shared?

Have you used strong nouns and active verbs?

Have you replaced unnecessary and lengthy wording with specific and descriptive wording?

Then now is the time to let someone else preview your writing. Use their analysis to improve your story.

Peggy Clark is the author of So, What's the Latest News? Messages from a Prisoner in Rome published by WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan.